What Happened To Mexico's Missing 43 Students In 'A Massacre In Mexico'
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
On September 26, 2014, students from a teacher training school in rural southern Mexico commandeered some buses. Their ultimate destination was Mexico City for a demonstration. But those buses never arrived. And 43 of the students went missing along the way and were presumed killed in and around the town of Iguala. Although their remains have never been found, their deaths were variously blamed on corrupt local political and police officials, as well as higher-ups in the Mexican military and the government and, of course, the drug gangs. The aftermath sent Mexico into a political crisis amid shifting explanations and inconclusive investigations. Now Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez has published an exhaustive look into the events of that night. Her book is called "A Massacre In Mexico: The True Story Behind The Missing 43 Students." She told us the official version of the events was a fabrication.
ANABEL HERNANDEZ: In this official version, the Mexican government said that the army and the Federal Police - they didn't know anything about what was happening. And they just get notice two or three hours after everything ends. This is the official story. What I have seen all these years - four years of the investigation - is that all this official version is a lie. It's not true.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a lie. So tell us what you uncovered. I mean, the big question is, of course, who attacked these students and why they were attacked.
HERNANDEZ: What I discovered was that the army and the Federal Police not just were noticed about what was happening that night every minute.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they knew. The federal government and the police knew...
HERNANDEZ: Not just this - even more - I have reports, official reports, that prove that the army and the Federal Police were chasing the students since they left the school - I mean, three hours before the attack.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Federal Police and the army were chasing the students. How were the students killed?
HERNANDEZ: Well, the students arrive near Iguala. The army, the Federal Police, the state police were waiting for them. Then the students decide to move the two buses where they were transportating (ph) inside to the city to be able to take three more buses. The objective was take more buses to go to the protest to Mexico City. So they went to bus station. They took the other three buses. And when the students were trying to escape on board of these five buses from Iguala when the army, the Federal Police, the municipal police and the state police - they start to shoot against the buses to stop them. The objective of the attack were two buses. From these two buses disappeared all the 43 students.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the Federal Police opened fire. People were wounded, injured. And two of the buses - the people that were on those buses, the students who were on those buses disappeared. Why were they targeting this group of students? Why would the Federal Police and the army get involved in this?
HERNANDEZ: This was, I think, the most difficult part of my investigation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course.
HERNANDEZ: Why if the students two were traveling in five buses - why the target was just two? And also, these two buses were exactly the two buses that the army and the Federal Police - start to monitor it since three hours before. I mean, these two buses were the two buses where the students were traveling from the school to Iguala. Why? So what I was able to found is that in these two buses were inside in secret parts of the bus...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The secret compartment.
HERNANDEZ: ...Yes - heroin - 2 millions of heroin. They...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Two million dollars' worth of heroin.
HERNANDEZ: They didn't know it. The students didn't know it. But the army and the Federal Police - they knew it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So these students were almost victims of circumstance. They had taken and commandeered two buses that were being used by drug dealers to transport drugs. And they didn't know it.
HERNANDEZ: This was a really tragic accident. They didn't know it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you know that heroin was hidden on that bus?
HERNANDEZ: I was able to connect with one drug lord - important drug lord. I was able to contact with one person that works for him and was this informant inside the cartel that explained me this.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do we know who ordered the crime? I mean, there's been over a hundred arrests in this case. Do we know who actually said - you know, targeted these students and ordered this to happen?
HERNANDEZ: According with my investigation, the first responsible of this crime was the 27th Battalion in Iguala, in particular, the colonel that received the phone call from the drug lord ordering him. You have to rescue my drugs. I pay you for this. You have - I don't know what you have to do. I want my drugs back.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have they faced any consequences? What have they said to your findings?
HERNANDEZ: Even now, the Mexican government is nagging (ph) in all the ways possible that the army - they were present. The real persons that were involved on that crime are not in jail. And I think if we are able to understand, if we are able to send to these people to jail, maybe we will be able to stop all these abuses of power and human rights violations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have been an investigative journalist for many years. It is an incredibly dangerous profession. We've seen so many journalists in Mexico killed. You are now living in Italy for your own safety. You have received threats. Are you worried about what this will mean for you and your family?
HERNANDEZ: I published this book on 2016...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Mexico.
HERNANDEZ: ...In Mexico, in Spanish. And the first consequences were terrible. I received threats immediately. I have to say that the wife of one of the persons disappeared. In the middle of my investigation, one of my sources were murdered just in the streets. But I think that this is my job. And I'm convinced that if I put some light in this darkness, it's more important than my own safety.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anabel Hernandez's new book is called "A Massacre In Mexico." Muchisima gracias. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.