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After high profile arrest, cautious optimism about Mexico’s infamous Ayotzinapa case

Over the weekend there were major developments in an infamous mass disappearance case in Mexico.

Last week a government commission declared the 2014 disappearance of 43 education students from the southern Mexican community of Ayotzinapa a “crime of state. Then, former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam was arrested on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice. That was followed by the announcement of more than 80 arrest warrants for soldiers, state and local police officers and suspected organized crime members.

“It really is the first real step towards there being any kind of truth or justice in this case in eight years,” said Tyler Mattiace, Mexico researcher for Human Rights Watch.

But there are also reasons to be skeptical about the ultimate significance of the developments. Mattiace pointed to other recent cases in which similarly headline-grabbing arrests have been made, only to then seemingly not advance.

“We do sometimes see the government, or prosecutors rather, opening investigations, issuing arrest warrants and making detentions as a way of demonstrating progress, or feigning progress,” Mattiace said. “Showing progress to the public on issues that are politically important at that moment.”

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Murphy Woodhouse was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.