11 Nov 2014

Mexico wakes up to corrupt politics and brutal cartels

Latin America Correspondent

The disappearance of 43 students in Mexico sparks a wave of violent clashes against the government and its brutal cartels. Guillermo Galdos travels to the country as Mexicans begin to demand answers.

Mexico gang student deaths

Forty-four days ago, 43 students were detained by the Mexican police in front of dozens of witnesses in the city of Iguala, in the state of Guerrero.

The students were teachers training in the Ayotzinapa College. Their disappearance shocked Mexico. The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto was forced to act firmly, and while the investigators were anxiously trying to find the missing students they came across some mass graves.

Mexico is the biggest cemetery in the world. Wherever you dig you will find bodies. Forensic doctor

They were filled with human remains. Shockingly the bodies had nothing to do with the missing students – they were some of the tens of thousands of people missing across the country.

“Mexico is the biggest cemetery in the world. Wherever you dig you will find bodies or body parts,” I was told by a foreign forensic doctor who has worked in Mexico many times.

“The truth is that the Mexican government knows about it, but it will be a huge international scandal to dig up thousands of bodies and then you have to identify them. It’s a huge task that needs political will. Not sure they want to do it.”

Mexico gang violence

More than 100,000 people have died in Mexico since 2006 when former President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels. Today, according to Mexico’s human rights commission, there are more than 23,000 people missing in the country.

Ironically, Mexico is still one of the fastest-growing economies in the region. The level of violence has not scared investors, who seem not to mind the bloody side of Mexican economics.

‘We want them alive’

Last Friday Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo confirmed the rumours to the families of the missing students. They were detained by the municipal police and then passed on to a drug-trafficking gang called Guerreros Unidos.

The gang took the students to a municipal dump where they were executed and their bodies then burned for 15 hours with wood, gasoline and plastic. The remains were put in plastic bags and thrown in a nearby river.

When you go to bed with the devil, you wake up with the devil. Mexican politician

Murillo said the government will do its best to identify them and to give them back to the families. According to experts, it will be extremely difficult to identify what has been found.

But even more difficult is for the families to believe in the state which took away their kids in the first place. The pain of the parents has found a huge echo in Mexico among millions of people who for some reason felt mute until now . “We want them alive” shouted one of the parents of the 43 students outside the presidential palace in Mexico City over the weekend.

Jose Luis Abarca and Maria de los Angeles Pineda

Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda. Credit: Reuters.

The government claims 74 people have been arrested, including the ousted mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda, 36 police officers, and several gang members of Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.

A Mexican politician told me once: “When you go to bed with the devil, you wake up with the devil.” That is exactly what’s happening in Mexico. After years of living in a marriage between criminal organisations and the government, Mexicans are waking up.

The protests will continue, and this event might even mark the beginning of a new Mexican revolution – this time not against a military dictator but against a corrupt government and the brutal cartels.