Five months after the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, 12 parents have gathered to seek support for their cause in the U.S. The three-part, 30-stop Ayotzinapa Caravan made it’s first appearance on March 16, at a panel in San Antonio and rallied to the Mexican Consulate in Austin.
Over 160 groups throughout the nation including Alabama, Michigan and New York are preparing to to welcome the parents and their advocates to help inform and demand that investigations continue until justice is served. Felipe de la Cruz, one of the tour organizers and father of one of the missing students, announced they expect to meet with representatives of human rights groups and politicians.
It’s been five years since 43 students from a teachers’ college in the town of Ayotzinapa suddenly disappeared on Sept. 26, 2014. Their stories and faces have become emblematic of a country where violence and death rates have only risen since. While some have forgotten or given up on finding answers, their families and Mexicans across the country have stood determined to uncover the truth.
This past week marked the 5th anniversary of this national tragedy but it also marked the latest turn in the case as new information has surfaced. According to the Washington Post, there are new details in the case that have led Mexican authorities to begin working at a new garbage dump where they hope some of the students’ bodies may be.
The latest lead in the case brings hope that the bodies of the 43 students will finally be found after 5 years.
The latest lead in the case has led authorities to a dump outside the town of Iguala, Guerrero where former Colombian prosecutor Ángela Buitrago of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights group, said is “is in the epicenter of the action.”
“We’re waiting for information that they could have obtained in that place because there are various (leads) that have not been investigated,” Felipe de la Cruz, spokesman for the students’ families, told The Washington Post.
While the search at the dump began more than a week ago, the results have been mixed. According to the AP, investigators at the site have been able to uncover close to 200 clandestine burial sites and recovered 184 bodies but none of them the students. The found bodies are believed to be victims of drug gangs or kidnappers but so far only 44 have been identified.
Officials say they aren’t done looking at the dump and are still considering it a major location of the case.
“We will make a comprehensive rethinking of the investigation, correcting the omissions, contradictions, and the lack of evidence that led to the so-called ‘historical truth’,” Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s undersecretary of human rights who is overseeing the commission looking into the case, told Al-Jezeera. “And those authorities that incurred in omission or illegal practices, as has been proven … such as torture on some of the people detained, will be held responsible.”
The latest developments in the case come as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who reopened the case after he was elected last year, said they are looking at new leads in hopes of finally bringing justice.
President Lopez Obrador has made the case one of his highest priorities since taking office last year. On the five-year anniversary, he held a press conference with the students’ families and updated them on the new investigation development. Many spoke at the event and demanded justice for the 43 students who many say the Mexican government had forgotten about.
“I do feel things are progressing, slowly, but progressing,” Omar Garcia Velasquez, a former a spokesman for the 43 missing students’ movement, told Al-Jezeera. “I understand it’s very complicated to start from scratch, and I know the narrative has changed towards the victims and their families. But nevertheless, we will continue with our movement until the case is solved.”
While there are still many questions to be answered on the case, there has been some progress. That includes the creation of new commissions for the case and money rewards for key information that may lead to arrests.
The country hasn’t been able to move on from the disappearance of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college. The story behind the case has yet to be conclusively established as many accounts have had various endings and perpetrators behind the kidnappings. Authorities said that the 43 students were detained by corrupt police on the night of September 26, 2014, and were then allegedly handed over to gang members who massacred them by burning their bodies.
The original investigation done by the administration of former President Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized for it’s ineffectiveness and failure to provide any due process. To this point, no one has ever been convicted in connection to the disappearance of the 43 students. Of the more than 140 people that were originally detained in connection to the case, 77 were released after a judge dismissed many of the cases due to insufficient evidence or reports that some of those detained were tortured to get answers.
Mexican Senator Emilio Alvarez Icaza was the former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the same when an independent expert group, called GIEI, was founded to collaborate with the Mexican government to look into the case. The GIEI found that there were various contradictions and irregularities in how the previous case was ran. The group also found that a new case should be opened in a completely new direction than the previous.
“It’s important that the president sends out a clear message that the army will be investigated. Because without it and the increasing militarisation we’re seeing in the country, the message will be that the army is untouchable,” Icaza told Al Jazeera. “This is a case where the credibility and trust of Lopez Obrador’s government are at stake. If this story also ends up in impunity, the public’s outcry will be enormous.”
There is new information out of Mexico pertaining to the kidnapping of 43 teachers college students who disappeared in Southern Mexico in 2014. According to the AP, Gilberto López Astudillo, one of the main suspects in the case has been acquitted leaving many wondering if justice will ever be served for the families of lost ones.
Santiago Aguirre, the lawyer for victims’ relatives, said the judge acquitted López Astudillo due to “insufficient evidence.” He was then released from custody Saturday with no other charges pending against him. López Astudillo, also known as “El Gil”, was one of the main perpetrators that prosecutors had targeted behind the kidnapping and suspected massacre of the 43 students.
The case has haunted many on the country where homicide rates and kidnappings have reached record highs in the last five years.
Mexico hasn’t been able to move on from the disappearance of the 43 men from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in the southern state of Guerrero. The story behind the case has yet to be conclusively established as many accounts have had various endings and perpetrators behind the kidnappings. Authorities said that the 43 students were detained by corrupt police on the night of September 26, 2014, and were then allegedly handed over to gang members who massacred them by burning their bodies.
López Astudillo quickly became the focus of the kidnapping and the main suspect in the case. He was identified as a member of the Guerreros Unidos, an organized crime group. Prosecutors charged him with giving orders to kill the students, allegedly mistaking them for members of another rival gang. The case quickly became a stain on the Enrique Peña Nieto government (2012-2018) who many accused of fumbling the investigation from the start.
Lopez Astudillo becomes the highest-profile suspect from the case to be released. According to prosecutors, the five-year investigation has been stained by allegations of official incompetence or even corruption. As of now, more than 40 suspects have been released because of procedural mistakes by investigators which includes the use of torture to get confessions.
Aguirre told the AP that there has been “sleaziness, human rights violations and irregularities in the investigation.” He says even though there is a new administration leading the investigation, nothing much has changed from previous leadership. During the trial, there were more than 100 elements of evidence in López Astudillo’s case, according to Aguirre. But much of that evidence became useless as 62 of them were ruled inadmissible due to the way they were obtained.
With this latest turn in the case, many now are looking for answers and are questioning if the Mexico government might know something we don’t.
With news of one of the main suspects in the case being released, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a news conference that he will investigate the potentially botched case vowing to shed light on the crime. López Obrador created a truth and justice commission to investigate the case back in January, shortly after taking office. The commission has not yet uncovered any further information about what happened to the students or the people behind it.
“It’s a very serious justice issue and because of that we’re going to formally file a complaint with the attorney general’s office and the judiciary in this case,” López Obrador said.
With so many inconsistencies in the case and now the main suspect being released, families of the victims are now looking for answers and pointing blame on the government for botching the investigation. Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesman for the families of the kidnapped students, echoed this sentiment when he told a local news outlet that López Astudillo was released because of malpractice.
“It is regrettable that people have to go free because of negligence,” de la Cruz told Milenio TV.
“What we have now are a series of trials, which are falling apart,” said María Luisa Aguilar, an international affairs director for the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre, which has worked with the students’ families, told The Guardian. “The impression the families have is that the investigators tried to shelve the investigation,” she added. “They didn’t do a proper investigation into what happened or the students’ whereabouts – which is what the families care about most.”