Category: Ayotzinapa Mexico

007: The Spectre of Ayotzinapa

Daniel Craig and Stephanie Sigman wear skull masks in the opening Day of the Dead sequence of "Spectre." Screenshot from the movie's official trailer.

Daniel Craig and Stephanie Sigman wear skull masks in the opening Day of the Dead sequence of "Spectre." Screenshot from the movie's official trailer.

Four minutes of dazzling footage comprises the eye-popping, jaw dropping opening sequence of Spectre, the latest James Bond film. In the first scene, James Bond (played by actor Daniel Craig), is seen walking through a Día de los Muertos procession in Mexico City wearing a skull mask. He sports a Top Hat as befitting a bourgeois Mexican gentleman of the early 1900s. Strolling with 007 is “Bond Girl” Estrella (played by Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman), who wears a painted mask of La Calavera Catrina, an iconic female figure from historic Day of the Dead celebrations.

Stephanie Sigman playing the character of Estrella in "Spectre." MGM promotional photo.

Stephanie Sigman playing the character of Estrella in "Spectre." MGM promotional photo.

The dapper two weave their way through a huge crowd of people dressed as skeletons and carrying giant skeleton puppets; they all make their way to the capital’s main square, the Zócalo. Bond spots the villain Marco Sciarra and a fight ensues. To rescue their boss from Bond, Sciarra’s henchmen land a helicopter in the Zócalo, but when Sciarra hops on, so does 007. A desperate onboard fight takes place as the chopper soars over the modern skyline of Mexico City in a death defying display of flying.

Spectre is a perfect example of film being used to influence public opinion for political reasons. How so? Apparently the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) paid MGM studios millions of dollars for the scene described above; the studio accepted the money in order to bring production costs down. A collaborative effort, the Mexican government wanted positive “spin” to improve its deplorable human rights record, and MGM wanted tax breaks. I will address this government-studio deal in the second half of this essay, but first, some background.

"Spectre" movie poster from MGM. Daniel Craig strikes a classic pose as Agent 007, dressed in a white tuxedo jacket and holding a Walther PPK .380 pistol with a silencer. Can you spot the poster's colossal blunder?

"Spectre" movie poster from MGM. Daniel Craig strikes a classic pose as Agent 007, dressed in a white tuxedo jacket and holding a Walther PPK .380 pistol with a silencer. Can you spot the poster's colossal blunder?

Let us not forget that in the Mexican state of Guerrero, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ Collage were assaulted and kidnapped by the police on the night of September 26, 2014. While in the act of kidnapping the 43, the police shot and killed three bystanders and three other Ayotzinapa students. One of them, the 22-year old Julio César Mondragón, was found dead on the street the next day; his eyes had been gouged out and the skin peeled from his face. Recall that in the official government version of the story, the police turned their 43 captives over to the criminal drug gang Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) to be tortured, killed, and incinerated in a huge bonfire at a garbage dump; their ashes allegedly put in plastic bags and dumped in the San Juan River. Remember that millions of Mexicans marched in the streets to protest these outrages with a slogan that identified the guilty - Fue el estado (”It was the state”).

The production designer for Spectre, Dennis Gassner, told the press that producing and filming the Dia de los Muertos opening sequence was “a magical experience.” He went on to say: “This culture is saying something here. This is a statement about their world and how they want the rest of the world to see it. This is a format that the world can see it in, that’s what all these people are doing. They’re passionate about what they want to do and they want to share it with the world. They want to show people that they should come to Mexico.” [1]

The creative individuals involved in the making of Spectre may talk about the movie’s opening sequence as a “magical experience,” but their eyes are tightly closed to the truth.

Yes, there certainly are those who work to present “how they want the rest of the world to see” Mexico, but in the case of Spectre, it is not the Mexican people but the crooked regime of Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI that plotted and colluded with Hollywood. Mr. Nieto was “elected” president on July 1, 2012 through massive fraud. The PRI bought votes as well as positive press from the country’s dominant TV networks. Even before Mexico’s official election results were in, President Obama called Nieto to congratulate him on his electoral “victory,” and to applaud Mexico’s “free, fair, and transparent election process.” [2]

At the time Mr. Peña Nieto’s most shameful scam was the distribution of pre-paid gift cards for the Soriana supermarket chain; each card was worth 500 pesos ($37.50) and was to be used in purchasing food. Some $8.2 million dollars worth of the cards were distributed. In Mexico City the average worker’s daily wage is just 67 pesos ($5.12). No friend to working people, the World Bank reported that 52.3% of the Mexican people lived in poverty in 2012 when Peña Nieto’s election took place. [3] Right after the fraudulent election, tens of thousands of people swarmed Soriana markets to find their gift cards were not valid, or worth only a few dollars!

Approximately four months after the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43, the Mexican government announced it had “officially” concluded that the students were dead. The phony investigation had been conducted by Jesús Murillo Karam, a functionary of the PRI and President Peña Nieto’s attorney general. At a Jan. 27, 2015 press conference given by Karam, he stated that government “interrogation” of detained suspects provided “legal certainty that the student teachers were killed.” Karam offered no conclusive evidence to back up his claim, but stood firm in avowing that the government findings were the “historic truth.” He repeated that federal forces were in no way involved with the kidnapping. On the heels of Karam’s press conference, President Peña Nieto urged Mexicans to accept the government’s conclusion, saying: “We have to move forward with greater optimism.” The words of Mr. Nieto and his attorney general were utterly worthless.

