MOSCOW, October 8 (RIA Novosti) – The disappearance of protesting students and the discovery of mass graves near Iguala, Guerrero, are most likely linked to the high level of police corruption, gang violence and general impunity, Tony Payan, the director of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, said in an interview with Radio VR.
“It is yet unknown what happened to the students”, Prof.Payan said on the phone from Houston, only 1.000 miles away from the affected by gang violence town of Iguala, Mexico, where several dozens of students are suspected to have been killed for their protest activity for the rights of rural teachers. “It seems to me that one of the gangs, ‘Guerreros Unidos’, led by the brother-in-law of the mayor of Iguala is involved, and it seems that police in Iguala, Guerrero, acted as an armed branch of this group. When the mayor was faced with these protests, he might have said “Quiet them down as best as you can, wipe them off the streets, do something”. And, of course, these groups plus the police force, dozens of them are under detention now, they might have thought that was equivalent to an order to get rid of them. And so they kidnapped them and they took them out to the rural area and then killed them and buried them in shallow graves”.
Prof.Payan notes teverything at this point is mere speculation, as nothing has been confirmed to show that the mass graves found near Iguala are the actual burial site of the murdered protester students. However, the high level of criminal activity and corruption of the region suggests that this is most likely the case.
“One of the things that happened after Calderon administration went very hard against the large cartels is that organized crime in Mexico became pulverized; there are now hundreds of small criminal groups operating in Mexico instead of the very large four cartels that used to operate. States like Guerrero were places were many other groups emerged, one of them called ‘Guerreros Unidos’, and another group called ‘Reds’, are operating. The fight between the two groups is directly linked to the mayor of Iguala. Obviously they kidnapped those students, and it is still to be proven that the bodies found are the bodies of the students kidnapped, but it appears they are going to be“, the expert says.
In the past few days the Mexican military has taken over control of the region.“Initial deployment of the military happened because the government said that the municipal forces and the state police forces could not be trusted as they have been penetrated by the criminal groups. This is tragic because out of half a million cops in Mexico 400.000, a full 80%, cannot be trusted. Many of the police units were disbanded, and the military took control for them in hopes that it would be cleaned out and redeployed as a clean police force. That has not yet happened”, Prof.Payan says.
At the same time, “deploying the military can have an adverse effect on the justice system”, the expert notes. “The military personnel do not know much about the human rights and the constitutional rights. In June they surrounded a group of 21 alleged gang members in a town in state of Mexico, which is home state to President Pena Nieto, he used to be a governor there, and they killed all of them there, they called them ‘dogs’ and said they did not deserve to live. These guys were supposed to get arrested and processes, but the military just killed them there“.
As for the possible reasons behind such bloodthirsty behavior of the mayor of Iguala, Prof. Payan says that “they thought that was going to be a very local matter, they thought they could get rid of these students as these are all small towns. There are shootings in the state of Chihuahua and nobody talks about that, there are trucks full of dead bodies that come from the mountains; there are mass graves in the states of Tamaulipas and Coahuila. Very often they get away with it”.
The expert suggests that this is because “levels of impunity in Mexico are very high, only 2% of crimes are resolved. Most crime in Mexico goes unreported, the police is not trusted anywhere, and I think President Pena sent the wrong message. Where President Calderon tried to make public security a priority, President Pena concentrated on education, labor and energy reforms. This may have been takes by organized crime as “Okay, the ‘War on Drugs’ is over, we can now operate with an even greater impunity than in the past”, and I think this is a strategic mistake of the current President”. The prospects of an official investigation Prof. Payan estimates as rather gloomy. “The ideal is that the investigation will take place. Unfortunately, I think, this will be forgotten, we’ll never find out who it was, and that is a very likely scenario”.
Gang activity has been rife, making Mexico extremely dangerous recently and Prof.Payan outlined the factors. “The Gulf cartel is still there, disintegrating but still there, the Sinaloa cartel which is a federation of drug traffickers, is still there and is probably the big winner of the ‘War on Drugs’, and then you have the Tijuana cartel and the Juarez cartel, which are severely weakened, and then you have ‘Los Zetas’ which are splinter group from the Gulf cartel, and you have ‘La Familia Michoacána’, and then you have many other cartels among which are these two in Guerrero that appear to be involved in the disappearance of the students in Iguala”, the expert says.
“We are having the effect similar to what happened with Al-Qaeda”, Prof.Payan suggests. “What used to be highly hierarchical, pyramidal, very structured large organization, and then upon the pounding of the government they became essentially pulverized, separated from one another, their top leaders were arrested, and their lieutenants established local cells independently from one another and are now operating in cities throughout Mexico. They are dedicated to kidnapping for ransom, to extortion of businesses and stealing oil and fuels and mining and logging and other illegal businesses”.
“They are even more dangerous, as they are not dedicated to only pushing drugs in the United States. You could call it a civil war, certainly in some states it looks like it, in Guerrero, in Michoacán, in Tamaulipas, Chihuahua is another one. And there are very safe states like Queretaro, or Yucatan, these are places where nothing is really happening, these groups are not operating there and the police is relatively clean and efficient”.
The brutal mass murder in Iguala has drawn international attention after the local police attacked a group of students, which resulted in six people dead. Local media report 43 students disappeared after being detained by the police and some of them were later found dead with signs of torture. The most shocking news came on 5 October when a mass burial site containing 28 burnt bodies was discovered in the vicinity of Iguala. 22 local police have been arrested on suspicion of involvement, speculated to be carried out by the local cartel under the direct order of Jose Luis Abarca, the mayor of Iguala.