A confessed cartel assassin who supposedly carried out a mass execution of 43 teachers college students is led by masked officers into Mexico's anti-organized crime agency holding his hands behind his back as if he was cuffed. But he is actually just holding a bottle of water.
Mexican authorities have sought to portray their handling of the case of the disappeared students as trustworthy, competent, and thorough.
But the detail in official footage of the arrest of Felipe Rodriguez Salgado reinforced for many in Mexico the view that the country's crime fighters are more concerned with image than with substance.
'The bottle of water? Who knows. Maybe they gave it to him?'
The federal prosecutor's office released the footage of Rodriguez's arrival to the anti-organized crime unit for questioning the day after he was arrested in a town near Cuernavaca, Morelos. The clip shows the suspect being led into a government building with two federal police officers in masks and helmets, each holding one of his shoulders.
Once the men turn a corner and walk through a door, a water bottle is clearly visible in Rodriguez's hands — with no handcuffs in sight.
"El Cepillo" enters federal custody.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam used the subsequent confession of the man, known as "El Cepillo," or The Brush, as a supporting argument for the theory that the students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero were brutally killed and then burned beyond recognition, as a group, the night they came under attack from police and drug cartel fire in the city of Iguala.
Survivors, parents of the students, and thousands of demonstrators have consistently called into question the government's storyline, as well as the credibility of its investigation. VICE News pointed out that other credible leads in the inquiry have not been made public.
A spokesman in the attorney general's office called the fixation on the water bottle in Rodriguez's hands "a little bit morbid," adding that the suspect was completely under police control during his arrival to Mexico City.
"He posed no risks," Eduardo Zeron told VICE News late Friday. "The bottle of water? Who knows. Maybe they gave it to him? At the end of the day, it's a waste of time. The cuate [dude] is in custody."
Before the arrest clip went viral, Mexicans on social media were already harping at the use of a spooky musicalized soundtrack to a 26-minute partially animated video that Murillo Karam used this week in a press conference to illustrate a play-by-play of the Iguala attacks.
Listen for yourself. (There are some mournful electric guitar riffs.)
Rodriguez's water bottle "handcuffs" passed mostly unnoticed, initially.
But on Wednesday, a Mexican humor blog called NotiGodínez noticed the bottle/handcuffs snafu in the Rodriguez clip, saying: "This means a dangerous criminal that isn't even handcuffed is being presented as the assassin of 43 students. Could the mockery be any more obvious?"
The clip is the latest embarrassment for the government's handling of the Ayotzinapa case.
A VICE News documentary highlighted poorly disposed forensic waste at mass graves discovered near Iguala. Murillo Karam was ridiculed for declaring, "Ya me cansé," or "I am tired," at the end of a November press conference. And an independent team of forensics experts from Argentina questioned the integrity of evidence collected by the government.
One commenter on Aristegui Noticias heaped scorn on authorities for the invisible "handcuffs" on "El Cepillo."
"This farce over the handcuffs just confirms what is already vox populi: Murillo Karam's entire investigation is an obstruction to the just truth," the commenter said. "But sooner or later, the truth gets out. The trick is to not forget."
Follow Daniel Hernandez on Twitter @longdrivesouth.