Sable Liggera '17 Assistant News Editor
Last Wednesday, Nov. 12, in Mexico City, protesters set the door of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Ceremonial Palace ablaze. Such acts of arson, especially targeting government buildings and property, have become increasingly common in the last week – usually at the climax of demonstrations. In Chilpancingo, the capital city of Guerrero, for example, protesters from a teachers’ union torched a state assembly building’s session hall after a march.
What has led to such an explosion of popular protest? The short answer is the abduction and subsequent murder of 43 student trainee teachers.The students were reportedly kidnapped by corrupt policemen on their way to a protest over education reforms last September and subsequently turned over to gang members.
While former Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, who were suspected of orchestrating the kidnapping, were eventually arrested, anger over the event increased dramatically at the discovery of the missing students fates.
Three gang members, detained due to a connection to the students’ disappearance, confessed that all 43 had been murdered or more specifically, killed, incinerated in a dumpster and then had their remains deposited in landfills and rivers. Some of the remains found of the victims were so badly burned their teeth disintegrated upon contact. As officials searched for the students’ “graves,” mass graves were uncovered – ones that are not linked to this particular case of missing students.
In total, around 70 gang members, as well as quite a few policemen, were arrested for their connection to the student’s disappearance, murder and subsequent attempts at a cover-up. Abarca was arrested for supposed dealings with the drug gang Guerreros Unidos, the gang responsible for their executions in addition to organizing the kidnapping.
This example of corruption in the government, and the horrific consequences it imposes on the Mexican people, has generated enormous backlash against the government and its lack of progress in stamping out corruption among officials.
Thousands of protesters have, in the last few months, participated in demonstrations calling for government reform and the resignation of President Nieto. And, with the discovery of the students’ eventual fate, demonstrations are only growing in size and intensity.
Nieto, however, has received even more criticism by his lack of response both the popular protests and initial efforts to find the students. He has openly condemned the protests, stating, “It’s unacceptable that someone should try to use this tragedy to justify violence. You can’t demand justice while acting with violence.”
His decision to travel to Beijing to attend an economic conference at the height of these demonstrations have also drawn further ire from some citizens, who interpret it as a sign of his dedication to economic growth over the welfare of the people.
Natalia Beristain, a filmmaker, spoke on her reasoning for becoming involved in the call for reform: “I’m tired of vanished Mexicans, of the killing of women, of the dead, of the decapitated, of the bodies hanging from bridges, of broken families, of mothers without children, of children without fathers.