On Saturday, January 15, a new podcast exploring the shocking case of 43 Mexican students disappeared by security forces in 2014 will launch on radio stations around the United States and on podcast platforms. The three-part serial is the result of a two-year collaboration between the National Security Archive and Reveal News from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Although the stark facts of the Ayotzinapa case are known worldwide, the podcast features interviews, insights, and investigative findings that have never before been heard. They include:
- Testimonies recorded weeks after the attacks with Ayotzinapa students who survived.
- Eye-witness accounts of how the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto sabotaged its own investigation and, for years, deliberately obstructed justice.
- Extensive interviews and audio-diaries from Omar Gómez Trejo, the special prosecutor who took office in 2019 and has been tasked with solving the case, locating the missing students, and investigating his predecessors as he and his team uncover proof of a massive cover-up.
- A revealing interview with a retired DEA officer who supervised a year-long investigation into a Mexican drug trafficking ring in Chicago – and was the first to make the connection between his case and the students’ disappearance.
- Never-before heard testimony from a former suspect in the Ayotzinapa case who was tortured by the military and police, forced to sign a false confession, imprisoned for five years without trial, and freed only after a videotape of his torture appeared anonymously on YouTube.
- The story of one mother, two daughters, and their relentless search for their beloved son and brother, Benjamín Ascencio Bautista.
THE “NIGHT OF IGUALA”
On September 26, 2014, police attacked a group of college students as they rode on buses through the town of Iguala in southwestern Mexico; they blocked the buses from moving forward, then they opened fire. For hours, federal security forces and soldiers from a nearby base circulated in and around the chaotic scenes of violence, but never stopped to intervene. The long, harrowing night left six people dead. The police detained 43 of the students and piled them into the backs of their trucks. The young men were never seen again.
The victims were students from a rural teacher-training school called Ayotzinapa, located in an impoverished region in Mexico’s Guerrero state. Although they were attacked in the center of a bustling municipality, taken by local police, and then handed off to drug traffickers – all under the watchful eye of dozens of federal police and military – the government failed to find them, identify who ordered their kidnapping, or explain why they were targeted. Worse, it became clear that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s hand-picked investigator, Tomás Zerón, actively obstructed the investigation, destroyed and fabricated evidence, tortured detainees to confess to outlandish versions of what happened, and promoted a false narrative about the crime.
The disappearance of the 43 became a notorious symbol of state-sponsored criminality and impunity, confirming Mexicans’ worst fears that their government was irreversibly brutal and corrupt—at every level.
VOICES IN THE PURSUIT OF JUSTICE
Reported and co-produced by National Security Archive senior analyst Kate Doyle and Reveal senior reporter Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, “After Ayotzinapa” reveals the story of what happened in the months and years following that terrible “night of Iguala.” Its focus is not the crime but the investigation: the false starts, the red herrings, the government’s incoherent narrative, and its attacks on the families and human rights investigators. The final episode addresses the efforts being made by a new government to overcome the cover-up and truly advance the cause of truth and justice for the missing 43 students.
The podcast tracks two people in particular: Cristi Bautista, the mother of Benjamín, who vanished in 2014 along with his 42 companions; and Omar Gómez Trejo, a human rights lawyer turned prosecutor, who in 2019 was appointed to head a new investigation into the unsolved case. Both of them fight in different ways to overcome the insidious impunity that has almost destroyed any chance to find these young men and bring their attackers to justice.
“After Ayotzinapa” also draws on a multitude of voices of people affected by the atrocity: investigators, U.S. and Mexican government officials, human rights lawyers, forensic anthropologists, international experts, journalists, torture victims, and of course the families of the disappeared students. We look at how the U.S.-driven war on drugs contributes to conditions that make criminality and violence by state actors and organized crime so pervasive in Mexico. And, through the Ayotzinapa case, we expose a manufactured injustice to reveal how impunity works to hide criminal responsibility and reinforce official abuses of power.
The National Security Archive will post key declassified documents, U.S. and Mexican court records, and investigative files related to the case next week. That posting will examine an unexpected angle to the story – the U.S. government’s extraordinary and puzzling secrecy about the case.
The first episode of “After Ayotzinapa,” Part One: The Missing 43, premieres on Saturday, January 15. Part Two: Cover-Up, airs on January 22. It details the botched initial investigation and exposure of government obstruction. Part Three: All Souls, airing on January 29, addresses the efforts being made by a new government to overcome the cover-up and truly advance the cause of truth and justice for the missing 43 students.