MEXICO CITY – Cristina Bautista Salvador woke up embroidering a T-shirt. With patience, and in the cold, she was weaving with multicolored threads the name of her son, Benjamín Ascencio Bautista, who is part of the group of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero, who have been missing since September 2014.
"Well, we are determined because we want to know about our children. That's why we're here," explains Bautista Salvador, a 48-year-old indigenous woman, in a telephone interview with Noticias Telemundo.
She, along with dozens of parents and relatives of the students, have been in a sit-in since September 26 in front of entrance 1 of Military Camp 1 in Naucalpan, where information from all the battalions in the country is concentrated.
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"We are here to demand some documents that are needed and that the Army has not wanted to deliver from the beginning of the case, because they always lied to us. They said they didn't know anything, that it was organized crime, but they were also there. We thirst for justice in the people of Mexico," Bautista Salvador said.
We are here to demand some documents that are needed and that the Army has not wanted to deliver."
Cristina Bautista, Ayotzinapa student mother
In this regard, in his conference this morning, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, explained that he does not share the complaints of the group of parents, and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), who accuse the Army of having participated in the incident.
"We have differences, they insist that the Army is not cooperating, that they want the facts not to be known, I do not agree with that, because the Army has delivered all the information it has and has helped a lot in clarifying the unfortunate case of Ayotzinapa," the president said.
[Latest independent report on Ayotzinapa accuses authorities of "collaborating" in the disappearance of the 43 students]
Family members and defense groups called for a march in Mexico City this afternoon to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the mass disappearance of students from the Isidro Burgos rural teacher training school in Ayotzinapa.
"We are not the only ones who are suffering, who are looking for our loved ones. We know that there are thousands of relatives, so we invite you to walk together and demand the presentation alive of our relatives," said Bautista Salvador.
The GIEI, a panel appointed nine years ago by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the case, reported in July that the investigation could not be completed because the Mexican military has not provided all the information on the case. In addition, last year the government's Truth Commission described what happened in Ayotzinapa as a "state crime" with the participation of authorities, including the Mexican military.
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"The Mexican State must exert the necessary pressure so that the Army does not obstruct the investigation and delivers all the information that is needed. It is regrettable that nine years after the disappearance we are returning to the starting point, because two governments seem to erect a historical truth where they are covering up the participation of the military," said Edith Olivares Ferreto, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.
Two governments seem to erect a historical truth where they are covering up the involvement of the military."
Edith Olivares Ferreto,Amnesty International Mexico
Even on Tuesday, the presidency of Mexico released the report Ayotzinapa Case: narrative of facts according to the investigation carried out in which the relationship between the military and the Guerreros Unidos cartel is admitted.
"From various sources there are links between some elements of the Federal Police and the Army that operated in the region of Iguala with Guerreros Unidos," the report specifies.
"Derived from various statements from different witnesses, as well as text messages provided by the DEA, the then Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion based in Iguala, Captain José Martínez Crespo and the then Colonel Rafael Hernández Nieto, commander of the 41st Battalion, are linked to Guerreros Unidos," the document states.
According to official figures, 290,824 people have been reported missing in Mexico between 1962 and August 2, 2023. Of those nearly 300,000 people, 110,106 have been reported missing during López Obrador's administration.
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The UN also criticizes the investigations
On September 26, the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-DH) asked the Mexican government to "collaborate effectively and deliver all the information" on the 43 disappeared.
"The UN-DH maintains that efforts and progress will only achieve the truth and justice that victims deserve if the different security and intelligence corporations, civilian and military, collaborate effectively and deliver all the information at their disposal diligently and completely," he said in a statement.
The agency acknowledged that the work of the Truth Commission and the special investigation unit of the Attorney General's Office (FGR) have identified 434 relevant actors, and arrested 132 alleged perpetrators, including 14 military personnel.
[The sounds and voices of the Ayotzinapa case are revived in an investigative podcast]
But he clarified that "what happened in the Ayotzinapa case requires not only criminal, but also political and administrative sanctions, for those who have hindered, from their various positions of responsibility, access to information, altered evidence or sustained links with organized crime."
