The Instruction: How the López Obrador Administration Blew Up the Ayotzinapa Investigation (Part II)

AMLO promised to deliver truth and justice for 43 disappeared students and their families. The former special prosecutor recounts how his work was undermined.

November 21, 2023

The Instruction (Part II) by John Gibler. Marchers demand justice on the seventh anniversary of the Ayotzinapa disappearances, September 26, 2021. (LEONARDO RAMIREZ / CIDH / CC BY 2.0)

This investigation was originally published in Spanish by Quinto Elemento Lab on September 26, 2023. This is Part II of a three-part English translation. Read Part I.

From a city in the United States, Omar Gómez Trejo, former head of the Special Investigation and Litigation Unit for the Ayotzinapa Case, details how a “State decision” made it possible to cancel in 2022 the arrest warrants against 16 military personnel and to put together in 24 hours the arrest warrant for former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, the author of the “historical truth.” This is Part II of the story of how the Mexican government dismantled the team in charge of investigating the forced disappearance of the 43 students.

“Get Rid of Him”

One of the first developments in the case happened in November 2019, but was made public in July 2020: the finding of a bone fragment in the Barranca de la Carnicería (The Butcher’s Ravine), about 800 meters from the Cocula dump. The piece of bone belonged to the right foot of student Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, as confirmed by the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Christian Alfonso, his mother Luzma told me in December 2014, loved to dance above all things. In June 2021, the Innsbruck lab also identified a lumbar vertebra of student Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz. His sister Anayeli told me that Jhosivani was overjoyed in September 2014 because he had been chosen to be part of a special group of activists dedicated to political studies who lived together in the Activist House in Ayotzinapa.

The person who told them where to look was a “witness” identified as Juan. His name, Gildardo López Astudillo, has been widely reported in the press. He was a mid-senior level hitman within the Guerreros Unidos structure in Cocula. Arrested and tortured in 2015, he was released from prison in 2019 and the following year offered the prosecution his testimony. He provided the information that led to the Barranca de la Carnicería, and he thus gained the trust of Gómez Trejo and other members of his team.

But López Astudillo also lies. I obtained a copy of his statement. He says that on the night of September 26, 2014, members of a rival cartel had gotten mixed in among the Ayotzinapa students. That’s why, he says, Guerreros Unidos attacked them. He claims that another member of Guerreros Unidos told him that that night “there had been more than 80 people killed.” But there is not a single photograph or video that shows unknown people mixed in with the students. Where are the families of the other 30 or so people he claims they killed? All the witnesses who were in the center of Iguala, whom I interviewed in the first days of October 2014, told me the same thing: the police were chasing and shooting at the students. No student survivor mentioned having seen unknown people among them, much less armed ones. López Astudillo’s statement contradicts, moreover, all the evidence in the case that demonstrates how the Army had infiltrated the youths at all times: there was no confusion about their identity. The police shouted “fucking Ayotzinapos” as they attacked them. They all knew exactly who the students were.

There are a couple of testimonies like that of López Astudillo in the UEILCA investigation in which people who participated in the events in Iguala mix truth and lies. A witness called Carla, for example, says that members of Guerreros Unidos received photos of several students from Ayotzinapa around 5:40 p.m. on September 26, and that those students were hitmen for the rival cartel, Los Rojos, something also claimed in the “historical truth” that lacks any basis in evidence. Carla also lies about the murder of the student Julio César Mondragón Fontes in narrating the macabre events that supposedly happened between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. that night, when Julio César was still alive and with his schoolmates on Juan N. Álvarez Street.

Early on, López Obrador ordered all government institutions to hand over the information they had on the Ayotzinapa case to the UEILCA, the COVAJ, and the GIEI. But the military did not comply with the order. The only institution that obeyed was the National Intelligence Center (CNI), which replaced the Center for Intelligence and National Security (CISEN) in December 2018.

