Is the state responsible for the dissappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students?

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For eight years, the families of 43 students who went missing in September 2014 have been clear about who they believe is responsible for the crime: “Fue el Estado.” (“It was the state.”) The phrase is regularly featured on banners at public demonstrations and graffitied across streets and buildings in Mexico.

This month, a government official for the first time publicly agreed, labeling the haunting disappearances “a state crime.”

In the days following that announcement, former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam was arrested for his role in the initial investigation. At least another 80 arrest warrants have been issued for government officials – from local police to soldiers – and gang members implicated in the case.

And just last week, Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas, who heads up the case’s truth commission, took many by surprise once again by elaborating on the state’s involvement not only in the cover-up of what happened to the students but also in how it played a direct role in some of their deaths.


The Ayotzinapa case, named for the teachers’ school in the southern state of Guerrero, has gripped Mexican society, drawing thousands of protesters to the streets almost weekly in its immediate aftermath and monthly in the near decade since. The case became a symbol of widespread impunity, dishonesty, and lack of care for victims in the Mexican justice system.

Now that the government has taken some responsibility for it, the state has a chance to regain the trust of the populace. There is still much more to be done, families and experts say – whether that’s actually seeing those responsible convicted for their crimes or identifying where any remains might be. Ultimately the implications of this case lie in whether the government offers lip service about responsibility or holds those responsible to account.

“If you see your justice system failing over and over and over again, then you lose faith. You feel there is no system,” says Kate Doyle, a senior analyst, and director of the Mexico Project at the National Security Archive, a nonprofit housed at George Washington University in Washington. “But if this case actually leads to convictions, leads to the identification of remains, or changes in the law, then [it sends a message] that this can’t happen again. Even if it’s just one case, it helps people think about the system differently.”

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