On Friday, Mexican authorities made their boldest effort yet to address one of the most severe human rights problems in recent decades by arresting the country’s former attorney general and accusing him of torture and forced disappearance in the mass kidnapping of 43 students in 2014.
After eight years of delayed investigations and what investigators have dubbed a coverup under the former president, Enrique Pea Nieto, the arrest surprised Mexicans. Earlier this week, Alejandro Encinas, the government’s point person on the issue, claimed that police, the military forces, and civilian officials in Guerrero state, as well as a drug-dealing gang, were all complicit in the disappearances.
Numerous people, including police and alleged gang members, have been arrested in connection with the case, although many of them have since been released due to a lack of proof or signs that they were tortured. But Jesús Murillo Karam, the former attorney general seized Friday, was the highest-ranking former official to be indicted. Senior Mexican politicians historically have enjoyed impunity even while suspicions of corruption have swirled about the administration.
The arrest “is a clear sign of the National Prosecutor’s Office interest in fully investigating the obstruction of justice and human rights violations that occurred” in the case “and holding officials at all levels accountable for their illegal actions,” said Maureen Meyer, the vice president of programs at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Still, other commentators questioned if Mexico’s poor, ineffectual justice system could successfully gain convictions in the complex crime. Alejandro Hope, a security analyst, warned that the case might grow into “a long back-and-forth, in which both parties wind up fighting the investigation and there is never anything that resembles justice.”
On Thursday, the truth commission looking into the matter stated one of the abducted students was a soldier who had infiltrated the radical teachers’ college, yet the army did not hunt for him even though it had real-time intelligence that the abduction was underway. It stated the inaction breached army regulations for situations of missing personnel.
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The soldiers and officers being sought under Friday’s warrants — and the other authorities, police, and gang members — face allegations of murder, torture, official misconduct, criminal association, and forced disappearance.
Whether these suspects were among those previously arrested and charged during previous investigations or whether they were all facing the same allegations was not immediately clear.
When a soldier was suspected of misbehavior, the Mexican army could send them to a special military court for a long time before the law was changed. However, troops who commit crimes against people will now face trial in regular civilian courts.
The accused soldiers were stationed at a military facility close to the site of the kidnapping in 2014.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, to which both Murillo Karam and Peña Nieto belonged to, tweeted in its Twitter account that Murillo Karam’s arrest “is more a question of politics than justice. The relatives of the victims will not receive any benefit from our action.”
Tomás Zeron, who was in charge of Mexico’s federal investigation agency (the country’s “detective agency”) at the time of the kidnapping, and other Mexican military and federal police members have been named in arrest warrants filed by Mexican federal prosecutors.
Zeron is wanted for questioning in connection with allegations of torture and covering up of disappearances. In an effort to capture him, Mexico has reached out to the government of Israel for assistance.
Gertz Manero stated that in addition to the case-related offenses Zeron is suspected of committing, he is also suspected of stealing more than $44 million from the budget of the Attorney General’s Office.
Reasons for the kidnapping of the students are still up for discussion.
Local Iguala police, members of organized crime, and other officials kidnapped 43 students on September 26, 2014. Occasionally, the students would use buses as their own personal conveyance.
According to Murillo Karam, the students were handed over to a drug gang that brutally murdered them, burned their bodies at a dump in nearby Cocula, and then dumped the ashes and bone fragments into a nearby river.
The claim that the bodies were cremated at the Cocula landfill has been debunked by subsequent investigations conducted by independent specialists and the Attorney General’s Office, which the truth commission has substantiated.
No signs point to any of the pupils being alive and well.