Families of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students ask Mexico’s government to hand over military documents on the case

On the ninth anniversary of the attack, the families are determined to gain access to dozens of Army documents which, they claim, contain information about the boys’ fate. President Andres Manuel López Obrador claims that those papers do not exist

Ayotzinapa: General Rafael Hernández sale de prisión
A march to demand justice for the 43 Ayotzinapa students, in Mexico City.HENRY ROMERO (REUTERS)
Pablo Ferri

Mexico is preparing for the ninth anniversary of the Ayotzinapa case. Still unsolved, the brutal attack against a group of rural students in Iguala in the State of Guerrero, on September 26 and 27, 2014, and the disappearance of 43 of them, has become an ever-present problem for the Mexican government. The investigation has stalled, despite important efforts from the government to speed-up the resolution of the case. The families are now determined to gain access to dozens of military intelligence documents which, they claim, would contain information about the attack and the boys’ fate. President Andres Manuel López Obrador, on the other hand, claims that those papers do not exist.

Last Wednesday, the families of the 43 students met with the president at the National Palace. They brought a document that they all signed, based on the demands made over the years by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights dispatched to Mexico. The GIEI has investigated the case, along with a special unit of the Attorney General’s Office, and the presidential commission, headed by the Undersecretary of the Interior, Alejandro Encinas. The GIEI has indicated that the Army spied on the communications of Guerreros Unidos, the criminal group that attacked the students almost a decade ago. It also asserts that crucial information about the fate of the 43 students appears in those exchanges uncovered by the military.

In the document the families delivered to López Obrador on Wednesday, to which EL PAÍS had access, they ask for dozens of military documents created between April and October 2014. The documents are from the central region’s Regional Intelligence Fusion Center (CRFI), which operated at the time in Iguala. The GIEI and the presidential commission have proven that such documents exist. Between October 2021 and last July, both teams, particularly the former, have reported on the content of some of the documents, which were found by chance in military archives.

The messages included in the documents — found in communications intercepted by the central region’s CRFI — discuss military intelligence of the criminal group that attacked the students, Guerreros Unidos, and its network of allies. In the uncovered exchanges from September 26, the day of the attack, and October 4, the fate of the missing students is addressed. For the families of the 43 students, the main question is why the Army pretends no such documents exist. And, above all, why López Obrador blindly believes the military’s claims.

In their missive to the president, the families state: “Of these documents, one stands out that says that 17 of our children were being taken to a place to kill them, but it is a letter-sized sheet, which shows an incomplete intercepted communication… It is necessary for the [armed forces] to hand over the complete communication, so that we can know what happened to the 17 youths.” The document to which they’re referring is the one from September 26, which is already publicly known to exist. Over the years, the GIEI has proven that this document is part of a larger interception, but the armed forces have denied that such a thing exists.

This Monday, Encinas and other officials will again meet with the families of the 43, after reviewing the archive of the documents that investigators have accumulated over the years, as López Obrador said. “We are once again collecting… not information, but […] of what they ask us, what has been handed over, what is missing, and if it exists, [we’ll] give it to them, anything to avoid deepening the differences [between us]. Because the last thing we want is for there to be disinformation,” the president noted.

The whereabouts of the 43 students

The National Palace’s priorities and interests are actually different. For López Obrador, the important thing is the boys’ whereabouts, finding them. He said so himself on Thursday in a press conference. There are three points to be resolved: the boys’ whereabouts, the previous government’s cover up, and the details of the attack and the routes of disappearance. The first is the government’s priority. The president’s control over the investigation teams that continue to work, the Attorney General’s Office and the commission — the GIEI stopped working on the case in July — is so great that López Obrador’s priority has become everyone’s priority.

Sources close to the case point out that, currently, the work of the Attorney General’s Special Investigation and Litigation Unit for the Ayotzinapa Case (UEILCA), and Encinas’ commission, is reduced to searching for people who may have information about the disappearance of the 43 students, interviewing them, and pursuing the information they provide, leaving no stone unturned in central Guerrero, to try to find the remains of the students. Of late, that has led to searches, for example, in several communities of Cuetzala del Progreso, the closest to Cocula and Iguala, which had been unexplored until this year.

In July, investigation teams conducted at least three searches in that area, with positive results in two of them. By positive, the investigators mean that bone fragments, in this case minor ones, were found. In recent years, locating this type of fragment, normally eroded by rain and sun, has been common. In one of the annexes to the report it submitted last year, the presidential commission noted that since 2019, investigators have conducted 102 search activities, 17 of which yielded positive results. Three of those 17 searches resulted in finding the skeletal remains of two of the 43 students: Jhosivani Guerrero and Christian Rodriguez.

The question is how informants are recruited and their motives for giving information. Over the years, only one of UEILCA’s witnesses has given information that has led to finding the students’ remains. That source is a protected witness named Juan, a former member of Guerreros Unidos who, through old subordinates, indicated the slopes of a ravine in Cocula as the place where some of the 43 students’ remains were scattered.

The clues Juan provided were given in the context of his cooperation with the authorities. The alleged criminal has testified extensively before UEILCA about what happened on the night of the attack and in the days that followed. His testimony has served to strengthen the charges against some of those who have been arrested in recent years, including members of the military. At the same time, his account omits any mention of his own participation and includes situations that have not been proven, such as the transfer of some of the 43 students to an army barracks in Iguala, and the disappearance of some of the students’ bodies in a crematorium at a funeral home in the municipality.

Whatever he said — whether it was true, partially true or untrue — the investigators have never doubted Juan’s knowledge of central Guerrero’s underworld and the night of the events. Now, the question is whether the witnesses who are providing information to the commission and UEILCA have similar levels of knowledge, so that the searches are not conducted in vain.

This week, López Obrador repeated his call for anyone who knows anything about the case to come forward. The president observed that his morning press conferences are seen even in prisons.

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