On Friday 26 September, three students from Mexico’s teacher training college Ayotzinapa Normal Rural School Raúl Isidro Burgos in the southern state of Guerrero and three other protesters died in Iguala in shooting attacks perpetrated by the municipal police with the help of a local drug trafficking gang by the name of Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), a former affiliate of the Beltran Leyva cartel. The order to hunt down these students was delivered by former mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, because apparently they were going to boycott a speech by his wife, Maria de los Ángeles Pineda, running for local mayor.
In addition, more than 25 people were wounded and 43 other Ayotzinapa student teachers were arrested, handed over to Guerreros Unidos by Iguala and Cocula police, and then reported ‘missing’. On Tuesday 30 September, 22 policemen were arrested and will now stand trial in Acapulco for the murder of six students. That same day, José Luis Abarca asked for a 30 day leave of absence from his post to facilitate investigations, which was eventually granted to him by the Iguala city council. He, his wife and children were no longer seen after that. Federal agents raided Abarca’s house on the grounds that the family was harboring the fugitive Felipe Flores Velazquez, the Public Security Secretary of Iguala.
On Saturday 4 October, the burnt remains of 28 people were found in six clandestine mass graves near Iguala. However, tests on the remains showed that the DNA did not match those of the 43 missing students. On Monday 6 October, 11 days after the students’ disappearance, President Enrique Peña Nieto addressed the issue for the first time. On Friday 10th October, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam confirmed the arrest of a total of 26 police officers and four members of the Guerreros Unidos gang, as well as the discovery of four other clandestine mass graves in Iguala. On Friday 17 October, Karam updated the total number of detained police officers which now rose to 36 and announced the arrest of the ‘maximum leader’ of Guerreros Unidos, along with 17 other members of the drug-trafficking gang. On Thursday 23 October and after weeks of fierce protests over the violent lawlessness that was permitted during his tenure, the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, finally resigned.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued in Geneva, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights admonished Mexico to carry out ‘effective, prompt and impartial investigations so as to identify those who were buried.’ In like manner, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, demanded the solving of this ‘inhuman and absurd crime.’ For his part, the Pope said he would pray for the forty-three missing students to appear alive. Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director of Amnesty International, further added that: ‘tragically, the enforced disappearance of these student teachers is just the latest in a long line of horrors to have befallen Guerrero state, and the rest of the country. The warning signs of corruption and violence have been there for all to see for years, and those that negligently ignored them are themselves complicit in this tragedy.’
On Monday 3 November, a group of 43 protesters, representing each of the missing students marched 191 kilometers from Iguala to Mexico City, demanding the appearance of the students. On Tuesday 4 November, authorities confirmed the arrest of Abarca and his wife in their house in Mexico City. On Wednesday 5 November, thousands of people took to the streets and 115 schools joined in with a national three-day strike.
On Friday 7 November, forensics found bone fragments, teeth and ashes in a Cocula garbage dump where the bodies of the victims are believed to have been sprayed with diesel and burnt for more than fourteen hours. Moreover, eight bags containing human remains and which had been thrown into the waters of a nearby river were also found. According to attorney Murillo Karam, there is no precise proof that those remains correspond to the missing students and, indeed, all the evidence will be analyzed by a laboratory in Austria to extract DNA and accurately determine whether they match the missing students’ DNA. However, in video confessions of the arrested members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel, they confess to have transported around 43 or 44 students by flatbed truck to the garbage dump, acknowledging that some of them died of suffocation during the journey and that the rest were then stacked atop a pile of tires and woods and set on fire.
Relatives of the victims insisted that they will not consider the results of the investigations as being over and conclusive, and they blame the State – beyond the police forces and the cartel – for all the deaths so far. As a matter of fact, Abarca is believed to have provided a monthly sum of three million pesos (US$ 2,250 million) to Guerreros Unidos, who in turn controlled the municipal police with a payment of 600,000 pesos (US$ 450,000) per month.
In this context of complicity between drug traffickers, law enforcement and politicians, the disappearance of the 43 student teachers has caused an uproar and mourning throughout Mexico and all over the world, exposing and condemning Mexico’s most horrifying secrets. In social media networks, more than 200 artists from across the country are using their voices and their art to call for answers. Using the hashtag #IlustradoresConAyotzinapa (#IllustratorsForAyotzinapa), they paint portraits of the missing students and share them online. Many of these images have gone viral and the hashtag has now been used over 14,000 times. Another hashtag which has gone viral is #YaMeCanse (#ImFedUp), after a phrase delivered by attorney Murillo Karam to put an end to an hour of public speaking. Within hours of that incident, the phrase and hashtag were linking thousands of messages on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social networks. Moreover, these phrases continued to trend and emerge in graffiti, in political cartoons and in video messages posted to YouTube, to keep alive the outrage over the fate of the missing 43 students. In essence, social media protests are now seen as the most effective and far-reaching option to make a powerful international statement. Indeed, online messages on social networks are now urging for a global day of protest on 20 November under the motto “Mexico se viste de negro” (“Mexico wears black”), linked to the hashtag #TodosVestidosDeNegro (#AllDressedInBlack) and #TodosUnidosPorAyotzinapa (#AllUnitedForAyotzinapa).