By Jessica Canchola
With all the various headlines this past week ranging from Obama’s visit to China, to the GOP’s plans for the Senate, and all the way to Kim Kardashian’s questionable use of assets, you might have missed the battle that’s been brewing in Mexico. Amidst conflicting accusations by authorities and protesters, little surrounding the latest wave of violence in Mexico has been clear. The only certainty that can be ascribed to these incidents is their place among Mexico’s tradition of corruption and violence. With that said, the dubious disappearances of the 43 students and the recent violence it has sparked aren’t just another chapter in Mexican history – they’re an exemplar of the measures the Mexican people have resorted to in order to protect themselves against their government.
According to investigators, Escuela Normal students made attempts to protest a speech made by Maria de los Angeles Pineda in Iguala on September 26. Sensing an imminent interruption, Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, husband to Pineda, allegedly ordered police to round up the students. At some point during the melee police opened fire on the students, killing three. The remaining 43 were handed over to Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang with ties to the mayor and his wife. After an inconclusive search for the missing 43 resulted in the discovery of unrelated mass graves, Abarca and Pineda were arrested and members of Guerreros Unidos came forward and admitted to killing the students on police commands.
Given their past transgressions, including stoning police, blocking highways, and taking over toll booths, it’s impossible to call the students of Escuela Normal completely infallible. They made themselves police targets through their guerrilla tactics. However, the decision made by Mayor Abarca and the police to stop the protest and hand the students over to a known gang is well beyond routine and just law enforcement. The preemption of the protests, use of gunfire, and gang involvement all constitute telltale signs of a government more concerned with retaining its power and squashing government opposition than upholding civil liberties and protecting its people.
The magnitude of the situation has not been lost on the Mexican people. Family members of the missing, as well as fellow students and concerned citizens, held peaceful protests demanding the return of the 43 missing students and a thorough investigation by the police. When their demands were not met, organizers made good on their promise to radicalize. On October 12, 2014, demonstrators cleared workers out of Guerrero’s capital building in Chilpancingo before burning several offices. The demonstrators spoke out against state and federal officials, accusing Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre of not doing enough to find the 43 students and President Pena Nieto of being more preoccupied with economic talks in Asia than the violence at home.
The protesters’ incendiary actions may not seem like the most constructive response to Mexico’s ongoing violence but consider the events preceding the latest crimes. Earlier in September federal police officers raided a village near Iguala, abused its inhabitants, and abducted eight without any apparent cause. Similarly in June, members of the military executed 12 in Mexico City on the pretext of a shootout before eventually allowing the episode to be treated as a criminal matter. As wrong as arson may be, the Mexican people are being victimized by their own government. With their freedom of speech endangered and without the genuine promise of protection from their government, what else can they do? The government, law enforcement, and gang’s attempted monopolization of power now seriously threatens freedom and justice in Mexico. Fighting fire with fire may just be their only chance at fighting back against the government’s clear corruption and alerting the world of their endangered democracy.