The boxes of CISEN documentation included videos of torture that detainees in the Ayotzinapa case suffered in the facilities of the Guerrero state government, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Navy, recorded by CISEN agents. Beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation with plastic bags—old methods of state terror still in force.

“In the videos you could see the Navy, you could see the CISEN, you could see government officials that were participating in torture,” says Colombian lawyer Ángela Buitrago of the GIEI.

According to Gómez Trejo, despite the UEILCA’s requests for an audio analysis of the videos to identify voices of people who did not physically appear in the recording, FGR officials refused to do so, claiming the audio quality was too poor. The UEILCA investigators wanted to compare the audio of the torture videos with FGR recordings of its employees during their background check and security clearance. “So, what I did was take the audios to Spain because they had trained the FGR’s experts, they used the same equipment,” Gómez Trejo explains. “The Spanish experts analyzed the files and identified a number of the officials whose voices can be heard.”

Several people who work in the UEILCA told me that this type of search for international support showed how the investigative unit did not stand idly by when the Attorney General’s Office wanted to block them. By taking the audio from CISEN’s torture videos to Spain, they were able to charge several PGR officials for crimes of torture.

Among those they were able to formally charge was Ignacio Mendoza Gandaria, a CISEN commander who participated in the torture. But the arrest warrant was never served. The excuse, says Gómez Trejo, was always the same: “Instructions. They said no, we can’t do this because of instructions.” Later, Gandaria was promoted. “And when we told the CNI authorities that this person was involved in the Ayotzinapa case,” Gómez Trejo continues, “they lobbied everywhere so that he would not be brought to justice. They hid him and later we found out that he tried to cross the border to the United States, [but] he got deported.”

Buitrago of the GIEI says that this was a turning point: “The crisis began because a person was going to be prosecuted, and that person was from the CISEN. The crisis began in November 2021, because even from within the Attorney General’s Office the order was given not to prosecute, even though the evidence was there.” 

“That’s when the uncomfortable days began,” says Gómez Trejo, “the days when officials came to give you instructions, to tell you that because of instructions from this or that high-profile official you cannot do something.”

On April 12, 2018, the newspaper Reforma revealed Blackberry text messages exchanged between members of Guerreros Unidos in Chicago and Mexico, intercepted by U.S. authorities as part of an investigation into heroin trafficking. The GIEI recommended that the PGR request the information from the U.S. government. The same month, ahead of Mexico’s July 2018 presidential elections, the government leaked some of the messages in what appeared to be a bizarre attempt to lend credibility to the official cover-up, which the Peña Nieto administration had dubbed “the historical truth.” It didn’t work. If true and correctly interpreted, the conversations showed that some of the students were still alive at 3:28 p.m. on September 27, 2014, when according to the PGR’s version of events, they had already been killed and incinerated.

Those messages became an obsession for Gómez Trejo and his team. When they began receiving and analyzing the information on the Guerreros Unidos case in Chicago, they realized that the messages the government requested spanned from September 26 to the end of October. But U.S. authorities had begun intercepting the criminal group’s communications in April 2014, six months before the disappearance of the students.

UEILCA requested the recordings, and the U.S. government denied them. Gómez Trejo insisted. After López Obrador brought the matter up with Vice President Kamala Harris, followed by months of meetings, in May 2022, U.S. authorities called Gómez Trejo and invited him to Chicago to review the documentation. Days later, he flew there with part of his team. “We get to Chicago… They introduce us to the prosecutor, to the people from the DEA division, and they tell me, well, here are the folders. This is the information. You have from nine o’clock until five in the afternoon to read all that.”

Gómez Trejo and his colleague were dumbfounded by what they were reading. When the U.S. agents asked him what he needed for their case, he answered: “All of it.”

“We returned to Mexico, refined the request for international technical assistance, and in a month, I went up to Washington to have the information sent to me. Why did I go up there myself? Because I was suspicious that, at any given moment, someone else would get hold of those disks and copy them. So, I go to the Department of Justice, collect the evidence in my own hand, and take it back to Mexico.”

