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EXPLANATION: The role of the Mexican army in the disappearance of students

MEXICO — The role of the Mexican army in the disappearance of 43 students, its participation in the concealment of the facts and its alleged links with organized crime are now at the center of a case that is shaking the nation. The government’s Truth Commission declared the incident a “state crime” in August.

Three members of the military and a former federal attorney general were recently arrested in the case, and few now believe the government’s initial claim that a local drug gang and allied local officials were entirely responsible. of the July 26, 2014 arrest and murder of the students, then burning their bodies – most of which were never found.

Crucial details remain unclear despite years of investigation.

But the Reforma newspaper, which obtained excerpts from a Truth Commission report shared with the attorney general’s office, published details of messages between drug gang members and the military that appear to show that at least some of the student bodies were taken to a local army. base. Advocates for the students’ families fear the leak of sensitive details about the suspects could jeopardize the prosecution.

Here are some questions and answers about abductions.


Truth Commission chairman Alejandro Encinas says the fake official version announced at the time by Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam “was devised at the highest level of the federal government” after meetings at the presidency, then between the hands of Enrique Pena Nieto.

According to this version, Iguala officials believed the students were going to disrupt a local political event. It says police rounded up the 43 students and handed them over to a local drug gang, which killed the youths, burned their bodies in a landfill and dumped the remains in a river.

Although all of the students were apparently murdered, it has since been proven that they were taken in groups to different locations. Some were apparently kept alive for days.

The students had hijacked buses to go to a protest in Mexico City and were intercepted in Iguala, possibly because one of the buses contained a shipment of drugs.


Three members of the military have been arrested this month, including José Rodríguez Pérez, who as colonel commanded the local military base in Iguala at the time of the students’ disappearance. The Truth Commission report alleges that he ordered the murder of six students days after they were abducted.

Rodríguez Pérez was later promoted to general. Now retired, he faces organized crime charges. A fourth serviceman, Captain José Martínez Crespo was arrested in 2020. On Saturday, the Spanish newspaper El Pais published documents showing that the Attorney General’s office had asked a judge to cancel the arrest warrants against 16 other servicemen. . The office did not respond to requests for comment.

The most politically significant arrest came last month when former attorney general Murillo Karam was detained. He was charged with enforced disappearance, failing to report the torture of suspects and official misconduct. He is accused of having announced a false version of events which he described as “historical truth”.


It was known from the start that the military had real-time knowledge of events in Iguala that night because soldiers were in key locations, including a police coordination center. The Truth Commission report indicates that at least one soldier was infiltrated among the kidnapped students.

In 2015, the army chief at the time, General Salvador Cienfuegos, guaranteed that the army had no responsibility for the events, whether by action or omission. The communications collected by the Truth Commission, however, contradict this assertion. They suggest that soldiers were in contact with the criminals at key times.


The Truth Commission report says at least one of the missing students was a soldier sent to spy on the college, and a lawyer for the parents claimed there was another. Separately, relatives of Julio Cesar Mondragon, one of six students killed after surviving the initial attack and then being tortured, have called for an investigation into two other students – turned politicians – who were the leaders who sent the group of protesters in Iguala despite threats. the school had received.


The Ayotzinapa case is a tangle of 28 criminal cases spread across seven states. Eight years later, no one has been convicted.

Santiago Aguirre, a human rights lawyer for relatives of the victims, said around 50 people are in jail awaiting trial. In August, the attorney general’s office issued 80 new warrants, but Aguirre said most just opened new cases involving people already in custody.

The man who led the first investigation into the abductions, Tomás Zerón, who is in Israel, is still wanted. Mexico requests his extradition.

Due to the torture of witnesses and other irregularities, dozens of defendants were acquitted of certain charges. However, many of them remain imprisoned on other charges.


President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has increasingly used the military to build large infrastructure projects and to replace the police in fighting crime, arguing that it is less corrupt than other agencies.

Accusations of human rights violations against the military were common during the “dirty war” of the 1970s and 1980s. They were particularly harsh in the impoverished, opium poppy-growing state of Guerrero. Some abuse continued – along with allegations of officers linked to drug cartels.

In the past 25 years, three generals have been indicted in Mexico, although only one has been convicted.

The Secretary of Defense at the time of the kidnappings, Cienfuegos, was arrested in the United States in 2020 and charged with links to drug cartels. But under pressure from the Mexican government, the charges against him were later dropped and he was sent back to Mexico, which released him.

In the Iguala area where the students were abducted, ties between the military and criminals date back to at least 2013. According to a court document seen by The Associated Press, military aided a local cartel with weapons and training for his hitmen.

Testimony from imprisoned criminal suspect says Captain Jose Martínez Crespo, who was arrested in 2020, received money from a leader of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, to help them relocate weapons. “He used his vehicles to move freely around the area,” the witness said.

ABC News

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