The day after the government press conference, José Miguel Vivanco, the director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, denounced Karam’s findings, calling the government’s investigations “negligent” and “difficult to trust,” given that confessions are “based on coercion, torture, and irregularities.” Vivanco said the government claim “is not a historical truth, it is an official version.” [4]

Needless to say, the parents, families, and relatives of the missing 43 were infuriated with the administration of Mr. Nieto for closing the case. Taking to the streets to denounce the government’s sham investigations, thousands marched in Mexico City chanting, “¡Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!” (They took them alive, we want them alive!)

"Ayotzinapa Catrina, It was the State" - Rexistemx. Papel picado stencil. 2014. The anonymous Mexican art collective Rexistemx (rexiste.org), reworked Posada's Calavera as a stencil to be used in the creation of the traditional folk art of papel picado (cut paper). Aside from adding the text, Posada's work was altered by having the Calavera shedding tears, a reference to a slogan from the Ayotzinapa justice movement, Esta Dolor Llueve Rabia (This Sorrow Rains Rage). The Rexistemx papel picado was seen all over Mexican during Day of the Dead, 2014.

"Ayotzinapa Catrina, It was the State" - Rexistemx. Papel picado stencil. 2014. The anonymous Mexican art collective Rexistemx (rexiste.org), reworked Posada's Calavera as a stencil to be used in the creation of the traditional folk art of papel picado (cut paper). Aside from adding the text, Posada's work was altered by having the Calavera shedding tears, a reference to a slogan from the Ayotzinapa justice movement, "Esta Dolor Llueve Rabia" (This Sorrow Rains Rage). The Rexistemx papel picado was seen all over Mexico during Day of the Dead, 2014.

It is ironic that Spectre opens with a Day of the Dead procession, and that “Bond Girl” Estrella has her face painted as La Calavera Catrina, but the irony is no doubt lost on the film’s producers. José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) was one of Mexico’s greatest artists and acknowledged as the founder of Mexican printmaking. He was inspired by the aesthetics of the Aztecs, who created skeletonized depictions of supernatural beings in their art. Posada made prints of skeletons dressed as ordinary people, as well as priests, politicians, generals, and oligarchs, offering a mocking social criticism that continues to influence Mexican art and culture.

Around 1910 Posada created the etching Calavera Garbancera (Garbancera Skull). Living under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, Mexico was on the verge of revolution.

Posada published his print as a critique of the “Garbanceras,” those people with indigenous blood who renounced their race and culture to pass themselves off as Spanish or French. The etching depicted an indigenous woman as a skeleton, poor and naked, whose fancy European-style hat was her only claim to being European. In 1946 Diego Rivera began painting his mural, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central. An admirer of Posada, Rivera’s mural included a portrait of Posada arm in arm with his Calavera Garbancera dressed in Victorian clothes. Rivera christened his version of the female skeleton, La Calavera Catrina, and the Catrina has today become an iconic image for the Day of the Dead. However, the original critique behind Posada’s print is still pertinent today.

The filming for the opening sequence of Spectre began in Mexico on March 19, 2015. The ten-day film shoot received considerable attention in the mainstream media, but outside of Mexico the press left out the following important fact. On March 21 a group of pro-democracy activists gathered near the film shoot and held up a satiric banner emblazoned with the 007 logo, it read: “Help! 007, we request your help finding the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. Imprison the corrupt EPN gang that governs us.” The EPN abbreviation of course stands for Enrique Peña Nieto. The sign was the creation of the National Human Rights Commission (C.N.D.H.), the non-governmental human rights organization of Mexico that is accredited by the United Nations.

Pro-democracy activists near the filming location of Spectre, hold a banner that reads: "Help! 007, we request your help finding the 43 students of Ayotzinapa." Photo/Arcelia Maya

Pro-democracy activists near the filming location of "Spectre," hold a banner that reads: "Help! 007, we request your help finding the 43 students of Ayotzinapa." Photo/Arcelia Maya

One protester told the press: “It is a total irony and mockery of the system of government that the Mexican people would have to ask for help from our misfortunes from the largest representative of world imperialism, James Bond. Since you are here, save us from all the misfortunes of our people because of the corruption and impunity of the government.”

Regarding the comments made by Spectre production designer Mr. Gassner, that the Mexican people were “saying something” about their culture in the film’s Day of the Dead sequence. If you want to know how Mexicanos actually marked Dia de los Muertos in Nov. 2014, consider the following. Thousands of University students in Yucatan, Mexico held a candlelight march that evening to protest the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. Signs were held that read: “In Mexico, everyday is Day of the Dead.” Similar marches and rituals were held all across Mexico that day involving hundreds of thousands of people.

University students in Yucatan, Mexico hold a candlelight march on Day of the Dead 2014, to protest the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. In the photograph a student holds a sign that reads: "In Mexico, everyday is Day of the Dead. Enough!" The slogan appeared in various artworks, banners, and graffiti all across Mexico, including on traditional alters and processions associated with Dia de los Muertos. Photo/anonymous.

University students in Yucatan, Mexico hold a candlelight march on Day of the Dead 2014, to protest the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. In the photograph a student holds a sign that reads: "In Mexico, everyday is Day of the Dead. Enough!" The slogan appeared in various artworks, banners, and graffiti all across Mexico, including on traditional altars and processions associated with Dia de los Muertos. Photo/anonymous.

