MEXICO CITY — One governor resigned. A state prosecutor stepped down. A mayor and his wife have been arrested, and a police chief is on the lam.
It has been seven weeks since 43 teachers college students vanished in rural Guerrero state, but there has been no end to the political fallout. With university strikes, protest marches, roadblocks and outbreaks of vandalism, the public outrage has thrown Mexican politics — from the presidential palace to tiny town halls — into disarray.
President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has tried to steer the national narrative away from drug violence and toward economic reform, has found himself right where he did not want to be. As protesters have set fire to government buildings and thrown molotov cocktails against the door of the National Palace, police and soldiers have stood far back, apparently wary of provoking further violence.
Another new scandal, surrounding a government contractor’s links to Peña Nieto’s wife’s luxurious mansion in Mexico City, has contributed to the perception of an administration out of touch with the rural poor.
Since Peña Nieto’s return from abroad over the weekend, he has pledged that there will be justice but also has said that people should not resort to “violence or vandalism” and asked them to respect the law.
Peña Nieto’s government is “giving us the perception that no one is steering the ship,” said Gerson Hernández Mecalco, a political analyst and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “They think, in error, that simply time will put an end to this or close this chapter.”
The mass disappearance of students has also been a black mark for the opposition, particularly the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). José Luis Abarca, the mayor of the city of Iguala, who ordered the police to pick up the students and is now under arrest with his wife, is affiliated with the party, as is the state governor, who resigned in disgrace.
Reports in the Mexican news media, citing government documents, claimed that 12 mayors in Guerrero, including eight from the PRD, are suspected of having connections to drug cartels. This week, the party’s founder, Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, called on its president to resign, saying the PRD finds itself “in a grave situation of prostration and
exhaustion, like never before in its
quarter-century of existence.” In response to his open letter, the party’s national executive committee president, Carlos Navarrete, said the proposal would be evaluated.
The case has generated outrage in part because it has revealed blatant links between government and organized crime.
“Iguala is like a photograph of how a mayor and his wife made alliances with a criminal group,” said John Bailey, a retired Georgetown University professor and Mexico expert. “It puts the spotlight on what is Mexico’s biggest problem right now, which is penetration and networking between criminal networks and government.”
At the local level, protesters led by teachers unions have seized dozens of town and city halls. Guerrero teachers said last week they had taken control in 29 municipalities, or more than a third of the state.
Protests have also erupted at UNAM, one of the country’s best public universities. Over the weekend, a law enforcement officer shot and wounded a student. Students built barricades, set fires in the streets and called on the university’s rector, José Narro Robles, to step down, while police blocked entrances to the giant campus in southern Mexico City. Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong described the shooting as “imprudent.”
Outside the School of Philosophy and Letters on Tuesday, students spray-painted buildings and buses with slogans calling for “insurrection” and criticizing the police. The wiring of surveillance equipment was torn out and a sign hung from it reading, “Here were two spy cameras of UNAM.” On a mathematics building, a large banner announced that with student mobilization, “we can stop the repression of the government.”
Letting the police onto campus with weapons was “a violation of the autonomy of the university,” said Alexis Rodríguez, 22, an earth science student. “This is a very grave problem.”
Rodríguez said he thought some of the vandalism — such as the recent burning of buses — was done by political party henchmen and has given the university a bad name. But he supported the protests over the disappearance of the students and plans to participate in a big march planned for Thursday.
“The students are very united,” he said.
Gabriela Martínez in Mexico City contributed to this report.