“It contains very strong evidence of the Army’s involvement with organized crime,” says Gómez Trejo about the set of messages intercepted in the United States. “In the evidence from Chicago you get to see that they [the military] sell weapons, that they train [Guerreros Unidos members], that they receive money.”

Gómez Trejo believes that having obtained the evidence from the Chicago case was a turning point: “That’s when they understood that they were in trouble, that there was evidence that they didn’t control, there was a prosecutor that they didn’t control. That’s when they said: ‘Get rid of him.’”

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, then president-elect, poses with the Ayotzinapa families on the fourth anniversary of the disappearances, September 26, 2018. (THIAGO DEZAN / CIDH / CC BY 2.0)

The Collapse

The families of the 43 students despaired at what they perceived as the lack of progress in the investigation. In meetings with López Obrador, the COVAJ, and the GIEI, they listened as the group of international experts complained about the lack of access to the military archives and how the president continually insisted the Army must open them.

Finally, in April 2021, investigators gained access to some archives. Buitrago of the GIEI says that, even with López Obrador’s order, when the GIEI and the COVAJ arrived at different archives, the military told them there were no files about the Ayotzinapa case. In the Ninth Military Region, in Guerrero, Army officials assured them everything was “from 2021 onwards.” “Well,” Buitrago replied, “we’re going to have a look.”

In the 35th Military Zone in Chilpancingo, investigators came across mountains of paper. “We found a room with shelves where they put all the loose documentation,” says Buitrago. “They were bundles of paper, bundles, and there we found the sanction against Crespo. It was going to be destroyed.” That document, the sanction against José Martínez Crespo—the captain of 27th Infantry Battalion accused of being part of Guerreros Unidos and having participated in the disappearance of the students—shows that the Army conducted an internal investigation into the events in Iguala that it did not share with the PGR, the UEILCA, or the families. The Army denied, and continues to deny, the existence of that investigation.

Another key event was the murder of Juan Salgado Guzmán, uncle of the founders of Guerreros Unidos, on September 22, 2021, during an operation to arrest him. The operation was rushed, according to someone close to the case, so that López Obrador could boast about a breakthrough in his next meeting with the families of the students.

“Several informants had said that we could get information from [Salgado Guzmán], and in the operation they killed him,” says Santiago Aguirre, lawyer for the families and director of the human rights organization Centro PRODH. “The official government version is that they don’t rule out that it was an extrajudicial execution.” He says it was “a wake-up call” that people within the FGR were continuing to obstruct the investigation.

On September 24, 2021, on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the attacks in Iguala, the families of the 43 disappeared students met again with the president. They complained that arrest warrants resulting from the UEILCA’s investigation were not being served or were not moving forward, and that difficulties in accessing military archives remained. One mother told the president that if National Defense Secretary General Luis Cresencio Sandoval did not help, he should be removed. López Obrador got angry. He defended the Army, said they were collaborating, and later cancelled his subsequent meetings with the families.

During the Peña Nieto administration, the documents from the Ayotzinapa case were constantly leaked—part of the strategy of building and defending the government’s lies. With Gómez Trejo, from 2019 to 2022, there were no leaks. It was strange, then, that a few days after the tense meeting between the families and the president, Alejandro Encinas, the head of the COVAJ, published, “by instruction of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador,” two pages of a military document containing excerpts of conversations between members of Guerreros Unidos on September 26 and October 4, 2014. What most surprised and alarmed the families was that the document proved that the Army had intercepted the criminal group’s phones, without a court order, on those dates, and that for seven years it had concealed and lied about that information.