The details of the hush-hush agreement between the Mexican government and MGM regarding Spectre, and how those secrets became public, reads like a script from a James Bond thriller.

As many readers are probably aware, on November 24, 2014, a hacker or hackers broke into the computer system of Sony Pictures Entertainment, leaving a flashing message on every computer controlled by Sony Pictures. It read: “We’ve obtained all your internal data, including your secrets and top secrets.” The cyber-criminals warned that if their demands were not met, the stolen data would be released to the public. What they supposedly wanted was for Sony to block release of The Interview, a Hollywood comedy directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg about two celebrity American journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

At first Sony put The Interview on hold, but then reversed its decision and screened the film nationwide. The hackers made good on their threat and began to dump some 100 terabytes of sensitive information into the hands of the media, an estimated 38 million files. That info included the scandalous private e-mails and internal communications of top Sony and MGM executives. Sony and the FBI accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the hacking, but that is another story.

What is relevant to this article is that the script for Spectre was stolen in the cyber-attack and released to the media. E-mail exchanges between Sony and MGM officials were also leaked, and they revealed what the executives referred to as the “Mexican Deal.” One of the leaked communications included remarks from the president of MGM’s motion picture group Jonathan Glickman, who wrote the following regarding the deal:

“We are currently facing a budget that is far beyond what we anticipated and are under immense pressure to reduce the number to $250M net of rebates and incentives. This is not about ‘nickel and diming’ the production. As of now, our shooting period is $50M higher than Skyfall and the current gross budget sits in the mid $300Ms, making this one of the most expensive films ever made.”

According to a March 3, 2015 story published by Tax Analysts, the Mexican government proposed a lucrative deal with MGM; they offered to give the studio $20 million dollars worth of tax breaks and other incentives, if the studio allowed the Mexican government to change the cast and make significant alterations to the film’s story. A reading of Sony’s leaked e-mails indicates that the deal went through. In a memo titled, “Elements needed to preserve Mexican deal,” [5] Mr. Glickman listed the specific changes the Mexican government wanted from MGM:

Cast “a known Mexican actress” as Estrella, the Bond girl that appears in the opening sequence whose hotel room is the starting point for Bond’s search for villain Marco Sciarra. MGM gave the part to Mexican-born Stephanie Sigman.

Sciarra, the villainous character and adversary of James Bond at the beginning of the film, could not be a Mexican, or be played by a Mexican. MGM cast the Italian actor Alessandro Cremona to play the assassin, and rewrote the Sciarra character to be Italian.

A cage match duel between Marco Sciarra and Bond needed to be replaced by Bond chasing after Sciarra through a Day of the Dead procession.

Lucia Sciarra, widow of slain gangster Marco Sciarra and the chief villain of the film, also could not be a Mexican, or be played by a Mexican. MGM cast the Italian actress Monica Bellucci to play the Italian nemesis.

“Modern Mexico City buildings” had to appear in the movie’s aerial shots instead of Mexico’s notorious slums. MGM met that demand with the helicopter soaring over the skyline of Mexico City in the movie’s opening scene.

Rather than have Lucia Sciarra order the assassination of a Mexican governor, the victim had to be an international ambassador.

The November 24, 2014, cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment occurred approximately two months after the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43. The leaked documents reveal that MGM was already in the midst of altering Spectre to meet the demands of the Mexican government, that is, before the kidnappings. Be that as it may, the film’s opening scenes in essence serve as a cover for the shameless corruption and contemptible human rights record of Mexico’s government.

Mexico’s drug war has taken the lives of over 100,000 people since 2006, and since President Peña Nieto took office in 2012, an additional 10,000 people have been “disappeared” by drug gangs or state forces. Are they not sometimes one and the same? Most of those cases remain unsolved. There have been 81 cases of human rights activists being disappeared and presumably murdered during Peña Nieto’s administration. Some 41 journalists have been assassinated since 2010, most of them on Mr. Nieto’s watch, bringing even the New York Times to write an Aug. 15, 2015 editorial statement titled, The Murder of Mexico’s Free Press. On the same day, PEN America published a letter signed by over 500 international artists, journalists, writers, and free expression advocates. Addressed to President Peña Nieto, the letter said in part:

“PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), would like to express our indignation regarding the deadly attacks against reporters in your country. An attempt on the life of a journalist is an attack on society’s very right to be informed.”

Suffice it to say, the PEN letter was not signed by anyone associated with the creation of Spectre.

In the present context, with September 26, 2015 marking the one year anniversary of the Ayotzinapa 43 being kidnapped, the premiere of Spectre in theaters November 6th, 2015 serves to whitewash the evil done to the Mexican people. There are plenty of corrupt characters portrayed in Spectre, but none so corrupt as those described in this essay.

Like the MGM poster that leads this article, this early "Spectre" movie poster from MGM shows 007 flaunting a major gun safety rule, keep your finger off the trigger until you have your target in your sights. One would think that Her Majesty's Armed Forces would have taught Bond a thing or two about the safe handling of guns, but it appears the only training he received was from Hollywood.

Like the MGM "Spectre" poster that leads this article, this early version from MGM shows 007 flaunting a major gun safety rule, keep your finger off the trigger until you have your target in your sights. One would think that Her Majesty's Armed Forces would have taught Bond a thing or two about the safe handling of weaponry, but it appears that the only military training he actually received was from Hollywood.

