Vicente Alfonso: “The Dirty War in Mexico has been erased by the official version”

Vicente Alfonso: “The Dirty War in Mexico has been erased by the official version”

Vicente Alfonso at his home in Mexico City.
Vicente Alfonso at his home in Mexico City.Aggi Garduño

The Mexican writer Vicente Alfonso (Torreón, 45 years old) tells that at the end of a presentation of his novel the unknown blood (Alfaguara) a woman who was grateful for the story approached her and told her that she had been a victim of the crimes that the book denounces: terrible humiliations committed by the Army and paramilitary groups against peasants, guerrillas, dissidents or any person who was considered collaborator with the guerrillas that in the sixties and seventies operated for a change of direction in Mexico. Those were the years of the Dirty War, a sinister process that still goes unpunished and silenced. “I was in prison for two years,” that woman confessed to Alfonso, in what for him is a sign of the importance of denouncing these horrors by literature. Alfonso has dealt with these horrors throughout his work as a journalist and writer in a country where the State has not only kept an eloquent silence about these crimes, but they have also been denied. “The authorities continue to say that they had no knowledge of these operations,” the writer affirms. They are facts, he says, “that have been erased, overwhelmed and obscured by the official versions and that we have to see again.”

Ask. In his novel he describes a list of horrors committed against the guerrillas in Mexico during the so-called Dirty War: “After torturing them, they put them in sacks full of stones and threw them into the sea from a helicopter. Or they were buried alive. Or they forced them to drink gasoline and set them on fire in a garbage dump.” Why have you been interested in that macabre moment in the history of Mexico?

Reply. For this campaign to criminalize peasant struggles. There is also a smear campaign against their demands. I started to do this research on what had happened in the sixties and seventies, because it seems to me that there are many parallels with what is happening now. I believe that there are long periods of history, there are interesting phenomena in our recent history, which have been erased, overwhelmed and obscured by the official versions and which we have to see again.

Q. Why in Mexico have not the authorities made a greater effort to publicize what happened in those moments, in those dark years of Mexican history?

R. It also seems to me that on the part of the public there is not much interest in meeting him. What do I mean? For example, we have novels like war in paradise of Carlos Montemayor, who extensively document what happened, and we have studies that have to do with the jurisprudence created, for example, with the case of Rosendo Radilla, which is an emblematic case of forced disappearance that occurred in our country and that is resolved in favor of the family and against the Mexican State. But little is known. In other words, a few specialists know about it, but there is no diffusion. The information may be available, but if no one accesses it, it is as if it did not exist.

Q. Why do you think that people in Mexico are not interested in issues that are an important part of their history?

R. It would be very difficult for me to answer. What I do believe is that along with these great disinterested masses, there is also a large population that is interested in the phenomena and that investigates and dialogues and proposes.

Q. This lack of interest can also benefit the Mexican State, because there is a responsibility that has not yet been clarified.

R. Of course, because things are hidden. I give the Radilla case as an example. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights obliges and requires the Mexican State to take actions in favor of the memory of the victims of forced disappearance, which are more than 500 only in the municipality of Atoyac [Estado de Guerrero]. And what the Mexican State does is place a hidden plaque in Atoyac, a plaque that you will not find on the internet, that is not publicized and that has a very ambiguous text, because it says: “In memory of the victims of forced disappearance.” . It doesn’t say how many there are. So it’s again playing with the information. That is to say, I comply, but on the minimum: You ordered me to do something that has to do with memory, I put a lost plate and that’s it. Of course the State benefits and this happens in many cases!

Q. You mention in your novel the Grupo Sangre, a paramilitary group that committed atrocities. It also narrates a terrifying scene, related to the military, who arrive in a town in the State of Guerrero and summon people to a field and while they are arriving, they are murdering them, including children. In your investigation process, were you able to determine who gave these orders? Was it the Mexican government? Was the Army acting on its own?

R. Well, there are debates about it. Of course, the authorities continue to say that they were unaware of these operations, but Carlos Montemayor proved it based on his investigations and gave reports at the time to the National Human Rights Commission. He says that they acted systematically and that there had to be coordination behind it. My impression, from what I have been able to investigate, is that this was indeed the case. The question is to prove it. Yes, there were also these groups such as the Blood Group. While I was writing the novel I thought: if we were to write a vampire novel in Mexico it would have to be something like this. That is to say, a group of men who went out at night dressed in black to take the peasants out of their houses in an extremely violent manner. They took them away and those peasants did not return. It is not a horror story, unfortunately it is real.

Q. Have you been able to document who was in charge of these groups?

R. Well, there are some names, but the people of the communities were very afraid. Yes, there were those who dedicated themselves to leaving testimonies, but there is a lot of silence around and even now a lot of fear. At that time the Army used disguises. It is a story that runs there, but it is perfectly credible. The military put on Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) uniforms and arrived in a community and were there working, but at the same time they were watching. And suddenly the workers would leave and take three or four suspected of collaborating with the guerrilla groups. Then people began to be very afraid of the employees of the Federal Electricity Commission, to the point that now, a specialist told me, although I don’t know how real it is, there are towns where there is no electricity and where the lines electric companies turn around because they were never allowed in to electrify. In any case, it is evident that there is a distrust of the residents towards authority figures. And it is a mistrust that I think is well founded because they saw them take their relatives there and never return.

Q. During your investigation, were you able to come up with names of soldiers who had an active participation in these events?

R. Yes, yes, it is a very sensitive issue and I even came across people who had lived with these soldiers. I’m going to reserve the names. In war in paradise Montemayor gives absolutely real names, dates, places. There you can see who was acting. It can even be seen that there were struggles within the Army, because there were commanders who rather proposed a different approach to the residents compared to those who said we have to destroy, we have to unleash the lash there so that the population learns. These debates within the Army are perfectly credible, although we know that the Army always presents only one face and is an institution that requires a lot of discipline.

Q. What are the consequences for Mexico that these crimes have gone unpunished?

R. many. Let’s say it’s even a cultural problem in our country. In other words, the lack of confidence in the instances of law enforcement makes us see it as something absolutely remote and improbable to obtain some type of compensation for the damage. Imagine how that also operates from the other side, in the ranks of crime, with this premise of guaranteed impunity. I have been asked many times why look back. Well, because they are things that remain unfinished. I don’t know, they are wounds that are still open and that we have not finished assimilating. At the beginning of the novel I say that nothing is as difficult to clean as blood. Well, our recent history has that bloodstain and we have two options: say well, we assume that it is there or we do something depending on how to work memory, how to assimilate it so that it does not repeat itself.

Q. But that requires a State that wants to get involved. Do you think the current government has that interest?

R. I think that on the part of President López Obrador there is more interest than there has been on previous occasions. On behalf of the PRI, to begin with, the facts were denied. Look at the Tlatelolco massacre, about what happened in 1968. I have heard many people say that it is even an urban myth, that no students died, that the massacre was carried out by boys and that is again part of this intelligence operation. designed to neutralize these painful moments. I think there is much more willingness now than there was before, when everything was openly denied.

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