Mexico City: Six of the 43 college Mexican students “disappeared” in 2014 were allegedly kept alive in a warehouse for days then turned over to the local army commander who ordered them killed, the Mexican government official leading a Truth Commission said on Friday.
Drenched by heavy rain, parents of the students who went missing held a sombre procession through the streets of Mexico City on Friday, as they’ve done every month since their sons disappeared.
Clemente Rodriguez holds a poster of his son, Christian, during a march seeking justice for the missing 43 Mexican students.Credit:AP
The arrest of former federal attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam has provided a glimmer of hope that they can find some closure and that whoever was responsible for one of Mexico’s worst human rights atrocities may face justice.
On September 26, 2014, local police took the students off buses they had commandeered in the town of Iguala. The motive for the police action remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies have never been found, though fragments of burned bone have been matched to three of the students.
For the first time last week, Mexican officials referred to the incident as a “state crime” in a report that alleged local, state and federal authorities, including the Mexican Army, were complicit and involved in a cover-up.
Family members and friends march in Mexico City seeking justice.Credit:AP
Directly tying the military to one of Mexico’s worst human rights scandals in modern history, Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas on Friday said, “There is also information corroborated with emergency 089 telephone calls where allegedly six of the 43 disappeared students were held during several days and alive in what they call the old warehouse and from there were turned over to the colonel”.
“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 Col. José Rodríguez Pérez,” he said,
The defence department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the allegations.
The role of the army in the students’ disappearance has long been a source of tension between the families and the government.
From the beginning, there were questions about the military’s knowledge of what happened and its possible involvement. The students’ parents demanded for years that they be allowed to search the army base in Iguala. It was not until 2019 that they were given access along with Encinas and the Truth Commission.
The commission report says the army registered an anonymous emergency call on September 30, 2014, four days after the students’ abduction. The caller reportedly said the students were being held in a large concrete warehouse in a location described as “Pueblo Viejo.” The caller described the location.
That entry was followed by several pages of redacted material, but that section of the report concluded with the following: “As can be seen, obvious collusion existed between agents of the Mexican state with the criminal group Guerreros Unidos that tolerated, allowed and participated in events of violence and disappearance of the students, as well as the government’s attempt to hide the truth about the events.”
Later, in a summary of how the commission’s report differed from the original investigation’s conclusions, there is mention of a colonel.
“On September 30 ‘the colonel’ mentions that they will take care of cleaning everything up and that they had already taken charge of the six students who had remained alive,” the report said.
In a witness statement provided to federal investigators in December 2014, Captain José Martínez Crespo, who was stationed at the base in Iguala, said Rodríguez Pérez was base commander for the 27th Infantry Battalion at the time.
Last week, federal agents arrested Murillo Karam, who oversaw the original investigation. On Wednesday, a judge ordered that he stand trial for forced disappearance, not reporting torture, and official misconduct. Prosecutors allege Murillo Karam created a false narrative about what happened to the students to quickly appear to resolve the case.
Authorities also said arrest warrants were issued for 20 soldiers and officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers, 11 state police officers and 14 gang members. Neither the army nor prosecutors have said how many of those suspects are in custody.
It was also not immediately clear if Rodríguez Pérez was among those sought.
Parents carried posters of their children’s faces while rows of current students from the teachers’ college marched, shouted calls for justice and counted to 43. Their signs proclaimed that the fight for justice continued and asserted: “It was the State.”
Clemente Rodríguez marched for his son Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, who was identified by a tiny burned bone fragment.
Rodríguez said the families had been told last week, before the report was released, about the colonel and the six students.
“It’s not by omission anymore. It’s that they participated,” he said of the military. “It was the state, the three levels of government participated.”
He said the families had not been told that any of the arrest orders announced last week for members of armed forces had been carried out yet.
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