The Massacre and Disappearance of 43 Mexican Students

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The Massacre and Disappearance of 43 Mexican Students

On September 26 2014, 43 student teachers from a militantly left wing teachers college in Ayotzinapa Mexico disappeared with all evidence pointing to their murder by local, state, and federal police, as well as the military, and a coverup going all the way to then President Enrique Pena Nieto. This week an arrest warrant has went out for his right-hand man, Tomas Zeron and five others, as the wheels of justice slowly grind on. Unfortunately Zeron is still at large. There is some indication that Zeron may now be in Canada. 

A Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for the former head of investigations for the Attorney General’s Office for alleged violations in the investigation of the case of 43 college students who disappeared in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

Tomas Zerón and five other former officials face charges including torture, forced disappearance and judicial misconduct. Three have been arrested and three, including Zerón, are still at large. Zerón oversaw the criminal investigation agency of the Attorney General’s Office and also its forensic work in the case. The students’ bodies have never been found, though a burned bone fragment matched one student.

Many of the suspects arrested in the case were later released, and many claimed they had been tortured by police or the military. The current administration, which took office Dec. 1, 2018, has pledged to re-open the case.

Federal officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name said that a warrant was issued for Zerón’s arrest and that Interpol had been notified to help locate him in case he was outside of Mexico. One of the officials said there were indications that Zerón may have left for Canada in late 2019, but it was unclear whether he later travelled elsewhere.

Zerón’s investigation had long been criticized by the families of the 43 teachers’ college students who disappeared in September 2014 after they were detained by local police in Iguala, in the southern state of Guerrero. They were allegedly handed over to a drug gang and slain, and have not been heard from since. Zerón was at the centre of the government’s widely criticized investigation, which has failed to definitively determine what happened to the students. Two independent teams of experts have cast doubt on the insistence of Mexican officials that the students bodies were incinerated in a huge fire at a trash dump.

The students attended the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa. They were in Iguala on Sept. 26, 2014, to hijack buses (a long and generally accepted tradition of protest to use for transportation to a rally in Mexico City). They were attacked on the buses by local police and allegedly handed over to members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel.


 ETA: Journalist Anabel Hernández’s book on the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students has done a lot to unmask the extreme level of corruption within the Mexican government, police and military, as the following book. Having read the book, I agree with the following review that its picture of the Mexican state is extremely disturbing.

Anabel Hernández’s book (first published in Spanish in 2016) rates as one of the most difficult I have encountered in a very long time. Difficult at every level: to believe, to take in the implications, to process the appalling violence and, sadly, in parts, simply to read.

On the surface, it is basically an investigation into another Mexican atrocity. But this is as important a book about the state of a nation as any you will find. If Hernández is right – and her evidence is formidable – for four years the government of president Enrique Peña Nieto has been openly, indeed aggressively, lying about the fate of 43 students who disappeared one evening in the town of Iguala. It has not just lied, but actively covered up a crime, using a level of brutality and torture that rivals any drug cartel. And while the newly elected president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has promised an independent inquiry, we should perhaps not hold our breath: the most disturbing part of Hernández’s message is that the years of corruption by drug cartels has left a stuttering democracy, ruled by complicit politicians, where the military operates completely according to its own rules. This resembles the Colombia of the 1990s, when the state and cartels had virtually merged.

On 26 September 2014, a group of students from a teacher-training college set out on their annual trip to Mexico City to attend a demonstration commemorating another government atrocity: the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers and police gunned down hundreds of innocent protesters. Just like every other year, these students from some of the poorest regions of Mexico set out to “commandeer” buses from local towns to get themselves there. These annual hijackings were disruptive but in the past rarely ended up in serious violence. The fallout was usually handled by local police.

In 2014, this annual rite of passage turned into a nightmare. For a couple of hours, sections of the town of Iguala turned into a battlefield, even drawing in a bus carrying a semi-professional football team on its way home from a match. Six people died, dozens were injured – and 43 students simply vanished. To a public long inured to massacres and cartel murders, it was this last outrage that struck home.

Over the next couple of months, the government, in the shape of the federal investigative authorities, established what it called the “historic truth” of the events that night. Its story was that the students had inadvertently hijacked a bus packed with heroin being smuggled by a cartel in cahoots with the local mayor, his wife and the local police. The “disappeared” students were handed over by the police to the cartel, executed and then burned in a quarry. Their ashes were disposed of in a river. The investigators, including senior figures in the president’s administration, were adamant that there was no involvement from federal agencies, all of whom have bases in the town: not the state police, nor the federal police and certainly not the army. Again and again, it was underlined that the “feds” only found out about events once the shootings were over and the students had disappeared.

Almost immediately, Hernández smelled a rat. She is one of a handful of astonishingly brave Mexican journalists who have risked their lives covering the war on drugs, in her case focusing on the role of politicians and the state. ...

She knows the gangsters in the mountains are tightly bound to the criminals in suits who live in Mexico City and are driven in smart black cars to work. The bankers; the lawyers; the politicians: the people who ensure that in Mexico you never know whose side anybody is on. Hernández lives with bodyguards. When she began this investigation she had fled the country after hooded armed men forced their way into her house. Amazingly, she returned home to write this book.

First, in an article published in December 2014, she disproved the federal authorities’ claim that they had no involvement in events. The students came from a famously radical college at which peasant children are trained to go back into their communities to teach. For years, the government and its agencies have kept a close watch on its relationship to the various guerrilla groups that make parts of south-west Mexico ungovernable. She proved that they were at least tracking all the students’ movements that day.