In February 2022, the GIEI delivered its third report to federal authorities. The report includes information from Army documents that prove that the military knew about buses being used to traffic drugs from Guerrero to Chicago; that they monitored the political activities of the Ayotzinapa students and conducted special surveillance during the day of the attacks that, according to the documents, “ceases during the critical hours” of September 26, 2014; that they operated C4 security cameras in Iguala that night and diverted them when police patrol trucks passed with the abducted students; that they reported what happened to their superiors; and that they had lied about all this during the seven-year investigation and search for the disappeared.

At the Navy archives, the GIEI found video from a Navy drone that flew over the Cocula trash dump—where the Peña Nieto administration said the students had been incinerated during a rain storm in the predawn hours of September 27, 2014—for more than two hours on the morning of October 27, 2014. In the images, uniformed marines are seen lowering objects into the dump, scattering things, and lighting a small fire at the edge of the dump. Then Attorney General Murillo Karam and Zerón—the federal official at the head of the Ayotzinapa investigation from 2014 to 2016—arrived to supervise the work. All of this occurred before the site was declared a crime scene and one day before an illegal operation, documented in the GIEI’s second report, at the dump and the San Juan River, where officials would recover a single charred bone fragment from one of the students, a piece of bone we now know was planted there.

Meanwhile, by early 2022, the Army no longer allowed access to its archives. What’s more, it refused to deliver to the UEILCA documents that the GIEI had already found in its records. In response to federal prosecutors’ requests, the Army claimed those documents did not exist.

Aguirre, the families’ lawyer from Centro PRODH, thinks that the information published in the GIEI’s third report provoked a kind of “competition” with the federal government—that the president wanted to have his own report, to show that the state, the COVAJ, could also investigate. He wanted to be able to say that he had solved the case and fulfilled his campaign promise.

Indeed, on June 30, 2022, just months after the GIEI delivered its third report, López Obrador told the press “we already know what happened” with the disappeared students. “This year the Ayotzinapa case will be solved.” A week later, on July 8, he said again, “we are moving forward” in the case, and he acknowledged General Sandoval for opening Military Camp Number 1 and “all” the archives. 

The fathers and mothers of the 43 disappeared students asked López Obrador to share with them the information he had, if he “already knew” what happened. “This is a torment, it’s inhuman; we are waiting for an answer to know about our children, where they are, and [the president] is saying that he already knows. Why this attitude? Why has he not wanted to meet with us?” said Emiliano Navarrete González, father of José Ángel Navarrete González.

Five days later, on July 13, when the parents of the students met with Gómez Trejo and his team, they asked him about what the president knew. But at the UEILCA, no one knew what López Obrador was referring to. The families held a press conference expressing their concern about the president’s statements. “We, the parents of the 43 students, are also unaware if the president of the Republic is carrying out his own parallel investigation into our case and, if so, we are extremely surprised because to date he has not shared it with us, the people affected, nor with the UEILCA,” they said.

By that time, the UEILCA had moved forward with a large number of almost finalized arrest warrants against Huitzuco police, Guerrero state police, military personnel, marines, and members of Guerreros Unidos.

And then came August 12, 2022, that summer Friday when Attorney General Gertz called Gómez Trejo to the 25th floor and told him: “Omar, I need a favor, a worksheet where you tell me how the case is going, what’s going on, what progress is being made. I have a breakfast next Monday.”

"State terrorism." (THIAGO DEZAN / CIDH / CC BY 2.0)

Chronology of a State Instruction

Monday, August 15, 2022

Gómez Trejo prepared the worksheet, sent it, and went home to rest. On Monday, August 15, after breakfast, Gertz called him back to his office and told him: “We have to prepare a speech in which all these advances are described.”

Shortly thereafter, the special prosecutor spoke to Encinas by phone. The undersecretary told him about the breakfast with the president and mentioned that the COVAJ had evidence against five members of the military for the disappearance of the students. Gómez Trejo thought that was all well and good, but told him: “Well, there are 20 military personnel responsible.”

That day he met with the fathers and mothers of the disappeared students. They asked him again about the president’s statements that he “already knew” what had happened to their children. He reiterated that he and his team had no idea what López Obrador was referring to, and then told them about the arrest warrants they were preparing in the case.

