Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of 43 students going missing in Iguala in Guerrero state in Mexico, and family members of the students have still been getting little to no answers about the whereabouts of their loved ones.
“Because they took them alive, we want them alive” is the statement that adorns an “anti-monument” erected by the parents of the missing 43 teaching students. Demands have been made to President Enrique Pena Nieto, asking for justice and requiring that an independent body, recommended by the parents of the missing, lead the investigation.
The story begins in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero in Mexico. A group of about 100 students traveled from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College, also located in the state of Guerrero, to Iguala to commandeer buses for a demonstration to take place in Mexico City. The fate of 43 of the students has yet to be confirmed, but it is believed that after a battle with police, a local gang killed them and burned the bodies at a garbage dump. Since then, many mass graves have been uncovered in and around Iguala, exposing 129 unidentified bodies.
In Mexico, according to Ramapo professor of international studies Erick Castellanos, students have historically been politically active because of the tight control of the media by the ruling government parties.
“When television started in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s the government only granted one license to one company, and the agreement was that ‘you get your monopoly, but you can’t criticize the government.’ Criticism of the government wasn’t found in the media,” Castellanos said.
This has, in turn, sparked bouts of civil disobedience, in this case the hijacking of buses among the students of Mexican universities, which are historically hotbeds for political activism. The municipal police have historically allowed these violations to avoid violence.
Under direction of the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, municipal police forces, after a three-hour chase of the hijacked buses, opened fire on the Ayotzinapa students. A report done by VICE News shows footage from the night in question collected by a student via a cellphone and depicts the students shouting at police, frantically trying to understand why unarmed students were being fired upon. After a standoff with the police, three students and another three bystanders were left dead or dying on the streets of Iguala. While most of the students were able to escape, 43 were detained.
After the battle with police forces, Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda, whom was accused of having links to the Los Guerreros Unidos drug gang, ordered police to hand over the 43 students to the cartel. After that the investigation runs cold. To this day, only two of the students have been identified from remains found in Iguala and the surrounding area. The results of the DNA testing are being contested by the students’ parents, who insist that their loved ones are still alive.
In the last year, the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, has resigned, Abarca and his wife have been arrested, the attorney general of Guerrero, Jesus Murillo Karam, has been removed from his post and about 110 people have been arrested in connection with the investigation.
The night of Sept. 26 still leaves many in Mexico, and around the world, with pressing questions. If this is a common practice among Mexican students, why did the police force respond with such ferocity? An independent report released by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights put forth a theory that possibly the buses that were commandeered contained drugs or drug money, and this was the primary reason police forces responded with such ferocity. While this theory hasn’t been proven, it would have serious implications for the local police forces and their connection to corruption and drug trafficking within Mexico. The report also found glaring inconsistencies with the official report, the IAC expressing a concern over the government’s refusal to interview the Mexican Army’s 27 Infantry Battalion military personnel, who are stationed in Iguala and are being accused of involvement in the case.
At this time, President Nieto’s administration has announced the formation of a special prosecutor to investigate the many instances of disappearance in Mexico. This issue has sparked a conversation within Mexico regarding the complacency and corruption of governmental institutions involving the rising influence of drug cartels.