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News > Latin America

Mexico's Ayotzinapa 43: Five Facts You Need to Know on 3rd Anniversary

  • Protesters call the disappearance of the the 43 students a state crime.

    Protesters call the disappearance of the the 43 students a state crime. | Photo: EFE

Published 25 September 2017

Forensic evidence, fire investigations, and satellite images have repeatedly cast doubt on the government’s version of events.

Sept. 26 marks three years since the disappearance of the 43 teacher trainees from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College in Mexico.

The Forced Disappearance of 43 Students in Mexico

Since then, there has been an abundance of evidence that disproves the official version touted by the Mexican government in relation to what really happened the night the students went missing.

The government’s official version of events asserts that the local police seized the students to take them to the police station after they had allegedly commandeered a bus to travel to a protest in Mexico City. They then handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos gang, who authorities claim killed the students and burned their bodies in a garbage dump nearly 20 miles south of the town of Iguala, Guerrero state. Their remains, according to official reports, were later dumped in the San Juan river near the town of Cocula.

Forensic evidence, fire investigations, and satellite images have repeatedly cast doubt on the government’s claims.

1. The fire probe

Several reports claim that there is no evidence whatsoever that proves the bodies of the 43 students were burned at the garbage dump. An independent investigation carried out by Argentine forensic experts concluded on Feb. 9, 2016, that no physical or biological evidence indicated that the bodies of the students were burned at the dump mentioned in the official version.

Six international fire experts as part of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts Ayotzinapa also concluded that the government’s version of events was unacceptable. One of the fire experts, Jose Torero, came to a logical inference that in order to generate the heat necessary to incinerate 43 human bodies at the Cocula trash dump, the fire would have needed at least 30,000 kilograms of wood and that would have taken nearly 60 hours to burn.

The fire would have raged high enough to have set the entire dump and surrounding forest aflame creating a 300-meter high plume of smoke.Torero also said the entire area would be hot enough that if anyone approached close enough, the fire would have singed the person beyond recognition. The last bit casts serious doubt as in the government’s version, witnesses confessed that they approached the raging fire to throw more fuel on it to keep it going.

Satellite images and meteorological data also show no evidence of a fire in the dump in the days leading up to and following the forced disappearance of the students on Sept. 26, 2015, Mexico’s La Jornada reported.

2. Police tortured to coerce testimony

A 177-page report that was part of an internal investigation carried out by the attorney general's office details the irregularities on the part of the Mexican police to prove the accuracy of their version.

According to the report, it appears that Tomas Zeron de Lucio, the former director of criminal investigations overseeing the Ayotzinapa case, took Guerreros Unidos gang member Agustin Garcia Reyes, who was detained in 2014, to the dump to get a confession from him. According to Garcia Reyes, he was instructed by Zeron and other officials to point out the location of the garbage bags.

Mexican Police Fire at Bus Supporting Missing Ayotzinapa Students

"I was detained ... I was in a cell and they just took me out and they took me to the helicopter and onboard the helicopter they told me they were going to take me to the San Juan river bridge, and that there were some bags that I had to point out, that if I did not do so, they were going to torture me," Garcia told officials investigating Zeron's alleged misconduct.

Garcia already presented signs of torture before he was taken to the dump, suggesting he was forced into confessing and later cooperating with investigators.

Relatives of the missing 43 students regularly denounced Zeron throughout his time leading the investigation, accusing him of mishandling the case and refusing to pursue other lines of investigation. Zeron stepped down from his post in September 2016.

3. Tampered and missing evidence

The Mexican government’s version of events is not supported by forensic evidence but merely by alleged eyewitnesses who were most likely coerced into falsifying their testimony.

The crime scenes remained unanalyzed, no official interviews of the suspects and witnesses exist, security camera footage of one of the sites of the forced disappearance was destroyed by an unidentified official, the clothing found at the crime scenes remained unanalyzed and a bus is still missing.

4. Number of buses wrong

For months both the Mexican government and the press reported that police attacked the students aboard four commandeered buses. Whereas, in reality, the students traveled aboard five buses. This is a key detail as the authorities took the 43 disappeared students from two buses (not one, as originally reported) at two distinct locations in Iguala.

5. “Historic Truth” with no historical evidence

The government’s claims of “historic truth” to reassert the efficacy of their version of events has another major loophole: lack of DNA and forensic evidence. The government claims that authorities found ashes and bones of disappeared student Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz in a garbage bag in the San Juan river among several garbage bags of human remains.

Authorities also claim the remains of Alex Mora, the first Ayotzinapa student identified, were also found in a garbage bag in the San Juan river near Cocula. Argentine forensic experts did not dispute the identity of the remains, but they made it clear that they were not present to witness the discovery of the evidence that led to the identification of Mora.

Families of the students rejected the report based on the fact that Austrian investigators said that the chances of the remains genetically matching Guerrero de la Cruz’s mother were 72 to one.

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