Six of the 43 Mexican college students missing in 2014 were handed over to the army before their killings were ordered, an official says
Six of thein 2014 were allegedly kept alive in a warehouse for days and then handed over to the local army commander, who ordered their killing, the Mexican government official, who heads a truth commission, said on Friday.
Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas’ startling comment marked the first time an official had directly linked the military to one of Mexico’s worst human rights scandals, and it came with little fanfare as he extensively defended the commission’s report released a week earlier.
Last week, although Encinas declared the kidnappings and enforced disappearances a “state crime” and said the army looked on without intervening, Encinas did not mention that six students were handed over to Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez.
On Friday, Encinas said authorities have been closely monitoring the students at the radical teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa since they left their campus after they were kidnapped by local police in the city of Iguala that night. A soldier who had infiltrated the school was among the abducted students, and Encinas claimed the army failed to follow their own protocols and attempted to rescue him.
“There is also information, confirmed by emergency calls to 089, that allegedly six of the 43 missing students were being held for several days and alive in what they call the old warehouse and from there were handed over to the colonel,” Encinas said . “Supposedly, the six students lived four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on the orders of the colonel, allegedly the then-colonel José Rodríguez Pérez.”
The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations on Friday.
The army’s role in the students’ disappearance has long been a source of tension between families and the government. From the start there have been questions about the military’s knowledge of what happened and their possible involvement. The students’ parents have been demanding for years that they be allowed to search the military base in Iguala. It was only in 2019 that they were granted access, along with Encinas and the Truth Commission.
According to the commission’s report, on September 30, 2014, four days after the students were kidnapped, the army registered an anonymous emergency call. The caller reportedly said the students were being held in a large concrete warehouse at a location dubbed “Pueblo Viejo.” The caller went on to describe the location.
This entry was followed by several pages of redacted material, but this section of the report ended with the following: “As can be seen, there was an apparent collusion between Mexican state agents and the Guerreros Unidos criminal group, which has tolerated, condoned and engaged in violent acts and the disappearance of the students, and the government’s attempt to hide the truth about what happened.”
Later, in a summary of how the commission’s report differed from the conclusions of the original investigation, a colonel is mentioned.
“On September 30, ‘The Colonel’ mentioned that they will take care of the cleanup and that they have already taken care of the six surviving students,” the report reads.
In testimony provided to federal investigators in December 2014, Capt. José Martínez Crespo, who was stationed at the Iguala base, said that the base commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion at the time was Colonel José Rodriguez Pérez.
On September 26, 2014, local police removed the students from the buses they had impounded in Iguala. The motive for the police action remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies have never been found, although fragments of burned bones have been attributed to three of the students.
Federal agents were arrested last week, who led the original investigation. On Wednesday, a judge ordered him to stand trial for enforced disappearance without reporting torture and official misconduct. Prosecutors allege that Murillo Karam created a false narrative about what happened to the students in order to quickly solve the case.
Authorities also said last week arrest warrants had been issued for 20 soldiers and officers, five local officers, 33 local police officers and 11 state police officers, as well as 14 gang members. Neither the army nor prosecutors have said how many of these suspects are in custody.
It was also not immediately clear whether Rodríguez Pérez was among those wanted.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given Mexico’s military an enormous responsibility. Not only are the armed forces at the center of his security strategy, they have also taken over the management of seaports and given responsibility for building a new airport for the capital and a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The President has said many times that the Army and Navy are the least corrupt institutions and have his trust.