As I was finishing up this article, the results of a six-month long investigation into the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43 were published on Sept. 6, 2015.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), appointed an independent investigatory body called the Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes (GIEI), composed of five human rights experts.

The 560-page report from the GIEI could hardly be more condemnatory of the Peña Nieto administration. Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch called it “an utterly damning indictment of Mexico’s handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory.”

The GIEI report forcefully rejects the Mexican government’s version of events. The report acknowledges that the students had commandeered four buses to take them to a commemorative event in Mexico City marking the 46th anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre. It also found that the police and military had tracked the students from the moment they left their school in Ayotzinapa at six pm, to when they were attacked by police after midnight in the city of Iguala, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. Police and military units sent communications to their forces on the student’s movements, and those reports were routed to C4, Mexico City’s Control, Command, Communication and Computer intelligence network, the most sophisticated security system in all of Latin America. In other words, federal authorities in Mexico City were monitoring the events from beginning to end in real time.

The GIEI said that when municipal, state, and federal police stopped the buses after midnight, soldiers from the Mexican Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion observed the police assaulting and detaining the students; contradicting the government’s assertion that no federal forces were involved in the kidnapping. The role of the federal police and the army remains unclear, but what is absolutely clear is that neither intervened to stop the shooting and kidnapping of the students. During the GIEI’s investigation, the Peña Nieto administration refused to allow the group to interview Mexican soldiers.

The official government report on the kidnapping mentioned only four buses used by the students, but the GIEI report confirmed through video evidence that the students had commandeered a fifth bus. The GIEI uncovered a still from a security camera at the bus terminal in Iguala where the students seized the bus; the photo not only showed the fifth bus, it showed the student passengers onboard. This photo was never included in the government investigation, though surviving students always maintained that five buses were involved. The government then changed its story, saying the students seized the bus, but due to mechanical failure, returned it to the terminal. When the GIEI asked the government to show them bus number five, they were shown a bus that bore a number of dissimilarities to the one from the security camera photo; leading to the conclusion that the fifth bus is now missing.

The Aztecs believed their war god Huitzilopochtli instructed them to build a city on the spot where they found an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake. In 1325 the nomadic Aztecs saw such a sight on a rocky outcrop in Lake Texcoco; it was there that they founded their city, Tenochtitlan. The iconic graphic version of an eagle perched on a cactus while eating a snake, first appeared as the coat of arms of the Mexican flag in 1823. An updated version was adopted in 1968. In his poster, artist José Luis Coyotl cleverly transformed the eagle and snake coat of arms into a bloody skull representing forced disappearances in Mexico. In English the words read: "Ayotzinapa, neither forgiven nor forgotten."

The Aztecs believed their war god Huitzilopochtli instructed them to build a city on the spot where they found an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake. In 1325 the nomadic Aztecs saw such a sight on a rocky outcrop in Lake Texcoco; it was there that they founded their city, Tenochtitlan. The iconic graphic version of an eagle perched on a cactus while eating a snake, first appeared as the coat of arms of the Mexican flag in 1823. An updated version was adopted in 1968. In his poster, artist José Luis Coyotl transformed the eagle and snake coat of arms into a bloody skull representing forced disappearances in Mexico. In English the words read: "Ayotzinapa, neither forgiven nor forgotten."

Most importantly, the GIEI believes that the police attacks on the buses were not meant to stop the students, they were meant to seize the fifth bus, because the students had unknowingly seized a bus that the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel was using to transport heroin to the United States.

What is being described here is an illegal conspiracy between corrupt government authorities and drug cartels in sharing control of Mexico’s profitable heroin trade - with annual profits registering in the billions. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, nearly half of the heroin found in the U.S. in 2014 came from poppies grown in Mexico.

It is a fact that Guerreros Unidos have been shipping heroin to the United States. In Dec. 2014 U.S. federal authorities in Chicago arrested members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel for shipping heroin concealed “in commercial passenger buses that traveled from Mexico to Chicago.” [6]

One must ask why the Peña Nieto regime never investigated the possibility that the Ayotzinapa students paid with their lives for inadvertently interrupting a cartel heroin smuggling operation.

The GIEI report stated there was no evidence to support the government’s story that Guerreros Unidos had incinerated the dead students. The GIEI report noted that at least 500 cords of wood, or 100 tons of tires would have been necessary to create a fire large enough to turn the victims to ashes, but these materials were not available at the garbage dump where the cremation allegedly occurred. Moreover, to incinerate the bodies the fire would have needed to burn for 60 hours, yet the government contends it burned for only 16 hours. The government also claimed that Guerreros Unidos members stayed near the fire to keep it stoked, but the GIEI report stated that a fire large enough to incinerate 43 bodies would have burned to death anyone standing within 900 feet of it. Additionally, the land and vegetation at the dump was not scorched, and there was no evidence of a massive fire.

The GIEI report stated that during its investigation, the Mexican government committed grievous errors, made omissions and false conclusions, obstructed justice, used torture, cover-ups, and threats against surviving students, and ignored and destroyed evidence. For instance, CCTV camera footage made on the evening of the kidnapping had been deleted from government databases. As for the complete C4 records of police and army communications made on Sept. 26th, 2014… not surprisingly, they are “missing.”