Multiple defense organizations and activists have denounced the reluctance of the country's military sector to collaborate in clarifying the case. UN spokesmen have criticized the security strategy deployed in the country since 2006, arguing that it has failed to reduce violence and "has led to serious human rights violations," most of which remain unpunished.
"In this country, the military continues to have great power and I think that the Ayotzinapa case also makes us reflect on who is in charge in Mexico, is there really a subordination of military power to civilian power, because that is not what we see," Olivares Ferreto said.
In September, a New York Times investigation analyzed more than 23,000 unpublished text messages, witness statements and investigative documents showing that "virtually every branch of government in that area of southern Mexico" had worked for months with the criminal group. According to Times investigators, that "put the machinery of the state in the hands of the cartel and neutralized any obstacles that stood in its way."
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What the GIEI says
In July, the five-member multinational group that makes up the GIEI published its latest report in which it said it could not determine what exactly happened to the Ayotzinapa students.
However, investigators said they gathered enough evidence to suggest that Mexican security forces at the local, state and federal levels "collaborated to make them disappear," Carlos Beristain, a member of the group, said at the time.
The 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher Training School were attacked in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26, 2014. Since then only the remains of three of them have been formally identified.
[Torture Allegations Stain Ayotzinapa Case in Mexico]
The administration of former President Enrique Peña Nieto concluded that the 43 students were kidnapped by corrupt police in collusion with a local drug gang, who thought they had been infiltrated by a rival group. The narcos killed the students and burned their bodies, the Mexican government report said at the time.
But the GIEI said that version of events is full of errors. Investigators say their findings show that authorities knew about the students' abduction and were complicit in the disappearances.
In August 2022, the former head of the now-defunct Attorney General's Office (PGR), Jesús Murillo Karam, was arrested by the Attorney General's Office on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice. However, in September of that year, a district judge granted a definitive suspension to the former prosecutor against the link to the process for those crimes.
The GIEI left because without data from the Army it could not continue working."
Santiago Corcuera Cabezut ACADEMIC
"Without files and documents there is no truth. It is appalling that the Ayotzinapa investigations address this problem of lack of information. The GIEI left because without data from the Army it could not continue working, and that seems very regrettable to me," says Santiago Corcuera Cabezut, an academic at the Universidad Iberoamericana and former member of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances of the United Nations.
The Army, Navy, police and intelligence services knew, minute by minute, where the students were, the GIEI said in its report.
According to the report, at least 500 calls about the incident were recorded at a government security surveillance center in the crucial hours after the students disappeared. The GIEI also found that members of the Navy and Army carried out secret operations and manipulated information relevant to the case.
"The Army does not want to release the information, they resist and do not care that there have been changes in the government. They say, 'We are a cohesive group and we protect ourselves regardless of whether presidents change.' That is why, despite the pressures, there are not enough results," says Corcuera Cabezut.
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"We can't investigate like this"
Soldiers who initially testified that they were in their barracks on the night of the disappearance ended up linked to places where the students are believed to have been abducted, GIEI investigators said.
According to documents, photographs and testimony from the panel, the Army and Navy had detained five suspects in the case, who were previously believed to be missing.
[It Was "a State Crime": Mexican Authorities Give Preliminary Conclusions on Ayotzinapa Case]
Experts also found discrepancies in the Army's information about the discovery of the body of Julio César Mondragón, one of the Ayotzinapa students who died that night. The Army assured the GIEI that the differences were an "involuntary error."
Part of the problem, according to investigators, was due to authorities' failure to provide information. They even accused the Mexican Army of "obstruction of justice."
"They have lied to us, they have responded with falsehoods, we have no more information," Beristain said. "We can't investigate like this."
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From senior officials to civilians, between 120 and 130 people have been arrested in connection with the students' disappearance, Lopez Obrador said in July.
However, Cristina Bautista Salvador says that is not enough and asserts that the fight will continue until her son's whereabouts are clarified. He tenderly recalls that Benjamin was 19 years old and a fan of Michael Jackson. She still seems to see him singing and dancing to "Thriller," which was a favorite song.
"We are very grateful to the people who help us and we ask them to continue accompanying us until we reach the truth. We are not the only ones who are suffering, there are thousands of relatives looking for their loved ones, and I will not stop until I know what happened to Benja, "he exclaims in a sad tone.