It’s not on the news, but six weeks ago 43 Mexican students were bundled into a bus and taken away, handed over to a local drug cartel, and nobody has found them yet.
On 26th September the mayor’s wife was holding a campaign event in the southern city of Iguala. At the same time, around 80 students arrived in the city from university in Ayotzinapa to hire a bus to take them to a peaceful protest in Mexico City, also in Guerrero. As they were leaving the city, they encountered a municipal roadblock – armed state police. Shouting and shooting at their feet to control them, the police killed six people at the scene, the rest cowered in their busses or in nearby undergrowth waiting for it to be over. Forty-three were forced into police cars and taken away. Later admissions tell that they were handed over to the Guerreros Unidos, a local drug cartel. Their fate is still unknown.
The main offenders :
- Alcalde José Luis Abarca – It’s well known in Mexico that most anti-government protests in the country are led by leftist thinkers, and as the college that the students were travelling from has a history of left-wing activism, it was little wonder that the mayor would want to stop them disturbing the event. The Daily Beast recounts a previous incident from 2013 where Abarca and his men intercepted a group of activists, and violently murdered them himself, and buried them in a pit outside the town.
- María de los Angeles Pineda de Abarca – The mayor’s wife and really the main offender here, she and her husband had been missing since the day of the disappearance. The event she was running on 26th September was building up to a campaign trail to replace her husband as mayor of the city once her husband’s term had finished. It has since become known that her brothers are part of the Guerreros Unidos and Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, the local drug cartel, and that her influence on all criminal activities in Iguala is extensive. Whether these students came to Iguala in protest or in peace, it was María de los Angeles that gave the order to “take care of them”.
- Guerreros Unidos – The local drug gang related to the Beltrán Leyva cartel, their calling-card is described by the Huffington Post as a gory murder leaving the victim with no face and no eyes. A banner has appeared, a narcomanta confirming their involvement in the disappearance : “Release the 22 or else we will reveal the names of all the politicians who work for us. The war is just beginning”.
- El Estado – The Director of Public Security in Iguala, Felipe Flores, has been missing since the news of the disappearance broke. More than thirty civil servants have been arrested in connection with the operation. Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero was forced from his post, and on 1st November, some would argue that the state government of Guerrero unequivocally admitted their guilt. Some students protesting over the disappearance had spoken to friends and families of the missing, and have reported via Aristegui that the municipal government had offered 100,000MXN (4500.00GBP) for their silence on the issue. “Llega gente del gobierno diciéndonos: ‘sabes qué, ¿necesitas algo?, ¿te podemos ayudar en algo? Mira, firma estos papeles, te vamos a dar 100 mil pesos’. ¿Para qué? Para que nos calláramos – The government said to us, ‘you know what, do you need anything? Can we help you in any way? Look, sign these papers and we’ll give you 100,000 pesos’. Why? To shut us up.”
True to form Mexicans across the country are turning out in protest at the State’s handling of the situation. Why has it taken a month for the national forces to step in and help the search? Why is information suppressed to the point of paying people to be quiet? Why were the mayor and his wife allowed in office knowing their ties to the cartel? There are so many questions here and the people want answers. Graves have been found, but state police tampered with the evidence in the early stages so there’s no way of knowing if the bodies found already are indeed the students. Slowly slowly, across the country, other stories of similar abductions are coming out of the woodwork, Aristegui recently reported on over 300 students missing in Coahuila during the last three years, and again – nadie ha dicho una palabra.
While in office, the mayoral couple had political immunity against any crimes they may commit, but on 30 September they fled their posts, renouncing this privilege. The mayor and his wife were arrested on 4th November, they had deserted their posts to hide out in a working-class area of Mexico City. As time goes on, Mexico are losing hope on their cry of “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos”. They were taken alive and we want them back alive. Government buildings have been burned, protests grow in numbers across the country, their slogan ringing out across the country. But the government doesn’t listen, not sending federal forces into Guerrero until late in October, and even then the support is minimal.
Yet another tragedy in the Mexican War on Drugs. To date around 110,000 people have died since Calderón’s gung-ho declaration, a copy-cat reaction to the US War on Terror. In a society that lived in blissful ignorance of the cartels action, the deployment of the army has led to a sharp increase in civilian involvement. This student disappearance is political corruption hung out for the world to see, but the world doesn’t want to, and the government is actively working to cover up the messy part they have played.
The whole of Mexico is shouting into a void, newspaper articles on page ten, buried deep in regional news on the global websites, nobody is talking about it in office canteens or in school staffrooms – it’s front page news in this country that’s shouting to the world to recognise and act. These poor souls can only be resting in the hills around Iguala, given to the cartel by two petty little people intent on furthering their own influence over the people they are supposed to serve.
Most of my information and reaction on this subject comes via articles that my suegrita shares on facebook. Some further reading : Aristegui, The Daily Beast, Guardian, BBC, La Jornada, El Proceso, Huffington Post, Yahoo MX, El Universal