This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Following a week of accolades abroad, President Enrique Peña Nieto returned home to face the worst political crisis of his administration. Protests rage after local police forcibly disappeared forty-three students of Ayotzinapa, a rural teaching college in the southern Mexico state of Guerrero. As the investigations continue, the crisis has laid bare the violence and corruption that control large parts of the nation.
Led by youth, protesters across the country blame the government for the attack and others like it. As the father of one of the missing students said, “The government knows where they are.” His tone expressed deep fatigue and even deeper pain.
On the night of September 26, police patrol cars from the city of Iguala blocked the buses his son and other students were traveling in, and opened fire on the students. In a bizarre series of events, an armed commando attacked the students in the same spot hours later. During the night, more students from Ayotzinapa arrived to rescue their companions, and members of the state teachers’ union came to help. The shooting went on.
Nearby, a third attack—on a local soccer team possibly made up of Ayotzinapa students as well—left another youth dead. Videotapes in the hands of the Guerrero state prosecutor’s office reportedly show that local police also participated in this attack, which appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Federal police arrived at the scene at least two hours later and refused to tend to the wounded.
By all accounts, law enforcement agents limited their activities to firing on the students and carrying off the forty-three who are now disappeared. No law enforcement officials—at local, state or federal levels—protected the young people under attack, despite massive deployment to fight the war on drugs. Survivors report that they carried the wounded to a nearby army base, where army personnel refused to aid them. Not one soldier stepped forward to try to stop the massacre of the youth.
The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of Guerrero issued an urgent alert on September 29 stating, “These events demonstrate an excessive use of force and an intention to deliberately extrajudicially execute students by the Municipal Police and an omission on the part of state and federal authorities for failing to implement appropriate security measures that would have prevented a second aggression and the disappearance of 55 local students.” (Forty-three remain missing, as twelve were subsequently located alive.)