October 20, 2014
The Disappearance of Students Sparks Growing Outrage in Mexico
By Alejandro García de la Garza
· "'Mexico: Student Disappearances Focus Anger at Abuse and Impunity,' (and) those
responsible must be brought to justice—not only the criminals who kill and kidnap but also those corrupt police and
government officials who allow such tragedies to take place."
Students shot dead by police, others “disappeared,”
mass graves located – the absence of the rule of law and trampling on human rights in Mexico is sparking widespread
On 26 September, a group
of students who had gathered in Iguala, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, were shot at and carried off by police forces. By
the end of the day, six had been killed, 16 were injured and, according to government figures, 57 were missing.
The whereabouts of 43
students is still unknown.
Twenty-two police officers from Iguala and 14 from Cocula have been detained, and almost 50 people, mostly again
police officers, arrested in relation to the shooting and disappearance of the students. The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca,
his wife, Angeles Pineda, and the security chief, Felipe Flores Vazquez, have fled from the authorities.
The search for the missing led within
a week to the discovery of six graves, with the remains of at least 28 badly burned bodies. More mass graves have since been
uncovered. Vigilante and civilian self-defense groups have joined in the search and reports indicate that up to 19 graves,
with at least 80 corpses, may have been found so far. Some or all of these could be victims of the infamous drug cartels and
Much remains unclear: statements by the Mexican government, independent forensic agencies and human-rights groups
keep changing and contradicting each other. The friends and families of the students are still waiting for answers as to the
fate of their loved ones.
The episode has raised concerns about the relationship between elected officials, the police and the cartels which
control the area. Some speculate that Abarca and Pineda, now in flight, had sought to prevent the students disrupting a public
event. Others suggest that police officers were working for the Guerreros Unidos cartel and punished the students for refusal
to pay extortion fees. Political collusion with the cartels, in which the students were considered a threat to be dealt with,
is also a theory.
Unfortunately, Mexico’s recent history of corruption and drug violence, allied to human-rights abuses by the
police and military, makes any or all of these scenarios plausible.
The “war on drugs” has seen the Mexican military take
on more police roles and the police become more heavily militarized. Violence between the cartels and the authorities has
escalated and the population has been caught in the crossfire. Cartels have multiplied and radicalized, expanding their business
model to add kidnapping and extortion to their already highly profitable drug trade.
Human-rights organizations, among other national
and international groups, have pointed to a great number of abuses, including torture, by the military and the police. The
shooting and kidnapping of the students is just the latest case in a long history.
With so little information released,
most of it inconclusive—and amid years of growing frustration with the government and police institutions—protests
since the disappearances of the students have become increasingly large and angry. Thousands of demonstrators marched towards
the attorney general’s office in Mexico City [last] week, closing off part of one of the capital’s main and busiest
streets to demand answers. In Chilpancingo, Guerrero, protesters clashed with anti-riot police, setting a government building
on fire after they had failed to occupy it.
The magnitude of the tragedy has resonated across the country, recalling the Tlatelolco
massacre of 2 October 1968 in which military and police killed up to 300 students. Protests have sprouted all over Mexico,
demanding that the 43 missing be returned alive, bringing schools and universities to a halt. Faculty members have come together
with students to call for answers as well as actions from the authorities.
Crime and corruption have been associated in Mexico with
extreme impunity. Strategies to fight organized crime have merely resulted in more violence, in which innocent people have
found themselves victims of the cartels and the authorities. If the cartels act ruthlessly because they operate outside the
law, the police and military have been protected by the authorities in countless cases of abuse. And still there is little
or no accountability for the injustices carried out.
The current clashes between protesters and police stem not only from the outrage
sparked by a single event in which innocent civilians have been attacked by those meant to protect them, but too from a long
history of having to fear criminals and police alike. Those responsible must be brought to justice—not only the criminals
who kill and kidnap but also those corrupt police and government officials who allow such tragedies to take place.
This article, "Mexico: Student Disappearances Focus Anger at Abuse and Impunity,'" by Alejandro García de la Garza, was first published on Oct. 17, 2014 at openSecurity.net, under a Creative Commons license. Alejandro Garcia de la Garza has a MA in conflict, security
and development from the University of Sussex, and an associate area specialist for the intelligence, security and international
affairs section of CIMBRE, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Mexican-British Research think tank.