Transcripts of newly released text messages between a crime boss and a deputy police chief who finally lifted the lid on the mystery of 43 students who went missing one night in southwestern Mexico.
The messages indicate that the police and the cartel collaborated to capture, torture, and kill at least 38 of the 43 student teachers who went missing in September of 2014.
The students made the fatal mistake of ordering multiple buses to drive to Mexico City for a protest. It seems clear now that those buses were part of a drug operation that would carry a large shipment of heroin across the U.S. border-and the students inadvertently stole the cargo.
Gildardo López Astudillo was the local leader of the Guerreros Unidos cartel at the time. He oversees the area around the town of Iguala, in southwestern Mexico, where the students were last seen. Francisco Salgado Valladares is the deputy chief of the municipal police force in the town.
On September 26, 2014, Salgado texted López to report that his officers had arrested two groups of students for taking buses. Salgado wrote that 21 of the students were held on a bus. López responded by arranging a transfer point on a rural road near the town, saying he “had beds to intimidate” students, likely referring to his plans to torture and bury them in grave graves.
Police chief Salgado next wrote that he had 17 more students being held “in the cave,” to which López replied that “he wanted them all.” The two then made a plan for their underlays to meet in a place called Wolf’s Gap, and Salgado reminded López to make sure to send enough men to handle the job.
Apart from a few bone fragments, the bodies of the students were never found.
Stephanie Brewer, Mexico’s director at the Washington Office in Latin America, said the new evidence shows how often in Mexico “organized crime consists of both state and non-state actors.”
Brewer pointed to both “state tolerance and conspiracy – seen in this case in its most brutal and extreme form, where corrupt police officers commit the worst human rights violations.”
Although not specifically mentioned in the text messages, allegations have emerged that the Mexican military was also involved in the losses.
A leading newspaper, Reform, published leak testimony Earlier this year it was suggested Iguala-based army officials also partnered with Guerreros Unidos to round up some of the students as well as other cartel enemies who were in town on the night of Sept. 26.
Exchanges between police and capo in Iguala were originally intercepted by the army, which took seven years to free them. That led to criticism, including from families of missing students, that the army will not be transparent despite a commission of the presidency established with universal jurisdiction in the case.
“The military is hiding information because it is in their best interest to do so,” said a high-ranking police commander in Mexico who agreed to speak to The Daily Beast only on the condition that it not introducing. “The whole world knows that the army controls the drug trade [in that part of Mexico.]”
The Reforma report states that, in addition to 43 students, the army participated in the abduction of 30 cartel rivals in the Guerreros Unidos that night.
“The army is destroying anyone or anything that would interfere with them,” the commander said. “They work with organized crime to protect their own goals.”
WOLA’s Brewer also pointed to the Mexican military’s lack of cooperation in the case.
“The Mexican military has these wiretaps [and so] has knowledge of facts that it doesn’t share, ”Brewer said.
“This raises questions about why and how the army obtained this information, and what barriers still need to be overcome to ensure that the army is in fact sharing its information with those in charge of investigating the case. “
The DEA’s Vigil said it was “unconscionable” that many of the cartel members, police and military officers involved in the crime had not yet been punished.
“Mexico continues to wonder why the violence continues unabated. They don’t understand that there are no consequences for criminal actions that could translate into more impunity.”
Unfortunately, the Iguala tragedy is far from an isolated incident. More than 93,000 people were lost during Mexico’s long -running drug war – and more than 90 percent of those cases are unresolved, according to Brewer, who helps WOLA push the Mexican government for reforms in its treatment of missing persons.
“In the past three years, more than 25,000 people have been declared missing or missing and will remain so today, according to official statistics,” Brewer said. “That’s almost one person every time.”