Mexico’s Truth Commission investigating the mass disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College may finally solve the 8 year old crime that inspired the Detective Emilia Cruz novel 43 MISSING.
As more details are uncovered, it appears that complicity in the students’ kidnapping and murders involves virtually all levels of Mexican military and civil authority, and was driven by drug money. Some are calling it a state-sponsored crime.
Ask me why I’m not surprised.
43 MISSING Giveaway
To bring awareness to the issue, I’m giving away 12 signed paperback copies of 43 MISSING on Goodreads. Find the giveaway here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/353598-43-missing-an-emilia-cruz-novel NOTE: the giveaway ends 6 October 2022.
Got a Kindle? Get 43 MISSING on Amazon here: https://geni.us/read-43-missing
So far, former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam is the highest official thought to be involved in the crime. He was arrested at his home in Mexico City in mid-August in connection with the Sept 2014 mass disappearance in the state of Guerrero, not far from Acapulco. Murillo served as attorney general from 2012 to 2015, under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Murillo was charged with torture, official misconduct and enabling forced disappearance. Along with him, charges were brought against 20 army soldiers and officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers and 11 state police, and 14 gang members. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2022/08/20/mexico-attorney-general-arrested-43-missing-students/7855468001/
As CNN reported, the arrest followed the Truth Commission’s report which labeled the students’ disappearance a “crime of the state.” The commission, which began in 2019 and is the latest in a string of investigations over the past 8 years, combed through “thousands of documents, text messages, phone records, testimonies and other forms of evidence.” https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/19/americas/jess-murillo-karam-mexico-missing-students-intl-latam/index.html
Since Murillo’s arrest, more news has leaked out about the crime, much of which is being aired (at least in the English-language press) for the first time. The reason that facts were obscured and reporting muffled for so long appears to be a conspiracy that included local drug gangs in Guerrero, which may well have ties to larger organized crime organizations, as well as the highest levels of Mexico’s federal government during the Peña Nieto administration.
The commission report described a “deep coverup, involving multiple levels of local and federal government offices. Officials concealed facts and covered up links between the authorities and the gangs . . . At all times the federal, state and municipal authorities were aware of the students’ movements. Their actions, omissions and participation allowed for the disappearance and execution of the students.”
One shocking revelation from the commission is that six of the 43 students were kept alive for as long as four days after the initial kidnapping by police in the city of Iguala, at which point they were killed and their bodies hidden on the orders of the local army commander.
Enough, I’m Tired of This
Murillo is the one who famously said Ye me canse, meaning “Enough, I’m tired of this” in early November 2014. In a short press conference, he announced that two suspects led authorities to trash bags believed to contain the incinerated remains of the 43 missing students, then abruptly cut off reporters’ questions with the off-hand remark.
Ye me canse blew up across social media, and became a rallying call for those sick of Mexico’s narco violence and disappearances. “Enough, I’m tired of crime/narco-state/violence/government apathy.”
Meanwhile everyone else was asking Donde estan. “Where are they?”
Murillo left office having created a narrative called the “Historic Truth.” This was an attempt to end the outcry with a story that the local police arrested the students then turned them over to the Guererros Unidos gang, which killed them and burned the bodies, tossing the remains into a dump.
Yet in September 2015, a group of independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a 500-page report refuting the theory as scientifically impossible. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/09/ayotzinapa-disappearances-pena-nieto-s-ultimate-test/
Origins of the Crime
The impetus for this sad tale of crime/coverup/collusion/conspiracy is still murky. Why did the police seize the students in the first place?
The inciting incident was when the students commandeered buses in Iguala to go to a commemorative rally in Mexico City. This isn’t necessarily a big issue in Mexico where transportation is hard to come by. The Ayotzinapa students supposedly did it every year for this event.
But this time, the students may have unwittingly commandeered a busload of drugs being transported by the Guerreros Unidos gang. And who was the gang’s partner in drug transport and distribution? Could it be the Army? Local officials? The local police? All of them?
Mexico News Daily reported on military indictments:
“Retired Gen. José Rodríguez Pérez, a then-colonel who commanded the 27th infantry batallion at the time of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College students’ disappearance in Iguala on September 26, 2014, is accused of ordering the murders of six students several days after they went missing.
“On August 19 – the day former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam was arrested in connection with the students’ disappearance – the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) said that a federal judge had issued a total of 83 arrest warrants against 20 military commanders and soldiers belonging to two battalions in Iguala, five administrative and judicial officials in Guerrero, 33 municipal police officers from Huitzuco, Iguala and Cocula, 11 state police and 14 members of the criminal organization Guerreros Unidos.” https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/arrest-warrants-ayotzinapa-general/
After more than three years digging into the current investigation, prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo quit this week, “raising questions about the authorities’ willingness to take on politicians and the military,” according to the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/27/mexico-ayotzinapa-missing-students-prosecutor/
Mexican Attorney General’s Office recently persuaded a judge to vacate 21 of Gómez Trejo’s 83 arrest warrants listed above. Sixteen of the 21 were for military officials.
Was the prosecutor sidelined? Is this a sign that Mexico won’t hold military officials accountable for atrocities?
Interestingly, this comes at a time when President López Obrador is relying on the military for a variety of tasks. He recently shifted put the civilian National Guard under military control. The military has taken on the civilian law enforcement role as well as chasing organized crime and running infrastructure projects.
Solving the crime in 43 MISSING
I wrote 43 MISSING, the 6th book in the Detective Emilia Cruz series, out of a huge sense of frustration with the “Historic Truth” narrative being spun at the time. There was some great counter reporting, however, notably Francisco Goldman’s content in The New Yorker. I read everything I could get my hands on and came to the conclusion that those buses were key to the mystery.
And so I wrote my version of the crime, putting Detective Emilia Cruz into an investigation not unlike the Truth Commission. In the fictional version, a new investigation brings together police officers from across Mexico to take a fresh look after previous investigation were either unequal to the task or actively prevented from investigating. Again, much like real life.
43 MISSING takes Emilia out of the familiar surroundings of Acapulco and into Mexico City. She and the team must cull through a massive amount of documentation, including video transcripts, and are given few resources for the overwhelming job.
Emilia finds those responsible for the mass disappearance . . . She finds the bodies of the dead, too.
The real Truth Commission has done the first part. Let’s hope they can do the second and without paying the price that Emilia pays in 43 MISSING.
Featured image courtesy Kindel Media via pexels
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads giveaway before 6 October for a signed copy of 43 MISSING: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/353598-43-missing-an-emilia-cruz-novel
Got a Kindle? Get 43 MISSING on Amazon here: https://geni.us/read-43-missing