The role of some soldiers both in the disappearance of 43 teaching students in southern Mexico in 2014, and in the concealment of what happened and their alleged links to organized crime, are at the center of a case that has generated commotion in Mexico and abroad.
The Truth Commission, an official entity created in the current government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said in August that it was a “state crime,” and documents it obtained suggest that it was the military who ordered the killing of some of the young people and those who manipulated and hid part of their remains, indications that the prosecution must now investigate.
Three members of the army were recently arrested, as was the former attorney general at the time, Jesus Murillo Karam, but the fact that the federal prosecutor’s office has withdrawn arrest warrants for more than a dozen soldiers has caused concern. And it is also feared that details and names leaked to the newspaper Reforma, which offer a clearer view of the army’s involvement, could put judicial proceedings at risk.
Meanwhile, the parents remain unaware of the students’ fate. Presumably all were killed, although the remains of only three of them have been found.
Here are some keys to understand how the case is developing.
WHAT HAPPENED IN IGUALA ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2014?
Students from the Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa went to the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero, in the south of the country, to take buses to use them in protests, but they were attacked by different security forces and authorities in collusion with organized crime. The motive is not clear, but the idea has become established that one of the buses that were taken was linked to heroin trafficking.
The official version of the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto (2012-2018), which focuses on the fact that the 43 students were handed over to the local Guerreros Unidos cartel, burned in a dump that night and their remains thrown into a river, is already ruled out. . It has been proven that the young people were disappeared in groups, that more actors participated and one of the identified remains was found in another place.
WHAT WAS THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY IN THOSE DAYS?
It was always known that the army had real-time knowledge of what was happening because on the night of September 26 there were soldiers in key places in Iguala and in the security coordination center.
In 2015, Salvador Cienfuegos, Secretary of Defense at the time, guaranteed that the army had no responsibility for the events, neither by action nor by omission. The data obtained by the Truth Commission says otherwise.
As explained by its president, Alejandro Encinas, six of the 43 students were kept alive in a warehouse for a few days and presumably handed over to the commander of the military base in Iguala, who ordered their execution.
Telephone messages disclosed by the Commission, partially crossed out, suggest that there were soldiers who manipulated and hid the presumed remains of the students in the facilities of the Iguala battalion. The newspaper Reforma, which obtained a full version of the text, supports that version.
WHO WAS RECENTLY ARRESTED?
This month three soldiers were arrested, including one who was in charge of the area at the time, Jose Rodriguez Perez. Shortly after the events, he was promoted to general and is now retired and charged with organized crime. According to Encinas, he was the one who allegedly gave the order to kill six of the students.
The arrest with the greatest political significance took place in August: that of Murillo Karam, currently on trial for forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice because, according to the prosecution, he invented an “official” version to hide the truth, the so-called ” historical truth.”
Another member of the army, Captain Jose Martinez Crespo, had been arrested in 2020.
The prosecution has just withdrawn arrest warrants against 16 soldiers allegedly involved, according to documents published by the newspaper El Pais, which worries the victims. That department did not respond to a request for comment and has not offered a public explanation for the reasons for that decision.
WHAT IS NEW ABOUT THE ATTEMPTS TO HIDE THE CRIME?
Encinas said that the official version, obtained based on statements under torture and manipulation of evidence, “was designed at the highest levels of the federal government,” including meetings in the Presidency of the Republic, then in the hands of Pena Nieto.
In the public version of the Commission’s report, the acronym EPN appears as one of the characters mentioned in the intercepted messages. According to the newspaper Reforma, the president tried to protect the then mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, currently imprisoned.
International experts denounced in March that intelligence documents and videos hidden for years show that the Navy participated in the concealment of the truth and that some torture was carried out in its facilities.
HOW IS THE JUDICIAL PROCESS GOING?
The Ayotzinapa case is a tangle of 28 criminal cases spread over seven states where the defendants may be involved in several of these cases at the same time. After eight years, no one has been convicted.
According to a count by Santiago Aguirre, director of the Prodh Center – an activist organization – and lawyer for the students’ parents, some 50 people are now incarcerated, including 4 soldiers, former prosecutor Murillo Karam, the then mayor of Iguala, numerous police and other people.
The current prosecutor’s office reported 80 new arrest warrants in August, but most were people who were already in prison and new charges were filed against them, Aguirre explained.
Days later, part of those arrest warrants were annulled for those who were still at large, including soldiers and high-ranking officials from Guerrero. Victims are concerned that the federal prosecutor’s office appears to be sidelining the specialized team on the case.
The head of the investigation at that time, Tomas Zeron, is one of the fugitives. He is in hiding in Israel, and Mexico is working to extradite him.
Due to the torture of witnesses and other irregularities, dozens of defendants have been acquitted of some charges, but remain imprisoned for others.
WERE THERE INFILTRATORS AMONG THE STUDENTS?
The Truth Commission said that one of the 43 disappeared was a military informant, which makes the army have an added responsibility for not protecting him.
Aguirre, the lawyer for the students’ parents, added that international experts confirmed that there was another infiltrator who did not disappear, and that the government has not reported.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Aguirre pointed out that the existence of informants inside the school shows that the Mexican army, even “in a democracy, continues to resort to ‘dirty war’ methods, with practices that are neither regulated nor accepted,” something that considers it very worrying given the growing power that Lopez Obrador is giving to the armed forces. In Mexico, a period of military and political repression in the 1970s and 1980s to dissolve armed movements opposed to the Mexican state is known as the “dirty war”.
Relatives of Julio Cesar Mondragon, one of the six murdered in the Ayotzinapa case and brutally tortured, have also asked to investigate two student leaders who encouraged the youth to go to Iguala. Now one of them is a federal deputy for the ruling Morena party and the other works for the Guerrero government.
WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSIAL HISTORY OF THE MEXICAN ARMY?
The army was accused of serious human rights violations and connections with drug cartels both during the “dirty war” —which was especially harsh in Guerrero, a poor poppy-producing state—, and in current decades.
In the last 25 years, three generals have been brought before the Mexican justice system. Only one was found guilty.
When the students disappeared, the head of the army was Cienfuegos, a general who in 2020 was arrested and accused by the United States of links to drug trafficking, although the charges were later dropped and he was handed over to Mexico and released. That same year, 2014, the army was accused of at least eight extrajudicial executions.
In the Iguala area there are documents that speak of connections between the military and criminals since 2013. According to a statement from the Ayotzinapa case to which the AP had access, members of the army helped with weapons and trained hitmen from Guerreros Unidos on a nearby hill.
According to the testimony of an alleged imprisoned criminal, Captain Martinez Crespo received money from a leader of said cartel, whom he helped to transport weapons in “his vehicles”, with which “he could move freely around the region.”
Source: El Nuevo Herald