It should be remembered that in 2014 President Obama boosted U.S. military aid to Mexico to $15 million a year, and that Mr. Obama continues to approve the bilateral Mérida Initiative with Mexico that funds the Mexican security apparatus to the tune of $2.5 billion Yankee dollars. [7] But the tyranny in Mexico is making an unlikely party nervous. In the aftermath of the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa 43, while searching for the graves of the presumed dead students, numerous clandestine graves were found in and around Iguala, Mexico. Dozens of civilians were found in those mass graves, but none came from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ Collage. A recently declassified document obtained and published by the National Security Archive, came from U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the Pentagon’s regional military command for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The document read in part: “None of the 28 bodies identified thus far are the remains of the students, raising alarming questions about the widespread nature of cartel violence in the region and the level of government complicity.”

On March 22, 2015, thousands of Angelenos joined relatives of the Ayotzinapa 43 in a protest march on the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. In this photo one of the marchers holds the poster, "We Are All Ayotzinapa." Photo/Mark Vallen ©

On March 22, 2015, thousands of Angelenos joined relatives of the Ayotzinapa 43 in a protest march on the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. In this photo one of the marchers holds the poster, "Ayotzinapa Somos Todos" (We Are All Ayotzinapa). Photo & Artwork by Mark Vallen ©

In true reflection of the spirit of José Guadalupe Posada, working class artists in Mexico have been creating astounding posters, beautiful songs, poetry, dance, and theatrical street performances in reaction to the Mexican state’s involvement in the forced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa 43. Without the 300 million dollar budget of Spectre, these artists have created a true people’s art: one that is entirely cognizant of Mexico’s rich cultural and political history; prescient of current events, and used to mobilize the people to make history. None of these things can be said of the Hollywood fantasy-fest that is Spectre.

Standing in solidarity with the Mexican people, I have created my own artworks to draw attention to the Ayotzinapa 43 and the depraved goblins that did them harm. I am most proud of my poster, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos (We Are All Ayotzinapa), a print I am distributing for free in comradeship with the Mexican people’s movement for democracy. It is a humble effort, it is not enough, there is so much to be done. Ominous voices are rising in my homeland, ugly shouts of xenophobia that clamor for mass deportations and an impenetrable wall of steel to divide humanity. Artists must close ranks against such dangerous jargon.

Cinema has always been an art form that easily conveys ideology on the sly, but Spectre seems to have broken new ground when it comes to state generated propaganda. It is unprecedented for an American motion picture studio to have taken large amounts of foreign money in exchange for rewriting a film. The Webster dictionary defines propaganda as “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” If one thinks about it for a moment, that entails quite a bit of what we experience in today’s modern society, including our cultural preoccupations. Spectre certainly fits the bill.

The Spectre of Ayotzinapa massacre opened on September 26, 2014 in the verdant hills of Guerrero, Mexico. Despite being panned by the general public, it will likely have a permanent run in Mexico due to its powerful backers. The Spectre film on the other hand is scheduled to open to rave reviews in U.S. theaters on November 6th, 2015.

– // –

SOURCES:

Read the complete, unedited GIEI report in English (.pdf)

Press summations on the GIEI report: Vice News, The Guardian, Reuters, CBCNews, New York Times.

ADDENDUM:

[1] “CS Visits James Bond in Mexico City and Learns How Spectre Begins!” ComingSoon.net/March 27, 2015.

[2] The White House Office of the Press Secretary. “Readout of President Obama’s call to President-elect Peña Nieto of Mexico.” July, 2, 2012.

[3] “Mexico” World Bank website

[4] “HRW: Ayotzinapa is not historical truth.” El Univeral/Jan. 28, 2015. Spanish language edition.

[5] “James Bond’s $20 million reason to love Mexico.” The Telegraph/March 13, 2015.

[6] “Eight Defendants Charged With Distributing Heroin In Chicago Area On Behalf Of Guerrero Unidos Mexican Drug Cartel.” Press Release: Department of Justice. U.S. Attorney’s Office. Northern District of Illinois. December 10, 2014.

[7] “U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond.” Congressional Research Service website, (.pdf) May 7, 2015.

Rigoberta Menchú, Gilberto Sánchez, & Ana Gatica

A recent photograph of 30-year old artist, Gilberto Abundiz Sanchez. Photo courtesy of the Sanchez family.

A recent photograph of 30-year old artist, Gilberto Abundiz Sánchez, courtesy of the Sánchez family.

This article is about the barbarous assassination of a young Mexican artist, Gilberto Abundiz Sánchez. Why would unidentified armed men take an artist from his home and murder him? Considering the artist was just one of over 50 victims killed in one year in a single region, why are the authorities unable - or unwilling - to stop the killers? This is the reality of today’s Mexico, the subject of this piece. But this essay is also about much broader, international issues, human solidarity, and the democratic spirit.

Gilberto Abundiz Sánchez was a 30-year old artist attending the Popular Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. Located in Michoacán, Mexico, the University is the oldest institution of higher education in the Americas.

Gilberto Sanchez and two other young death squad victims. May 21, 2015.

Gilberto Sanchez and two other young death squad victims. May 21, 2015. Photo/EFE

By all accounts Sánchez was dedicated to art, he was a printmaker and painter. He was last seen watering the plants at his mother’s home when he was kidnapped on March 30, 2015. The remains of Sánchez were found on May 21, 2015 in Chilapa, Guerrero. He and two other young victims had been killed, dismembered, wrapped in blankets, and dumped along a roadside. The corpse was identified as Sánchez because of its unique tattoo.

