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Mexicans cry out

Astrid Prange / bkOctober 11, 2014

Following the massacre of Iguala, the Mexican government has stepped up the fight against drug cartels. Despite the successful investigations, there is increased fear of an interweaving of state and criminal violence.

A demonstration in Mexico
Image: Reuters

Two weeks after the kidnapping and murder of a group of trainee teachers in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, the police investigation has begun to show some initial success. Some 34 suspects have been arrested, including 26 policemen. Mexico's army and gendarmes have taken control of Iguala and disarmed local militias.

The massacre of Iguala has left Mexico in shock, and it has re-opened the wounds of increasing violence in the country. The brutal crimes that have emerged out of a growing intermeshing of state and organized violence have stirred unrest and fear in the population.

Officially, the 43 students are still classified as "missing," but six mass graves containing 28 burned corpses have already been discovered. According to Mexico's chief state prosecutor Jesus Murillo Karam, four more graves were discovered on October 9.

Police investigate a mass grave in Mexico
The massacre in Iguala left Mexico in shockImage: Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

'Their anger is our anger'

In the meantime, student organizations and the leftist militants of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) have announced their intention to avenge the murders. "We are planning some radical action," one co-student from the teacher training seminar told "El Pais" newspaper. "If necessary, we will storm the palace of the governor of Guerrero."

On October 8, around 10,000 people took to the streets of Guerrero's capital Chilpancingo to protest against the violence. In the state of Chiapas, around 20,000 supporters of the EZLN organized a march of silence through the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. There were vigils in Mexico City and nine other Mexican states.

"The relatives need to know that they're not alone grieving," EZLN sub-commandant Moises said in a press statement. "Their pain is our pain; their anger is our anger."

Unholy alliance

The murder of the students happened at the end of September. According to Inaky Blanco, a state attorney in Guerrero, the attack on the students was carried out together by police and organized criminals.

Policemen opened fire on three buses stolen by the students. After their arrest, they were handed over to a criminal cartel called Guerreros Unidos, said to have connections with the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, who has gone missing and is thought to be on the run.

Public security and the search for the murderers of the 43 "missing" students has since topped the agenda in Mexico. On October 9, Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido proudly announced the arrest of drug lord Vicente Carrillo Fuentes.

Government under pressure

Despite that success, and an increase in the security budget, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has come under increasing pressure. The national security strategy is underpinned with a 7.6-billion-euro ($9.6 billion) "National program for social crime and violence prevention."

The arrest of Vicente Carrillo
Vicente Carrillo was arrested on October 9Image: Reuters/E. Garrido

But human rights organizations consider the official security strategy inadequate. "The massacre of Iguala shows how little the Mexican state cares about human rights," says Perseo Quiroz, director of Amnesty International Mexico. "It blames organized crime to eliminate its responsibility."

Mexican political scientist Carlos Pérez Ricart says the repression of rebellious students is "not unusual." "The question is: how many Igualas have to be uncovered before something can change," he says. "The situation recalls events in the Balkans 20 years ago, when more and more massacres were found. It was the same as Mexico today: No one is responsible."

Different statistics

A month ago, on September 2, Nieto unveiled new statistics that said the murder rate in the country had dropped by 15 percent between January and August 2014, compared to the same period last year. Kidnappings had dropped by nine percent, and blackmail by 22 percent.

The Mexican human rights commission CNDH has different figures. It recorded 600 percent more reports of torture and abuse from policemen and soldiers compared to ten years ago - the result of more military operations against drug rings. The disappearance of human rights activists has increased by 60 percent under Nieto's government, compared to that of his predecessor Felipe Calderón.

In the 2014 Global Peace Index, Mexico is rated at 138 out of 162 countries. "Since the start of military operations against the powerful cartels at the end of 2006, violence has increased significantly in Mexico," the report, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), says. The crackdown on the drugs trade caused the cartels to open new lines of business - with kidnapping and blackmail.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), the murder rate in Mexico has increased significantly, to 21.5 victims per 100,000 inhabitants. In regions controlled by the cartels, that figure is at 100 murders. The worldwide average is 6.2.

"The massacre in Iguala is one of the most horrific and serious human rights abuses under the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto," says Quiroz. "There are clear indications that state security forces were involved."