8 Dec 2014

Mexico’s missing students: body parts found

With protests erupting over the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, the country’s attorney general confirms that bone fragments found belonged to a 19-year-old trainee teacher.

Mexico’s 43 missing students have become 42, writes Thom Walker. Experts who examined DNA evidence, taken from a rubbish dump of charred remains, confirmed one family’s worst nightmare: the fragments of bone were those of 19-year-old trainee teacher Alexander Mora Venancio.

Announcing the findings, the country’s attorney general Jesus Murillo said they would “continue with the probe until all the guilty have been arrested”. Few believe the investigation will get to the bottom of anything.

Authorities say they were taken by corrupt local police, and handed over to a drug gang, which killed them and burnt their bodies, after confessions from cartel members.


Across much of Mexico, all forms of government are so reviled, many families rejected this out of hand. Tragically for them, it seems this time the account may have some truth in it. As ever, rumours, claims and counter-claims billow around Mexico like a vicious sandstorm.

One thing, however, is evident: the disappearance of 43 trainee teachers in the state of Guerrero in September has ignited an increasingly vocal protest movement and ushered in the most difficult period of Enrique Pena Nieto’s presidency.

What happened to Mexico's disappeared students? Read Guillermo Galdos' report

The embattled leader is on the ropes, and swinging wildly. His government would not rest until the perpetrators faced justice, he told his dwindling support base.

Then last week he unveiled a new security plan for Mexico’s 31 states. The corrupt old order would be replaced, he announced, with a new federal force which would have “a special emphasis in the areas of high criminality”. In short, the criminal organisations that now effectively run large swathes of the country.


It seems unlikely a new force of this kind will curtail the anger felt across Mexico. In the week I spent there, I was struck by the uniform response I found across Guerrero when asked about the authorities.

“They are in the hands of the cartels,” a local farmer told me in the hills of Guerrero. “Those who aren’t, don’t survive.”

My taxi driver in Iguala, where the students were taken, repeated a phrase I’d heard elsewhere in Latin America: “If something goes wrong, don’t shout out, in case the police come.”

Pena Nieto is facing building street protests that show few signs of abating. A fresh crisis of legitimacy is facing his government and the administrations across the country. He seems powerless to do much to stop it.

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