The staff, students, and authorities of the University released a statement to express their “grief, anger, and outrage at the brutal murder of the student of the Bachelor of Visual Arts.” The collective statement describes Sánchez as a “peaceful, enthusiastic, and creative young man who actively participated in outreach activities that the Graphic Arts Department organized.”

The University communique also posed some very serious questions; “What happens in a country that allows the murder of its young students?” “Why do they fear the intelligence and creativity of young people, who represent the future of Mexico?” “Why has the whole society become a hostage to terror?”

The statement closed with these defiant words. “We are not willing to continue to act as if nothing happened in this country, that the death of Gilberto Abundiz Sánchez was natural and not the result of an undeclared war which has been unleashed against students, workers, peasants, and thinking people not aligned to power.”

The University statement is significant for two important reasons. It comes from the University staff, which includes academic as well as administrative faculty; it was also a collective statement issued in the name of the student body. More importantly, the bulletin expresses what millions of Mexicans are currently thinking about the criminal clique that rules their country.

Which brings us to the self-made controversy swirling around Rigoberta Menchú Tum, the indigenous Quiché woman, Guatemalan Human Rights activist, and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner. If anyone in the U.S. remembers Rigoberta Menchú Tum, it is as a heroic and altruistic “native rights” activist. After surviving the depredations of death squads in her homeland and the state murder of her family, after suffering insults and verbal muggings from right-wing critics aplenty, Menchú has managed to besmirch and defile her own legacy by collaborating with the authoritarian government of Mexico.

I once respected Rigoberta Menchú… that is no longer the case. The reasons for my bitter disappointment with Menchú are headline news in Mexico, but the calamity she has set off in Mexico has not been covered in the U.S. press. As a result I feel obligated to break this cheerless story to my fellow North Americans.

Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, presents Rigoberta Menchú Tum with her accreditation as an official election observer for Mexico's elections. Photo/INE Mexico.

Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, presents Rigoberta Menchú Tum with her accreditation as an official election observer for Mexico's elections. Photo/INE Mexico.

On May 26, 2015 Rigoberta Menchú was accredited by Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE), as an official electoral observer for the country’s June 7, 2015 midterm federal and state elections.

The INE paid Menchú $10,000 U.S. dollars to “promote voting and democracy” during her five-day stay in Mexico. According to information published in the Mexican press, Menchú charged $40,000 dollars for her visit, the balance being paid by private foundations. Here I must add, if Menchú has been paid by the Mexican government to lecture the people on democracy, and to be an election observer, can she really be seen as impartial?

Specifically, the INE is sending Menchú to the conflict ridden state of Guerrero to drum up support for the sham elections, but why Guerrero? Because that region is home to the Ayotzinapa teachers’ training college that had 43 of its students kidnapped by police and their drug gang accomplices. Ayotzinapa has become the political lightning rod of the nation, a democratic prairie fire has sprung from the tragedy, and President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) hopes to stamp it out.

It should be remembered that when the police of Guerrero seized the 43 Ayotzinapa students on Sept. 26, 2014, they turned them over to the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug gang to be murdered. There is no clearer evidence of the seamless relationship that exists between vast sectors of the Mexican government and powerful drug syndicates.

Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, presented Menchú with her accreditation at a photo-op press conference held at the INE headquarters. Córdova said Menchú was “a woman recognized internationally for her relentless struggle for the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples and for her convictions concerning peace.” It was a stunning bit of propaganda since just days earlier the Indigenous Council of Guanajuato filed a complaint against Córdova with Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights. During a phone conversation between the president of the INE and the group’s executive secretary, Córdova made racist jokes that ridiculed the way indigenous people speak.

Does Menchú not see that publicly accepting accreditation and money from Lorenzo Córdova legitimizes his image? If she was unaware of the controversy surrounding Córdova, then maybe she is not cognizant of other Mexican government intrigues. I suppose calling her naive is the best defense that can be offered, but callowness is not an attribute an election observer should possess.

Córdova’s phone call was surreptitiously recorded and released on Spanish language social media, where it has circulated ever since. Because of this Córdova “apologized” for his “unfortunate and disrespectful” jokes, but the INE asked the Attorney General’s Office to mount an investigation into who secretly recorded the conversation and made it public.

The former Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam (affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was widely criticized for attempting to cover-up the truth regarding the Ayotzinapa 43 kidnapping. He infuriated millions when at a press conference he was questioned regarding the 43 missing students, and responded with “that’s enough, I’m tired” before walking away from the press. The pro-Democracy movement then used Karam’s words #YaMeCanse (I am tired) in a social media campaign to show their contempt for government violence and impunity. Karam resigned in Feb. 2015, but the new Attorney General, Arely Gómez González (also affiliated to the PRI), will most likely lack the energy to tackle the Ayotzi 43 case, but I think she will show great zeal in exposing and prosecuting those who recorded Lorenzo Córdova’s racist phone conversation!

Video screenshot of 27-year old Ana Gatica challenging Menchú at a May 29, 2015 government organized forum.

Video screenshot of 27-year old Ana Gatica challenging Menchú at a May 29, 2015 government organized forum.

