A new report has alleged that authorities in Mexico failed to send bone fragments found in connection to the Ayotzinapa investigation for analysis or further investigate the area where they were found, taking the scale of negligence in the government’s handling of the case to new levels.
Investigators removed hundreds of bone fragments from an area outside of Cocula known as La Carnicería, or the “butcher’s ravine,” in December 2014, around three months after 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College were forcibly disappeared in the city of Iguala on September 26.
However, the Attorney General’s Office, headed at that time by Jesús Murillo Karam, never sent the fragments for genetic analysis or expanded the search of the area in southwest Guerrero state, El País reported, according to official documents it had access to.
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This happened around the same time that the administration of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto presented its “historical truth” of the case. The government explained that a local criminal group, known as the Guerreros Unidos, had disappeared the students with the help of municipal police forces and then burned their bodies in a Cocula garbage dump before discarding the remains in the nearby San Juan River.
That version was later debunked by an international forensics team that determined the students could not have possibly been burned at the site authorities claimed they were.
The latest blunder is particularly relevant amid new findings in the case. In July 2020, authorities revealed that one of several bone fragments found in November 2019 around La Carnicería as part of a revived search effort belonged to Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, one of the missing students.
But the remains were found away from the area tied to Peña Nieto’s "historical truth." It also raised questions, according to El País, as to how the fragment got there, if Rodríguez Telumbre was killed there and whether or not the bone fragment was enough to determine if he was in fact killed.
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While the carelessness of the Attorney General’s Office under Peña Nieto is no doubt striking, it is hardly surprising given the many irregularities uncovered since 2014, all of which suggest his administration was far from committed to actually uncovering what truly happened to the missing students.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador vowed to reopen the investigation upon taking office and established a Truth and Justice Commission dedicated to the case. Families of the missing students have since urged his administration to continue working with international experts to ensure that newly acquired data and evidence is properly cross-checked and analyzed to avoid another false “historical truth.”
Glimmers of hope have started to surface this year.
In March, a federal judge issued arrests warrants for a number of government officials accused of misconduct in the case. Later in June, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero announced charges against yet more state officials. This included the now-fugitive former head of Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency (Agencia de Investigación Criminal -- AIC), Tomás Zerón, who led the initial probe into the students’ disappearance. He faces charges of torture and forced disappearance.
Since then, Animal Político reported authorities have arrested 34 new individuals alleged to be involved, bringing the total number of arrests to 80, according to Alejandro Encinas, deputy minister of Human Rights, Migration and Population at the Interior Ministry.
On the sixth anniversary, President López Obrador said that arrest warrants had been issued for the "material and intellectual authors" of the crime, including members of the military and officers in the federal and municipal police.
Family members of the disappeared students and many others have long urged authorities to further investigate the role Mexican soldiers may have played in the disappearance.
*This story was updated on September 27, 2020, after Mexican authorities announced a number of arrest warrants for members of the military and police connected to the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students.