In those days, Gómez Trejo and several members of his team were also getting ready for an official trip to Israel to talk to the Israeli authorities, present charges against Zerón, and ask for Israeli support to arrest Zerón and return him to Mexico.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Gertz called Gómez Trejo to his office again. He told him: “We need the arrest warrants for Murillo Karam and the military.” The prosecutor was surprised. For the military, as well as for many police, officials, and members of Guerreros Unidos, the warrants were almost ready, but for Murillo Karam, more evidence still needed to be gathered. He asked to consult with his team.

That day, the director of group B, the area of the UEILCA in charge of investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by public officials who participated in elaborating and defending the so-called “historical truth,” was out of the office. The lead investigator on Murillo Karam’s case was on vacation. A young public prosecutor was left in charge.

Gómez Trejo went down to his office to make calls.

Alfredo, a pseudonym, worked in the UEILCA’s group B. Alfredo told me that they were investigating the former attorney general, but they were not yet ready to prosecute him: “Jesús Murillo Karam was a long-term line of investigation, because of the chain of command. We had to put together everything from below to get to him. Torture was used in a systematic and generalized way in the 2014 investigation... and in general in Mexico.”

Meanwhile, Gómez Trejo went back up to the 25th floor to talk to Gertz. He could have the warrants for the military and others involved, but not for Murillo Karam. For that, he needed time.

“Give me a month,” he told Attorney General Gertz. “I’ll get the whole team on it. We get the evidence we need and we will feel more at ease. It will be before September 15. That’s one month.”

“No, no, Omar,” Gertz said, “this is not an issue of one month, this is right now. This is a decision of state. It is an instruction.”

“Well, I can’t carry it out, sir.”

“All right, then step aside. If your team isn’t capable, I’ll send a team that can do it.”

“At the same time that the attorney general pushed us aside from the Murillo Karam case and sent a team to get involved in the investigations that were in the UEILCA,” says Gómez Trejo, “the group A team began to prepare the other 83 arrest warrants because that investigation was well underway.”

Gómez Trejo went down to his office and continued working on the speech Gertz asked him to write, in which he named the 20 military personnel about to be charged. He sent it, along with the list of military personnel, to the Attorney General’s Office. “He always knew the number of military personnel that we had in the investigation and that we were going to charge at that moment, which was 20.”

Those 20 military personnel are General Rafael Hernández Nieto, Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez (now a general), Captain José Martínez Crespo, and the 17 intelligence agents and troops who went out on patrol that night. “They knew they were disappearing the kids,” says Gómez Trejo, “and when the authorities know about a forced disappearance and do nothing to stop it, and then lie to hide it, then they participate in the crime.”

Julio, who worked on the torture investigations, recalls that the trip to Israel was approaching when FGR officials began “to ask if they could find all the evidence that mentioned Jesús Murillo Karam in the investigation. It was very sudden. We didn’t have a lot of proof. I remember they said: ‘It is an instruction from the attorney general that Murillo Karam has to be prosecuted.’ And it was difficult. We were not used to that. We had been making every effort to make good progress.”

In group B, Alfredo recalls that Gómez Trejo supported the decision not to issue an arrest warrant within 24 hours, as Gertz requested: “Omar said he supported us.” He shared the list of people that Gertz was going to send to the unit. They came from what used to be the SEIDO (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada)—then called the Fiscalía Especializada en Materia de Delincuencia Organizada (FEMDO)—and Internal Affairs. Gómez Trejo wanted to confirm with Alfredo if any of the officials were under investigation in the case.

“I check the list and two people were linked to the case,” says Alfredo. “They belonged to the same group [at SEIDO] as Blanca [Alicia Bernal Castilla, who is on trial in the case]: a conflict of interest.” Bernal Castilla signed several of the falsified documents of the “historical truth.”