But back to Menchú and her disingenuous but well paid “This is what democracy looks like” side show. On May 29, 2015, at a large public gathering organized by the INE at the International Center in Acapulco, Guerrero, Menchú delivered a lecture titled Democracy and the Culture of Peace, a talk that many across Mexico found offensive and insulting.

Broad sectors of the population in Mexico are frustrated by narco-politica (narco-politics); millions believe their votes have no power to effect change. They believe, for good reason, that oligarchs and drug lords have an absolute grip on power, nullifying the democratic process. They believe there is no official mechanism that can be used to implement the people’s political will.

Furthermore, the movement for democracy that sprang up around Ayotzinapa has called for a boycott of the elections; it is a strategy that presses for the abolishment of Narco-regime governance and an end to kidnapping and murder by the state. The demand is that the 43 be returned, and if that is not possible, all of the conspirators who kidnapped and murdered them be brought to justice. Who is Rigoberta Menchú to tell the Mexican people that their assessment of the situation is incorrect?

During her lecture Menchú told the parents of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students; “I would urge the families to try to explain the reason” for their children’s “actions” prior to being kidnapped (as if the students shared blame for being taken hostage). Menchú told the parents to do so “without hiding the truth, because the truth dignifies us all,” a statement that implied the parents of the 43 missing students had lied in their campaign to pressure the government.

Menchú went on to say that “the vote is a personal decision,” and that an election “is an opportunity to renew authorities.” She asked the parents of the 43 Ayotzinapa students to never forget their children (as if they would!), and to go out and vote, because “Gentlemen vote, and that is my message.”

The tables are turned. Ana Gatica, an indigenous Nahua from Guerrero, lectures Menchú on the meaning of democracy. Photographer unknown.

The tables are turned. Ana Gatica, an indigenous Nahua from Guerrero, lectures Menchú on the meaning of democracy. Photographer unknown.

At the close of her address, Menchú asked for a moment of silence for the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students. After the awkward silence there was a question and answer period, and a 27-year old woman, Ana Gatica, took the stage to deliver what turned out to be a rather fiery public rebuke; Ms. Gatica is an indigenous Nahua from Guerrero.

Shaking with emotion and choking back her tears, Ms. Gatica addressed the honored guest as Hermana Menchú (Sister Menchú), “I do not know how you can ask us to make a vow to vote,” she said, when disappearances and murders of civilians go unpunished. Ms. Gatica pointed out that 50 young people living in the state of Guerrero have been killed between October 26, 2012 and May 30, 2015. The first to disappear “was the daughter of a cousin, Gabriela Itzel Ortiz Vazquez, 15, the last to be killed was Gilberto Abundiz Sánchez.” Gatica began to cry when she spoke of Sánchez, her friend and fellow graphic artist.

Ana Gatica pointedly stated: “Ms. Menchú, the indignation and anger cannot be finished, and I know you understand. One more thing, we cannot keep asking for a minute of silence for the missing, because asking for a minute of silence for each of the disappeared - and for everyone murdered in our country, in our state, means that we will remain silent forever.”

The comments of the brave and courageous Ana Gatica were captured in several Spanish language videos of the Democracia y cultura de la paz conference. Ms. Gatica received a stirring round of applause for confronting Menchú, it was no doubt more enthusiastic and heartfelt than the polite clapping given to Menchú at the close of her speech.

The day after Rigoberta Menchú’s speech, Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesman for the parents of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, deplored the conduct of Menchú. He said that she “fell into the INE game of promoting the elections,” and that she “does not know how they have governed us in Mexico for many years.” De la Cruz had some words of advice for Menchú, “If you want the truth, ask those who are paying you to making your comments.”

In 1982 Rigoberta Menchú rose to international fame with the release of her book I, Rigoberta Menchú. It told the story of the impoverished Quiché people living under the boot of Guatemala’s oligarchical landlords and their armed goons. Menchú’s family became involved in the land reform movement, and so became targets of the regime. Her father Vicente was arrested and tortured, her brother was executed by government soldiers, her mother was arrested, raped, and killed by government troops, and ultimately her father was burned to death in the 1980 Spanish Embassy Massacre. In 1981 Rigoberta Menchú fled Guatemala for Mexico and then France.

While in France Menchú met Elizabeth Burgos-Debray, who not only convinced Menchú to write her memoirs, but became the ghostwriter for the book. At the time I found the autobiography to be totally convincing, the tome fed the international solidarity movement that was determined to end the butchery in Central America. For the events detailed in her book, Menchú received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum - Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919-1999). Oil on canvas. Detail.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum - Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919-1999). Oil on canvas.

Doubts about Menchú finally began to rise in 1999 when anthropologist David Stoll published Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans, a book that pointed out discrepancies and inaccuracies in Menchú’s autobiography. The left-wing - myself included - dismissed Stoll’s book, but Menchú’s recent skullduggery forces a reconsideration.

In 2009 I attended Guayasamín: Rage & Redemption, an exhibit at the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) in Long Beach, California. It was a retrospective of artworks by the Ecuadoran master painter, Oswaldo Guayasamín (1919-1999). Prominently displayed was the artist’s oil on canvas portrait of Rigoberta Menchú. Guayasamín, a social realist artist and a man of the left, would no doubt be outraged over the shameful antics of Menchú.

It should go without saying that I no longer support Rigoberta Menchú, who has become but a faded image of her former self. No, I stand with Ana Gatica, the spirited and outspoken indigenous Nahua from Guerrero who knows how to stand for the people’s rights.

