In Mexico, The Horrors We Have Seen

New revelations point to collusion between authorities and a drug cartel that may have led to the killing of 40 Mexican teenagers. Like Colombia a generation ago, a nation faces its deepest evils.

At a protest in Mexico City following news of the missing teens.
At a protest in Mexico City following news of the missing teens.


BOGOTA Chilling is the word that comes to mind when considering the possible complicity between a mayor, his police chief and 30 municipal policemen in the massacre suspected to have occurred in Iguala, Mexico.

Events in Iguala, located on the Pacific coast in the state of Guerrero, were serious enough for President Enrique Peña Nieto not only to express public indignation and vow to punish the culprits, but to then send in federal police forces to take over the town.

The first result was that 22 municipal agents were jailed, even as the mayor and his police chief fled and remain missing since news of the disappearance or kidnapping of a group of secondary school students emerged in early October.

The state of Guerrero seems not to have been a priority in the ambitious security plan Mexico's president launched after his 2012 election, and which has otherwise achieved positive results in places where the big drug cartels were active.

In a poor state with deep social problems, it's not difficult to understand why one of the drug cartels and local authorities would wind up forging a secret marriage of convenience. The public officials could pocket money even while claiming they'd put a lid on pervasive corruption, and the drug lords could proceed with impunity to rake in new business. Despite whistleblowing by a few journalists who risked their lives to denounce the situation, generalized complicity helped turn Guerrero into the feudal territory of gangs.

But then comes this horrific incident, which began when some 40 high school students from nearby Ayotzinapa, where educational resources are scarce, made the mistake of going to Iguala one night. They were traveling on buses they had "borrowed" to gather funds for their school. Considered troublemakers in their own district, "someone" told the police to do something. They could not be simply allowed to drive into a territory where they were not welcome.

The first student who got off one of the buses to ask police what was happening was summarily shot dead. Police then began firing on the buses. Their passengers were hauled out and apparently handed over to gangsters, who took them to a mountainside two hours away.

A week later, two gunmen were caught and confessed they had executed 18 of the kidnapped teenagers and burned their bodies. They indicated a spot where a ditch was found containing 10 more bodies than the number they had given. And nobody knows where the remaining students are, though people suspect the worst.

A cemetery in Iguala. Photo: Sol Aranda

There are so many questions here, and very few answers, as often happens with crimes reported with fanfare in Mexico. Federal authorities are now investigating the majority of Guerrero's 80 mayors as well as its police forces, to find out just how far the drug mob's tentacles have spread here. Indeed, the Guerreros Unidos, the gang associated with the Beltrán Leyva Cartel and blamed for the massacre, has already threatened to reveal the names of politicians that have protected it so far.

The victims' parents, indeed the entire country, are demanding that the government hasten investigations and punish the culprits. It is already probing another incident from weeks earlier, when soldiers shot dead 21 youngsters. The dead were said to have been unarmed when killed, though the army says the soldiers fired in self-defense in response to gunfire.

As the great Latin American poet Mario Benedetti wrote, we may well be "cured of fear" in Mexico and Colombia for all the horrors we have seen. And yet, a new day, a new massacre reminds us that if we think we've seen the worst, we had better think again.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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