“Tuesday was when the people from SEIDO and Internal Affairs arrived,” Alex, who also worked in the unit, tells me. “And that's when they started to take control of the case files,” Damián adds.

Five people arrived from what used to be SEIDO and five from Internal Affairs. Gómez Trejo told them: “As you know, the prosecutor [Gertz] wants this arrest warrant. We believe there is not enough evidence, but that is why you are here. Whatever you need, we’re here. He then instructed his team to help locating evidence.”

Alfredo, from group B, says: “We got to work. What is needed for an arrest warrant is the need for precaution, to tell a judge that this is the only way to bring a person to trial. We started looking for evidence for that requirement. That’s where it started to get uncomfortable. You have to show that you can locate the person. One option is a house search. They proposed to do the home inspection based on Google Maps. They took the street view image on Google Maps, but one said it was a photo the cops took. They saw it as super common. I objected. I told them that I thought it was not necessary to make a simulation. A lawyer from Internal Affairs said, ‘You know what, you’re right, it’s not necessary, let’s do it without that.’ But that's when my red light went on. I said, I have to pay triple attention with this new team. That’s when I said to myself, I don’t trust what’s going on here. My anxiety was going through the roof. My boss was out of the office. They were there under superior orders.”

They stayed working all day and all night. The lawyers sent by Gertz asked the UEILCA lawyers for documents, transcripts, or to make copies. The director of group B returned. He told a young public prosecutor that the Internal Affairs lawyer was going to ask her to sign the arrest warrant. “If I were you, I wouldn’t sign it and I would resign,” her boss told her. “It was a conversation we had always had,” Alfredo said. “If one day they asked for something wrong, we were going to resign. Omar himself said so.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

“I was up all night,” Alfredo says. “I was still at the office at sunrise. The director arrived and said we could go rest. The other team already had the arrest warrant. On August 17, the Internal Affairs lawyers sent the physical warrant and erased all digital copies from the UEILCA’s computers.”

Gómez Trejo continued to prepare for his trip to Israel.

“They sent the warrant to a judge,” says Julio, who still worked in the UEILCA at the time of our interview. “And it was a very short period of time in which the judge authorized the warrant.”

The GIEI documented these facts in its fourth report: “By means of an official letter FGR/FGAI/1260/2022, L. B. [Lidia Bustamante] from Internal Affairs was commissioned to perform the functions of an agent of the Public Prosecutor's Office, assigning her to the UEILCA.”

“On August 17, the day after being commissioned, and one day before the presentation of the report of the presidential commission, the COVAJ, Ms. Bustamante takes control of the investigation folder FED/S DHPDSC/OI-GRO/0000804/2019, and decides, without consideration of the timing or opinion of the UEILCA... to request the arrest warrant against former Attorney General Murillo Karam.”

Thursday, August 18, 2022

“On the 18th I arrived and found out that the judge said he was going to decide [whether or not to grant the arrest warrant] at a hearing,” says Alfredo. “FEAI [Fiscalía Especializada de Asuntos Internos, Internal Affairs] went alone to the hearing. The warrant was issued. They did not notify the UEILCA. The director of group B said: it is necessary for his team to stay at the office. He had a suspicion that there would be a search warrant. He was angry because he was not notified of the hearing.”

While the arrest warrant drawn up in 24 hours by people from outside the UEILCA was moving forward, another surprise was on the way.

A meeting was called with President López Obrador, the COVAJ, the GIEI, and the families. Also in attendance were many high-ranking officials such as the secretaries of the Interior, Navy, Defense, Security and Citizen Protection, and Foreign Affairs. Attorney General Gertz would read the speech that Gómez Trejo had prepared for him and Encinas would present a report that neither the GIEI nor the families knew anything about.

