What the Ayotzinapa tragedy says about Mexico

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Mexico is a nation of stark contrasts. A country where obesity and acute malnutrition coexist;  the home of the world’s richest man and 53 million people living under the poverty line, almost half of the population.

Nonetheless, there is a historic gap that explains Mexico better than any other disparity. This is the fracture created by the absence of the rule of law, one that divides those who infringe norms with ease and the victims that suffer from rampant impunity.

In some countries, justice in the court system can be bought, in Mexico it has become a luxury that only a few can afford. Those that don’t have the money or the influence are left defenseless, at the mercy of savage criminals and corrupt government officials, who occasionally act like one and the same, as we’ve seen in Iguala where six students were killed and 43 others went missing.


Our worst nightmares materialized last Friday when Mexico’s Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, detailed the gruesome acts behind the kidnapping and murder of the Ayotzinapa students. We all knew the chances of finding them alive after more than 40 days were slim at best. But no one imagined the brutal way in which their lives allegedly ended - asphyxiation, their bodies burned in a pile, their bones crushed.

The remains have been tampered with to the point where they had to be sent to the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria for DNA identification. Until their identities are confirmed, the only evidence presented by authorities is the testimony of three men, who say they took part in the mass murder.

The case has potentially unveiled Mexico as a narco state, where ruthless cartels and gang mercenaries not only control, but literally govern parts of the country. Take the case of the Mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda, who together built a narco-political empire in the municipality and used the cartel Guerreros Unidos to disappear those who opposed their will.

While Abarca and his wife may be detained, true justice will likely never be served in this case. The problem is not a few rotten apples, the problem is systemic. The families of these 43 presumably dead students are mostly farmers, earning approximately $10 dollars a day. This week, an investigation by Mexican media shed light on a $7 million mansion in one of the wealthiest districts of Mexico City which reportedly belongs to President Enrique Peña Nieto.


Denying or at least, ignoring any conflict of interest, the president’s spokesman quickly announced the house belonged to his wife, First Lady Angelica Rivera. She purchased the property with her own money which she earned during her acting career, the spokesman said.

Yet the exorbitant sum would put a former Mexican soap opera star above the purchasing power of some of Hollywood’s crème de la crème.


The lack of definitive answers,  and above all, a lack of leadership now haunts Peña Nieto’s image. This crisis cannot be avoided and this is what the president appeared to be trying to do when he left Mexico for China over the weekend. In his absence, protesters set fire to the door of the Mexican National Palace in the main square of the capital.

Peña Nieto’s handling of the crisis is not calming social anger over the case and instead seems to be exacerbating it. He has acted defensively rather than admit it is time to bring about change.


The president and his aides want to project the violence-ridden state of Guerrero as an exception. This is true to an extent. Mexico is a complex nation and not everything is black or white. But to know Guerrero is also to know the brutal reality of Mexico: If you are born a poor farmer you quickly learn to keep your head down. The Ayotzinapa students did not comply with this unspoken rule. They believed Mexico had changed. Look what happened to them.

Enrique Acevedo is the anchor of Univision’s late newscast, he writes about Mexico, the drug war and immigration.

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