Mexico arrests top prosecutor in missing student case and issues 80 subpoenas

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s former attorney general was arrested Friday in connection with the violent kidnapping and likely massacre of 43 students in 2014, a significant breakthrough in one of the most brutal acts of violence. most notorious tyrant in modern Mexican history.

He is the first senior official to be arrested in connection with the case, and authorities said on Friday that they have also issued more than 80 arrest warrants related to the case, including officers. military, police and gang members.

It was not immediately clear if any of those warrants resulted in further arrests, but their abrupt announcement came just a day after the Mexican government said a formal investigation was underway. discovered the disappearance of students was a “crime of the state” involving all walks of government.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Tyler Mattiace, a researcher on the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “It shows a willingness and interest in investigating and prosecuting not only the disappearance of the coerced student but also the subsequent cover-up.”

The arrest of the former attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, outside his home in Mexico City on Friday afternoon sent shockwaves across the country. The Mexican prosecutor’s office said he has been charged with “forcible disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice” in the case of students, young men from a teacher’s college in a rural town. Ayotzinapa.

Mr. Murillo oversaw a wide-ranging cover-up of events, including testimony obtained through torture, according to the United Nations. A report on the disappearance that Mr. Murillo issued in January 2015, calling it “historical truth”, was widely discredited by independent experts and the attorney general resigned shortly after. criticized for his handling of the case.

His arrest could be seen as a significant victory for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who rose to power due to a wave of grievances with the previous administration, vowing to tackle corruption and bring people to power. take responsibility for the student’s disappearance to justice.

“We said from the beginning that we would tell the truth, no matter how painful it might be,” Mr. López Obrador said at a news conference on Friday. “Making the truth known involves transparency, that’s a golden rule of democracy.”

However, there is no guarantee that the arrests will soon lead to meaningful prosecution. The Mexican justice system often moves at freezing speed, with those arrested sometimes being held for years before being tried.

For all the scandals that plagued the previous government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the current administration has obtained a number of charges against former officials, including in a lengthy investigation. long related to the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. One of the top officials involved in the case was extradited from Spain to Mexico in 2020, but officially charged with bribery only this year.

“It was a good sign, a strong, clear and important gesture,” said Paula Máaco Felipe, journalist and author of “Ayotzinapa: The Eternal Hour,” about Murillo’s arrest and the arrest warrant. . “However, it remains to be seen whether they will be prosecuted.”

The families of 43 students, who have spent years fighting for justice but are frequently faced with indifference or hostility by the authorities, reacted to the news with caution.

In a statement released through Centro Prodh, a local advocacy group that represents them, they called the developments the start of a process that “could contribute to the accountability of agencies.” related”.

“Fathers and mothers are not moved by revenge or personal hatred against anyone,” the statement added, “but rather the hope that the truth will be known and this will help prevent similar events happen again.”

On the night they disappeared, students drove several buses from a bus stop in the town of Iguala, south of Mexico City, to drive their friends to a rally in the memorial capital. Another student massacre from decades ago.

The behavior of passing buses has been timed and accepted by local bus companies. But that night, the students were brutally shot and detained by police and local gunmen, before being taken away in separate groups and most likely murdered.

The government’s cover-up of the events that followed only added salt to the wound, especially as there was mounting evidence that local, state and federal agents may have been involved in the student abduction. . Human rights groups have also long suspected the military is involved, but in Mexico the armed forces often operate with impunity.

The Mexican military has been implicated in human rights abuses and forced disappearances for decades, dating back to the 1970s, when hundreds of student protesters and dissidents were arrested, tortured and turned away. arbitrarily lost. But despite extensive evidence, military commanders have almost never faced justice.

What is particularly shocking is that in an announcement this week about the preliminary findings of a government truth commission, the government said that the military had an informant among the students but ” take no action” to protect or find the young man.

He is still among the 43 missing, and the inquest says there is no indication that any young men are still alive. The news also comes as a surprise given that López Obrador is increasingly dependent on the military for everything from building airports to distributing vaccines.

The subsequent announcement that military members, including commanders, had been charged in connection with the students’ disappearance was another important step, human rights activists said.

“Let us hope that there is justice in the Ayotzinapa case, a typical case,” said Ms. The case “could open the door to truth and justice for many others, given at least 50 years of abuse and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Mexican armed forces.”

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