MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities have arrested a retired general and three other members of the military for an alleged link to the disappearance of 43 students in southern Mexico in 2014, the government announced Thursday.
Public Security Assistant Secretary Ricardo Mejia said those arrested included the former officer who commanded the military base in the town of Iguala, Guerrero state, in September 2014 when students from a college of radical teachers have been kidnapped.
Mejía said a fourth arrest was expected soon, and later a government official with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case confirmed that another member of the military had been arrested.
Mejía did not give the names of those arrested, but the commander of the Iguala base at the time was José Rodríguez Pérez, then a colonel. Barely a year after the disappearance of the students and with the families of the missing students already raising suspicions about military involvement and demanding access to the base, Rodríguez was promoted to brigadier general.
The government official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that Rodríguez had been arrested and said he was being held at a military facility. The source will say of the others arrested only that two were officers and the third was an enlisted soldier.
Last month, a government truth commission that reviewed the case released a report that named Rodríguez as allegedly responsible for the disappearance of six of the students.
Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas, who headed the commission, said last month that six of the missing students were believed to have been kept alive in a warehouse for days and then handed over to Rodríguez who ordered their execution.
The report called the disappearances a ‘state crime’, noting that authorities closely monitored students at the Ayotzinapa Teachers College from the time they left campus until they were abducted by police local in the town of Iguala that night. A soldier who infiltrated the school was among the abducted students, and Encinas claimed the military failed to follow its own protocols and attempt to rescue him.
“There is also information corroborated by 089 emergency phone calls where allegedly six of the 43 missing students were held for several days and alive in what they call the old warehouse and from there were handed over to the Colonel,” Encinas said. “Apparently the six students were alive until four days after the events and were killed and disappeared on the orders of the colonel, allegedly then-Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez.
Numerous government and independent investigations have failed to yield a single conclusive account of what happened to the 43 students, but it appears that local police removed the students from several buses in Iguala that night and handed them over to a drug gang. The pattern remains unclear. Their bodies were never found, although burnt bone fragments were matched to three of the students.
The military’s role in the disappearance of the students has long been a source of tension between the families and the government. From the start, there were questions about the army’s knowledge of what had happened and its possible involvement. The students’ parents have demanded for years that they be allowed to search the Iguala military base. It wasn’t until 2019 that they had access with Encinas and the Truth Commission.
Shortly after the truth commission’s report, the attorney general’s office announced 83 arrest orders, 20 of them for members of the military. Then federal agents arrested Jesús Murillo Karam, who was Attorney General at the time.
Doubts had grown in the weeks following the announcement of the arrest warrants as no arrests had been announced. The administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also formed a closer public bond with the military than any in recent memory.
The president has pushed to place the newly created National Guard under full military authority and his allies in Congress are trying to extend the deadline for the military to continue policing the streets until 2028.
On Thursday, Mejía also rejected any suggestion that José Luis Abarca, then mayor of Iguala, would be released from prison after a judge absolved him of responsibility for the student’s kidnapping due to a lack of of evidence. Even without the aggravated kidnapping charge, Abarca still faces other charges of organized crime and money laundering, and Mejía said the judge’s latest decision will be challenged. The judge also absolved 19 other people, including the man who was a policeman from Iguala at the time.
The Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center and other nongovernmental organizations that have supported the students’ families said in a joint statement Thursday that the government has so far failed to notify the families of the case. against Rodríguez nor of the charges against him.
They said that if Rodríguez’s accusation advances on “solid evidence”, it could be highly relevant to holding the military accountable. The statement noted that there was “abundant” evidence that soldiers at the Iguala base colluded with organized crime.
The organizations also called on the authorities to appeal the decision of acquitting judge Abarca and others. They said the decision was the result of poor work by the attorney general’s office that originally brought the charges, including the extensive use of torture that led to much of the evidence being excluded.