This September 26 marks the sixth anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the town of Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The tragic anniversary also marks six years of the absence of justice and serves as a reminder of the impunity enjoyed by various politicians and officials of security forces involved in the case.
While the current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has given the case high priority, there have still been little advances made. One of the key promises during his presidential campaign was to reopen the case and create a truth and justice commission to investigate what happened to the students. After he assumed office, the commission was established and is headed by the interior ministry and the attorney general’s office. However, two years have passed since the truth commission began operating, and justice is still far away due to the manipulation and alteration of evidence carried out by former attorney generals and investigating officers.
Nevertheless, the new authorities made many small important developments, such as the discovery of the remains of another disappeared student, Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, in a place different from the ones indicated in the former government’s version. But there have also been some missteps, for example, the escape of Tomás Zerón, former director of the Criminal Investigation Agency, who is accused of diverting the investigations of the case by falsifying evidence.
Zerón is now in Israel and there is no extradition treaty between Mexico and Israel. His arrest is crucial in the case, because only he can explain who ordered or authorized him to alter and destroy evidence and hide the truth.
The parents, relatives and friends of the 43 disappeared students will hold a demonstration outside the National Supreme Court of Justice located in the capital, Mexico City, on the anniversary, September 26, to demand justice for their loved ones. The prompt arrest of Tomás Zerón, the imprisonment and prosecution of the then-governor of the Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre and an end to the release of suspects, are some of their demands.
Meanwhile, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has announced to meet the families of the young students and release detailed reports on the unfortunate events. The Ministry of the Interior, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Supreme Court of Justice, each, will present a report on the developments made in the investigation of the case.
What happened on September 26, 2014 and in the aftermath?
What exactly happened on the night of September 26, 2014, still remains a mystery as the full truth has yet to be uncovered. What is known, through information gathered from the survivors, witnesses and independent human rights investigations, is that students from the Rural Teachers’ College, known for its leftist activism, had commandeered buses to travel to Mexico City for the commemoration of the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968. On their way, they were attacked in the city of Iguala by law enforcement officials, who shot at the buses, killed 6 people (3 of them were students) and detained 43 students who were never seen again.
The then-government of president Enrique Peña Nieto claimed that the local police had handed over the 43 students to a group of drug-trafficking assassins, Guerreros Unidos Cartel, who supposedly killed them, incinerated the bodies and disposed of the remains in a nearby river.
However, family members of the victims and human rights organizations do not believe this narrative and allege that the federal government and the army were directly involved in disappearing the students. Many believe that the national government used the Guerreros Unidos Cartel story as a cover-up to protect high-ranking officials and institutions, painting the massacre as a case of corrupt local police personnel colluding with drug cartels, nothing uncommon in Mexico.
Human rights and student activists pointed out that the students from Rural Teachers’ College were active in the protests against the educational reform bill proposed by the Nieto’s government in 2013, and were committed to struggling against the neoliberal regime.
Nieto’s government received harsh criticism from around the world over the irregularities in the investigation of the case.
In December 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent a group of experts called the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) to Mexico to investigate the case for a year. The GIEI defected irregularities in the government’s investigation and concluded that several investigation lines that were left unfollowed to clarify what happened on that tragic night. However, following their report and request to continue the investigation, the Mexican government refused to extend the stay of the IACHR’s experts in the country.
This year, in the month of May, ALMO’s administration reached an agreement with the IACHR to reinstate the GIEI to provide technical assistance in the investigations.