A retired army general accused of ordering the murder of six of the 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero in 2014 has been arrested, the federal government confirmed Thursday.
Deputy Security Minister Ricardo Mejía said that José Rodríguez Pérez, a then-colonel who commanded the 27th infantry battalion at the time of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College students’ disappearance in Iguala on September 26, 2014, was detained.
Several reports said that Rodríguez turned himself in to authorities in Mexico City on Wednesday and was subsequently transferred to a military prison. His arrest comes almost three weeks after Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas said there was evidence that six of the 43 students were held in an Iguala warehouse for several days before the army commander ordered their murders.
Mejía said that two other army personnel had also been arrested in connection with the Ayotzinapa case. Arrest warrants for 20 military commanders and soldiers were issued by a federal judge last month.
Rodríguez’s detention comes almost a month after former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam was arrested in connection with the students’ disappearance and presumed murder. Accused of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice, Murillo was a key architect of the previous government’s so-called “historic truth” in the Ayotzinapa case.
Presented by Murillo in January 2015, the allegedly fabricated version of events posits that the students, traveling on a bus they commandeered to go to a protest in Mexico City, were intercepted by corrupt municipal police who handed them over to members of the Guerreros Unidos crime gang. According to this version, the gangsters, mistaking the students for rival criminals, then allegedly killed them, burned their bodies in a dump in the municipality of Cocula and disposed of their remains in a nearby river.
The current government has rejected the “historic truth,” and a recent Ayotzinapa truth commission report implicated the army in what Encinas described as a “crime of the state.”
The most prominent early arrests in the case were those of former Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, who were accused of masterminding the abduction of the students and being complicit with the Guerreros Unidos. Abarca and Pineda – once known as the Imperial Couple of Iguala – have been in prison since their arrest in late 2014, but the former has now been absolved of involvement in the Ayotzinapa case.
Samuel Ventura Ramos, a Tamaulipas-based federal judge, cleared the former mayor of kidnapping and organized crime charges related to the disappearance of the 43 students, ruling that there was a lack of evidence to proceed against him. He also absolved 19 other people linked to the students’ disappearance.
Despite the ruling, Abarca is not expected to leave jail anytime soon as he faces other criminal charges, including allegations he was involved in the murder of two Iguala activists in 2013.
Encinas responded to the ex-mayor’s acquittal on Twitter, saying that the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) has “sufficient evidence” to appeal “this unfortunate act of impunity.”
The deputy interior minister described Abarca as “one of the main players in the disappearance of the young men” and noted that Ventura previously acquitted 77 suspects in the Ayotzinapa case. Encinas said in 2019 that the same judge’s acquittal of 21 municipal police officers detained in connection with the students’ disappearance was a sign of the “wretchedness and rot” of Mexico’s justice system.
Mejía confirmed Thursday that the FGR would challenge Abarca’s acquittal and updated Ventura’s tally of Ayotzinapa-related absolutions, saying that he has now exonerated 98 people.
He added that the government would file a complaint against the judge with the Federal Judiciary Council, an organization led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Arturo Zaldívar that oversees the nation’s courts and judges.