By Luna Olavarria Gallegos
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations
On November 7, authorities declared the 43 missing students of Guerrero, Mexico dead. While Mexican politicians and media have overwhelmingly reported that the students were cremated and the remains were disposed of immediately, the parents of the 43 students and those who stand in solidarity with them are not satisfied with this answer. Protests continue all over the country as a lab in Austria determines whether the remains are, in fact, those disappeared students.
Two days after the government left the Mexican population with questions and rage regarding the students, some protesters deviated from the mostly peaceful tactics to burn down the government palace door. While the palace itself is merely ceremonial, the act pushed citizens and politicians to recognize the intensity of the statement: something does not match up, and people are angry.
For the most part, the Mexican mainstream media, along with U.S. outlets have been covering the situation of the student disappearances in Guerrero, Mexico as if they are dead. Many, including Felipe de la Cruz, father of one of the missing students, remind us that it is imperative to keep in mind that the testimony of cartel members has not yet been verified as truth, saying, “As long as there is no proof, our children are alive.” The focus on this hypothesis as fact is a distraction from the government corruption.
Through the disappearance of these students and the subsequent turmoil, there are a few things have become apparent. The first is that all over the country, there still remain strong connections between cartels and the Mexican government and politicians. Through the coverage on the police- cartel relationship, there has been little critique of a larger connected system of that has continued to remain strong, regardless of the promises of president Enrique Peña Nieto when he first took office. But the corrupt systems of power are not the only need of distraction. Aside from the fact that law enforcements have still not identified the bodies, throughout the search, mass graves that are unrelated to these students have been found, which coincides with the number of people believed to have been disappeared in Mexico since 2006: 200,000.
Police took students of “Ayotzinapa” teacher training school in Iguala, Mexico in the state of Guerrero, in late September after a protest escalated to authorities opening fire on the crowd killing six individuals. Forty-three others were captured and subsequently went missing and although the bodies have still not been identified, after six weeks, Mexican authorities have recently came forward with three suspects and a story for what happened to the disappeared students.
After a haunting mass grave site was located on a hill in Pueblo Viejo, three suspects involved with gang violence had admittedly killed the students, shooting, burning, and then dumping some of the remains of the students into the San Juan River. In an interview with National Public Radio, international correspondent in Mexico City, Byline Carrie Kahn, spoke about the suspects’ confessions and reenactments. Authorities have apparently recovered a few bags to send to Europe for DNA testing, but not without much speculation of the people. She mentioned that many people do not believe that with a fire of 12 hours, over 40 people could burn without anyone noticing. Carrie Kahn mentions, “But you have to remember that this is a country where coerced confessions and staged arrests are the norm. And so it is very difficult for people to believe some of the evidence that the attorney general presented yesterday.” While she says burning trash is a common practice in the hills close to Iguala, many Mexicans continue to be confused as to how the burning bodies could go have gone unnoticed.
Other details that are not yet clear include the ability to completely burn, cool off, and collect 43 bodies within 12 hours, as well as the question of who ordered the murder. According to weather data site, Weather Underground, it was raining in the area the night of September 26, when the cartels are believed to have burned the bodies. Local journalist and Huffington Post writer, Luis Hernández Navarro, does not believe this narrative. In a story published by Mexico City publication, La Jornada, Hernández Navarro wrote that the statement released by the office of the attorney general was “Looking to hide that it was a state crime and crimes against humanity.” He then went on to dismiss the story reported as not credible, claiming, “[the attorney general’s] explanation is full of omissions, inconsistencies and contradictions.” (My translations)
Greater corrupt system:
An opinion piece by local journalist, Pedro Salmerón Sanginés delves into the many questions that were left unresolved after the authorities publically released the story. Among a plethora of questions regarding the gaps in the story recounted by the attorney general, Samerón Sanginés asks, “Who wanted to avoid all these questions through media lynching of an opposition politician?” (My translation) This distraction of the issues in the narrative posed by the attorney general continues as media focusses on singular politicians and cartels as opposed to the issues with the 200,000 still missing and a deeper history of government corruption.
While mainstream media in Mexico as well as United States are focusing on the role of drug cartels, there is a greater issue that goes beyond a few corrupt cops and gangs. Mexico has a long history of government officials and cartel members working together. The town of Iguala itself also has a longer narrative of gang violence. Authorities say previous Mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, had taken up to 3 million pesos ($220,000) every few weeks as a bribe to excuse the corrupt police force. Luis Abarca, was arrested Tuesday, November 4, along with his wife who had been hiding in a shanty in Mexico City. He has been suspected to have a role in their disappearance, as many believe he turned the students over to a drug gang. Thinking the protests would interrupt his wife’s speech, authorities report that Abarca ordered the attack on the students.
Within the last six weeks while the students remain missing, tens of thousands have come together in Mexico City and all over Mexico to protest and denounce the inability of the government to locate the disappearance of students. They have called for a 72-hour strike and march in cities all over the country.
Many people are outraged not only because of the long-standing cartel violence in the country, but the repeated history of disappearances. Israel Castrejon is a demonstrator who marched with a group from Iguala north to Mexico City. He spoke about the similarities between the past two months and the Tlateloco student massacre of 1968, stating, “the reason for this march is to stop the homicide of youths that has existed for the past two decades….It seems they want to exterminate this generation, as they did 48 years ago.”
Indeed the event of Ayotzinapa mirrors the 1968 massacre, an event associated with the “Dirty Wars” that took place just days on October 2, just days before Mexico City hosted the 1968 Olympics. Just like in Iguala, police were prompted by student protests. After opening fire on students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, 350 were killed, and to date, no one has been tried.
Now, the population continues to condemn Mexico’s pattern of silencing student voices. The family members of the disappeared, college students wanting to keep their voice, and others in solidarity who make up the tens of thousands of protesters continue to march. They are calling for greater transparency with the investigation. In the streets, they condemn Peña Nieto and shout, “¡Fue el estado!”, “it was the state”, refusing to pass this atrocity under the rug to let it disappear.