The bodies of the 43 students who disappeared the night of September 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, could not have been incinerated in the Cocula garbage dump, said human rights investigators in a report issued yesterday.
Six months of investigations by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) led to the conclusion that huge quantities of fuel would have been required to burn the bodies and it would have taken more than 60 hours to do it.
The report, which challenges the government’s official findings and cites flaws and irregularities in its handling of the case, also offered a possible motive for the violence.
Security camera footage has revealed the presence of a fifth bus among those commandeered that day by students of the Ayotzinapa teacher training college. But only four buses were investigated by the federal Attorney General.
The human rights group suggested the missing bus might have been carrying a load of cash or drugs.
Until now the only motive for what took place that night has been Iguala municipal authorities’ desire to clear the students from the city to prevent them interrupting the annual report by the president of the DIF family services agency.
However, María de los Angeles Pineda had given her report well before the students arrived in the city, the commission found. She and her husband, the ex-mayor, are now in custody in connection with the case.
The official investigation concluded that Iguala municipal police captured the 43 students and turned them over to the Guerreros Unidos crime gang. That organization has since been identified as having been a major supplier of heroin that was shipped to Chicago, hidden in panels on buses similar to those used by the students.
CIDH investigator Claudia Paz said the evidence suggests police action that night was directed at preventing the buses from leaving the city.
Pursuing that line of investigation was one of 20 recommendations made by the commission in its report. Others included continuing the search for the students, investigating crematoriums, analyzing satellite images and asking the parents to participate in the inquiries.
The latest findings represent a severe blow to the credibility of the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose previous attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, declared in January that it was “a legal certainty” and “historical truth” that the students were incinerated at the Cocula dump.
Murillo was later moved to another cabinet post before being removed altogether in a cabinet shuffle August 27. He has made no comment on yesterday’s report.
The Cocula dump story was questioned early on by a researcher at the National Autonomous University, who also claimed the bodies could not have been burned as described. But that claim was refuted by two international experts, who confirmed that it would have been possible.
One CIDH investigator was firm in his view about the alleged fire. “That event never took place,” said Carlos Beristain yesterday, citing evidence from the site. “There should be a refocusing of the investigation based on these facts,” he said in a report by Reuters.
It said, too, that the government’s case was based largely on testimony by five suspects who could not be considered reliable.
Attorney General Arely Gómez said there will be a new investigation by forensic experts of the highest standing to clarify the issue of the incineration of the bodies. Authorities won’t rest until they get to the bottom of what happened to the students, she said, according to a report by CNN.
On his Twitter account, President Peña Nieto thanked the CIDH committee for its report and said the government would analyze the findings.
The students’ parents, who have challenged the official findings all along, want a meeting with the president. “His cabinet lied,” a spokesman said.
Forensic testing of ashes recovered from a river near Cocula and believed to be the remains of the students have only been successful in identifying one of them.