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Mexico’s attorney general said Wednesday that a Guerrero state mayor and his wife were the “probable masterminds” of a Sept 26. police crackdown on protesters in the town of Iguala that resulted in the disappearance of dozens of students. He added that arrest warrants had been issued for the couple.
Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam’s remarks came as tens of thousands of Mexicans marched through Mexico City and other cities in protest of the student disappearances. Activists in Iguala, meanwhile, set fire to the town’s city hall amid escalating national protests calling for the students’ safe return.
“They took them away alive. We want them back alive,” protesters chanted as they marched.
In Mexico City, Murillo said that Sidronio Casarrubias, a leader of the criminal group Guerreros Unidos captured last week, accused Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, of giving orders to stop the student demonstrations because of a planned political event that Pineda did not want interrupted.
Mexico analysts have blamed government officials and police of strong ties with criminal organizations in Guerrero state.
“We have issued warrants for the arrest of Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca, his wife, Mrs. Pineda Villa, and police chief Felipe Flores Velázquez, as probable masterminds of the events that occurred in Iguala on Sept. 26,” Murillo said. Both Abarca and Pineda went into hiding soon after the incident.
On Sept. 26, students from Ayotzinapa Normal School, a rural teachers training center that caters to poor and indigenous people, were protesting government reforms they say will make it harder for those on low incomes to afford an education. Shortly afterward, police officials opened fire on the protesters. Six people were killed, including three students, and 43 more went missing in a bout of violence that has shaken Mexico.
Carlos Pérez, a 20-year-old student from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, told Al Jazeera that students were defending their rights to a free education.
“The rural (Normal) schools have a long history of social struggle … and because of that they have faced a lot of harassment, repression, murder — especially in the state of Guerrero,” Pérez said.
A series of mass graves were discovered near Iguala after the student disappearances. Mexican authorities say the remains do not belong to any of the missing students. But an Argentinian forensics team, brought in to help examine the mass graves, cast doubt on that claim on Thursday, according to local media reports. The Argentinian group said it could not rule out that the remains include some missing students because the Mexican federal government did not follow proper protocol in its initial examination of the grave.
Local residents said they had regularly seen trucks driving in the mountains outside of Iguala over past years. They described the entire area as a graveyard.
Violence and impunity
On Wednesday, Mexican Catholic priest and human rights champion Alejandro Solalinde told the news website Aristegui Noticias that Guerrero’s governor, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, was well aware of the links between the fugitive mayor and criminal groups. Based on interviews with witnesses, Solalinde said he believed the students had been killed and some burned alive.
“It is no coincidence what happened to the youth,” Solalinde said. “It is a clear trend of repression that has occurred in many areas. The governor knew that the mayor was involved with drug trafficking … he also knows how these young people were killed.”
Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states, has been especially hard hit by drug violence and corrupt local governments in recent decades. That turmoil has resulted in the proliferation of self-defense, or vigilante, groups fed up with narco-violence.
Pérez, of the Ayotzinapa teachers college, said that Guerrero governor Aguirre had a history of repressing social groups. He said that systematic murders, extra-judicial killings, and torture take place with impunity in Guerrero state.
“Social leaders have been arrested, as well as self-defense group members,” said Pérez said. “Unfortunately, the state will always try to criminalize social organizations, and will bribe the media to discredit the student’s social protests.”
The Inter-University Assembly, a Mexico City-based student organization that has led protests against government education reform, said that federal security forces systematically harass students and teachers who organize against government policies.
“The multifaceted repression by the state at different levels of representation has intensified,” the group said in a statement. “The latest example of this is the slaughter by the Mexican narco-state of our fellow Ayotzinapa students.”