Mexico's New President Vows To Re-Investigate Case Of Kidnapped Student-Teachers
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
OK, let's go now to Mexico, where the country's new president has been quite busy. In his first week, he's created what he's calling a truth commission to re-investigate the case of 43 students at a teachers college who were kidnapped and presumably killed in 2014. This new commission has raised hope that those responsible could someday be held accountable.
NPR's Carrie Kahn has been covering this case of the student teachers, and she joins us now from Mexico City to talk about the commission. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: So why is this truth commission one of the first things the new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has done?
KAHN: This was a campaign pledge that he made, and he's been filling a lot of those promises in his first week. He's traveling without the presidential security detail. He put the previous administration's luxurious plane up for sale. He's holding his promised daily 7 a.m. press conferences. And he's issuing this presidential decree on the truth commission. And this is only Wednesday, and this just feels like the beginning of the frenzied pace of the Trump administration.
CHANG: Certainly does. Now, this case of the 43 students - it's never really been solved, right? I mean, the previous government said it had investigated, but most Mexicans, I understand, never believed the official version of what happened to the students. Why is that?
KAHN: The government had said the students were attacked by local corrupt cops that then turned them over to a gang, who killed them and burned all their bodies. And from the start, there was so much skepticism over that so-called official version of events. International investigators, experts who looked at the case found that major lines of investigation were ignored. Suspects were tortured. And the remains of only one of the students has ever been found.
So the case really just came to embody the corruption, the violence, the rampant impunity in Mexico. It was one of the major scandals of this past administration and really for many here fueled that voter outrage that gave Lopez Obrador and his leftist party this - his landslide victory.
CHANG: So what, then, is this truth commission going to do that is so different this time around? Will they even be able to prosecute whoever they decide killed the students?
KAHN: Right. Lopez Obrador says yes. He says the commission, with the help of international experts now, will examine the entire case, look into those lines of investigation that they say were previously ignored. He pledges to let the commission go wherever it needs to go, and that includes even looking into the military's possible role in the crime. But I just want to play this part of Lopez Obrador's inaugural speech here just 'cause he just contradicts himself. He says he's all about forgiveness and letting the past stay in the past.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING
PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Shouting in Spanish).
LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: He's saying, "let's start fresh. There will be no persecution of officials in the past." And then you can hear some in the audience just start yelling their objection to that.
CHANG: OK, so on one hand, he's saying clean slate. But there still is continuing pressure to solve this case, right?
KAHN: Definitely. There's a lot of pressure, and - 'cause keep in mind there are tens of thousands of others who have been - disappeared in Mexico since the beginning of the drug war more than a decade ago. There are now victims groups all over the country demanding justice in their cases.
I was talking to Guillermo Trejo. He's a professor at Notre Dame University in the U.S. And he's a big advocate for a national truth commission, and he views Lopez Obrador's conflicting statements as just him being cautious right now at the beginning of his presidency.
GUILLERMO TREJO: Let's keep in mind this is the first time in Mexico's history that a leftist political movement takes power. They understand that they have a mandate for change, but they want to navigate without provoking a major backlash.
KAHN: You know, Lopez Obrador's critics aren't as (laughter) generous. They say this is just his haphazard, unstable political style. But Trejo says he's optimistic that there will be a reconciliation with Mexico's past and that a national truth commission is in the works.
CHANG: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thanks very much, Carrie.
KAHN: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF GABRIEL GARZON-MONTANO'S "FRUITFLIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.