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Mexico arrests highest ranking military official in Ayotzinapa case 

The high-profile arrest of an officer allegedly involved in the massacre of 43 students in 2014 comes as President López Obrador makes significant gains in his contentious campaign to expand the powers of Mexico’s military.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A general of the Mexican army is among the latest round of arrests in the case of the 43 disappeared students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in 2014.

Public Security Undersecretary Ricardo Mejía Berdeja announced the arrest of General José Rodríguez Pérez during the weekly “Zero Impunity” segment of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily morning press conference Thursday. The arrest was announced less than two weeks before tragedy’s eighth anniversary.

Authorities arrested two other members of the military, Mejía said. One other warrant for an official remains to be executed.

Rodríguez, who was a colonel at the time of the massacre, is now the highest ranking military official to be detained in the case. His arrest came just weeks after that of former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam in August. 

Uncovering the truth of what happened in Iguala, Guerrero — where the massacre took place — on Sept. 26, 2014, and securing justice for the victims’ families has been a central pillar of López Obrador’s agenda. 

The high-profile arrests are the results of investigations conducted by the Commission for the Truth and Access to Justice of the Ayotzinapa Case, the creation of which was the president’s first act in office.

Rodríguez’s arrest is a “huge advance” in the case, according to security analyst David Saucedo.

“For decades there was an agreement in the country that the military was untouchable,” Saucedo said in a phone interview. “Military officials have been involved in bloody acts, massacres, extrajudicial killings and even corruption, but we’ve never seen them take measures to arrest such a high-ranking official.”

In August, Human Rights Undersecretary and Ayotzinapa Commission President Alejandro Encinas identified General Rodríguez as one of the people responsible in the case.

“Six of the students were held alive for four days after the events [of Sept. 26 and 27, 2014], and they were killed and disappeared on the colonel’s orders,” said Encinas, who attributed the information to emergency phone call records.

A protester stares through an eyehole cut in a sign demanding that the 43 victims of the Ayotzinapa massacre be returned alive on Aug. 26, 2022. The federal government stated earlier that month that none of the students are believed to be alive today. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

Rodríguez’s arrest came on the heels of the dismissal of charges against another major player in the massacre.

A federal judge in Tamaulipas Wednesday acquitted former Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca of charges of kidnapping, along with 19 others, due to lack of evidence.

Public Security Undersecretary Mejía denounced the exonerations on Thursday.

“This will be challenged by the federal attorney general so that José Luis Abarca and these 19 collaborators will not leave prison,” said Mejía.

Mejía announced Rodríguez's arrest the day before Mexico’s annual Independence Day military parade and at the height of López Obrador’s contentious expansion of the country’s military power.

Saucedo, the security analyst, noted this timing and attributed Rodríguez’s arrest to López Obrador’s campaign, saying it will “definitely” benefit the president’s cause.

Last week, the Senate approved the president’s controversial reform to transfer the National Guard to the Secretariat of National Defense, turning the civil force over to military control. 

Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved a bill Wednesday to extend the military’s involvement in affairs of public safety until 2028.

“The president is doing the right thing, even if it’s for the wrong reasons,” said Saucedo. “This arrest should have come at the beginning of his term. We had to wait three years and go through an intense debate over the militarization of the country to finally see results. The colonel’s arrest serves to somewhat dilute the criticism against the president.”

Courthouse News correspondent Cody Copeland is based in Mexico City.

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