The arrests of a Mexican mayor and his wife, suspected of ordering the disappearance of 43 college students over a month ago in Guerrero state, did nothing to ebb a wave of protesters from paralyzing cities across the country this week as they demand the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto do more to find the missing students.
Tens of thousands of people marched down Mexico City’s main boulevard toward the Zócalo plaza, carrying Mexican flags and counting aloud from from one to 43 to commemorate the missing. While a popular chant in recent weeks — "They took them away alive, and we want them back alive" — could be heard throughout Wednesday’s march, this time another proclamation reverberated amid the crowds: “Peña Nieto, get out!”
“The disappearance of the students has detonated all the accumulated pain of the thousands of disappeared people in this country,” said Camila Bernal, a 19-year-old Chilean communications student at Mexico's National Autonomous University.
In Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, groups of protesters angry about the government's inability to find the missing used hijacked trucks to block all three highways leading into the city for several hours.
The missing students, enrolled at a rural teachers college in Guerrero, were taken away by police after a confrontation in the city of Iguala on Sept. 26, allegedly on the orders of the town’s former mayor, José Luis Abarca , and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda. The two have ties to a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, according to Mexican authorities. Prosecutors say the missing students were handed to the gang. Some Guerreros Unidos members claimed to have killed the youths, but despite a widespread search, authorities have been unable to find any sign of the students. Abarca and Pineda, dubbed “The Imperial Couple” by Mexican media, were arrested in Mexico City on Tuesday after being on the run for more than a month.
Federal authorities have uncovered mass graves and the remains of 38 people during the search for the students, but none of the corpses has been identified as one of the missing youths. Besides Tuesday's arrests, at least 56 other people have been taken into custody.
President Peña Nieto has yet to visit Iguala. He has been widely criticized for his tepid reaction to the disappearances, the biggest crisis he has faced since taking power two years ago. At that time, Peña Nieto vowed to shift attention away from violence and toward economic reforms he is pushing through congress. But public outrage over his response threatens to upend his agenda and weaken his administration.
Wednesday’s protests, organized by Mexico City’s three largest universities, had been scheduled to start in front of Los Pinos, Mexico’s presidential palace. But a strong police presence there forced protesters to begin marching at a nearby park. Along the march, headed by parents of the missing students, protestors yelled out in solidarity with the parents: “We are with you.”
María Elena Ibarra, 46, told Mexican news site Sin Embargo that she was protesting because she is “outraged, as a mother, student and citizen.” During the march, Ibarra carried a banner that read: “Because I have children, and I worry when they leave the house. Out with the government!”
With news services