On Sept. 26, 2014, a group of almost 100 student activists from the Ayotzinapa Normal School (a teacher training school) near Tixtla, in the middle of the state of Guerrero, Mexico, headed to Mexico City in five buses to attend a protest at the 46th anniversary of the Massacre of Tlatelolco.
Four of the buses were ambushed by police and troops, who began shooting. They grabbed students from the buses and forced them into vehicles.
According to a surviving student, Angel Neri de la Cruz, when the gunfire and screams stopped, students came out of their hiding places and did a head count. They were missing 43 compañeros. The following day, the mutilated body of one of the kidnapped students was thrown into a street. None of the others has ever been found.
Why Kill Kids from a Teachers’ College?
Why is the government afraid of “normalistas,” as teaching students are called? Who are these students learning to be teachers? Rural normal schools are where bright students from poor, rural, mostly indigenous, families go to study. The schools are known for their social and political activism.
“Because these schools are planting consciousness in the students—to think, to look out not only for yourself, but for your community,” says de la Cruz, “that is why the government is afraid.
“It is not afraid of the four years you’re there. It’s afraid of what you will do when you graduate from there. It’s not beneficial for the government because the students are social activists.”
Students usually start at a normal school after primary and secondary school, which means many of the students are ages 15–18. Look at the faces in the photo.
A False Government Explanation
Officials of the government of then-president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012–2018) fabricated a version of these events, falsely identifying other bodies as those of the students. Searches revealed more than 50 graves in the region with bodies of nearly 200 other people, although not the students.
The official line was that drug cartels had burned the students, then tossed their remains into a river. It is now known that this fake evidence was elicited by torture.
The Israeli Connection
Central to this falsified narrative, which federal officials established by torture and that has since been entirely discredited, is Tomás Zerón de Lucio, then head of the Criminal Investigative Agency created under Peña Nieto.
When the investigation was reopened after the election of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), Zerón fled from Mexico, first to Canada, then to Israel, which has no extradition treaty with Mexico. He’s been there about three years, wanted for embezzlement of $50 million worth of state funds as well as for torture and abduction.
Mexican officials say that Zerón has connections to powerful Israeli companies that helped him flee Mexico. While in office, Zerón apparently authorized the purchase of tens of millions of dollars in surveillance systems from Israeli intelligence firms.
Mexico has demanded the extradition of Zerón, but Israel has not acted on the extradition request. A senior Israeli official was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Why would we help Mexico?”
The inaction is retaliation for Mexico’s support for UN and UN Human Rights Council resolutions criticizing Israel for war crimes and the killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, according to the anonymous Israeli official.
The Government Did It
As everyone knew, the government was responsible. Now it’s official.
In May 2018, a federal court ruled that the criminal investigation had not been prompt, effective, independent or impartial and ordered a Truth and Justice Commission, and AMLO created the Commission for Truth and Access to Justice in the Ayotzinapa case shortly after he took office in December of that year.
The commission concluded that Ayotzinapa was a crime committed by the government and that authorities from different government agencies participated. The Defense Ministry actually had a soldier working undercover as an agent, posing as a student at Ayotzinapa; he is among the 43 missing, and military authorities never took action to search for him.
The army knew exactly what was going on and participated. An army colonel ordered the killing of six of the students about four days after they disappeared.
Results of the Commission
Former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam was arrested on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice for his role in the creation of a false narrative. Murillo Karam impeded a proper search and investigation by creating and promoting a false version of the case, while knowing that this version came from statements fabricated under torture and not from a real investigation of the facts.
Other high-ranking officials had warrants issued for their arrest, including Zerón; Gualberto Ramirez, a former anti-kidnapping chief under the former attorney general who is now a fugitive; Carlos Gómez Arrieta, former head of the Federal Ministerial Police, who is currently on trial; and Army Captain José Martinez Crespo, also on trial.
Another 85 arrest warrants were issued, including “20 military commanders and troops of the 27th and 41st battalions in the city of Iguala, as well as five administrative and judicial authorities of the state of Guerrero; 26 police officers from Huitzuco; six from Iguala, and one from Cocula; as well as 11 state police officers from Guerrero and 14 members of the criminal group Guerreros Unidos,” according to the National Prosecutor’s Office.
On Sept. 15, Mexican authorities arrested retired Army General José Rodríguez Pérez, who was the commander of the military base in Iguala, Guerrero, when the students were ambushed and kidnapped.
Vivos Los Queremos*
What about Peña Nieto’s responsibility for these actions?
Will the trials really yield convictions and accountability?
What about the thousands of other disappearances and extrajudicial killings?
There’s still work to be done.
Massacre of Tlatelolco
“2 de octubre No Se Olvida” (Oct. 2 is not forgotten). Where the students were going and why: On Oct. 2, 1968, as the culmination of repression of organizing by unions and workers, campesinos and students, the Diaz Ordáz government ordered troops to fire on unarmed civilians at a large peaceful march in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. Between 300 and 400 people were killed.
No one was ever held accountable although investigations finally revealed the truth. The U.S. government was supplying the weapons and the intel, along with instigation of government violence, as usual.
Each year, Oct. 2 is remembered by students, activists and progressive Mexican people.
*Vivos (se) los llevaron, Vivos los Queremos (“They took them alive, We want them back alive.”)