Far from solving the attack against the Ayotzinapa students in 2014, the Mexican Prosecutor’s Office at least tries to unravel the mismanagement of their predecessors in the first stage of the investigation. Judicial sources have confirmed to EL PAÍS that there is an arrest warrant against the architect of the investigations of the Ayotzinapa case during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto. This is Tomás Zerón, who led the steps of the investigating agency during the last months of 2014 and the first months of 2015.
According to the same sources, the Prosecutor’s Office already has two ministerial police officers, the investigative body of the corporation, in custody. They are Ezequiel Peña and Isidro Junco. The first was still working at the investigative agency at the time of his arrest on Tuesday. The second served as security director in the Chamber of Deputies. There is also a detained sailor, Ariel Agustín Castillo.
In addition to Zerón, the Prosecutor’s Office is looking for the former head of the ministerial police, Carlos Arrieta and Julio Dagoberto Contreras, also from the ministerial. All three are at large.
The Prosecutor’s Office accuses Zerón of torture, disappearance of persons, and crimes against the administration of justice. The investigating agency believes that Zerón is responsible, at least by omission, for the torture of one of the detainees in the case, Carlos Canto. During the months that Zerón led the investigations, torture was, if not widespread, itself quite common. That is at least the conclusion reached, on the one hand, by the office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and on the other, by the office of the ombudsman.
Captured in October 2014, Canto was allegedly tortured by ministerial police officers. In a video that came out last year, the detainee is tied up, while members of the ministerial question him. After several responses, an agent places a bag on her head, closes it, and stretches it. In the video, the voice that interrogates is from Carlos Arrieta. Agent Ezequiel Peña and sailor Ariel Castillo were in charge of Canto’s arrest.
In addition to the Canto case, Zerón allegedly “altered the course of the investigations” into the attack against the students, hence the accusation of disappearance of people. He also reportedly “concealed and altered evidence” during the investigations, according to the same sources. These accusations allude to affair from the San Juan river.
In October 2014, Zerón traveled to the Iguala region with a detainee. They went to the Cocula garbage dump, where the students were allegedly burned, according to the version that the Prosecutor’s Office built at the time. Guided by the detainee’s words, Zerón ordered searches in a river near the garbage dump. There, the divers found bags with human remains. Months later, an independent laboratory confirmed that the remains were from one of the 43 missing students, Alexander Mora.
The problem is that Zerón hid everything: his trip to the area, the presence of the detainee, etc. None of that was on the record. Discovered, the official released an edited video of the investigations in the area. He wanted to prove that he had nothing to hide. But by then, the students’ families did not believe in Zerón. Neither in the version of the garbage dump, nor the great bonfire. For families, all that could have been a Zerón theater. Bags in the river, a montage.
Zerón left Mexico in October of the year. He went to Canada. The Prosecutor General’s Office does not know if he is still there or not, but Interpol is already looking for him.
The career of the official is linked to that of former President Peña Nieto. In 2013, the official arrived at the Federal Prosecutor’s Office with the president. Before they had already worked together, when the second was governor of the State of Mexico. From 2009 to 2013, Zerón was coordinator of the state attorney general’s office. With Peña Nieto in the presidency, Zerón came to the Prosecutor’s Office as head of the unit against organized crime. After the attack on Ayotzinapa students in Iguala in September 2014, he was promoted to deputy attorney general and head of the Criminal Investigation Agency, AIC. With the ministerial police and AIC under his command, Zerón became Mexico’s superpolice.
Based on its investigation, the Office of the Prosecutor, then headed by Jesús Murillo Karam, presented his version of the events, the so-called “historical truth”, according to the expression of Murillo himself. Police officers from Iguala and Cocula, coordinated with members of the Guerreros Unidos criminal group, had attacked the students. They had been taken to a garbage dump, killed those who had gotten there alive and burned. The remains, said Murillo, were thrown into the San Juan River.
Criticism of the investigation was not long in coming. It wasn’t just because of the torture. Independent experts even questioned whether there had been a large fire in the garbage dump. Cornered by families and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Murillo left the Prosecutor’s Office in March 2015. Zerón continued until the end of 2016, but during the last year he hardly counted in the investigations.