By Claire Kokoska
On Sept. 26, local police officers in Iguala, Mexico, opened fire on three buses containing a large group of students from the rural and impoverished Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.
Six students died, while approximately 23 suffered injuries. Police then herded 43 students into patrol vehicles.
Since Oct. 4, Mexican authorities have discovered six mass graves within walking distance of one another in the district of Pueblo Viejo.
At least 35 bodies have been confirmed found. However, all are either severely scorched or mutilated, impeding identification efforts.
Reportedly, after the confrontation and subsequent abductions, police turned the students over to the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United) on the orders of a man known as “El Chucky.”
Authorities have stated that two of the gang’s members, with known ties to Iguala’s local police force, confessed to killing at least 17 of the 43 students.
Student protests have become common in Mexico as resentment grows over decreased funding for education and burgeoning student debt.
This teachers’ college in particular has been active in left-wing and social justice movements since it opened in 1926.
The students were in Iguala requesting money and staging demonstrations against what they believed were harsh cuts to their state-funded institution.
The students planned their demonstrations in Iguala to coincide with the 46th anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, in which police and soldiers shot student demonstrators, killing hundreds of individuals.
A representative of the students’ families stated that gangs attempted to extort the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College in the previous year, though it is still not entirely clear why the students were targeted.
Twenty-two police officers are being held in federal prison on charges of homicide and kidnapping.
Four have escaped, and the Mexican federal government has dismissed the remainder of Iguala’s police force.
According to Monte Alejandro Rubido García, the Mexican National Security Commissioner, the officers will be sent to a military base to undergo evaluations so that investigators can determine whether their firearms were used for “criminal activity.”
The mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, has taken a leave of absence in the wake of international attention, as has the local police chief.
Residents say that since the mayor and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda, dubbed the “imperial couple,” have come to power, crime and violence has risen steeply in their city of 150,000.
Many are vaguely aware of the couple’s connections to the drug trade.
Three of Pineda’s brothers are members of the Beltran Leyva criminal organization, while Abarca’s mother-in-law admits that he is on the drug cartel payroll, receiving a smooth $155,000 per month for his continued cooperation with the cartels.
Even the Mexican intelligence agency, the Center for Research and National Security, asserts there is a known connection between Abarca and Guerreros Unidos.
There are few options for the citizens of Guerrero, the most violent state in Mexico.
An anonymous Iguala resident stated that one “would be a fool around here to accuse the police and expect to live.”
The police force’s alliance with drug cartels is something of an open secret.
Mexico is increasingly controlled not by the police, but by the country’s wealthy and well-armed cartels.
The brutal massacre of the Mexican students is but one example of the cartels’ stranglehold on life in much of Mexico.
But when huge factions of the government are purchased arms of such cartels, no solution seems forthcoming.