While bloody death tolls and ubiquitous violence are nothing new in a country that has seen an estimated 106,000 people killed in drug violence since 2006, the disappearance of 43 college students has shaken the country and spurred widespread protests across Mexico.
Mexico City – One member of the gang implicated in the disappearance and death of 43 students from a teachers’ college in southern Mexico in September 2014 admitted to taking part in the effort to burn their bodies and even detailed the difficulties of doing so during a heavy rainfall.
The head of the gang told interrogators that policemen from three different municipalities, not just that of Igual, Guerrero, were involved in the students’ death and disappearance.
Both details conflict with the government’s official account of what took place in there last year and both were drawn out from thousands of pages of documents released earlier in October by the Mexican attorney general’s office (the PGR, in its Spanish acronym) from the investigation into the students’ disappearance.
But few people have ever believed the “historic truth,” as former Mexican attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, referred to the government’s conclusions.
Chief among them are the relatives of the students – who over the last 12 months have demonstrated, made their case to international human rights organizations and kept the public eye trained on the students’ presumed murder at the hands of a gang, Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”), which was in cahoots with the local municipal authorities.
The public pressure the families have brought prompted the announcement this week that the PGR’s own forensic specialists would work with experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to re-investigate the landfill in Cocula, Guerrero, where the Mexican government says the students were burned.
“The main difference is where the students were taken to, and that’s what we will focus on,” said Roberto Campa Cifirián, undersecretary in the Interior Ministry charged with human rights and legal affairs issues.
Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesman for the parents of the students and the father of a survivor from that night, told Fox News Latino in a telephone interview, “They reopened the case because of social pressure not because of good will.”
Campa Cifirián announced the new investigation just hours after the government of Pres. Enrique Peña Nieto and the representatives of the students’ families reached an agreement to transfer the case from the PGR’s organized crime unit to its human rights division.
In the trove of documents released recently, one member of the gang, Patricio “El Pato” Reyes, a cocaine-addicted and alcoholic middle child of a family of 11, told investigators that his boss ordered him to shoot three of the students in the back.
Later, he was instructed to gather dry wood because “rain was falling.” It was coming down so hard, according to his testimony, that it opens to doubt the government’s contention that the students’ bodies were burned for hours in a pyre.
The IACHR’s Ángela Bastrago – a former Colombian prosecutor and – said the 83 volumes and 13 annexes with hundreds of pages each that the government made available will be examined “with new eyes.”
This reporter examined many of the documents on behalf of Fox News Latino and found that, while most eyewitness accounts follow to the letter the government’s version of events, a handful contain telling discrepancies and revelations about how the hitmen who allegedly kidnapped and killed the young students were recruited.
One member identified only as “Roberto” whose boss, “El Chucky,” allegedly ordered the deaths of the students, described in detail the moment in August 2013 he decided to become a hit man. He was, he said, “high on meth” when a friend suggested he work with the Guerreros Unidos for 15,000 pesos a month – an amount equivalent to $1,200 dollars.
“I accepted because I thought it was a lot of money,” Roberto confessed when interrogated by the office of the attorney general of Colima, his home state where he had fled after the incident became national and international news.
In another document, the leader of the Guerreros Unidos, Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, said that the police of Pilcaya, a municipality located some 140 miles away, and its top commander, Trinidad Rodriguez Castillo, were involved in the students’ deaths along with officers from Iguala and Cocula – something not in the official version of events.
The representative of the students’ families, de la Cruz, is hopeful that the new team of investigators will be able to shed more light on the events.
“We hope that the next conclusions will be true,” he told FNL and then referred to one of the most persistent rumors about the investigation – one that the PGR has never quite admitted nor denied. “Because the [conclusions] that they wanted to impose on us were obtained through torture.”
Gardenia Mendoza is a freelance reporter in Mexico City.