The former head of Mexico’s federal anti-kidnapping unit has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of 43 college students in 2014, an incident that has raised questions about the influence of organised crime within the government.
Gualberto Ramírez Gutiérrez was taken into custody on Sunday morning, according to Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s undersecretary for human rights, population and migration.
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In a Twitter post on Monday, Encinas explained that Ramírez Gutiérrez was “accused of the forced disappearance of persons” and “torture”. No further details were provided.
Encinas also wrote that a federal court in Toluca had issued a prison order for eight soldiers in relation to the mass kidnapping.
It was the latest twist in a multi-year, scandal-filled saga, as authorities attempt to unravel what happened to the 43 college students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College.
Ramírez Gutiérrez headed anti-kidnapping efforts for SEIDO, the Mexican attorney general’s organised crime office, at the time of the Ayotzinapa disappearances in September 2014.
The students had been travelling on buses through the southwest state of Guerrero as part of an annual trip to Mexico City to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre.
But they were intercepted by police near the city of Iguala — and their fate has remained a mystery, though charred bone fragments belonging to three of the students have been recovered.
Encinas has described the disappearances as a “state crime”. A former senator and longtime ally of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Encinas leads the truth commission investigating senior government officials who may have been involved in the kidnapping and deaths.
“Their actions, omissions or participation allowed the disappearance and execution of the students, as well as the murder of six other people,” Encinas said in August, as the commission released its report.
He added that members of Mexico’s military bore “clear responsibility” for the disappearances. Encinas has also said there is “no indication” that any of the students survived.
Ramírez Gutiérrez joined the anti-kidnapping unit under former President Felipe Calderón. He has previously come under scrutiny for his actions in the Ayotzinapa case.
Last March, a federal judge ordered his arrest for the alleged torture of Felipe Rodríguez Salgado, a suspected gang leader known by the nickname El Cepillo.
Rodríguez Salgado had been arrested in 2015 for ordering the killing of the Ayotzinapa students, but he was ultimately released in 2018.
In media interviews, he has since chronicled beatings and attempted bribery at the hands of government officials, whom he describes as trying to pin the students’ murders on him. Video has also emerged allegedly showing the torture of suspects in the Ayotzinapa case.