L.A. Mexican Consulate: Jan. 2015

Protest in front of the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate-General, Jan. 2015 - Photograph Mark Vallen 2015 ©

Protest at the Los Angeles Mexican Consulate-General, Jan. 2015. Photograph Mark Vallen 2015 ©

In Mexico and around the world, January 6, 2015 became an international day of solidarity with the parents of the missing students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college in Iguala, Mexico.

Vigils and protests took place all across Mexico, as well as in 20 U.S. cities. On the evening of Tuesday Jan. 6, 2015, up to 70 protesters in Los Angeles, California gathered outside of the Mexican Consulate-General across the street from L.A.’s historic MacArthur Park. My poster, Ayotzinapa Somos Todos, played a small role in the significant demonstration. You can view an article and photo essay about the demonstration that I have uploaded on my PATREON website, where you can also become my patron and directly assist in making such poster projects possible.

All is Forgotten - Todo está Olvidado

Todo está Olvidado (All is Forgotten) is a subversive cartoon one can properly call satirical. It is currently “trending” on the Mexican twitter-sphere, though I have been unable to ascertain just who created it, aside from its being signed by someone named “Alex.” The Mexican artist alluded to the January 14, 2015 “survivors issue” of Charlie Hebdo published in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on that publication’s Paris headquarters and the heinous murder of its staff.

The provocative cover of the Jan. 2015 survivors issue was drawn by Hebdo staffer Renald “Luz” Luzier, and featured a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad; a single tear falls down his cheek while he holds a sign reading Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie). The words Tout est Pardonné (All is Forgiven) float above his head.

The Mexican artist Alex mimicked the rough and ready style of the French Luz, but instead of sending a flaming arrow at the heart of Islam and all of its believers, Todo está Olvidado depicts a simple cartoonish Mexican worker, a tear of grief rolling down his cheek. He holds a sign that reads: I am Mexico. Totally standing the Hebdo cover on its head, the text floating over the sombreroed head of the worker reads, All is Forgotten - as in erased, omitted, blotted out, unrecalled… and consigned to oblivion. But what has Mexico and the rest of the world forgotten?

Cartoon - Alex. 2015. "All is Forgotten. I am Mexico. In 2014 Mexico attained sixth place with more journalists assassinated!"

Cartoon - Alex. 2015. "All is Forgotten. I am Mexico. In 2014 Mexico attained sixth place with more journalists assassinated!"

The answer is in the text at the bottom of Alex’s sketch, which translated into English reads, “In 2014 Mexico attained sixth place with more journalists assassinated!”

Contemporary Mexicanos intrinsically understand the mockery, for if there is anything more dangerous to be in Mexico than a student, it is being a journalist.

The artwork Todo está Olvidado is only slightly inaccurate when it comes to Mexico being ranked the sixth most dangerous place for journalists to operate in 2014, otherwise it is based on solid facts.

When eight Mexican journalists were assassinated in Mexico in 2010, and many others were threatened or disappeared, Pen Center USA held an evening of solidarity with Mexican journalists titled, State of Emergency: Censorship by Bullet in Mexico. Things have only gotten much worse since then.

In 2014 the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) located in Brussels, Belgium, released a report that stated 118 journalists and media staff were killed doing their jobs in Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine, Honduras, and Mexico. Pakistan rated the highest, with 14 journalists killed. Ukraine actually took 6th place for journalists murdered, while Mexico took 8th place… with 5 journalists murdered.

However, Spain’s newspaper of record, El Mundo, reported on July 17, 2014, that since the year 2000, over one hundred journalists and media workers have been assassinated in Mexico… and the list keeps growing. On Jan. 26, 2015, it was reported that the Mayor of Medellin de Bravo, a town in Mexico’s Veracruz state, is under arrest along with several corrupt policemen for the kidnapping, decapitation, and mutilation of journalist José Moisés Sánchez. Since 2010, 11 journalists have been murdered in Veracruz alone.

Mexico Is a Killing Ground for Journalists is a report from VICE News that quotes Jorge Carrasco, a reporter for the Mexican newspaper Proceso. In 2012 Mr. Carrasco received death threats while investigating the assassination of a fellow Proceso journalist. He put it this way: “Mexico is not a democratic country, because journalists wouldn’t be forced to work in conditions like this if Mexico was a democracy.”

The massacre of 12 cartoonists in Paris (there were 6 other victims as well) by reactionary “Islamic” extremists was rightly condemned, not just by the French, but by people around the world. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was seen as an assault on free expression. As an artist whose works are given to social criticism, I have always been a defender of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. On Jan. 11, 2015, more than a million people took to the streets of Paris to hold a “unity march” opposing terrorism. I was moved to see the tools of my profession, the pen and the pencil, held defiantly in raised fists during the protest; suddenly the world was seeing the artist’s pencil as I have always seen and used it… but I am left with some difficult questions, only two of which I will put forward here.

The Paris unity rally was attended by 44 foreign presidents and prime ministers. They linked arms and led the march for the 12 murdered staff members of Charlie Hebdo and the 6 other victims. I cannot help but wonder when these same world leaders will march in Mexico to honor the more than 100 journalists who have been assassinated, and to demand an end to the Narco State masquerading as a government that put them in their graves.

When will the international corporate press popularize the phrase… Je suis Ayotzinapa.