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LATIN AMERICA

Discovery of fifth bus adds to mystery of Iguala missing students case

OAS says Mexican authorities did not probe key vehicle that may have been carrying heroin

A still from security footage of the “fifth bus” at the main terminal in Iguala on the night of the crime. A few students can be seen inside the vehicle. The image appears in the OAS report but not in the Attorney General’s Office files.

On the brutal night of September 26, 2014, four buses carrying students from a rural teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa in Mexico’s southwestern Guerrero state were attacked in Iguala, a town around 250 kilometers away. The passengers from two of these buses, 43 students, were kidnapped. Today, 42 of them remain missing – authorities have identified the body of just one of the disappeared.

Up until this point, the story is clear. But a recent report published by the Organization of American States (OAS) is casting doubt over the investigation. Experts commissioned by the OAS say there was a fifth bus at the scene of the crime and, despite the fact that there were students on it, it was never attacked. Armed police stopped the vehicle and the students ran off into the hills, the report says. Mexican officials considered the vehicle an insubstantial piece of evidence and failed to mention it in their report.

OAS experts now think the fifth bus was in fact an important part of the case. The organization believe that it may have concealed a shipment of heroin, the main drug trafficked in Guerrero, which feeds the United States black market.

The commission said drug shipments are often sent in a manner in which they “could have crossed paths” with the way the students from the Ayotzinapa teaching school, an old bastion of rural Marxist thought, sought to make up for their lack of transport resources: the traffickers smuggle their cargo on buses traveling north and the students seize them to travel to demonstrations.

The OAS says the students probably took the vehicle without knowing about the hidden cargo

OAS experts say the students probably took the vehicle from the bus terminal to travel to an event in Mexico City commemorating the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre without being aware of the hidden cargo. And that this fact was fully known by those who did not want that bus to make it to the march.

The problem for the commission was that the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had not considered the bus an object of its investigation. Although the bus had been “recorded” in the report, it was given scant consideration.

When OAS investigators asked for more information, they were handed a statement from the bus driver taken in June 2015 in which he said the students left the bus on their way out of the terminal because it had broken down. But later the commission discovered a statement from the same driver taken on the night of the crime in which he said federal police had stopped the bus and let them escape before telling him to continue driving on his assigned route – the same version the students on that bus reported to authorities.

And the mystery surrounding the fifth bus does not end here. OAS investigators also found video recordings from the bus terminal’s security cameras taken on the night in question. They identified the fifth bus but, when the Attorney General’s Office showed them the vehicle, they could not determine whether it was the same bus that appeared on the blurry tapes.

A Canadian technical expert reviewed the images but could not conclusively say whether the bus shown to OAS investigators and the one captured on the security cameras was the same, citing a number of differences between the two.

The bus company’s registry says the vehicle completed its route on September 26 without incident. It does not mention it being seized in Iguala.

The OAS team has recommended that the Mexican government conduct a thorough investigation into the mysterious fifth bus, the knot that ties together a number of serious errors made during the preliminary investigation and the suspicions of impunity surrounding the Iguala missing students case.

English version by Dyane Jean Francois.

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