Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto woke up to another media scandal this morning as an investigative report hit newsstands implicating Federal Police in last September's attack on Ayotzinapa students. The report, published today in Mexican news magazine Proceso, alleges that the Peña Nieto administration has been covering up the federales' role in the incident for over two months.
But two survivors of the attack interviewed by Fusion late last night were unable to corroborate the allegations that federal cops were directly involved in the shooting, suggesting the incident is far from resolved
The official version of what happened on the night of Sept. 26 was that local municipal police, acting on the orders of Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife, attacked several buses of students on multiple occasions, killing three, and capturing 43 more. The attacks were allegedly ordered to prevent the students from protesting the mayor and his wife, who was presenting a speech that evening. The collared students were then handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which in turn killed, dismembered and burned the victims, according to the government. The ex-mayor and his wife have since been captured and Argentine forensic experts have positively identified the charred remains of one of the 43 missing students — a discovery that appeared to partially validate the official version of events.
Today's article in Proceso — an investigation by journalists Anabel Hernandez and Steve Fisher, in conjunction with the Program for Investigative Reporting at the University of Berkeley, California — offers a different account of what went down. The investigation claims the state and federal government were also involved in the crime, and the army was complicit. The investigative report, based on interviews, testimonies, cellphone videos, and apparently leaked documents from the government's investigation, mentions no evidence of Guerreros Unidos involvement. But the report alleges that at least five of the incarcerated gang members were illegally plucked off the streets and tortured before confessing to the crime.
No clear motive was offered for the attacks on the students, but the reporters claim that the incident "was not only against the students, but against the political and ideological structure of the school.” The report says the Ayotzinapa students were monitored by state and federal authorities from the moment they left their campus around 6 p.m. on the night of the attacks.
The reporters would not divulge how they obtained any of the information cited in their investigation, or allow Fusion to review any of their documents. However, a released cellphone video allegedly shot by one of the students during the attack includes an audio track of someone's saying there are federal police at the scene (the federales never actually appear in the video).
An excerpt of the investigative report published Saturday night on Proceso.com claims “the attack was orchestrated and executed by federal police, with the complicity or collaboration of the army.”
However, two Ayotzinapa student survivors interviewed by Fusion say they didn't see any Federal Police involved in the attacks.
Uriel Ruiz says he and others survived the first attack by taking cover behind a bus until municipal police officers let them go, with a warning to leave town. "The federal cops never came, there were only municipal cops," Ruiz told Fusion.
During the second attack of the night Ruiz claims he saw unidentified shooters wearing black uniforms and ski masks.
Fellow survivor Omar Garcia agrees he didn't see any Federal Police at either shooting. But he too saw what he described as comando types dressed in black uniforms and ski masks shooting at the students during the second attack.
“They were shooting with a knee on the ground, and some positioned themselves by lying on their stomachs,” Garcia told Fusion in a phone interview Saturday night.
He's not clear who those men were, but assumes they were military.
The Proceso investigation found no indication that the military was directly involved in any of the shootings, but found evidence to suggest the regional army command was aware of what was happening at the time. The journalistic investigation suggests that the way the events unfolded, and the degree of specialized training witnessed in the attacks, indicates it was a professional operation above the paygrade of the municipal police who took the fall for the crime.
Proceso asked federal prosecutors to respond to the allegations in their article. "The prosecutor said that the investigation will continue to its final consequences," said a member of the prosecutor's office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. " “The questions that you are asking me are part of the investigation."
On the night of Sept. 26, a total of six people were killed — including three soccer players mistaken for the Ayotzinapa students — 29 injured and 43 disappeared. The federal government took over the investigation from state authorities on Oct. 4, which is when the official cover-up started, according to the Proceso investigation.
The incident has exposed the level of corruption and violence that has gripped Mexican society and led to a crisis of governability for the embattled Peña Nieto administration.