Authorities believe the police delivered the students to the local drug cartel, Guerreros Unidos. The mayor of the town, José Luis Abarca, and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda, were later arrested and charged with ordering the police to capture the students out of fear that they would cause a disturbance. Three of the gang members confessed this week to murdering the students, burning them, and throwing the remains in plastic bags in a nearby river and garbage dump. The remains are so badly charred that local forensics investigators haven’t been able to confirm their identities. An outside commission from Argentina had to be called to perform further tests.
This is not the first, biggest, or most gruesome mass disappearance during Mexico’s past eight years of brutal drug violence. More than 106,000 have died in what government data term “executions,” “confrontations,” and “homicide-aggressions” since former President Felipe Calderon informally declared his war on drugs in 2006. But the tragedy of Ayotzinapa is different. Rarely has the collusion between local authorities and the cartels been so obvious and the consequences so dire.
The disappearances, the insidious corruption they revealed, and the Mexican authorities’ failure to locate the students’ remains despite uncovering one mass grave after another have sparked protests throughout the country, as citizens demand answers and accountability from president Enrique Peña Nieto and his government. Laura Carlsen focuses on how these protests relate to Mexico’s left-wing activist movement, with which the murdered students were associated:
While the demonstrators seek justice for the 43 students, what’s also driving them is a deep-seated anger at the Peña Nieto administration. The 16 rural teachers’ colleges embody that clash of cultures. No matter what fallout results from Ayotzinapa, the ongoing demonstrations have revealed the vast gulf between Mexico’s radical grassroots and its government. …
With public pressure rising and the protests showing no sign of abating, the Ayotzinapa case will almost certainly continue to ensnare government officials — the only question is how far up the chain. The Guerrero state governor, Angel Aguirre, was the first political leader forced to resign as a result of the crisis on Oct. 23; some are calling for the resignation of Peña Nieto and [Attorney General Jesus] Murillo. “This is the bad old Mexico, where local officials are inept, corrupt or in cahoots with organized crime; where life is cheap and justice elusive,” the Financial Times warned on Oct. 28 — a far cry from the modern, business-friendly image Peña Nieto has worked so hard to project.
José Cárdenas criticizes Peña Nieto’s “fitful approach to endemic security issues”:
What Guerrero puts into bold relief is the huge chasm between security efforts at the federal level, where security forces have been reshuffled and consolidated, and local levels, where weak and frequently corrupt state and municipal institutions have proved almost helpless against the armed capability and audacity of the large criminal groups, who have successfully infiltrated those same institutions and forces. Guerrero should be a watershed moment for Mexico, convincing Mexico City elites that the security situation is not a distraction from the economic agenda, but instead that dismantling the operations of criminal enterprises is indispensable to their nations’ stability and prosperity. Clearly, ordinary citizens are finding the levels of criminal violence unbearable and are losing patience with government strategies.
Anabel Hernández is less charitable:
Since Peña Nieto came to power, there have been grave regressions in Mexico, one of which is the abhorrence of transparency and public accountability, a move that was led by the presidential office and replicated by other governmental institutions. What else can be expected of this soiled government? In recent months, the military and the attorney general have presented false reports regarding crimes. Official information shows that in 2006 the number of criminal complaints not investigated by the federal government amounted to 24,000; in 2013, the number was 63,000. In Peña Nieto’s administration, law enforcement has become increasingly slow and pathetic.
(In Mexico City, Mexico on November 16, 2014 a protester holds a sign reading “Mexico is a grave” during a demonstration against Mexico’s government. By Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images)