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.
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.
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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.