Mexico: missing students reported dead

A group of 43 Mexican teachers' college students missing since the night of Sept. 26-27 were killed by gang members and their bodies were burned and disposed of in Cocula municipality in the southwestern state of Guerrero, federal attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam announced at a Nov. 7 press conference in Mexico City. Three members of the Guerreros Unidos ("United Warriors") criminal organization confessed to having participated in the execution of the students and the incineration of their bodies, according to Murillo Karam, who said the remains were so thoroughly burned that it might be difficult to extract DNA for identification. The Mexican government is planning to send the remains to technicians in Austria. The attorney general said he understood the skepticism of the students' parents about his office's findings, more than a month after the events: "It's natural…and it doesn't surprise me."

As of Nov. 7 Mexican authorities said 74 people had been arrested in connection with the massacre of the students, who attended the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa; they were attacked by municipal police and gang members in Iguala de la Independencia the evening of Sept. 26 as they were raising money to attend an Oct. 2 demonstration in Mexico City. Three students and three bystanders were killed in the initial attack, and the municipal police detained another 43 students, apparently turning them over to Guerreros Unidos members to be executed. Former Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez and his wife, María de los Angeles Pineda, reportedly ordered the attack; they were arrested in Mexico City on Nov. 4 and face charges of participation in organized crime, offenses against health, and illegal privation of liberty. Abarca made no declaration when he was brought before judges on Nov. 6. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 7, Nov. 8)

On Nov. 7 a federal court issued a formal order for the imprisonment of seven soldiers charged in another notorious massacre, the execution of suspected gang members on June 30 in Tlatlaya municipality, México state. The government is charging the soldiers with killing eight suspects who had surrendered after a shootout with the soldiers. The government's semi-autonomous National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) concluded on Oct. 21 that the number executed was 15; a total of 22 suspects died in the incident, including people killed in the shootout. (LJ, Nov. 8)

The arrests and criminal charges in the two massacres seem unlikely to stop the wave of protests that started after the Sept. 26 attacks. Thousands of people marched from Los Pinos, the presidential residence, to the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City on Nov. 5 as part of the third National and Global Day of Action for Ayotzinapa; many carried signs blaming Mexico's three main political parties and charging that the Iguala massacre was the work of "the narco-state." Students in more than 80 schools and universities carried out strikes that day or planned to carry out strikes later; there were also calls for a nationwide general strike on Nov. 20, the holiday marking the start of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. (LJ, Nov. 6, Nov. 6)

Students and others demonstrated again in Mexico City the evening of Nov. 8, the day after Attorney General Murillo announced that the missing Ayotzinapa students had been killed. The march route was from the Attorney General's Office (PGR) to the Zócalo; when the protest reached the giant plaza, many marchers seized metal police barricades and employed them to batter the doors of the National Palace, a 16th-century building largely used for ceremonies and for housing a group of murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Frustrated protesters set fire to the doors; at least two people were injured and a number were arrested. There were also protests that day in Baja California, Chiapas, Jalisco, México state, Oaxaca, Querétaro and Veracruz. (LJ, Nov. 9, Nov. 9)

In the midst of this crisis, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was scheduled to leave for a Nov. 9-15 trip to China and Australia to attend two international conferences, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Beijing and the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders' Summit in Brisbane. (Univision, Nov. 9, some from unidentified wire services)

The problems in Mexico seemed not to concern some important international investors seeking to take advantage of Peña Nieto's success in opening up the energy and telecommunication sectors to private capital. "We're very excited with what's happening in Mexico and with its reform agenda," Gary Cohn, president of the New York-based multinational Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., investment bank, said during a visit to Mexico in early November. "Our clients are excited about the opportunities opening up in the Mexican economy, whether in the gas and petroleum field or, on the other hand, in telecommunications." He insisted that what US financial advisers are calling "the Mexican Moment" will go on for some time. Asked about the Ayotzinapa massacre, Cohn replied: "No one is pleased to see these events, no one is happy to see them, but I believe that the Mexicans themselves seem to be the ones who are more focused [on these events] than the rest of the world. I don't mean to minimize them, but it happens in other parts of the world." (Terra Mexico, Nov. 5, from Reforma, quotations retranslated from Spanish)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 9.