Startling video footage indicates that the armed forces may have planted evidence to show that the bodies of 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero in 2014 were burned in a garbage dump.
Independent experts tasked with investigating the disappearance of students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college have concluded that navy personnel transported packages possibly containing human remains to the dump in Cocula — about 20 kilometers from where the students were kidnapped in Iguala — and lit a fire there a month after the students’ abduction and presumed murder.
The previous federal government alleged that the students’ bodies were incinerated by a criminal group at the Cocula dump on the night of September 26, 2014.
In a report released Monday, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) also revealed that the army and navy were tracking the students in the lead-up to and during their abduction in Iguala. It said that there are 50 unpublished videos that are relevant to the Ayotzinapa case.
In one video filmed by a navy drone on October 27, 2014, a group of 12 people that the GIEI believes are navy marines are seen at the Cocula dump.
According to the GIEI, the marines removed packages from two navy vehicles, and three of those packages were deposited at the top of the dump. Marines then descended to the bottom and lit a bonfire.
Subsequent drone footage shows that the packages removed from the vehicles and seen at the top of the dump are no longer there.
At a press conference on Monday, GIEI members said that the contents of the packages are unknown and advised against speculation. The navy handed the video over to the GIEI on the orders of President López Obrador, El Universal reported. The navy didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.
The independent experts also said that former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam — a key architect of the previous government’s “historical truth” vis-à-vis the Ayotzinapa case — and other officials were at the Cocula dump on October 27, 2014.
According to the official, supposedly unimpeachable, “historical truth,” the students, traveling on a bus they had commandeered to go to a protest in Mexico City, were intercepted by corrupt municipal police who handed them over to members of the Guerreros Unidos crime gang, who subsequently killed them, burned their bodies in the Cocula dump and disposed of their remains in a nearby river.
The GIEI members noted that Murillo and Tomás Zerón, former head of the now-defunct Criminal Investigation Agency, announced on October 27, 2014, that four members of the Guerreros Unidos who were allegedly involved in the disappearance of the students had been arrested.
Citing information from an official file on the case, the experts said the detainees hadn’t been turned over to the federal Attorney General’s Office (then known as the PGR) or made formal statements when Murillo and Zerón announced their arrest.
“Therefore, they were reporting on events that hadn’t yet occurred, at least [according to] the file,” the GIEI said.
Ángela Buitrago, a GIEI member, asserted that the PGR’s investigation was a complete simulation designed to hide what really happened. Its version of events — that the students were promptly killed and incinerated after their abduction — stopped a genuine search from going ahead and thus hindered the possibility of them being found, she said.
Buitrago also denounced a range of irregularities in the investigation that resulted in the creation of the “historical truth,” including arbitrary arrests, manipulation of evidence and crime scenes, alteration of official records and confessions obtained via torture.
The GIEI acknowledged that President López Obrador and Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas support a thorough investigation into what happened to the students – of whom the remains of just three have been found and formally identified – but denounced an ongoing resistance to cooperation from officials with the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) and the Attorney General’s Office, now known as the FGR.
A document released in late 2021 by the FGR containing testimony from soldiers – who have long been suspected of involvement in the case – was so heavily redacted that it was illegible.
“There is information that has been hidden from us as experts,” said GIEI member Claudia Paz. “… It prevents the full clarification of the events,” she said.
The GIEI presented their findings on Monday.
The GIEI also reported that the Ayotzinapa students were under real-time surveillance by the army and navy in the time leading up to and during their abduction. Via the surveillance, the military presumably obtained information that could have been used to locate and rescue the students after they were kidnapped.
“Security authorities had two intelligence processes underway, one to follow the actions of organized crime in the area and the other to track the students,” the GIEI said in its report, which was based on official, declassified documents.
The students were tracked because the Ayotzinapa teachers college has links to left-wing social movements and is considered a breeding ground for subversion, the group said.
The revelation that the military was surveilling the students contradicts the military’s claims that it had no information about what happened to them. Military officials kept it secret that the students were being watched, the GIEI said.
Neither the army nor the navy responded to Reuters’ request for comment about their apparent surveillance.
Addressing the claim that marines manipulated evidence, López Obrador said Tuesday that he had ordered an investigation.
“About that video, … it was shown to me and the instruction was given for the navy chiefs that participated in that operation be investigated,” he told reporters at his regular news conference, noting that navy officials have already provided statements on the Ayotzinapa case to the FGR.
The president reaffirmed the commitment his government made to the parents of the students to conduct a thorough investigation into the case. López Obrador asserted that his administration is fulfilling that commitment, even though mystery still surrounds the case 7 1/2 years after the students’ disappearance and almost 3 1/2 years after he took office and created a super commission to conduct a new investigation.
“The investigation is open; making known what happened to the young men is a commitment we have. This commission of experts, [the GIEI], … showed me the information they had … and it will continue with the investigation – they will continue collaborating for another year,” he said, apparently indicating that the government won’t announce its definitive version of events any time soon.