This article was also published in The Water Tower.
You should have heard by now, but if you haven’t, it’s not your fault.
On September 26th, 43 students at a teaching college in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state boarded a bus to the state capital Iguala, where they planned to join a remembrance demonstration for the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre of student protesters in Mexico City. The gathering was to be nonviolent yet critical towards the Mexican government and President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Many Mexicans feel their government has failed to invest in the country’s youth and, in an attempt to shift national and global focus towards their economy, has almost completely ignored the violent insurgency of drug cartels that has grown worse and worse over the past decade. These 43 students, from a university well known for Marxism and social protest, were ready to be heard.
The city of Iguala’s First Lady, María de los Ángeles Pineda, planned to speak at the event, and expected it to go smoothly. Ms. de los Ángeles is a connected woman, as many Mexican public officials are, and not just through her mayoral husband. He was good for getting the police involved, but her brother, a senior member of the Guerreros Unidos gang, would do the heavy lifting.
Unaware of what was in store, the bus of students sped on.
Their journey would be cut short. Arriving in Iguala, they were immediately confronted by police. A few students were beaten, and all 43 were arrested and driven out of town, where they were handed over to the Guerreros Unidos.
At home, mothers wrung their hands. One day later, three days, a week, and still no word from their children. And it took about that long for the national government to step in and begin an investigation.
Federal police began scouring the region for any trace of 43 young adults who had essentially disappeared. Meanwhile, the mayor and his wife fled.
Officials soon discovered a mass grave; bones and body parts of over 20 people in a tangled pit. But these turned out to be victims of some other massacre. They kept looking.
Friends and family of the 43 missing marched in Mexico City, demanding answers, which even the President’s personal condolences and promises to each family could not fulfill. All grieved. Some rioted, lighting a fire at the National Palace.
Officials eventually found not a grave, but a dump. The students had been incinerated; it was difficult to determine whether dead or alive. The scorched ash was only identifiable by the few remaining teeth strewn about.
Over the decades, many Mexicans have grown thick skin for this breed of heinous crime and are rarely shocked to find the government has a hand in it. They call it the narco-state for a reason. But they also admit that this recent massacre has struck a nerve in the country, perhaps because the victims were education students, perhaps due to the scale of the killing or the blatant gang-government ties. People are hurt, and their anger isn’t subsiding any time soon. So why is it not your fault if you’re just now learning about this? Because the American mass media (which is to say, American government and corporate interests) doesn’t care about Mexicans until they show up at our borders.
Our media has systematically excluded Mexican and Latin American affairs because they are something the U.S. could be involved in but chooses to ignore. Better to talk about Syria, Somalia, Ukraine, these unstable states that we’re working to secure; they’re far away, but we promise we have the situation under control.
Parts of Mexico bear all the signs of a failed state and could become a journalistic firestorm. But America’s stake in Mexican violence—and its lack of effort to quell it—give the government every reason place some calls, kill some stories, and turn our heads to the east.
But if Mexico keeps bubbling, we may find ourselves facing south anyway.