Mexico City, Mexico — The special commission investigating the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Iguala, Guerrero in southwest Mexico delivered its sixth and final report on July 25.
It found that various levels of government and security forces were complicit in the disappearance of students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College and the subsequent cover-up of the crime, however, fell short of determining what exactly happened to them.
The nine-year investigation was carried out by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), a five-member, multinational group of investigators.
The investigators accused Mexican authorities of obstructing justice and impeding their work at nearly every turn.
“They’ve lied to us, they’ve responded with falsehoods … We can’t investigate like this,” said Carlos Beristain, a member of the GIEI panel.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to the defense of the military on Thursday, saying that “It’s not true the navy and the army aren’t helping” with the investigation.
The 43 missing students
On the night of September 26 and the early hours of September 27, 2014, local and state police, as well as military troops, allegedly attacked students from the teachers’ college while traveling on a bus to Mexico City for an annual demonstration commemorating the October 2, 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre by the government of former President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz Bolaños.
While passing through Iguala that September night, nine people were murdered and 43 students were forcefully disappeared, their exact whereabouts and circumstances surrounding their deaths remain unknown.
The case, and its many roadblocks, have since become a symbol of the violence and impunity plaguing Mexico.
In the first days after the disappearance, parents of the students denounced the involvement of state and federal authorities and the government’s attempts to cover up what happened and protect those involved.
The GIEI commission soon found that the government, led by then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, concealed relevant information surrounding the case and the involvement of military officials in the forceful disappearance of the students while tampering with critical evidence. “They all collaborated to disappear them,” said Beristain.
“The State’s muscle was present. They acted and did not protect. They know and knew what happened. The concealment of that information has meant the concealment of responsibilities and has constituted, in itself, a responsibility of the State for the disappearance of the young people,” said Beristain.
In the final report, investigators said that state and federal authorities were monitoring the students’ whereabouts after their abduction in real time. They also said that authorities later manipulated evidence and tortured witnesses to hinder the investigation.
What resulted was a manufactured rendition of events propagated by the government. A version of the story that scapegoated local criminal groups as the sole culprits while exonerating the police and military.
After López Obrador took office in 2018, he promised to solve the Ayotzinapa case and bring those involved to justice. He established a truth commission, which last August declared that the disappearance of the students was a “state crime.”
At the time, the investigation picked up steam, but the GIEI would soon face more stonewalling from military and police authorities. In its final report, the GIEI denounced that Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA) lied several times and hid relevant information pertinent to the case, with President López Obrador fully aware of such practices. And they accused the military of withholding documentation that is key to solving the case.
“The concealment and the insistence on denying things that are obvious prevent obtaining the truth and therefore advancing in that same direction. With this report, the GIEI (Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts) has reached the limit of what it has been possible to investigate as technical assistance,” read the statement issued by the GIEI.
Following the departure of the GIEI investigators, the parents of the 43 missing students demanded a meeting with López Obrador, and that any information being concealed by SEDENA be disclosed. .
“We want to tell the president not to fail us, he issued a decree where they promised to give us what is necessary (regarding the investigation), and it is bad that he fails us,” said Mario González, father to one of the missing students. “If the information is there, why don’t they deliver it? What are they hiding? SEDENA is an institution … that has colluded with drug traffickers.”
On Friday, López Obrador doubled down on his support to the military and refuted the GIEI’s findings about the army and navy hindering the investigation.
“They are not hiding anything,” said the President. “It is a campaign to undermine and weaken the Armed Forces. If what they claim were true, there would not be two generals in jail for the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students.”
To date, four members of the military have been arrested for their participation in the forced disappearance of the 43 students, and are currently incarcerated in the Military Camp 1-A prison in Mexico City.
However, authorities had faced backlash over a number of acquittals and exonerations of military officials allegedly involved in the case, including when the Attorney General’s Office canceled 24 of the 83 arrest warrants issued against military personnel in September 2022.
While the whereabouts and the fate of the students remain unknown, the Undersecretary of Human Rights and chief of López Obrador’s commission to investigate the case, Alejandro Encinas, has said that there is no evidence to indicate the missing students are alive.