By Kent Paterson
An important political and social leader in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero has been murdered. Authorities confirmed Sunday the death of Ranferi Hernandez Acevedo, whose body was found in a burning vehicle with those of his wife Lucia Hernandez Dircio, 94-year-old mother-in-law Juana Dircio and chauffeur late Saturday on a rural Guerrero highway, according to Mexican press accounts.
The travelers had been considered missing for several hours before their remains were recovered.
The killings were condemned by Archbishop Leopoldo Gonzalez Gonzalez of Acapulco, Guerrero Governor Hector Astudillo and the Centro Morelos human rights advocacy organization.
Hernandez was a founder and former Guerrero state president of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) as well as an ex-state legislator. More recently, he was a prominent member of a Guerrero movement of activists historically associated with the PRD that is supporting the 2018 presidential bid of Morena party leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Also on Saturday, Enrique Baños Herrera, Morena member and activist with the Fodeg social organization, was taken by men from his workshop and beaten into a coma in Ometepec, Guerrero, the Acapulco-based publication Laplazadiario.com reported. It’s not known if the vicious assault was related to the Hernandez murder. There was no immediate public comment from Lopez Obrador about either the Hernandez slaying or the Baños attack.
A solidly built man with the handshake of a wrestler, Hernandez gained national and international stature back in the 1990s during the political crisis arising from the Aguas Blancas massacre of 17 unarmed small farmers by Guerrero state police on June 28, 1995.
In 1996, he formed part of the leadership of the FAC-MLN, a grouping of leftist social and political organizations that organized a memorial at the site of the massacre attended by about 1,500 people on the first anniversary of the atrocity.
The gathering was riveted by the first public appearance of the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) when a uniformed contingent of men and women guerrilla fighters took the stage, read a political manifesto in both Spanish and indigenous Nahuatl, and fired shots from AK-47 rifles into the air in honor of the slain farmers.
In the aftermath of the EPR’s emergence, government repression against leaders of the FAC-MLN intensified. The late Benigno Guzman was arrested and incarcerated in Puente Grande prison, the same facility that held drug lord Chapo Guzman at the time, and Hernandez found refuge in France for four years. Rocio Mesino, who was then emerging as a young social movement leader connected to the FAC-MLN, was later murdered in October 2013 — almost to the day Ranferi Hernandez was found slain four years later.
In a 2014 interview with this reporter, Hernandez commented on the final report then in progress of the Guerrero State Truth Commission, which was established by the state legislature to probe the fates of hundreds people in Guerrero who were forcibly disappeared by state security forces in the 1960s and 1970s during a government counterinsurgency campaign.
The military and police operations were aimed at wiping out guerrillas separately led by teachers Genaro Vasquez Rojas and Lucio Cabanas Barrientos, whose respective groups were forerunners of the EPR.
Hernandez praised the work of the Truth Commission, attributing multiple incidents of intimidation and harassment directed against the civilian commissioners to the “very good work” of the investigative body. He insisted that the final report would “single out the guilty ones” and not be ignored.
“All the (social) organizations are going to demand punishment for the responsible parties,” Hernandez said. “There will be other demands, which we aren’t going to reveal right now.”
Three years after the Truth Commission released its final report, which ironically came at the moment Guerrero and Mexico were plunged into a fresh human rights crisis stemming from the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa rural teacher college students in Iguala, Guerrero, the findings of the investigators are collecting dust.
Despite a mountain of evidence collected by the Truth Commission that implicated Mexican presidents and other senior officials, the fates of the missing from decades ago remain unknown to this day and are now joined by the mysteries surrounding Ayotzinapa and many other recent cases.
In yet another irony, Hernandez was murdered on the same day that police arrested scores of rural teacher college students, including Ayotzinapa students, during a protest in the neighboring state of Michoacan. The Centro Morelos and Collective against Torture and Impunity were quoted in the Guerrero daily El Sur as accusing Michoacan police of employing “chemical torture” and threatening students with forced disappearance “like what happened to the 43.”
In the 2014 interview, Hernandez blamed the Obama administration for fueling violence in Mexico via the anti-crime Merida Initiative, which has provided training and security technology assistance to Mexican security forces. He criticized the Peña Nieto administration’s economic and other reforms, contending that the state of human rights in Mexico had worsened in comparison with previous years.
“It’s more difficult now than back then,” Hernandez said. “We’ve been left with no rights from the Constitution, with thousands of murders and a country delivered to foreign capital.”
Hernandez and his companions were reportedly found murdered not far from a military checkpoint in a place bordering the municipalities of Ahuacuotzingo and Chilapa, which are situated in a region known as the Lower Mountain. The area is the battleground of a violent struggle between two competing organized crime groups, Los Jefes and Los Ardillos, over control of the lucrative opium poppy and heroin trade. Ranferi Hernandez was the uncle of Gerzain Hernandez, the current mayor of Ahuacuotzingo.
A former PRD mayor of the nearby town of Zitlala, Guerrero, construction businessman Francisco Tecuchillo Neri, was found gravely wounded on Friday in Chilapa and died in a local hospital hours later. A so-called narco message was reportedly left at the crime scene warning of involvement with one of the underworld groups.
According to Proceso magazine, three other former elected officials from the Guerrero branch of the PRD have been murdered so far this year, while a former PRD federal congressman from the troubled state, Catarino Duarte Ortuño, has been missing since April.
Silvano Blanco, PRD state legislator and onetime Zihuatanejo mayor, recently declared that Duarte had in fact been murdered.
“It’s easier for the system to say that the friend is disappeared,” Blanco was quoted in El Sur as saying. “He’s not disappeared. We know in an extra official way that our friend was really murdered.”
Besides adding to the overall sense of insecurity in Guerrero, Hernandez’s murder casts a shadow over the July 2018 elections, which are beginning to unfold amid a turbulent political environment splashed by party splits and shifts, thinly-disguised media campaigns for public exposure, mounting narco-violence in some regions, and an unprecedented avalanche of “independent” hopefuls angling for candidacies outside the structures of the nation’s political organizations.
A weekend bulletin the official National Electoral Institute, which is tasked with organizing next year’s elections, reported that more than 300 individuals had registered their intentions of obtaining independent presidential, senatorial or congressional candidacies.
– Kent Paterson is an independent journalist who covers issues in the U.S./Mexico border region.