Nick Miroff reports on the aftermath of a horrifying mass disappearance in Iguala, where “43 student teachers appear to have been rounded up after a day of protests, then marched into the hills and apparently massacred by local police and gang members, who prosecutors say control the city and its officials.” The discovery of at least 28 bodies, “so butchered and burned that Mexican authorities say it could take two months for DNA testing to determine if they’re the missing students”, has sparked protests throughout the country:
Iguala — in one of Mexico’s poorest and most troubled states, Guerrero — is the place where the country’s radical protest traditions have collided tragically with a new reality of gangster-run local governments. It’s not to say that local police wouldn’t have roughed up protesters, or possibly worse, in the past. But in Iguala, where prosecutors say police act under the orders of the gangsters, there was no restraint. Where crime bosses rule — the local capo goes by the nickname “El Chucky” — there was apparently no patience for pesky protesters and other such democratic nuisances. What has been so shocking to Mexicans is that the traffickers would treat them just as any other criminal rivals. One grisly image circulating social media shows a dead student whose face has been removed.
Claudia Romero stresses that this was not an isolated incident:
[T]he state of Guerrero is only one of several Mexican states where organized crime is fighting a turf war. The government of Iguala, moreover, is not Mexico’s only bureaucracy paralyzed by corruption. Police brutality is nothing unique to this case, either. Murders, disappearances, torture—these are weapons law enforcement across Mexico has turned on peaceful protesters. Ayotzinapa calls to mind other similar cases, including; Aguas Blancas, Acteal, and Tlataya, where corrupt police in league with the mafia have effectively criminalized social protests.
“It’s not always clear,” Kathy Gilsinan adds, “whether the local government is working for the drug cartels, or the other way around”:
InSight Crime’s David Gagne suggested on Thursday that Guerreros Unidos was likely “acting as ‘muscle’ for corrupt local officials,” since the cartel itself had little incentive to target the students. “Oftentimes criminal groups can take actions that authorities cannot,” InSight Crime’s co-director Steven Dudley told me. As to who exactly is working for whom in Mexico’s criminal-political nexus, Dudley said, “The short answer is, we don’t know. And the longer answer is, it changes all the time.”
Leon Krauze blames President Enrique Peña Nieto for failing to address Mexico’s serious corruption problem:
In lockstep with his party’s long held tradition, Peña Nieto has mostly turned a blind eye to numerous allegations of corruption at both the municipal and the state level. In the months before the kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa students, Jose Luis Abarca, the allegedly corrupt mayor of Iguala, had numerous and serious complaints filed against him. Federal authorities merely stood by. Now, the man is on the run, along with his chief of police. I’d be surprised if they’re heard from again and amazed if they’re ever prosecuted and sent to jail.
The US, Carimah Townes argues, doesn’t have clean hands here either:
Though Mexico is well-known for government corruption and systemic violence, the U.S. cannot be absolved of its involvement. The U.S. has contributed billions in financial aid to Mexico’s military under the Merida Initiative, with very little oversight. Indeed, due to concern over the U.S.-Mexico partnership and little knowledge of how the money is actually spent, Amnesty International stated, “In August , despite the failure of Mexican authorities to meet human rights conditions set by the US Congress as part of the Merida initiative, the US State Department recommended that Congress release the 15% of funds subject to the conditions.” The Washington Office on Latin America, also attributes the overall militarization of Mexico’s public security to a U.S.-backed remodel, under which law enforcement officials are military-trained.
(Photo: Abandoned clothing is seen near clandestine graves in the outskirts of Iguala on October 13, 2014 in Iguala, Mexico. Mexican authorities found four more graves containing human remains near Iguala where 43 students went missing after a confrontation with local police that left 6 dead last September 26. By Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images)