The former mayor of Iguala, Guerrero, and the municipal police chief that served under him once again face charges related to the 2014 disappearance of 43 teaching students.
José Luis Abarca, mayor of Iguala between 2012 and 2014, his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda and former municipal police chief Felipe Flores Velázquez – all of whom are in prison – were last week absolved of involvement in the abduction and presumed murder of the students after a Tamaulipas-based federal judge ruled there was a lack of evidence to proceed against them. However, the acquittal didn’t allow them to leave prison as they are accused of other crimes.
Abarca and Pineda – once known as the Imperial Couple of Iguala – had been accused of masterminding the kidnapping of 43 Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College students – who disappeared in Iguala on September 26, 2014 – and being complicit with the Guerreros Unidos crime gang.
According to a report by the news website Aristegui Noticias, lawyers who represent the students’ family members confirmed that a México state-based federal judge issued new arrest warrants for Abarca, Pineda and Flores last Friday.
The former mayor and ex-police chief face charges of organized crime and forced disappearance in connection with the students’ abduction, while Pineda is solely accused of engaging in organized crime.
In what seems to have been a largely symbolic act, federal agents reportedly executed the arrest warrants in the prisons where they are in custody.
Abarca and Pineda have been in prison since their arrest in Mexico City in November 2014. Pineda’s two brothers were allegedly members of the Guerreros Unidos, an organization that is also implicated in the abduction and presumed murder of the students.
Citing a new report by the government’s Ayotzinapa truth commission, Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas said in late August that there was evidence that Abarca and Guerreros Unidos leaders “in coalition with some other authorities” ordered the abduction of the students on September 26, 2014.
Abarca – who also faces charges in connection with the 2013 murders of two activists – allegedly ordered an operation against the students because he didn’t want “disturbances” in Iguala and was seeking to recover drugs on a bus they had commandeered to travel to a protest in Mexico City. Encinas indicated that the former mayor believed that members of the Los Rojos crime gang – a rival to the Guerreros Unidos – were among the students.
According to the truth commission report, a person with the moniker “A1” – whom Encinas identified as Abarca – “ordered the disappearance of all the students because they don’t know who’s who.”
The ex-mayor is also alleged to have said, “Kill all of them. Iguala is mine.”
While Abarca and Pineda have long been accused of involvement in the students’ disappearance, and Iguala municipal police officers were accused by the previous federal government of turning the young men over to members of the Guerreros Unidos, authorities now allege that the army also played a central role in the crime.
José Rodríguez Pérez, a retired general who commanded an Iguala-based infantry battalion at the time of the students’ disappearance, and two other army personnel were arrested last week in connection with the crime, while a fourth military man who is also accused of involvement was already in prison. The federal Attorney General’s Office said last month that arrest warrants for the 20 military commanders and soldiers had been issued by a federal judge
Rodríguez is accused of ordering the murders of six students several days after they went missing. Former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, considered the key architect of the former government’s allegedly fabricated “historical truth” vis a vis the Ayotzinapa case is also behind bars, having been detained on August 19 on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice.
Another former official sought by Mexican authorities in connection with the Ayotzinapa case is Tomás Zerón, head of the now-defunct Criminal Investigation Agency during the 2012–2018 government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto. Zerón is accused of abduction, torture and tampering with evidence in the investigation into the student’s disappearance, but he left Mexico a few years ago and is on the lam in Israel.