What lies ahead for Mexico, where the discovery of mass graves in Iguala and dozens of missing school students in Ayotzinapa has led to protests and a tense national debate about law and order? The future is uncertain.
Mexico's attorney general has stated that the students were killed by a local organized crime group, on orders from Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca, who has been arrested. Investigators have since identified the remains of one of the missing students, Alexander Mora Venancio. But a lack of hard evidence to prove the claims that all were murdered has left the students’ families and the nation with some hope that the students are still alive, somewhere.
Some Internet users say this tragedy will be forgotten with time, others believe Ayotzinapa's 43 missing students will serve as a catalyst for social change.
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On September 26, a convoy of buses carrying students from Ayotzinapa, a teacher training institute in Mexico's southern state of Guerrero, was shot at by local police agents. The student teachers were returning from protests for rural teachers in the city of Iguala. Many of the students were loaded into police vehicles and driven away.
An hour later the convoy came under another attack, this time by members of an organized crime group. The attacks that day left six dead and 17 wounded in Iguala. Three were students, and three were just present at the scene — a football player and a bus driver in an unrelated bus and a woman in a taxi.
Attention soon turned to the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, many of whom were seen being driven away in police vehicles after the first attack.
On Nov. 7, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told the public that the students were shot, burned in a garbage dump and thrown into a muddy river in black plastic bags. His words were met with disbelief, anger, and indignation not only from the students’ families, but also by people throughout Mexico because they rely on the confessions of three drug cartel hit men, not conclusive evidence — human remains discovered near a landfill based on their information have not yet been identified yet.
The parents of the missing Ayotzinapa students still hold out hope of finding them alive, and have stated that they do not believe the version given by Mexican authorities.
“We want to say that, as the families, we do not accept the declaration, because there is no certainty that it is true … We want information. Until then we hope that they are alive. We are going to continue looking for the youths and we demand the government intensify the search for the youths,” said one mother.
Protests have been launched across the country demanding their safe return.
Read more: Mexicans Demand Safe Return of Students “Taken Alive”
And messages of support having been pouring in around the world under the hashtags #Ayotzinapa #TodosSomosAyotzinapa (We are all Ayotzinapa).
This is just one of many violent acts by corrupt government authorities — sometimes in close alliance with organized crime groups — against its citizens.
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Corrupt officials and crime cartels
Demasiada sangre han derramado el crimen organizado y el régimen corrupto. Basta deste dolor pic.twitter.com/WB47Ascwbi#JusticiaParaAyotzinapa
— epigmenio ibarra (@epigmenioibarra) October 6, 2014
Too much blood has been shed by organized crime and a corrupt regime. Enough with this pain.
Iñaky Blanco, Guerrero's public prosecutor, claimed that “several of the police agents had links to organized crime, and in some cases were active drug trafficking hit men.”
At a later press conference in Acapulco, he added that it was Iguala Director of Public Security Francisco Salgado Valladares who gave the order to detain the student teachers from Ayotzinapa. An individual known as ‘El Chuky’ from the organized crime group Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) would have ordered the kidnap and murder of the young students. The name United Warriors plays off the name of the state, Guerrero, which means warrior in Spanish.
The Iguala city mayor, José Luis Abarca, left office right before the attack with the permission of the governor. Abarca's whereabouts were unknown until he and his wife were found and arrested in Mexico city on Nov. 4.
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Multiple Mass Graves Unearthed in Search
Since the students’ disappearance, multiple mass grave sites have been uncovered in Iguala. On Oct. 6, police found 28 bodies that appeared to have been severely beaten and then laid over branches that were sprayed with fuel and set fire. A guard at the site told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that the victims were burned alive. Although many initially feared that these were the bodies of the students, preliminary DNA testing suggests that they are not.
Since this initial discovery, authorities have unearthed 11 mass grave sites containing a total of 38 bodies, leaving the public reeling over the increasing magnitude of the tragedy. With forensic studies ongoing, it remains unclear whether any of these bodies belong to the missing students.
In early December, the remains of one of the missing students, 21-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio, were identified. They were found in a garbage dump in the Mexican town of Cocula.
Mexico's Political Firestorm
Although the federal government has publicly condemned the actions of the police and the mayor, and pledged to find those who are guilty, the events in Iguala bode poorly for the administration of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, who ran for office on promises of increasing security and curbing the vicious cycle of violent crime in the country.
Family members hold out hope that their loved ones will return. In the meantime, however, they're left waiting for official confirmation about whether any of the tortured remains now being identified match the students kidnapped by narcotics police. If the mass grave turns out to contain the missing students, Mexico will find out if the tension now in the air is enough to cause a large-scale political firestorm.
This video by US based independent news outlet Democracy Now gives an excellent overview of the case:
Video message of support from students around the world in over a dozen languages: