The role of the Mexican army in the disappearance of students


The role of the Mexican army in the disappearance of 43 university students, its participation in the cover-up of the events and its alleged links to organized crime are now at the center of a case that has shaken the nation. The government 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 solely to blame for capturing and killing the students. on July 26, 2014. , then burn their bodies, most of which have never been found.

Crucial details remain unclear despite years of investigation.

But the newspaper Reforma, which obtained parts of a Truth Commission report shared with the Attorney General’s Office, has published details of messages between members of drug gangs and the military that appear to show that at least some of the students’ bodies were taken to a local army. base. Advocates for the students’ families fear that the leaking of sensitive details about the suspects could jeopardize the trials.

Here are some questions and answers about kidnapping.


The president of the Truth Commission, Alejandro Encinas, says that the false official version announced at the time by Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam “was designed at the highest levels of the federal government” after meetings in the presidency, then in hands of Enrique Peña Nieto.

According to that version, Iguala officials thought the students were going to disrupt a local political event. It says police detained 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 apparently all the students were killed, it has been proven that they were taken in groups to different places. Some apparently stayed alive for days.

The students had hijacked buses to get 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 army were arrested this month, including José Rodríguez Pérez, who as a 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 his abduction.

Rodríguez Pérez was later promoted to general. Now retired, he faces racketeering charges. A fourth member of the armed forces, Captain José Martínez Crespo, was arrested in 2020. On Saturday, the Spanish newspaper El País published documents showing that the Attorney General’s Office had asked a judge to withdraw arrest warrants against 16 other members. of the armed forces. The office did not respond to requests for comment.

The most politically significant arrest took place last month when former Attorney General Murillo Karam was detained. He has been charged with enforced disappearance, failure to report the torture of suspects, and official misconduct. He is accused of spreading a false version of events which he called “the historical truth”.


It was known from the beginning that the army had real-time knowledge of what happened in Iguala that night because soldiers were in key places, including a police coordination center. The Truth Commission report says that at least one soldier was among the kidnapped students.

In 2015, the then head of the Army, General Salvador Cienfuegos, guaranteed that the army was not responsible for the events, neither by action nor by omission. Communications collected by the Truth Commission, however, contradict this statement. They suggest that military personnel were in contact with the criminals at key moments.


The Truth Commission report says that at least one of the missing students was a soldier sent to spy on the university, and a lawyer for the parents has claimed there was another. On the other hand, the relatives of Julio César Mondragón, one of the six students killed after surviving the initial attack and then being tortured, have called for the investigation of two other students, now politicians, who were the leaders who sent the group of protesters to Iguala. despite the 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 the victims’ relatives, said around 50 people are in jail awaiting trial. In August, the Attorney General’s Office issued 80 new arrest warrants, but Aguirre said most had just opened new cases involving people already in custody.

The man who led the initial investigation into the abductions, Tomas Zeron, is still wanted in Israel. Mexico seeks his extradition.

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


President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has increasingly used the armed forces to build major infrastructure projects and replace the police in fighting crime, arguing that they are less corrupt than other agencies.

Accusations of human rights abuses against the military were common during the “dirty war” of the 1970s and 1980s. They were especially harsh in the poor state of Guerrero, where poppies are grown. Some abuses have continued, as have allegations by officers linked to drug cartels.

In the last 25 years, three generals have faced charges in Mexico, although only one has been convicted.

The Secretary of Defense at the time of the kidnappings, Cienfuegos, was arrested in the US 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 returned to Mexico, which freed him.

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

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

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