The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), a non-governmental forensic organization, released a statement yesterday on its independent investigation of the 43 students who disappeared in 2014 in Mexico’s Guerrero State, refuting the Mexican government’s official claim that the students were murdered and cremated by a local drug cartel. This is yet another independent study that contradicts the Mexican government’s less-than-convincing report regarding what happened to the students.
If you’re hazy on who these students are and why they’re significant, here’s a recap: On September 26, 2014, amid protests against the government’s education policy, students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College (most of them men younger than 30) seized school buses and were passing through the town of Iguala on their way to protest their school’s lack of funding. The official government investigation says Iguala’s now-ex mayor ordered his then-police chief to stop the students “at any cost” upon learning that their demonstration would interrupt an event his wife was leading. The official investigation claims the students were kidnapped by police and handed over to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who then murdered and cremated the 43 students outside the nearby town of Cocula before placing their remains in plastic bags and disposing of them in a nearby river.
After a year-long investigation, the EAAF yesterday refuted this version of events. According to a statement delivered by Miguel Nieva on Tuesday, both satellite data and closer study of vegetation around the supposed cremation site show no evidence of there having been a fire at the Cocula landfill on the night of September 26 to 27. The EAAF was also unable to find any DNA linked to the victims on-site. The 16-page report confirms the statement issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) in September, in which it too pointed out the absence of any significant fire in the dump on the dates in question. Unfortunately, the report does not offer any new insight into the victims’ potential whereabouts.
Following the EAAF’s presentation, the Mexican Office of the Attorney General of the Republic reiterated its commitment to solving the case.
In terms of hard evidence, the Mexican government’s narrative has never been particularly robust. Victims’ families have long called for greater transparency in the investigation, though not to great effect. The government’s inability or unwillingness to consider new leads or search locations, or to offer any concrete explanations to the victims’ families, has been yet another factor damaging Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s already-floundering reputation.
The news comes as little surprise to many of the victims’ family members. Mario González, one of the victims’ father, told CNN that “the report reiterates what we [the parents of the missing] have always said, what we already knew. Many people called us fools… but some of my fellow parents had already gone to the landfill and said that it wasn’t possible, that there was never a fire.”
Jose Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s Americas Director, stated in his response to the EAAF’s findings that, “what Mexico needs isn’t just an investigation into the whereabouts of the disappeared students, but also an investigation of the authorities who produced the unsubstantiated official version of events.”
Guerrero State had the highest homicide rate in the country in 2014, and that rate went on to increase by 20 percent in the first half of 2015.