President López Obrador signed his first presidential decree yesterday, creating a super commission that will conduct a new investigation into the case of the 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero more than four years ago.
Just two days after he was sworn in as president, López Obrador told parents of the missing students gathered at the National Palace that “there will be no barriers, no obstacles to arriving at the truth” about what happened to their sons.
The 43 young men, who were studying to become teachers at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, disappeared in Iguala in September 2014 and were presumably killed.
The case precipitated the worst crisis of former president Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, triggered mass demonstrations in Mexico City and became representative of other disappearances and rampant violence and corruption.
The new commission, whose creation was ordered by a federal court in June, will have no limits to its investigation, complete access to existing information about the case and will offer protection to witnesses so that they can tell their stories without fear of repercussions.
Alejandro Encinas, deputy interior secretary for human rights, will head the commission, which will be funded by the Secretariat of Finance but could also receive monetary contributions from national and international organizations.
Family members of the victims, their lawyers and representatives of the secretariats of the Interior, Foreign Relations and Finance will all be part of the commission.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international organizations, authorities and experts will also be permitted to “assist and cooperate” with the truth commission’s investigation.
López Obrador declared that his government will not be an accomplice to human rights violations, explaining that all lines of investigations will be pursued, including any role that the army may have played in the students’ disappearance.
“I believe that the investigation has to include the whole government, all the people involved,” he said, charging that an army probe would not inflict any damage, reputational or otherwise, on the military.
“Arriving at the truth and delivering justice doesn’t weaken institutions, it strengthens them. In this new government, the truth must reign above all else, it’s the truth that is revolutionary [and] Christian. Lying is reactionary, it’s of the devil,” López Obrador said.
According to the former government’s “historical truth,” the 43 students were intercepted by corrupt municipal police in Iguala on September 26, 2014 while traveling on buses they had commandeered to travel to a protest march in Mexico City.
The police then handed them over to members of the Guerrero Unidos gang who killed the students, burned their bodies in a municipal dump and scattered their ashes in a nearby river.
However, the former government’s conclusion was widely questioned both within Mexico and internationally and authorities were heavily criticized for their handling of the case.
Many people suspected that the army played a role in the students’ disappearance but it was never subjected to investigation.
Deputy secretary Encinas said at the National Palace yesterday that members of the new commission and other government investigators would have “free access” to all facilities where “due to the circumstances of the case it is presumed that the missing persons or remains corresponding to them may have been present.”
Questioned whether the “free access” would extend to military barracks, Encinas responded that it would because “they are the only [facilities] that haven’t been opened [to investigators].”
Scores of people have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the students’ disappearance but both the United Nations and the National Human Rights Commission have said that there is evidence that many of them were tortured by authorities and likely forced into making admissions of guilt.
A federal court judge ruled late last month that 83 statements made by people accused of involvement in the crime must be omitted from the Ayotzinapa investigation due to evidence that their human rights were violated.
Three men who had been identified as actual perpetrators of the crime and who had supported the past government’s official version of events were consequently released from custody.
Parents of the missing students have always rejected the past government’s “historical truth” but are now placing their faith in the new administration to deliver answers – and their sons – to them.
“We ask you [López Obrador], as a father, to help us, to pull us out of this dumpster where Peña Nieto left us, and for you to gain the trust of all Mexicans, because we don’t trust anyone anymore,” pleaded María Martínez, the mother of one of the missing students.