Mexican Army Obstructed the Investigation of the Ayotzinapa Case

Mothers and fathers of the 43 normalistas forcefully disappeared by the Mexican State in 2014 traveled from Tixtla, Guerrero, to the Tlatelolco Cultural Center on July 25 to receive the sixth and final report of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) presented before the end of the mandate of its investigation.

The meeting was also attended by student survivors, human rights activists and social organizations that have built ties of solidarity with the families since the crime committed on September 27, 2014 against the young students of the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School in Ayotzinapa -a crime that, after more than 9 years, has still not been clarified.

When the report ended, everyone left in silence, the mothers and fathers of the normalistas only said “tomorrow we will give a press conference”. Some of them were visibly hurt after listening to the independent experts.

“There are no conditions for us to continue. If we don’t have the information, what are we going to do, what are we going to work with, what things are we going to keep pushing towards the truth? This information is needed; not only we need it, but also the representatives, the parents, the mothers, and the country needs it in order to clarify a case that touches on structural aspects of the functioning of the institutions and structural aspects of impunity in the country”, said Carlos Bersitáin.

Chronology of an unprecedented effort

The expert began to spin the story he investigated for seven years, without reaching the truth that the mothers and fathers of the normalistas asked for when the group arrived in Mexico on March 2, 2015.

The team was made up of 5 experts: the Spanish doctor expert in psychosocial and medical evaluation, Carlos Martín Bersitáin; the Colombian lawyer expert in criminal law, Ángela Buitrago; the Chilean lawyer specialist in human rights, Francisco Cox Vial; the Guatemalan lawyer expert in criminal law, Claudia Paz y Paz; and the Colombian lawyer and advisor to the Colombian Truth Commission, Alejandro Valencia Villa.

On September 6, 2015, the GIEI presented its first report on the investigation conducted into the search for 43 students from Ayotzinapa, who went missing in the early morning hours of September 26-27, 2014 in Iguala, Guerrero. In this report, the experts dismantled the first hypothesis presented by the federal government as “The historical truth” in which they stated that the students were picked up by criminal groups and subsequently burned. This brought them strong criticism; members of the State apparatus, intellectuals and the corporate press labeled the members of the GIEI as overreaching their functions.

On April 24, 2016, the GIEI presented its second report on the Ayotzinapa case and reinforced its thesis by rejecting the “Historical Truth” that Enrique Peña Nieto’ government built based on torture and fabrication of culprits.

After this report, their stay was extended until April 30, 2016. During that period, the GIEI was in the eye of the hurricane due to a media campaign against it, while the authorities questioned some of those revelations. The then Attorney General’s Office (PGR) avoided complying with the recommendations and delayed the fulfillment of the investigations.

In the GIEI report, the actions of the security corporations were known: the Mexican Army, the Mexican Navy, Federal, State and Municipal Police witnessed the detention and forced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa normalistas. The experts presented audiovisual evidence, and the manipulation of the San Juan River scene by high authorities of the PGR in the construction of the “Historical Truth”.

With the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the GIEI was reinstalled on December 3, 2019. The fathers and mothers of the 43 missing normalistas asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to make itself available to the Mexican State to collaborate in the investigation.

Despite some progress, their stay in Mexico did not lead to the complete truth about what happened on the night of September 2014. “If things do not change and we cannot achieve justice, we finished our work. What we did was to document and explore all avenues” posed Carlos Bersitáin. And … now?

The military’s closed-mindedness

In the last report, the GIEI’s international experts denounced the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) for hiding information and hindering the investigation to find the whereabouts of the 43 Ayotzinapa normalistas.

Bersitáin said that the GIEI returned in 2019 because there was a commitment from the Mexican State to access the files, however, “the SEDENA did not do so as it should have done, it only took it upon itself to hinder the investigation by not delivering the information required for the search for the youngsters” he sentenced.

In her intervention, Angela Buitrago said that the GIEI analyzed 500 calls from the command center in the area, the C4, in which the Armed Forces participate. “The relationship between C4 and SEDENA is permanent; let’s remember that we found two men from SEDENA, one received the call and another manipulated the cameras; this is the one who moved the camera when the vans with the normalistas passed towards Taxco.”

The disappearance of the normalistas moved the country and the whole world. On September 26, 2014, a group of normalistas left the Ayotzinapa normal school to get buses to go to Mexico City for the October 2 march -the date in 1968 when elements of the army repressed a student demonstration, killing and detaining hundreds of students. In 2014, when they found that the Chilpancingo bus station was guarded by state police in riot gear to prevent them from entering the station, they continued on to the city of Iguala.

