Mexican military officials arrested over involvement in Ayotzinapa disappearances

Eight years after one of Mexico’s worst state crimes, the families of the 43 victims continue to demand justice for their loved ones

September 20, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Parents and relatives of the 43 disappeared students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ School held a peaceful march in Mexico City on August 26, demanding justice for their loved ones. (Photo: Desinformemonos)

On September 14, twelve days before the eighth anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students of the Rural Teachers’ College in the town of Ayotzinapa, Mexico, the federal authorities arrested a retired general and two other military officials for their involvement in the case.

Undersecretary of Security, Ricardo Mejía, announced the news on September 15. In a press conference, Mejía reported that the government had issued warrants against four members of the Mexican Armed Forces, adding that three of them had already been arrested, including the commander of the army base in the city of Iguala, where the students were ambushed and abducted in September 2014.

“At the moment, three of the warrants have been carried out, and there are three detainees, including the commander of the 27th infantry battalion when the events in Iguala occurred,” said Mejía.

José Rodríguez Pérez, who retired with the rank of general, was the colonel of the aforementioned battalion at the time. His arrest came a month after information regarding his involvement in the case surfaced.

On August 18, the Commission for Truth and Access to Justice for the Ayotzinapa case, created by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in 2018, published a report, in which it confirmed the military’s involvement in the crime, and said the students’ disappearance was a “state-sponsored crime.” According to the report, Rodríguez Pérez allegedly ordered the execution of six of the 43 disappeared students, who were alive for several days after the events.

“Allegedly, the six students were alive for as many as four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on orders of the colonel, allegedly the then-Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez,” said Undersecretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, who led the commission, in August during a press conference.

Following the publication of the report, former attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, was also arrested for obstruction in administration of justice in the case.

The 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared on the night of September 26, 2014. According to information gathered from the survivors, witnesses and independent human rights investigations, the students had commandeered local buses to travel to Mexico City for the commemoration of the 1968 Tlatelolco Student Massacre. On their way, in the city of Iguala, they were attacked by law enforcement officials, who shot at the buses, killing 6 people (3 of them were students) and detaining 43 students who were never seen again.

The government of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto claimed that the corrupt local police personnel had handed over the 43 students to a group of drug-trafficking gangs, who supposedly killed them, incinerated the bodies and disposed of the remains in a nearby river.

However, family members of the victims, fellow students and human rights organizations rejected this narrative and alleged that the federal government and the army were directly involved in their disappearance, and the students were selectively targeted for opposing a neoliberal education bill proposed by Nieto’s government in 2013. The Nieto government received widespread national and international criticism for covering up the crime.

Following his inauguration, as promised during his election campaign, President AMLO reopened the probe into the disappearances. Since then, the authorities have made some important developments, such as the discovery of the remains of at least three disappeared students in places different from the ones indicated in the former government’s version.

The authorities have also arrested several former officials in the past four years. Nevertheless, the defenders of the former regime, who still hold power, have still been supporting the former officials. For instance, Judge Samuel Ventura Ramos, in charge of investigating the case, has so far ordered the release of 98 police officers and government officials involved in the disappearances. Last week, on September 15, Ramos acquitted the former mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, along with 19 other people.

Regarding these releases, Undersecretary Mejía said that the truth commission would file a complaint with the Judicial Council against Judge Ramos.

“Legal challenges continue, but there will be no impunity. It is also important to point out that legal proceedings will be taken before the Judiciary Council against this criminal trial judge,” he said.

Amid developments and setbacks in the investigation, the families of the 43 victims continue to search for the truth behind the cover-up and justice for their loved ones. The parents, relatives, and friends of the disappeared students have called for a week long peaceful protests in the capital Mexico City, starting September 20.