Official: 6 of 43 missing Mexican students given to army

MEXICO CITY — Six of the 43 students who “disappeared” in 2014 were reportedly kept alive for days in a warehouse and then handed over to the local army commander who ordered their killing, the Mexican government official who headed a Truth Commission said Friday.

Secretary of the Interior Alejandro Encinas made the shocking revelation that linked the military directly to one of Mexico’s worst human rights scandals, and it came with little fanfare as he made a lengthy defense of the commission’s report released a week earlier.

Despite labeling the kidnappings and disappearances a “state crime” and saying that the military saw it happen without intervention, Encinas made no mention last week of six students being handed over to Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez.

On Friday, Encinas said authorities were closely monitoring the students of the radical teacher training college in Ayotzinapa from the moment they left their campus following their kidnapping by local police in the city of Iguala that night. A soldier who had infiltrated the school was among the kidnapped students, and Encinas claimed that the military was not following its own protocols and tried to rescue him.

“There is also information corroborated by 089 emergency calls that reportedly six of the 43 missing students were held for several days and held alive in what they call the old warehouse and from there were handed over to the colonel,” Encinas said. “The six students reportedly lived for four days after the events and were murdered and disappeared on the orders of the colonel, allegedly then-Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez.”

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations on Friday.

The military’s role in the disappearance of the students has long been a source of tension between the families and the government. From the outset, there were questions about the military’s knowledge of what was happening and its possible involvement. The students’ parents had been demanding for years that they be allowed to search the army base in Iguala. It was not until 2019 that they gained access together with Encinas and the Truth Commission.

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The commission’s report says the military made an anonymous emergency call on September 30, 2014, four days after the students were kidnapped. The caller reportedly said the students were being held in a large concrete warehouse in a location described as “Pueblo Viejo”. The caller went on to describe the location.

That message was followed by several pages of redacted material, but that section of the report ended with the following: “As can be seen, there was apparent collusion between Mexican state agents with the Guerreros Unidos criminal group who 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 summarizing how the commission’s report differed from the conclusions of the original investigation, mention is made of a colonel.

“On September 30, ‘the Colonel’ reports that they will be clearing everything and that they have already taken care of the six remaining students,” the report said.

In a statement provided to federal investigators in December 2014, Capt. José Martínez Crespo, who was stationed at the base in Iguala, which the base commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion was Colonel José Rodriguez Pérez at the time.

After heavy rain later Friday, the families of the 43 missing students in Mexico City marched with several hundred other people, as they have for years on the 26th of every month.

Parents carried posters of their children’s faces and rows of current teacher training students marched, calling for justice and counting down to 43. Their placards proclaimed the struggle for justice continued, claiming, “It was the state.”

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Clemente Rodríguez marched in front of his son Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, who was a second student identified by a small burnt bone fragment.

Rodríguez said the families had been notified before the report on the coronel and the six students was released last week.

“It is no longer by negligence. It’s that they participated,” he said of the military. “It was the state, the three levels of government were involved.”

He said the families had not been told that any of the arrest warrants announced last week for members of the armed forces had yet been executed.

On September 26, 2014, the local police removed the students from the buses they had requisitioned in Iguala. The motive for the police action remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies have never been found, although fragments of burnt bone have been linked to three of the students.

Last week, federal agents arrested former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, who oversaw the original investigation. On Wednesday, a judge ordered that he stand trial for enforced disappearance, without reporting torture and official wrongdoing. Prosecutors allege that Murillo Karam fabricated a false story about what happened to the students in order to quickly resolve the case.

Authorities also said last week that arrest warrants had been issued for 20 soldiers and officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers and 11 state police officers, as well as 14 gang members. Neither the military nor prosecutors have said how many of those suspects are in custody.

It was also not immediately clear whether Rodríguez Pérez was among the wanted.

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Rodríguez, the student’s father, said the arrest of Murillo Karam was a positive step.

Murillo Karam “was the one who told us the soldiers could not be touched,” Rodríguez said. “And now it’s being discovered that it was the state that got involved.”

In a joint statement, the families said the Truth Commission’s confirmation that it was a “state crime” was significant after elements suggested it over the years.

However, they said the report still did not satisfactorily answer their key question.

“Mothers and fathers need irrefutable scientific evidence about the fate of our children,” the statement said. “We can’t go home with preliminary signs that don’t quite make it clear where they are and what happened to them.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given Mexico’s military a huge responsibility. The armed forces are not only central to its security strategy, but they have also taken over management of the seaports and been given responsibility for the construction of a new airport for the capital and a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The president has often said that the military and navy are the least corrupt institutions and have his confidence.

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