The world is watching
Fair warning. This column will be cynical and pessimistic. And I am truly sorry.
Realistically, I cannot expect any better.
I absolutely love my home country, Mexico.
I am always hopeful that crime and violence there will slowly be reduced, that impunity will disappear, that socio-economic gaps will shrink and poverty will be eradicated, that corruption will become a thing of the past and that when you get pulled over by a police officer, bribing will cease to be an option.
And some days, I do believe things are getting better. When a major drug lord is captured it brings a smile to my face. When I see fearless journalism like the work done at the Zeta news weekly in Tijuana or listen to in-depth analysis and criticism in news shows, I briefly believe that things can get better. That debate can inspire change and that a lot of the crippling mentality around the country can change.
But there’s nothing like the disappearance of 43 college students to make you feel like not much has changed since 1968.
On Sept. 26, 43 students of the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, a rural community in Southern Mexico, were reportedly attacked and arrested by local police.
They have not been seen since.
It is believed police officers turned the students over to a criminal organization called “Guerreros Unidos,” or “United Warriors” in English.
The students’ arrest and subsequent turnover is alleged to be ordered by Jose Luis Abarca, the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero – a city near Ayotzinapa – and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda. The order came, Mexican media reports, after Abarca and his wife learned the students were planning to protest one of their events.
Soon after the students’ disappearance, Abarca took a leave of absence and he and his wife reportedly went into hiding. They were arrested Tuesday in connection with the disappearances.
The episode has sparked outrage throughout Mexico and around the world, with numerous peace organizations, including the UN, demanding the safe return of the students.
“The world is watching,” 136 students from 43 countries and five American universities said in a Youtube video.
The students, including people from Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Berklee College of Music and Tufts University, add themselves to countless of video protests popping up online throughout the world.
In Mexico, the slogan “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos,” “Alive they were taken, alive we want them back,” echoes throughout the country. However, many believe the students are already dead.
For many, the events bring back the haunting ghost of the Tlatelolco Massacre of Oct. 2, 1968, when military and police killed between 30 and 300 students.
Though international and national awareness is good, I find it hard to believe that any real progress will be made. The reality of Mexico in the past decade has been far bloodier than the possible student deaths represent.
Since President Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in in December 2012, there have been nearly 58,000 homicides, according to the Zeta news weekly. During Felipe Calderon Hinojosa’s tenure, Peña Nieto’s predecessor, roughly 83,000 homicides were reported.
In addition, the last eight years have seen a radical increase in kidnappings, decapitations, dismemberments, women deaths, extortion and cartel-on-cartel violence.
So far, not even the most gruesome and highest-profile murders have represented any significant changes, as Peña Nieto’s figures reflect.
And honestly, it is no surprise, because though there has been a push since Calderon’s presidency to combat the drug cartels, there has been no real effort to fix the deeper-rooted problems that haunt Mexico. In that lack of change is where my cynicism lives, like a fungus in warm and moist conditions.
Efforts to solve the disappearance of the students are fueled by international shame more than true hunger for the truth. As much as I appreciate the solidarity people around the world have shown, I believe the real effort to find the students will only last as long as the international attention is placed on Mexico.
The main problem is what the allegations that the crimes were perpetrated by the state in collaboration with organized crime represent.
This entire episode represents many of the problems facing Mexico in a deeper sense. It shows the impunity in which criminal organizations operate, the level of corruption in government and the level of governmental infiltration from the drug cartels.
Furthermore, the infiltration of the drug cartels in society is about as strong as anywhere else. Their strong control over different populations throughout the country through intimidation, blinding amounts of cash and pure glamorization of the narco life is not soon to disappear.
As long as narco-corridos – songs that celebrate drug dealers, narco life and violence – remain popular, things will not change. As long as bribes are a normal part of life, and people keep sweeping violent news under the rug by pretending the situation is not as bad as the outside world perceives it, things will not change. As long as the belief continues that if the criminal organizations are left alone they won’t bother the rest of the population, things will not change. As long as people remain apathetic, afraid and inactive against the drug cartels and government corruption, things will not change.
The only comfort I can take from the national and international effort to voice outrage – and only if the students are found alive – would be in the only victory in the face of nearly a decade of defeats.
Forty-three breathing students are better than 43 buried students.
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