Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met for the first time Wednesday with families of 43 students who went missing over one month ago after clashing with police during a protest in Mexico's Guerrero state.
Peña Nieto met with about 120 relatives and representatives of the missing students from Ayotzinapa Normal School — a teachers training college for the rural poor — in a five-hour meeting he said was meant to "generate an atmosphere of trust."
But the parents dismissed the president’s efforts to find the missing and said their patience was running out.
"We came away with the same news — that the state is doing everything it can to find them. But we are still empty-handed," said Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval, the father of one of the missing students. "We're not going to believe the president's words and the pledges he made until the 43 students are presented to us alive," one of the fathers, Felipe de la Cruz, told a news conference late on Wednesday after meeting Pena Nieto.
Local police in Iguala, in Guerrero state, killed three students and three bystanders during protests on Sept. 26. Days later, dozens of police officers were detained after the leader of Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang, confessed that police handed over some of the missing students to the group and ordered their executions.
The case has shocked Mexico, with tens of thousands protesting across the country. University students — who have protested the same education reforms as the missing students — have called strikes in solidarity with the missing students.
Before meeting the relatives, Peña Nieto made a televised address in which he promised to increase efforts to find the missing youths.
"There will not be the slightest room for impunity," the president said. "We must apply the law whoever it affects."
Peña Nieto, though, has been roundly criticized in Mexico for his response to the disappearances. Critics point out that he has yet to visit Iguala and that it took him more than a month to meet with the students’ relatives. Public outrage over the violence now threatens to upend his administration’s agenda, so far focused primarily on carrying out sweeping economic reforms.
Mass graves recently discovered near Iguala do not include remains of the missing students, according to Mexican authorities. But an Argentinian forensics team, invited by Mexican officials to help examine the graves, cast doubt on that claim last week. The Argentinian experts said they could not rule out that the remains include some missing students because Mexican forensics specialists did not follow proper protocol in their initial examination of the graves.