In August of that year, a local newspaper published on its page “the normalistas are preparing a march to Mexico City to protest against police-military repression on October 2”. According to the student committee, such information was secret. However, later the GIEI investigation confirmed that the information had been disseminated by military infiltrators in the Normal de Ayotzinapa. The Mexican Army has refused to provide information about the infiltration of military elements as students of the Normal de Ayotzinapa to obtain the information from the student organization.

Among the discrepancies still unexplained: “The place where the body of Julio Cesar Mondragon Fontes appeared does not correspond with the place where he was murdered. The crime was committed 15 kilometers from the place known as El Andariego, according to the report of the 41st Infantry Battalion, it was in the vicinity of the town of Mexcaltepec, municipality of Taxco,” Beristáin revealed.

He also said that state police was on Juan N. Álvarez Street at the time of the crime, and ministerial police scoured the entire crime scene the night of the 26th and 27th while municipal police from Iguala, Huitzuco and Tepecoacuilco and members of the armed civilian group known as Guerreros Unidos attacked the normalistas. And … the military? The report showed the collusion between criminal groups, police of the three levels and the Armed Forces against the students.

They found that the municipality of Cocula also participated in the forced disappearance and had a malicious action in the investigation by disappearing the logbook and other data that the GIEI was unable to have access to. He recapitulates: “At 21:40 there was an element of SEDENA moved in different ways, but he never sustained it in the interview”.

He said that between “22:30 and 22:39 the municipal police of Huitzuco appeared. Here we learned something that has not been said: SEDENA moved to the Municipal Palace, but they never said in the initial interview that they were at the crime scene”.

Beristáin took the floor again: “The role of the CISEN Investigation Center (…) was also crucial on the night of September 26. In its only report it says that an element was at the scene of the events, but was displaced by pressure from the municipal police; however, he never left, but remained at the scene of the events.”


Carlos Bersitáin stated that “there is not a single document that points to the normalistas with drug trafficking. What we do find in the SEDENA documents is that, in the municipalities of Iguala, Cocula, Huitzuco and Tepecoacuilco, in fact, several municipal presidents are in collusion with the drug trafficking group”.

Then, he explains the whereabouts of the normalistas: “According to the communication analysis between Cholo Palacio and Corporal Gil, at least 17 normalistas were moved in different points until October 4. At the time of the call, the last point was the hill of Tetelilla. SEDENA had this information in real time; the General Staff of the Secretary of National Defense knew about this displacement but they did not act”.

He detailed that the video obtained from the Palace of Justice in Iguala was delivered to the Prosecutor of Guerrero, Iñaki Blanco Cabrera: “An official of the ministerial police indicated that the recording was delivered directly to the Prosecutor of Guerrero, but this video does not appear in the investigation, there is an edited one and of few minutes”.

“This report is given in the last mandate of GIEI; we had many obstacles due to the concealment of information. We worked with the Special Unit for Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa Case (UEILCA), and with the Presidential Commission for Truth and Access to Justice in the Ayotzinapa case (CoVAJ-Ayotzinapa) to push the search for the truth. The challenge was monumental” explained Beristáin.

“We are concerned about the family members, the impact of this tragedy, their state of health. The reparation of damage must be given to avoid re-victimization and stigmatization. For our part, we kept the investigation even when the crisis came in September 2022. But the refusal to provide information and the stubbornness weakened the investigation”, concluded Angela Buitrago.

Words that hurt

Each word emanating from Angela Buitrago and Carlos Bersitáin’s table fell like fire among the more than 80 people who listened attentively, for the attendees as they discovered step by step the facts of that night in Iguala. And how not to feel it, when new data was presented that had remained hidden in the last report?

Days later, the UN-DH deeply regrets that, despite the political will expressed by the federal government at the highest level, the Armed Forces have not provided all the information requested by the GIEI to deepen their investigations and contribute to the clarification of the facts and the search for the students.

Civil society organizations such as Article 19 endorsed the report and embraced the struggle of the mothers and fathers of the disappeared students. A communiqué of more than one hundred organizations and 176 people signed the endorsement of the work carried out by the GIEI in the last months.

Translation: Olivia León. 

Kau Sirenio Pioquinto, (Cuanacaxtitlán, Guerrero), is an indigenous ñuu savi reporter. He was a reporter for El Sur de Acapulco and La Jornada Guerrero and a radio host for the bilingual program Tatyi Savi (Voice of the Rain) for Radio and Television Guerrero, and for Radio Autonomous University of Guerrero XEUAG in the tu’un savi language. He works as a reporter for the weekly newspaper, Trinchera and is a regular contributor to the Americas Updater of the Americas Program.