“The COVAJ had not told us anything about their report; we found out at the presentation with the president,” recalls Beristain, of the member of the GIEI. “When we got there, we could already see that it was a different COVAJ. In other words, there was an incredible mobilization of high-level people around. The whole state was there. They wanted us to be on the podium, on the stage. We didn’t know what was going to be said, we didn’t know what the message would be, we didn’t know how the report had been prepared, the parents have not been informed of anything, nor us. We said no, we will sit with the parents, we went down there and we listened.”

That day, Encinas complained about obstacles in the FGR, such as not executing arrest warrants, and in the Army, which did not hand over documents related to the case. He presented before the families of the missing students a 97-page document that took material from the GIEI’s third report, complemented with screenshots of the WhatsApp application with alleged messages about the events of September 26 and 27, 2014. The messages narrated the violence suffered that night by the children of the men and women seated below, who listened to everything without any psychological preparation. They relived the years of terror under the former prosecutors Murillo Karam and Arely Gómez. The report also accused five military personnel from Iguala of having participated in the disappearance of the students.

The problem was that those WhatsApp messages had been falsified, they had no credibility. But at that moment, in that state of shock, how could we know?

Neither the families, nor their representatives, nor the GIEI, nor even Gómez Trejo and his team had seen the COVAJ report or the messages. Both the group of experts and the COVAJ had worked well together and shared all their findings with each other, as well as with the UEILCA. Until that day.

Gertz denied that the prosecutor’s office had put up any obstacles in the case, and read the speech prepared for him by Gómez Trejo, which mentioned the 20 military personnel who would soon be arrested. Then the president spoke: “I want to tell you that your children, that your struggle has not been in vain; your children have been seeds of change. We have come to power so that this will not happen again.”

The families were crying. They left without speaking to the press. They went to the Centro PRODH, where they had a meeting with their lawyers and the GIEI. Immediately, they asked the group of experts to do an independent analysis of the screenshots to confirm their authenticity. Because, even at first glance, things seemed very strange. As they knew from the Chicago wiretaps, the Guerreros Unidos used Blackberry, not WhatsApp. And they spoke in code. But those WhatsApp messages included first and last names, precise locations, and narrative arcs as if they were scripts.

Beristain says everyone was terrified because, once again, the government was publishing unsubstantiated information without sharing it with anyone beforehand. “We went with the parents to have a meeting. I told them, ‘What’s the message going to be tomorrow? The screenshots. What should the message be? That it was a state crime. Period. That’s the message.’” But that message was once again buried in the reactions generated by the media blitz of false information. “After all this time,” says Beristain, “if we start again with processes that kick the victims, then we are on the road to destruction again.”

“And with that the parents went back to Guerrero, very sad,” says Aguirre. “The message was one of closure.”

Cox, of the GIEI, believed the same. “I thought: here what they are trying to do is close the case,” he says. “I don’t know if they are trying to close the case or not, but they wanted to give a final version of what had happened, without the necessary support in evidence.”

As Gómez Trejo was leaving the National Palace after the presentation of the report, the attorney general approached him and told him that Félix Santana, the COVAJ’s technical secretary, would be bringing a witness to testify before the UEILCA that afternoon. Gómez Trejo reminded him that he had to prepare for his trip to Israel the next day, that it would be better to take the statement upon his return. But Gertz insisted: “Receive that witness.”

“That witness was interviewed Thursday night,” says Gómez Trejo. “It was a long statement.”

He was a person that both the UEILCA and the GIEI had already ruled out as a reliable witness. Beristain was connected by Zoom during the testimony. “This [witness] said some things that had no consistency,” he recalls. “Félix went on to say others that had no consistency either. The internal tension increased a lot, the tension between the COVAJ and the UEILCA also increased a lot from that point on.”

That night, the lawyer from Internal Affairs said that the UEILCA should arrest Murillo Karam. Alfredo, from group B, says that the young public prosecutor assured them that she was not going to sign anything. She called her director, who had to be at the airport in a couple of hours, on his way to Israel. He arrived at the office in sweatpants, angry. A policeman showed him a picture of Murillo Karam in the window of his house, taken that same day, around 8:00 p.m.

