By Robert Valencia
On the night of September 26, police forces from the Mexican town of Iguala opened fire on 57 students from the Normal School of Ayotzinapa. The students were leading a protest against the mayor, accusing him of discriminatory hiring and funding practices. Of the 57 students, 14 escaped. The fate of the other 43 is unknown.
Now, hundreds of thousands of Mexican students are protesting their disapperance, shouting: “We are Ayotzinapa. They were taken alive. We want them back alive,” and marching together on Zócalo, Mexico City’s emblematic public square. Chants of “Fuera Peña Nieto! (Out, [President Enrique] Peña Nieto)” are being heard through the night, signaling the indignation of the Mexican people.
These protests reveal more than simple discontent about how the government handled this investigation. It indicates that the citizens of Mexico have reached a boiling point over the now obvious relationship between drug cartels and the government. It further demonstrates that the Mexican government is, without a doubt, a pawn of the drug cartels.
It also shows that Mexican citizens in the southern region are fed up with being ignored by the Mexican government. The southern region of Mexico is the least developed in Mexico and at a severe economic disadvantage from the rest of Mexico. It experiences social marginalization, leading to increasesed drug violence and criminal activity in that area.
Largely, however, the protests against the missing Mexican students indicate that Mexicans are through with drug-related violence in their country. They do not believe that the government is capable of containing it.
The whereabouts of the missing 43 students remains a mystery. They disappeared during crossfire shootings between Mexican authorities and drug gangs at the gateway to southern Mexico’s Tierra Caliente, a region known for serious drug violence. The subsequent protests after the students went missing signal that the Mexican people are through with the inadequate security measures that the Nieto administration implemented to counteract drug-related violence in Mexico.
Coincidentally, the students’ disappearance is similar to the Tlatlelolco massacre, where 300 students were murdered in Mexico City—which took place on October 2, 1968. The protesters are quick to note the similarities between the two incidents, and they have good reason to do so. According to Human Rights Watch, even though both of these atrocities are not yet solved, President Nieto is slashing the budget of the special prosecutor’s unit he himself created to investigate and solve these cases.
Although former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa declared a formal war against drugs during his term in 2006, nearly 60,000 Mexicans have been reported dead. Some figures estimate that the number of people murdered is actually closer to 120,000. Additionally, 27,000 people are missing or presumed dead.
Those people killed by drug cartels are slaughtered in the most gruesome fashion, in order to send a chilling message to the government and to other drug cartels. For example, Proceso, a Mexican political magazine, states that every 29 hours, a journalist is either tortured or killed in Mexico in an incident related to drug-related violence.
Mexico has endured years of drug-related violence, but the disappearance of these 43 students may very well be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” The missing 43 students strike a chord with Mexican citizens because these students were not at all involved with drugs. Further, the government can provide no answers as to the students’ whereabouts, demonstrating its lack of intelligence and the breakdown of security, particularly when the incident was a few miles away from Mexico City.
Even worse, the disappearance of the 43 students reveals a connection between municipal authorities and drug cartels. Federal authorities discovered that Mayor Abarca ordered the attack against the 43 students. Following the student disappearance, Mayor Abarca and his wife fled Iguala, not exactly the action of innocent parties. Worst yet, authorities recently learned that the mayor’s wife is connected to the Beltran drug cartel.
The disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students came at a time when Mexico allegedly was on the right track. Mexico had recently arrested “El Chapo” Guzman in February and kingpins Héctor Beltrán Leyva and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes on October 1 and 9 of this year. Further, Time magazine praised Nieto and his government for “saving Mexico” from the drug wars.
However, as the disappearance of the 43 students indicates, the drug trade is an integral part of Mexican infrastructure. Even with significant victories, Mexico remains vulnerable to drug violence. The only way to beat drugs in Mexico is to insist on complete government transparency and socio-economic equality in the most violent areas of Mexico. The Nieto administration needs to urgently insist on policy reforms that take an aggressive stance to combat the drug trade and also to decriminalize drugs, making them a legal business, and thus eliminating this element of violence that pervades Mexico.
Without these drastic measures, Mexico has no hope of regaining power from the drug cartels, nor does it have any hope against warding off an imminent uprising of its citizens.
Robert Valencia is a New York-based political analyst and is a contributing writer for Global Voices Online.
[Photo courtesy of WCSG News Co]