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Shining a Light on México’s New Truth Commission

from the Nov. 16, 2022 Bulletin

social movements Mexico-US history

Carlos A. Pérez Ricart teaches international relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in México City. An expert on the influence of the US government on México, he’s devoted particular attention to how US drug enforcement agencies have impacted the design, implementation, and evaluation of Mexican drug policy. Pérez Ricart is currently serving as a member of México’s new truth commission, and he spoke recently about that panel’s work with journalist Kurt Hackbarth in an interview for the Jacobin. We’ve highlighted key portions of that interview here. 

The dirty war, in your words, was extended, premeditated and cruel. But in comparison with other Latin American countries, very little of this has been discussed in México. Why?


The dirty war, a global phenomenon, has to be understood in the context of the Cold War. In Argentina, where they had a savage dictatorship and a large number of disappeared, a broad educational project took place in the wake of its dirty war. A figure like Jair Bolsonaro would be unthinkable in today’s Argentina. 

Even in the context of a terrible economic crisis, nobody is even considering the possibility of a military regime returning to power because of the educational process that occurred.


That construction of truth, with the victims at the center, has been missing in México.


Critics of AMLO see the new Mexican truth commission as little more than a simulation designed to shelve the whole issue of the dirty war.

Banner at 2022 anniversary protest of the Tlatelolco massacre. Photo: Claudio Crux/AFP via Getty Images

The dirty war wasnt sitting on anyones agenda, not even on the presidents agenda, until four years ago. The truth commission we have now exists thanks to pressure from the organized victims’ groups and assemblies. The idea, the project, the negotiation, the force came from the victims, and anyone whos familiar with this process would consider it absurd to suggest, as some have, that this project aims to rehabilitate the military.


I see this as the beginning of a broader process, a ladder to allow us to build the foundations for a new culture of human rights. By that I mean rights for everyone, from the poor to the LGBTQ community and all of those who have been seen as other.


The essential idea: to expand the concept of rights to people who dont even know that their rights have been violated, who saw what happened to them as a normal part of life.

We can tell them that if you were displaced or assaulted due to your religious orientation or for speaking another language or just because you were poor, you have rights. You can organize, you can demand reparationsThe right to truth and justice exists for you too, and not only for the circle of victims active on the Left and well aware of their rights.


Just to mention one case: the 1972 operation in the town of El Quemado in Guerrero. The army came in, tortured eighty men, and took them prisoner. But what happened to the women? They were raped, they were forced to marry, in some cases forced to have children and in others to take birth control pills.


The women have also been victims, but until now they’ve been erased. What happened to them? What happened to their children? Here we are broadening the concept of victim, not only focusing on what is obvious but ensuring that our narrative includes the wives, the mothers, the daughters, the sons.


Your investigations may reveal that the United States played a larger role in the dirty war than previously known. Do you have any concern that the commissions revelations could affect bilateral relations?


What happens happens, and well say what has to be said. The dirty war connected transnational networks of repression. This is what Operation Condor has taught us. We dont yet have a clear picture, and thats why our project will include a search of US archives using the Freedom of Information Act. 

We’ve met with Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and an expert in US policy in Latin America. She’s part of an advisory group to the commission and will be helping us access the archives of the CIA, the FBI, and over agencies.


You have written about the importance for the commission to create a “politics of memory.” What do you mean?


We believe that the criminal and authoritarian circuits that have enabled the violence of the present were built in the period of the 1970s and 1980s. 

President Echeverria’s paramilitary forces, probably
trained with US assistance, attack students, 1971. 

This period saw the founding the Mexican state’s authoritarian enclaves, and thats why we believe that the violence and impunity of the past made possible the violence, impunity, and criminal networks of the present.

The politics of memory has to speak to the present while obliging us to look at the past to see it, resolve it, and be able to move forward. The wounds have been covered over but remain infected and have to be closed. We have to look with one eye to the past to be able to advance with the other eye toward the present. That past created the México of today.

Parents of disappeared Ayotzinapa students. Photo: Christian Palma/AP


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