In A Nutshell
For years, drug cartels have terrorized Mexico with extortion, kidnappings, and murders. On September 26, 2014, it reached a flash point when students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a teacher’s college, descended on Iguala in southern Mexico to protest unfair employment practices. As the protesters rode in buses, municipal police and unidentified masked men fired on the students, killing some and kidnapping others. With ties to drug gangs, corrupt local officials are believed to have played a significant role in the massacre. The parents of the 43 disappeared are defiantly insisting on answers and justice. A quieter group of parents, The Committee of the Other Disappeared, aren’t seeking justice, but instead a proper burial for the bodies of their missing children. The government investigation was criticized for its lack of credible results, and a new investigation has been ordered.
The Whole Bushel
When 43 students disappeared in September 2014 during a protest of unfair employment practices, their families had plenty of questions. For the most part, they’re still waiting for answers.
The students all came from the same school, a training ground for teachers that attracts the smartest residents in their late teens or early twenties from nearby impoverished communities. For the 23 percent of applicants accepted into the program, it’s a chance to escape the backbreaking prison of peasant farming while serving a useful role in their communities. These types of colleges in Mexico are traditionally activist, with students unafraid to protest against the government. When they participate in an “action,” they usually seize private buses to travel to their destination.
Sometimes, their actions trigger violence.
On September 26, 2014, the students intended to block traffic on one of the main roads in Iguala to ask for money for a trip to Mexico City the next month. Although they expected to march in remembrance of student protesters massacred by the government in 1968, the main purpose of the Mexico City trip was to challenge government funding cuts to their school.
As the protesters attempted to steal a couple of extra buses in Iguala, dozens of municipal police and about a half-dozen unidentified masked men fired on the students. Six were killed, over 20 were wounded, and the remaining 43 were detained.
They later disappeared from police custody.
With possible ties to drug gangs, the mayor of Iguala, his wife, and the police chief fled the city as fugitives after receiving subpoenas during the investigation. Evidence suggested that the mayor and his wife ordered the attack on the students, although the reason is unclear.
Prosecutors have alleged that the police are associated with a local gang in some way. It’s possible that the officers gave the detained students to the gang, who then killed the young people. In nearby hills outside of Iguala, authorities said they discovered a mass grave with burnt human remains shortly after the students disappeared.
Witnesses told reporters and investigators that they had seen the students being taken to the dump where they were supposedly burned. But in October 2015, experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said they don’t believe the government’s investigation was very thorough.
The government’s investigation found that rogue police officers had kidnapped the students and passed them on to local drug lords, who burned them and dumped them.
But the outside experts found that the claim of the mass burning was physically impossible and pointed out that it was very suspicious that the army refused to let them interview soldiers who had been in the area at the time.
The Mexican government has reopened their investigation, but it remains to be seen whether it will reveal anything to the families still searching for their loved ones.
Since 2006, more than 23,000 people have disappeared. Most are believed to be victims of Mexico’s war between its government and the drug cartels. Four out of ten of the disappeared are between 15 and 29 years old.
Many citizens stay quiet out of fear of retaliation, but the parents of the 43 disappeared students are insisting on answers and justice.
Show Me The Proof
BBC News: Mexico reopens investigation into 43 missing students
New Yorker: Crisis In Mexico
NY Times: 43 Missing Students, a Mass Grave and a Suspect: Mexico’s Police
Daily Beast: The Search for Mexico’s Missing Children