Narcopolitics and the Failed State: 43 Missing Students, a Narco Mayor and an Institutional Fiasco

It is September 26, 2014, and once again Mexico will soon fill the headlines of news outlets worldwide: 43 college students from a rural community in the state of Guerrero went missing. The immediate thought that come to the minds of many is the long repeated story and state-logic that frames these kinds of events under one and only rubric: the narco.

With that word in the horizon, Mexicans are slowly losing the capacity for surprise and concern. It may just be another narco-disappearance or execution among gangs, another one among thousands of tragedies that become the bread of every day. Perhap, this is why the news of the missing students got stronger momentum among the international media at first: the New York Times, the Guardian, Vice, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, the BBC.

Who are those students? Why did they go missing? What are the authorities doing about it and why they haven’t found them yet? Who is it to blame? When is Justice going to be effected? What does the word justice mean in a context of blood, corruption, drugs and violence? What may sound like a B-rated American western film, is a real-time tragedy of immense proportions for many parents and others.

The rural teaching university of Ayotzinapa, known and respected for its activism towards social causes, is the Alma Matter of the 43 students who were part of a larger group protesting in the nearby town of Iguala for improved educational conditions. At that very same time, Iguala’s mayor, José Luis Albarca, and his wife were hosting a dinner with the local elite to announce the wife’s intention of running for office. It is widely known that the wife’s siblings were part of the infamous Beltran Leyva cartel.

An inevitable police clash lead to the immediate death of 6 individuals, among students and bystanders, and the clouded disappearance of 43 students. These are the facts.

Fact is also that the local police was the one transporting the students to an unknown location in compliance with the Guerreros Unidos gang. Fact is that Mayor Albarca had been linked before to the murder of a local politician and had raised several eyebrows after accounts of his sudden inexplicable fortune. Fact is that state and federal government and authorities let Albarca and his wife flee several hours after the massive clash was reported in the news. Fact is that to date, there’s no compelling evidence of where the students may be. Fact is that no one in the political sphere has taken any kind of responsibility for the inability to provide answers to the countless questions that civil society is demanding; fact is that history repeats itself over and over in a country accustomed to extreme levels of violence and endemic corruption.

In spite of the growing national rage shown in massive protests in different parts of the country, side by side with a global outcry for the horrendous crimes, answers are yet to be formulated. One may understand this conjuncture in the context of Mexico’s war on drugs, impunity and the failed state.

The main strategy pursued by former president Calderón and continued by President Peña Nieto is characterized by an ongoing US-supported militarization campaign of strengthening Mexico’s armed forces within a broken social tissue. The policies associated with this strategy have produced thousands of human rights violations, the overall criminalization of social movements, unions and activists – including students from all walks of life.

In what other country of the world can 43 college kids be kidnapped by police forces and life continue its political, economical and social course as if the kidnapping were nothing more than a dark anecdote for an after table conversation at a dinner party? This is the Mexico of today: a failed state highjacked by a narcopolitical elite whose corruption and impunity are entrenched to its core.

Yet, there is another Mexico that fights to thrive and move beyond this permanent state of violence. This is the Mexico of the civil society that it is on the streets today demanding justice. This is also a fact, and it remains to be seen whether the effects of this renewed activism and sense of citizenship will have an impact upon the future of governance and institutions in the extremely weakened southern neighbor.