Then in 2016, she published this account, which dismantles the official story completely. Her chapter headings tell the story: The First Cover-up; Manufacturing Guilty Parties; The Historical Falsehood; In Mexico’s Dungeons. What emerges is a terrifying picture of how all levels of government have worked to stand up a series of lies as their “historical truth”. She provides visceral descriptions of torture to confirm a story that is reminiscent of the dirty war in the Argentinian and Chilean dictatorships of the 70s.

The government “truth” is held together by the almost tangible fear that any witnesses feel after decades of violence. More than 100 people have been arrested; many are still in prisons. But faced with Hernández’s minute analysis, the discrepancies between their forced accounts, the contradictions of lies, are laid out in pummelling detail. She names the names: the soldiers and policemen who were out on the streets when they claim they were not. When she can, she names those responsible for the torture.  ...

Hernández’s version is that the students were indeed unlucky in commandeering a bus packed with heroin. But this was no local story. She claims to have interviewed a high-ranking cartel figure who, when he heard that one of his shipments had been inadvertently hijacked by the students, simply called on his contacts in the army to recover his goods. She explains how senior army officers, with the support of the police and intelligence services, set about reclaiming the goods for the cartel and how everything spun out of control. The students were unfortunate witnesses, and so had to be “disappeared”. Further collateral to the drugs war. What followed is a horrendous cover-up that reaches right to the top. Her conclusions convince. ...

There are now supporting accounts, including an international commission of inquiry, which raise many of the same questions and essentially support Hernández’s version of events, though the official media say she has no proof, and one paper called it “political fiction”. Frighteningly, at least one of her witnesses has since gone missing. The Peña Nieto administration clings to its version of the truth. Hernández’s achievement is to turn this fate of 43 disappeared students into the continuing story of a state out of control. Mexico is still a democracy, and the president-elect is genuinely offering a radical new agenda in dealing with the cartels. After reading this, though, one wonders how even the best-intentioned leader will be able to turn the tide.



Thanks for this. I was well aware of the massacre and its impact, but it is sometimes hard to follow the backstory.


ETA: Tomas Zeron, a close ally of  Pena Nieto (President at the time of the murders), who oversaw  the criminal investigation agency of the Attorney General’s Office into the disappearance allegedly was involved in a coverup that involved extrene torture to obtain 'confessions'  of the murder of the 43 students, confessions that have now been thrown out as worthless and enabling the guilty to escape. There are also accusations that the Attorney General of Mexico at the time of the killings,  Jesús Murillo Karam, was also involved in the coverup.

Zeron came to came to Canada in October 2019 and may still be here. There is an Interpol warrant out for his arrest.  

The article below is translated from Spanish. 


Tomás Zerón de Lucio, was Director of the PGR Criminal Investigation Agency and Jesús Murillo Karam, former Attorney General of the Republic.

According to the journalist Álvaro Delgado of the weekly Proceso, there is new evidence that proves the active participation of members of the Army in the disappearance of the normalistas, in alleged complicity with drug traffickers. That is why the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) has already brought criminal action against Tomás Zerón de Lucio, who was the director of the Criminal Investigation Agency that constructed the “historical truth” of then attorney Jesús Murillo Karam; as well as part of your team. Zerón de Lucio, who hypothesized that the 43 students were cremated in the Cocula garbage dump, is one of the “key actors” in the new investigation, for which the parents of the normalistas asked to proceed criminally against him, “no just for the sake of holding them accountable, but above all to break the pacts of silence, so that they collaborate in the clarification ”.  ...

According to the arrest warrant issued against Zerón and his team, issued since March 10, it is for irregularities in the Ayotzinapa case such as torture, enforced disappearance, altering the crime scene, loss and concealment of evidence. Federal reports indicate that Zerón is in Canada, so Interpol has already issued a red card for its location abroad. This Wednesday, the Reforma newspaper indicates that as part of the same investigation, three officials were arrested yesterday, including Ezequiel Peña Cerda, a former command at the Criminal Investigation Agency, linked to a torture case for the disappearance of the 43 normalistas. The capture of Carlos Gómez Arrieta, former head of the Ministerial Federal Police of the former PGR, was also requested. The accusation against the former official, says Reforma, arises from the work of October 28, 2014 in the Río San Juan de Cocula, Guerrero, which was not made official in the case file.

This Wednesday, the Reforma newspaper indicates that as part of the same investigation, three officials were arrested yesterday, including Ezequiel Peña Cerda, a former command at the Criminal Investigation Agency, linked to a torture case for the disappearance of the 43 normalistas. The capture of Carlos Gómez Arrieta, former head of the Ministerial Federal Police of the former PGR, was also requested. The accusation against the former official, says Reforma, arises from the diligence of October 28, 2014 in the Río San Juan de Cocula, Guerrero, which was not made official in the case file. That day, Zerón illegally took Agustín García Reyes, “El Chereje”, one of the alleged suspects, without his lawyer and without official registration, to the area where at least one bag of human remains was allegedly found. . "In addition to not having been delivered to the agent of the federal Public Prosecutor's Office, the video recording collected during the investigation was edited and with this it was intended to prove to public opinion that the personnel of the United Nations High Commissioner participated in the proceedings "indicates a report by the General Visit Office of the FGR of June 25, 2019.

Ministerial sources explained that there are sufficient elements to suppose that Zerón and his team fabricated the so-called "Historical Truth" about the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa. On March 5, the parents of the normalistas delivered a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and to the president of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) Arturo Zaldívar; in which they were asked to end the pacts of silence and to act against various officials of the Enrique Peña Nieto administration, regarding the disappearance of the students. The meeting concluded with the signing of a collaboration agreement between the Executive and Judicial branches, as well as by the FGR, to clarify the Ayotzinapa case and, “in due course, make the truth known to society” of what happened that night. from the 26th and early morning of the 27th of September 2014 in Iguala.