A global day of protest on Oct. 23 demanded the return — alive — of 43 Mexican student activists missing since Sept. 26. While many large demonstrations occurred in cities around the world, the biggest was in the Zócalo central plaza of Mexico City, where estimates of the crowd ran as high as half a million.
The 43 were students at the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in the town of Iguala, in the state of Guerrero. They were involved in planning a commemoration of the anniversary of the notorious massacre of students in 1968 by government authorities. The Mexican government at that time had been pressured by the U.S. to guarantee there would be no protests during the Olympic Games taking place in Mexico City.
Today’s students know this history and are determined not to let the memory of that horrible crime die. When the Ayotzinapa students arrived in buses at the town of Iguala, however, local police and gunmen surrounded them and began firing.
Journalist John Gibler described what happened: “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than 20, and rounded up and detained 43 students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours. At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The 43 students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’” (Gibler email quoted in “Crisis in Mexico: The Disappearance of the 43,” by Francisco Goldman, New Yorker, Oct. 24)
As the demands of the growing protests have escalated to a call for the resignation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the government has scrambled to show some results. On Oct. 24, right after the global day of protest, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, the governor of Guerrero, finally resigned his post.
The Mexican government also issued arrest warrants for the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his spouse, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, both of whom are reported to be connected to the druglords of Guerreros Unidos.
Right after this heinous crime happened, a search was made of the area and many mass graves were uncovered. They contained at least 30 bodies, some of them scorched by fire, confirming that assassinations here are commonplace and the authorities do nothing about them or are actually complicit. So far, however, none of the bodies have matched the DNA of the missing students, keeping alive the hope that, with enough pressure on the government, they can be rescued.