Indigenous

Mexico wants Canada to turn over former top cop wanted in alleged cover-up of missing Indigenous students

The father of one of the 43 Indigenous students whose unsolved disappearance continues to haunt Mexico wants the Canadian government to act swiftly on an extradition request for a former top law enforcement official now accused of involvement in the event’s cover up.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister says extradition request initiated for Tomás Zerón

Tomás Zerón, left, a former top law enforcement official in Mexico, is pictured here after the 2014 capture of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman in 2014. The Mexican government says Zerón is in Canada and wants him extradited. (Justin Chambers/ http://carolejustin.com/)

The father of one of the 43 Indigenous students whose unsolved disappearance continues to haunt Mexico wants the Canadian government to act swiftly on an extradition request for a former top law enforcement official now accused of involvement in the event's cover up.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said during a news conference Friday that Tomás Zerón, the country's former head of criminal investigations, was in Canada. 

Ebrard, responding to a question about a separate extradition case involving the U.S., said the Mexican government was seeking Zerón's extradition for his role in allegedly covering up the disappearance of the students known as the Ayotzinapa 43, in reference to the hometown of their teachers' college in southern Guerrero state.

"Now, we are initiating something similar in Canada with Tomas Zerón," said Ebrard, during the news conference.

"There will be no impunity. Our role at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to guarantee that when there are cases of this nature, extradition occurs."

Alejandro Encinas, the undersecretary for human rights, population and migration, said during a press conference on Monday that Mexican officials had met with Canadian officials through the Canadian embassy in Mexico to discuss Zerón's case. 

Encinas noted that though a Mexican judge had issued an arrest warrant in March, it carries no weight in Canada. However, he said Zerón is also wanted on an Interpol red notice, a request to law enforcement worldwide to arrest international fugitives. 

"Once he's found in Canada ... with an Interpol [red notice] he can't leave the country," Encinas said at the press conference.

"We hope there is close co-operation with the government of Canada."

Antonio Tizapa, whose son, Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, 20, was one of the 43 students who vanished, said he wants the Canadian government to act immediately on Mexico's request.

"For the Canadian government, if they want to help the Mexican people, then show solidarity," said Tizapa, who is Indigenous, and currently lives in New York City. 

"What is important is that [Zerón] is there. We hope there is justice as soon as possible."

Tizapa said the families of the 43 will continue to suffer until the truth is revealed. 

"Where are our children?" he said. 

"They are killing us psychologically. They should pay for that."

Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño was one of the 43 students who vanished. (Submitted by Antonio Tizapa)

The students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher-Training College in Ayotzinapa were in Iguala on Sept. 26, 2014, to commandeer buses for a rally in Mexico City to take part in a commemoration of the 1968 massacre of university students.

They never arrived. Municipal police officers allegedly opened fire on their buses, leading to a chaotic night that ended with six deaths and the disappearance of the 43 students.

Zerón, the former head of the criminal investigations agency in the federal Prosecutor General's office, was involved in the initial capture of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman in 2014 before his escape and recapture in 2015.

Zerón was a key player in the initial investigation into the students' disappearance, conducted under former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto's government. 

The investigation concluded that the remains of the 43 students were cremated in a municipal dump and their ashes disposed of in a river.

The government at the time said local police handed the students over to a drug cartel called the Guerreros Unidos. 

An expert panel struck by Inter-American Commission of Human Rights questioned the investigation's conclusions, saying there was no evidence to support the claim the students' remains were cremated at the dump.

The report also said some of the government's witnesses had been tortured and elements of the federal police, state police and the military were all in the area at the time.

"These circumstances and findings show both the insufficiencies in the investigation and the tasks that are still pending in order to provide the relatives of the victims and Mexico as a whole with the justice they are entitled to expect in this case," said the 2016 report.

Indigenous groups call on PM

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to find that justice for the families. 

In March, Obrador's government announced a judge had issued warrants for five former officials, including Zerón, the former head of the criminal investigations agency in the federal Prosecutor General's office. 

The charges include torture, judicial misconduct and forced disappearance. 

Zerón has challenged the warrant in court, records show.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken with Obrador twice in the last two months. The Prime Minister's Office would not say whether Zerón's case came up in their conversations. 

Justice Canada said in an emailed statement it couldn't confirm the existence of an extradition request until it hit the courts. 

The RCMP said it doesn't confirm or deny investigations. 

The Mexican embassy in Ottawa also wouldn't provide comment.

Students hold posters with images of some of the 43 missing students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher-Training College in Ayotzinapa in April 2018 during a march to mark the 43rd month since their disappearance. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

Tupac Enrique Acosta, one of the founders of Tonatierra, an Indigenous organization involved in the creation of an Indigenous cultural embassy in Arizona, said the Canadian government needs to explain how and when Zerón entered Canada and why he apparently hasn't been detained yet. 

Acosta, who has worked directly with the parents and families of the 43, said the Obrador government also needs to answer some pressing questions on the case.     

"Where are the corresponding accusations and court judgments for government officials higher up than Zerón?" said Acosta. 

"Where are the military generals? They need to be brought to accountability. These questions are going unanswered or they are going unasked, even under Obrador."

On June 29, three Indigenous groups in Canada — Idle No More, Defenders of the Land and the Truth Before Reconciliation Campaign — issued an open letter to Trudeau demanding he state publicly the Canadian government's position on the case. 

The letter also declared Zerón "persona non grata" on Indigenous territory.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

with files from the Associated Press

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