Story originally published at
Update: This story was also featured on The Takeaway with John Hockenberry, a co-production of WNYC, the BBC World Service, and the New York Times.
Mexico has marked the 104th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. This year, the day was transformed into a platform for nationwide protests. Anguish is mounting over the government’s response to the murders of 43 college students in September.
A mayor in central Mexico, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda, and police are accused in the crime. Several analysts maintain that Mexico is in turmoil now, that a society seen to be historically passive in the face of crime driven by the narco-political nexus in the country is incensed in a way that hasn’t been seen in generations.
It’s not just the crime itself that’s roiling Mexico. It’s the perception that the government’s reaction was slow. It took a month before the arrest of the mayor, the politician who allegedly orchestrated the deaths of 43 students.
Specifically, Abarca is accused of ordering police to clash with the students to stop them from disrupting a public speech by his wife, de los Angeles Pineda.
She is a suspected cartel operative who has lost two brothers in recent years in alleged settling of scores within the Mexican underworld. She is also under arrest in connection with the slaughter in Iguala.
Witnesses claim students were placed in police cars, then handed over to a cartel. Surviving students charge the army stood by knowing a massacre was taking place.
But prior to the mass abductions, police opened fire on a bus carrying some of the students. Six people died.
This isn’t the first time the mayor has been implicated in murder.
In 2013, agronomist Arturo Hernandez had a public altercation with the mayor, accusing him of stealing fertilizer meant to be used by private citizens.
Here’s an account of the crime from McClatchy reporter Tim Johnson:
On May 30, 2013, two SUVs filled with armed men intercepted Hernandez and seven others. They were taken to a rural site, beaten and whipped with barbed wire, according to the testimony of a survivor, Nicolas Mendoza Villa. The next day, Mendoza said, the mayor and public security chief showed up.
“Why are you f—ing around talking about fertilizer? I’m going to have the pleasure of killing you,” the testimony said the mayor told the agronomist, before shooting him in the face and chest. Two others were killed, as well. The others escaped on a subsequent day.
Across Chihuahua, a border state numbed by narco-violence, Revolution Day this year was different. There was patriotic nostalgia. But there was also revulsion given the accusations of collusion between a mayor, his wife and the police.
Jose Grijalda is an insurance salesman in the city of Ojinaga. He’s a 35-year-old father and a shining example of Mexico’s emerging middle class; self-made, well educated and extremely patriotic.
“Before it was, ‘Oh the narcos are doing this, we have the government. You know the government’s going to do something about it,'” Grijalda said.
“Now we realize they’re not going to do anything about it.”
He said the slaughter shows that, “Mexicans have been put against the wall.”
“One side is government. The other side is the narcos,” he said. “And on the other side is our army. And we don’t know where to go now.”
In June, the Mexican army’s already challenged reputation took a severe hit. Members of an army patrol are accused of killing 22 suspected criminals, most of whom were killed after they had surrendered.
Across Mexico, the murders have compromised President Enrique Peña Nieto’s claims that Mexico has become safer since he took the helm two years ago.
Translated that means “it was the state.” It’s a reference to the mayor’s alleged role in the murders, the police participation and the apathy of the army, all agents of the state.
There’s no indication that corruption in Iguala went beyond the local level, but protesters still blame the Mexican government as an institution for its response to the murders.
But there is mounting anger about corruption allegations in connection with a multimillion dollar home in a wealthy neighborhood of Mexico City that Mexican First Lady Angelica Rivera, a famous star of soap operas known as telenovelas, was buying.
The mansion is owned by a construction firm that has been awarded government contracts. Rivera said she had planned to pay for the house with money she’s earned over the course of a successful acting career.
But she has reversed course. She now says she’ll sell the home.
Maria Armendáriz speaks for Chihuahua Governor César Duarte, a member of the PRI party and a close ally of Enrique Peña Nieto, also from the PRI.
In 2010, two of Duarte’s relatives were murdered. Duarte was governor-elect at the time. He won the position less than a week after his PRI party’s gubernatorial candidate in the state of Tamaulipas was shot to death.
“This is an aberration,” she said in Spanish while watching a parade as the border city of Ojinaga celebrated Día de la Revolución.
She skirted repeated questions about how Mexico can neutralize the corrosive infiltration of organized crime in politics and law enforcement.
On the street, 23-year-old Salvador Vasquez said there’s a profound disconnect between Mexicans and their leaders.
“I think for the first time in so many years, we all Mexicans are united. And this is not going to go away like other movements,” he said. “That’s a big thing because it’s not very easy to get a Mexican angry and united. And now we are.”
Vasquez said the Iguala murders symbolize injustice, pain and fear felt by Mexican society at large.
He framed the disdain many Mexicans now have for their leaders.
“When you can gave a mayor colluding with organized crime to kill 43 people, it’s really discredited the political class in Mexico,” Selee said.
“There’s this sense of loss of faith overall in politicians and the political class,” he said. “And part of the rage you see on the streets and the anger you in all sectors Mexican society is really the sense of being betrayed by their political leaders.”
Selee said the challenge before Mexico’s leaders also represents an opportunity to decouple politics, law enforcement and organized crime.
He said that as protests unfolded in Mexico City and crowds marched for justice and political and legal reform.