The controversy over the disappearance and suspected murder of 43 students in Mexico in 2014 is set to drag on after an international committee accused security services of torture and questioned the official version of events.
The panel of experts said authorities tortured at least 17 drug gang members and police officers detained in connection with the investigation, saying medical exams showed they suffered cuts and bruises, while one was choked with a plastic bag. The Attorney General’s Office said it would probe allegations of mistreatment, some involving its own members.
Mexico is still reeling 19 months after the teaching students from a rural town in Guerrero went missing. The government says local police rounded up the students, in their late teens and early 20s, during a protest, then handed them over to a drug gang that burned them in a landfill and dumped their ashes in a river. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights experts questioned that version in their final report and said that the government obstructed their investigation, a claim authorities have denied.
“There have been many points along the way in which the experts have been blocked in terms of access to witnesses and to people who could give specific testimony,” said Eric Olson, a Mexico security expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “There is already deep public skepticism about trust in government and trust in the justice system in Mexico. This furthers that underlying problem Mexico struggles with.”
President Enrique Pena Nieto’s image both in Mexico and abroad will take a hit because of the accusations, with his handling of the case likely to overshadow elections in 2018, said Jorge Chabat, an analyst at the center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City.
“This greatly weakens Enrique Pena Nieto politically,” said Chabat. “It will probably be a decisive factor” in 2018 national elections.
Authorities have detained 123 people in the missing students case, including police and members of the Guerreros Unidos gang. This week, they’ll release a detailed update of their investigation, which is ongoing, Betanzos said Sunday.
Mexico will “condemn, investigate and punish, as our Constitution mandates, any practice of torture or mistreatment,” deputy prosecutor Eber Omar Betanzos told the press Sunday.