Mexico president forced to act over 43 missing students, corruption

President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico

President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico

President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico
President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico

Two months after 43 students vanished in the night, change is afoot in Mexico: protests have swept the nation, sounding a wake-up call for the president to finally tackle corruption and police brutality.

Facing the biggest crisis of his two-year-old administration, President Enrique Pena Nieto will announce Thursday a new strategy to tackle the country’s dysfunctional justice system.

The national soul-searching began in September after police in the southern state of Guerrero attacked busloads of college students, abducted 43 young men and handed them over to drug gang members.

The gang members later said they had killed the captives.

The government, Pena Nieto said Tuesday, must take “profound actions that require a collective effort from Congress and society to find the best path” to avoid a repetition.

The case has become a tragic example of collusion between criminals and corrupt officials in a drug war that has left tens of thousands of people dead since 2006.

In the Iguala case, the mayor is accused of having unleashed the police on the students over fears they would protest a speech by his wife, who prosecutors say has links to a drug cartel.

“This has sparked a civil awakening,” said Jorge Hernandez, a political analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“The political class is under scrutiny. The country has come face-to-face with the raw reality that many didn’t want to see.”

The case has also rocked Mexico’s main leftist party, the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), because Iguala’s mayor was a member. The PRD’s founder, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, quit the party late Tuesday due to infighting over how to regain the trust of Mexicans.

– Escape strategy –

After focusing his presidency on internationally-acclaimed economic reforms, Pena Nieto must now confront the country’s security failures.

Legislators said Pena Nieto will unveil plans to put the country’s notoriously inept and sometimes gang-infiltrated municipal police forces under federal control.

The centrist leader will also create a national commission to oversee the judicial reforms and push for passage of a national anti-corruption law that has been stuck in Congress.

“Until now, the president has not had a coherent response to the crisis, and he must find an escape strategy, handling what he has not handled so far: corruption and violence,” security expert Alejandro Hope told AFP.

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Highlighting the depth of the problem, the non-governmental organization Common Cause released a report Monday showing that 42,214 federal, state and municipal police staff are still working despite failing a vetting process aimed a purging the corrupt.

When he took office in December 2012, Pena Nieto vowed to reduce the everyday violence besetting the country.

But he maintained the controversial militarized strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who deployed 50,000 troops against the drug cartels in 2006.

Pena Nieto launched a crime prevention program, which officials acknowledged will take years to show results, and created a 5,000-strong militarized police force, the gendarmerie.

The presumed massacre of the 43 aspiring teachers was the last straw for many Mexicans.

Protesters have been demanding Pena Nieto’s resignation.

Students from the missing young men’s Ayotzinapa teacher-training college have given Pena Nieto until December 1, the anniversary of his presidency, to step down.

Pena Nieto has accused violent protesters of trying to destabilize the country and derail his economic reforms.

– A new script –

“The government is dumbstruck,” said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political science professor at Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

“This should be a turning point to enact deeper measures against corruption, whether the entire political class accepts it, wants it, or not,” he argued.

Milenio newspaper columnist Ciro Gomez Leyva warned that Pena Nieto “will not get a second chance.”

Before the Iguala case, Pena Nieto had insisted that his crime strategy was making progress, citing statistics showing a drop in the country’s murder rate.

“He is the first TV-president of Mexico,” novelist Juan Villoro wrote in Reforma newspaper, referring to the telegenic leader married to a former soap opera star.

“His reforms offered a new national soap opera. But reality has come back to haunt him.”

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