June 19, 2015
Human Rights News
Ayotzinapa Mystery: Was Disappeared Student an Active Duty Soldier?
In a story that puts a new twist on the fates of 43 forcibly disappeared students in Mexico, Proceso magazine has reported that one of the students may have been an active member of the Mexican military.
The news came in response to a written request filed by Proceso reporter Ezequiel Flores Contreras with the Mexican Defense Ministry (Sedena), soliciting information on possible members of the Mexican military who were among the 43 students from the Raul Burgos Isidro Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa forcibly disappeared by police and alleged drug cartel gunmen on September 26 and 27 of last year in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.
In a reply to Proceso last week, Sedena stated that the name of one of its service members corresponds to one of 42 disappeared students from the rural school. Signed by General David Cordova Campos, the reply declined to identify the individual.
To do so, Sedena maintained, would constitute a “grave threat to the life, security and health” of the person’s family. Based on its answer, Sedena appears to exclude Alexander Mora Venancio as the disappeared student who also could have been a soldier.
Recovered from a rural are outside Iguala, the remains of the 19-year-old, who vanished along with 42 of his classmates, were identified in December by Austria’s Innsbruck University.
According to Proceso, the request to Sedena was made as part of an investigation into possible military infiltration of the Ayotzinapa college, which has sometimes been called a “breeding ground of guerrillas” by government officials.
Ayotzinapa was the alma matter of leftist guerrilla leaders Lucio Cabanas and Genaro Vasquez Rojas, both of whom were killed in the 1970s. Drawn from low-income rural and indigenous backgrounds, subsequent generations of students have remained very active in a variety of popular causes.
As one of their chief demands, parents of the disappeared students and Ayotzinapa students call for an investigation of the Mexican military’s role in the events of September 26 and 27. Until now, the demands have been rejected.
In another story that cast suspicions on official versions of the so-called Night of Iguala, Proceso ran a piece this past week that challenged the Mexican federal attorney general’s claim, based on the testimonies of detained police and alleged cartel members, that the disappeared students were first brought to local police headquarters in Iguala.
Interviewed in an unidentified Mexico-U.S, border city while reportedly on his way to seek political asylum in this country, Ulises Bernabe Garcia flatly stated that no students were ever present at Iguala police headquarters on the evening of September 26.
Garcia was the booking judge assigned to the building where detainees are initially processed. He also refuted claims that police from the neighboring municipality of Cocula, who are officially implicated in the aggression against the students, showed up at police headquarters in Iguala.
But Garcia did say that Mexican soldiers, apparently under the command of Captain Jose Martinez Crespo, entered police headquarters late on the evening of September 26, even as attacks were still underway against the Ayotzinapa students in the streets of Iguala, and conducted a thorough search of the building before departing.
Crespo has been linked to the group of soldiers that allegedly harassed students at an Iguala hospital who were seeking medical attention for wounded friends during the evening of the bloody attacks.
Garcia said the soldiers’ 15-minute presence at police headquarters was quickly followed up by visits from Felipe Flores, then in charge of public safety in Iguala, and Victor Leon Maldonado, an assistant state prosecutor.
The former judge recalled Leon asking about the students’ whereabouts, much to Garcia’s surprise. “What students?” he remembered telling Leon.
Garcia’s account was bolstered by Ramon Navarette Magdaleno, president of the official Guerrero State Human Rights Commission (CEDH). In separate comments to La Jornada newspaper, Navarette said
CEDH personnel first arrived in Iguala while the attacks were in progress on the evening of September 26. The next day, CEDH staff conducted a meticulous search of police headquarters for any signs that students had been in the building but found nothing, he said.
According to Navarette, similar searches of warehouses used by police as well as state police facilities came up empty-handed. The Guerrero state official said the CEDH then accompanied parents of the disappeared students to the Mexican army’s 27th Infantry Battalion in Iguala.
“We arrived to the doors of the military zone and asked to enter with a group of parents and young people, but weren’t allowed in,” Navarette was quoted. “This is the reality, and an issue that is now jumping around a lot. If there had been nothing there, we could have entered..”
Sources: La Jornada (Guerrero edition), June 17, 2015. Article by Citlal Giles Sanchez. El Sur/Proceso, June 14 and 18, 2015; Special Edition #48. Articles by Anabel Hernandez, Steve Fisher, Ezequiel Flores Contreras, Patricia Davila and Jose Gil Olmos.
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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico