Authorities in Mexico have presented the conclusions of their investigation into the 43 missing students from Guerrero state, indicating they are ready to put the matter to rest. However, it may be that no amount of evidence will be enough to overcome the government’s credibility problem.
At a press conference on January 27, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam and the director of the Attorney General’s Office criminal investigation unit, Tomas Zeron de Lucio, presented an exhaustive list of evidence collected in the case of the 43 students who disappeared near the town of Iguala, Guerrero last September. (For a full recap of the missing students case, click through InSight Crime’s timeline at the bottom of the page.)
Murillo and Karam released excerpts from the testimony of Felipe Rodriguez Salgado, alias “El Terco” or “El Cepillo,” the alleged leader of criminal gang the Guerreros Unidos. Rodriguez, who was detained on January 15, confessed to directing the killings of the students and corroborated statements made by his accomplices that the students were taken to a trash dump in the nearby town of Cocula, where they were executed and incinerated.
Rodriguez also confirmed the alleged motive in the case — that he and his accomplices believed the students were members of a rival criminal gang, Los Rojos. “El Chucky [another alleged Guerreros Unidos leader] called me and said he was going to give me the ‘packages’ that he had detained and that they were from the rival group,” Rodriguez reportedly stated.
Following the excerpts from Rodriguez’s testimony, Zeron de Lucio presented a summary of the investigation (see video). He emphasized that investigators have consulted 487 experts, who collected forensic, chemical, and biological evidence that corroborates the official version of the events; collected testimonies from 386 individuals; carried out 16 raids; and detained 99 people. Zeron de Lucio also stated that the trash dump where the bodies of the students were allegedly incinerated is over eight kilometers from Cocula.
At the end of the press conference, Murillo said the evidence had led authorities to conclude “without a doubt” that the students — previously considered disappeared — are dead. “The students were deprived of liberty, deprived of life, incinerated and thrown into the San Juan River. In that order.” Murillo said. “This is the historical truth of the events, based on scientific evidence.”
Murillo concluded the press conference by stating that the Attorney General’s Office would now “comply with our responsibility of sending [the criminals] to trial.”
|487 Experts Consulted|
|386 Testimonies Taken|
|99 People Detained|
|1 Victim’s Remains Recovered|
“We Will Not Rest”
In a press conference following the presentation of the Attorney General’s conclusions, a spokesperson for the families of the victims criticized the way Murillo tried to “shamelessly” wrap up the Iguala case, reported Milenio.
“We’re not going to allow them to close the investigation,” he said, adding that the families will continue their fight for justice “until the end.”
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Representatives of the families and classmates of the victims pointed to what they said was several problems with the official version of the events. They stated that no independent experts had been consulted to determine whether or not the students had actually been killed at the garbage dump, and that there is evidence to suggest the testimony from the alleged perpetrators of the attack was coerced. The representatives added that several of the alleged perpetrators remain at large, and that the Attorney General’s Office has not investigated the military’s possible role in the attacks or that of the former governor of the state of Guerrero, the former state prosecutor, and several mayors who they say may have been involved.
The families of the disappeared students are now planning to take their case to the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances, reported El Universal. “We will not rest,” the spokesman for the families said.
|6 Confirmed Dead|
“We Cannot Stay Trapped in Ayotzinapa”
In spite of the extensive evidence presented by the Attorney General’s Office and what President Enrique Peña Nieto referred to on Twitter as an “unprecedented effort” in the investigation of the case, many in Mexico don’t seem convinced. Nearly 500 expert witnesses and 386 testimonies don’t seem to be enough to overcome the government’s apparently insurmountable credibility problem.
El @GobRep desplegó un esfuerzo sin precedentes de búsqueda e investigación para esclarecer el caso y castigar a los responsables.
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) January 28, 2015
From the beginning, the families of the victims, independent experts, and members of the general public have doubted the official version of events and taken to the streets en masse to protest the government’s handling of the case. Researchers from Mexican universities have analyzed the forensic evidence and have said that the students’ bodies could not have been burned at the trash dump in Cocula. An investigation carried out by the magazine Proceso implicated the federal police, and possibly the military, in being involved in the police attack upon the student protestors, prior to when the 43 students were rounded up and “disappeared.” One Mexican university researcher has suggestested the students’ bodies may have been burned in a military crematorium. Proceso also uncovered evidence suggesting that some of the key testimonies that led to the official version of events were obtained using torture.
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These doubts are compounded by the lack of forensic evidence. So far, the remains of only one student has been identified, while 17 fragments sent to a laboratory at the University of Innsbruck in Austria have thus far yielded no usable DNA.
The doubts also likely stem from a history of human rights abuses at the hands of Mexico’s security forces, and a sense among some critics that the government is eager to sweep the Iguala case under the rug.
In a statement from the presidential palace, Peña Nieto urged Mexicans to move forward, reported El Universal. “We cannot stay trapped in Ayotzinapa,” he said, referring to the town where the students attended school. “We have to assume the course and continue on, to assure that Mexico has a better future.”
For many, however, the case is far from over.