Parents of 43 missing students stop dialogue with government commission investigating the case 

By February 21, 2024

Mexico City, Mexico—- Parents of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College who were forcefully disappeared in 2014 have announced that they’ll stop dialogue with Mexico’s federal “truth commission” task force that was formed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2018 to solve the case of the missing students. 

A lawyer for the parents accused the commission, known by its Spanish acronym Covaj, of stonewalling the investigation and installing a “puppet” commissioner to manage it.  

“Today, in front of the Covaj, [López Obrador] places an undersecretary who is his puppet and who will only repeat at the working tables what [the president] says in his morning briefings. There is no possibility of advancing in substantive aspects of the investigation,” said Vidulfo Rosales, the lawyer for the Ayotzinapa families.

López Obrador campaigned on solving the case of the missing students, who disappeared in 2014 from Iguala, Guerrero when a bus they were traveling on was stopped by local police, who allegedly turned them over to the local Guerreros Unidos drug trafficking organization, the 43 students have been missing ever since. Local politicians and military officials have since been implicated in masterminding the kidnapping and covering up the mass disappearance. 

In 2018, López Obrador placed then Undersecretary of Human Rights Alejandro Encinas in charge of the truth commission. The case looked to be advancing, and revealed alleged ties to some of the military’s highest officials. In August of 2022, the commission even released a report denouncing the incident as a “crime of the state.” 

But last October, Encinas, the country’s top human rights official, resigned from his post, announcing that he would instead go on the campaign trail for ruling MORENA party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum. 

In his place, López Obrador appointed Félix Arturo Medina Padilla, who had previously headed the fiscal prosecutor’s office. The lawyer for the parents accused Medina Padilla of ending any progress in the investigation, making it impossible for the parents to be “able to continue the dialogue” with the commission.

The relationship between the parents and the commission was severely damaged since the first meeting with Medina as the newly appointed head. On January 11, the parents walked out of the meeting with Medina after he failed to hand over the military files they requested. 

The rift between the parents and the truth commission follows previous accusations of López Obrador’s government siding with the military on issues such as releasing documents about the case to the families and investigators. 

The parents and their lawyers have said on multiple occasions that the Mexican military has refused or withheld key information related to the case. Lopez Obrador has insisted that the “Defense Ministry has delivered all the information, but the parents insist that information is missing.” 

Last July, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), a five-member, multinational panel of investigators appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, released a report that determined that various levels of government and security forces were complicit in the disappearance of students and the subsequent cover-up of the crime. The report fell short of determining what exactly happened to them. 

Read more: Investigation into Mexico’s 43 missing students ends, commission accuses government of stonewalling 

The group lamented that it was unable to come to a conclusion in the case because 

Mexican authorities obstructed justice and impeded their work at nearly every turn. 

“They’ve lied to us, they’ve responded with falsehoods … We can’t investigate like this,” Carlos Beristain, a member of the GIEI panel, said at the time. 

For his part, Lopez Obrador has criticized the lawyers for the Ayotzinapa families of coercing the parents to decline information on the case gathered by the government. 

“I feel that they have not helped to find the young people,” said the president on February 15. “On the contrary, they have entangled, they have entangled the problem and I maintain that they have also politicized it.”

On January 11, the parents of Azyotzinapa met with union organizations, workers, activists, and Zapatistas. In a statement, the families condemned the current Obrador administration for making a pact with “the economic and military elite” and for dividing the parents. 

“In the old style of authoritarian governments, he has divided social movements by encouraging dissidence to fragment and silence uncomfortable voices, as he is doing with the mothers and fathers of the 43,” said the parents.