At what point did we become desensitized to the shocking news that the bodies of three murdered students had been dissolved in acid? When did we stop searching for the 43 missing college students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, who disappeared after being kidnapped? When did it become normal for more than 100,000 people to lose their lives to violence in a six-year presidential term?
And why is nobody doing anything about any of this in Mexico?
Javier Salomón Aceves Gastélum, Jesús Daniel Díaz García and Marco García Ávalos, three students attending film school in Guadalajara, disappeared March 19 while working on a school project. They were filming at a house in the village of Tonalá for a documentary they were making. Presumably, the house belonged to a drug kingpin and one of the students was mistaken for a rival, according to the attorney general’s office in the state of Jalisco. It is believed they were kidnapped and tortured by members of a drug cartel; their backs and buttocks had been beaten with wooden boards, and they were choked with ropes. Later, their bodies were dissolved in barrels of sulfuric acid so that any trace of them would be eliminated. They were identified through bloodstains that remained at the scene.
It gives me chills to write about this.
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro followed the case closely after the three students disappeared, and when he found out about their deaths, he tweeted: “There are no words to comprehend the magnitude of this madness. Three students are killed and dissolved in acid. The ‘why’ is unthinkable, and the ‘how’ is terrifying.”
We Mexicans have gotten accustomed to this sort of terror. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. Only in Mexico can one find such a horrifying mix of extreme violence, corruption, absolute impunity and an inability of the government to prevent any of it.
I’m quite sure that had three students been brutally murdered in any other nation, officials and the public would be focused on the case until the perpetrators were found, and politicians would be held to account for the crime, from the governor to the president. Yet in Mexico, life goes on unchanged.
President Enrique Peña Nieto was in Germany when the fate of the students was announced, yet there were no demonstrations when he returned. And I recently saw Aristóteles Sandoval, the governor of Jalisco, on TV detailing his alleged achievements in fighting crime. The fact is neither of them have done anything substantial that would have prevented the murder of three students working on a school project.
This is where we are today: There have been 104,000 homicides in Mexico during Peña Nieto’s tenure, making this the most violent period in Mexico’s modern history. Because of this and other failures, Peña Nieto will be remembered as one of Mexico’s worst and most unfit presidents. The important question now is how his replacement will tackle endemic violence.
I paid close attention to Mexico’s most recent presidential debate ahead of the July election and didn’t see a sense of urgency on the part of the five candidates with regard to preventing the killing of more Mexicans. This has to be the top priority for the nation’s next leader.
I would like to see the candidates participate in a debate focused solely on crime and corruption. Mexico needs to reach a national consensus about tackling violence, regardless of partisan differences. If the number of dead and missing doesn’t fall sharply at the beginning of the next administration ? and if a real fight against the many corrupt officials already in office doesn’t start soon ? the next president will be quickly seen as a failure. We can’t afford another lost and deadly six-year presidential term like Peña Nieto’s. Nor can we let ourselves become accustomed to the horror the country is seeing.
Thinking that the only people being killed in Mexico are either criminals or drug dealers is completely wrongheaded. Javier, Jesús and Marco weren’t criminals, nor were the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.
We must start to face the fact that strategies put in place to combat violence and corruption in Mexico over the last 12 years have been futile. Yes, the past two unfit administrations have refused to change their failing strategies, but we are also to blame. We let President Felipe Calderón and Peña Nieto make one mistake after another. We never made them uncomfortable enough to change their course. Their position as president was never at risk, and they kept leading us into the abyss.
Mexico is going through a period of absolute horror. Acknowledging that fact is a starting point to turning things around.