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Six Years On, Ayotzinapa Investigations Advance

September 29, 2020

Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero, President Andres Manuel López Obrador,
Undersecretary of Human Rights Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, and María Martinez Zeferino,
mother of a disappeared student, display cloths embroidered by mothers of the 43.

National Security Archive Partners with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting on FOIA Litigation

by Megan DeTura

As Mexico marks the sixth anniversary of the tragic disappearance of 43 teacher trainees from the Ayotzinapa School, the National Security Archive announces a new collaboration with reporters and lawyers at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to bring legal action against agencies of the US Government for their refusal to release information about the case.

The Mexican government shared the latest advances in its investigation into the notorious 2014 crime during a news conference held on Saturday, September 26, before families of the disappeared students. From the National Palace in Mexico City and via livestream, President Andres Manuel López Obrador joined members of Mexican Attorney General’s office, the Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas, and a representative of the International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) in reconfirming their commitment to providing answers and accountability to the families of the 43.

Special Prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo at the Sixth Anniversary news conference.

Essential aspects of what happened in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, on the night of September 26 and into the early morning of September 27, 2014 remain a mystery, including the students’ ultimate fate and current whereabouts. Yet through the efforts of the Commission for Truth and Justice and the Special Prosecutor’s unit dedicated to the Ayotzinapa case, the Lopez Obrador government has made headway toward uncovering new facts about the violent attacks six years ago.

Building on the most recent break in the investigation – the identification of the remains of a second student, Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, announced in July – Saturday’s news conference shed more light onto the Peña Nieto government’s intentional mishandling of the case. The office of Special Prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo has detained 80 individuals for their involvement in the case, including members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel and federal, state, and municipal police officers. And for the first time, Gómez announced arrest warrants for military personnel who, together with the police, are believed to be the “material and intellectual authors” of the disappearances.

The Attorney General’s team has also identified high-level officials implicated in the crime and cover-up, issuing arrest warrants for Tomas Zerón, former head of Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC), and some of his top aides. In July, a leaked video showed Zerón’s participation in the torture of a detainee, and recent financial probes have alleged Zerón’s involvement in the theft of millions of pesos to orchestrate the concealing and fabrication of evidence in the Ayotzinapa case. Zerón is currently believed to be in Israel and the Mexican Government has issued a formal request for his extradition.

Family members of the 43 disappeared students at the Sixth Anniversary news conference.

Recent progress in the Ayotzinapa investigation stands in contrast to the previous government’s gross mishandling of the case. And critical to that progress is the new information investigators have been able to obtain from a variety of sources. According to Alejandro Encinas, the Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of the Navy, and Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit – among other institutions and individual informants – have provided unprecedented cooperation and fresh evidence in the case.

If Mexican agencies have begun to provide critically needed information for the investigation, US agencies have not been so forthcoming. Instead, six years after the violent attacks, the United States Government has yet to release a single document of significance regarding the Ayotzinapa case, including pivotal records concerning the Guerreros Unidos cartel—the same gang implicated in the disappearances.

Beginning in 2015, the National Security Archive has sent a total of 140 Freedom of Information Act requests to eleven federal agencies. These requests cover the full scope of the crime and its aftermath, including the attacks, the botched “investigation” that followed, the cover-up, key institutions and individuals, and ongoing developments, with the most recent requests sent in September 2020. Of the 140, only six have resulted in the release of documents—records that have all been either heavily redacted or, in multiple occasions, nothing more than assorted news media articles.

Neither the CIA nor the FBI has released one document, electing instead to fully withhold all records and, in some instances, even refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents in their possession. The Defense Intelligence Agency has dragged its feet in processing our requests: 13 are pending, some of them years after they were received. And despite its issuing of estimated dates of completion – a seeming lifeline for requests that will hopefully be processed by 2022 – the State Department still has yet to process one of our requests, including those whose estimated dates have come and gone.

Undersecretary of Human Rights Alejandro Encinas addresses the audience gathered at the National Palace.

In response to the government’s flagrant refusal to release information in the Ayotzinapa case, the National Security Archive has partnered with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to initiate legal action. We seek to challenge the government’s stonewalling and to expedite the processing of our long-delayed requests.

“Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting is pleased to be working on this litigation with the National Security Archive,” said it’s general counsel D. Victoria Baranetsky. “These publicly acknowledged records are an important part of history.”

As María Martínez Zeferino, mother of one of the disappeared students, reminded President López Obrador and investigators on Saturday, much more remains to be done to resolve the Ayotzinapa case. Speaking on behalf of the parents of the 43, Martínez stated, “You promised that you would help us to find our sons…we are glad to see that you are more human than those who came before you, but we ask that you push a little more. We wanted to arrive today on the 26th with something more. Understand us. Six years on and we still have nothing.”

Six years on, the National Security Archive continues to call for transparency in the Ayotzinapa case—not only from Mexico, but from the US as well. Together with Reveal, we heed the words of Ms. Martínez as we push a little more, and we ask that the United States government do the same.

Watch the news conference here: A seis años de la desaparición de 43 normalistas de Ayotzinapa

 

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