“At that time we learned that the inspection [of the defendant's location] was going to be conducted based on a photo they had taken hours earlier,” says Alfredo. “We were investigating something related to a mock police inspection and we didn't want to repeat the mistakes of 2014. I thought: I'm young, I have my life ahead of me, I don’t want to be burdened with an improper action. The young public prosecutor in charge went to her director and told him that she was not going to sign anything that had to do with that arrest warrant. The director told her that she had to. She told him that she would put her resignation on the table first. She started to cry. The director laughed at her. Then she announced her resignation.... In the end they didn’t use that falsified inspection, but since she had already resigned.”

Friday, August 19, 2022

Gómez Trejo and members of the UEILCA's group B traveled early to Tel Aviv. The people with the most authority, and supposed independence, in the Ayotzinapa case were on a transoceanic flight of more than 10 hours while outsiders to the case, including elements of the former SEIDO that the unit was investigating for crimes of falsification of evidence, torture, and forced disappearance, took control of their office.

“All that happened when Omar and the head of group B were in Israel,” Julio says. “That left the team unprotected. It was an invasion. SEIDO and Internal Affairs wanted to instruct the unit. But the unit was created independently and was investigating SEIDO. And all of that happened on the instruction of the attorney general.”

That day, Murillo Karam left his house in Lomas de Chapultepec and turned himself in to the Federal Ministerial Police. Eighty-three arrest warrants were also issued in the case, including 20 for military personnel.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

On Saturday, Internal Affairs prosecutors Lidia Bustamante and Sergio Navarro presented Murillo Karam before the judge. It was chaos.

“When we go to Murillo’s hearing as lawyers,” Aguirre says, “we don’t see Omar’s team anymore. We see other people. And the problems start at the hearing.”

“They had a mess of papers on the table,” Alfredo recalls. “They kept fumbling through the papers. The judge asked, ‘Is there anyone in the audience who is familiar with the case file?’ They say yes. The judge says, ‘Let them come up to the hearing. I’m going to give you 20 minutes to get your act together.’”

The news circulated quickly: “Judge reprimands prosecutors for ‘not being prepared’ in Murillo Karam’s hearing.”

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The GIEI released a statement saying that it did not participate in the preparation of the COVAJ report, that it did not know of its contents until the day it was presented, that it had not seen or analyzed the alleged WhatsApp messages, and that it was concerned about the fact that this information had not been shared with the GIEI and UEILCA as part of their joint investigative roles.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

López Obrador announced that he would send a “preferential initiative” to integrate the National Guard into the SEDENA. As has been widely documented, he has given more powers and more authority to the Army than any other president in Mexico’s history.

The following day, in the afternoon, Gómez Trejo returned from Israel.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Gómez Trejo met with Gertz to inform him about his trip. He was excited. He thought the Israeli authorities had been very receptive to the evidence against Zerón. The attorney general listened to him and then told him: “Look, right now I want you to be calm, not to investigate anymore, because I want to know what you have in your office. I am going to send you an audit. Internal Affairs is going to do an audit of all your investigations.”

The two Internal Affairs prosecutors who led the expedited preparation of Murillo Karam’s arrest warrant were still in the UEILCA offices, although their support team had withdrawn.

Little by little, Internal Affairs took control of the investigation. From one day to the next, they withdrew the UEILCA’s detectives. They said that they had to take some courses in Querétaro, in a place known as La Muralla (The Wall), where federal ministerial police are trained. The agents arrived, but received no courses or training. They could not leave, only go out to the garden, the sports facilities, and the gym. They were there for a month.

Don't miss Part III of this investigation. 

John Gibler is the author of four nonfiction books about politics in Mexico including I Couldn’t Even Imagine that They Would Kill Us: An Oral History of the Attacks Against the Students of Ayotzinapa (City Lights, 2017).

The author would like to thank Global Exchange for support for research and translation.

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