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Massive protest over 43 missing students rocks Mexico City

Clashes broke out between protesters and police officers on Thursday night, as tens of thousands gathered in front of Mexico City’s National Palace in support of families and friends of the 43 students abducted by police in Iguala, in the state of Guerrero on Sept. 26.

On a day normally marked by reverent remembrances of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, various marches led by parents and families of the missing students started at different points of the city around 4 p.m. and made their way toward the Zócalo, the city’s central square.

As thousands converged on the Zócalo, the demonstration remained mostly peaceful, but one group of protesters clashed with police when they attempted to block off the city’s international airport.

“We left Guerrero at midnight yesterday and arrived early this morning,” said Bruno Calixto Rios, 54, who came on board of a bus, followed by another 20 vehicles, he said, to avoid being stopped on the road by authorities. “What we’re trying to do here is peaceful,” said this teacher, accompanied by three other professors, “but people are getting tired.”

At around 8.30pm, a small number of hooded individuals in the Zócalo started throwing Molotov cocktails toward the police forces guarding the palace. Federal police were called in as backup.

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Anger toward the authorities has been rising among the people ever since the disappearance and probable massacre of the 43 students from a teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, a small town in Guerrero.

It has been further aggravated by a string of new scandals, among them the discovery that a $7 million house belonging to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera, was registered under the name of a company owned by Juan Armando Hinojosa - a businessman close to the president whose company won multiple multimillion-dollar contracts in the state of Mexico while Peña Nieto was its governor.

It turns out that Rivera, a former soap opera star, already owned two neighboring houses, which had been given to her as a gift by her former employer – the powerful Mexican TV network Televisa – 17 days after her wedding with the then-governor.

“This is a disgrace!” José Martínez, a teacher in a small indigenous town in the southern state of Oaxaca, told Fox News Latino. “Televisa gives her a house, what about us!”
Despite being much larger than any demonstration organized so far in solidarity with the Ayotzinapa students, in many ways yesterday’s protest resembled its predecessors: largely peaceful and restrained.

Even the demonstrators themselves were watchful that events did not turn violent.

As a group of hooded men carrying wooden poles with nails and police riot gear joined one of the marches headed toward the National Palace, protesters from all over shouted at them, “No violence! No hoods!”

The leader of the small group of masked demonstrators, who was behind the wheel of a red pick-up truck, grabbed a microphone and tried to calm the bystanders.

“We are not trouble-makers,” the man said, half of his face hidden behind a scarf. “We are teachers from Guerrero. There, we are persecuted for being social fighters.”

The crowd grew silent again and began to clap in support.

Groups of varying sizes – from a handful to the thousands – kept flowing to the main square . As federal police started filling in one corner of the Zócalo, one of the largest city squares in the world, new people could still be seen walking in on the other side.
Federal police started clearing the square, facing off against a minority of rioters throwing at them anything they could get their hands on, including Molotov cocktails and garbage. Several journalists also reported having had their camera lenses damaged with paint and water, a sign of the rioters’ dislike of being recorded. 

By about 10.30 p.m., the federal forces had successfully pushed the protesters out of the Zócalo.

According to initial reports in EFE, the day’s tally was just two people injured and 15 arrested.

Diane Jeantet is a freelance reporter in Mexico City.

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