National strike in Mexico to show strength of unrest over missing students

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“The fight goes on!,” a few hundred people shouted Monday night in front of Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts, expressing solidarity with the 43 students who disappeared on Sept. 26 in Iguala, small town in the troubled state of Guerrero.

The people had gathered to welcome and watch the school friends of the missing students perform as a marching band before heading back to Guerrero the following day.

In the capital city, people were gearing up ahead of Thursday’s national strike, the first of its kind since the alleged abduction and probable massacre of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college. Several organizations have called for a massive protest on the day members of the families of the disappeared students, who have been touring the country to voice their message, arrive at their final destination, Mexico City.

Protests have mushroomed on a near daily basis all over the country in the past two months, but Thursday’s planned action will help gauge whether the movement is losing strength or gaining new supporters. So far, students and family members have been at the forefront of the movement, and it isn’t certain whether Mexico’s working class, for instance, will answer the call to join in for a mass strike.

Families Challenge the Official Theory

The disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, all but one of whom were in their first of a four-year program to become teachers, is not an isolated case in Mexico.

Officially, more than 29,000 have disappeared since January 2006. The official figure has been repeatedly questioned by local and international groups for omitting cases.

But anger among the population has escalated since the announcement on Nov. 7 that the charred remains of bones found in a mass grave were likely to belong to the disappeared students. Mexico’s federal prosecutor, Jesús Murillo Karam, revealed gruesome details about how members of a local organized crime group that goes by the name of Guerreros Unidos, or “United Warriors,” had allegedly killed, then burnt their victims.

Local police officers from the neighboring municipalities of Iguala and Cocula had previously joined forces to arrest and hand over the young adults to the crime group, to prevent them from disturbing a meeting held by the mayor’s wife.

According to Murillo Karam, the mayor’s office had been channeling every month or so between 2 and 3 million pesos ($147,500 to $221,200) to the group – a portion of which was used to top off the salaries of police officers.

But the students’ family members don’t accept the official theory, contesting at turns the feasibility of the mass killing or the lack of testifying witnesses – the prosecutor only cited three. They have been calling for more peaceful protests until their kids are handed over to them “alive.”

The prosecutor’s office has sent the forensic evidence to be analyzed by an independent forensic firm in Austria, and is awaiting the results.

New Scandals

In the meantime, fresh scandals involving politicians, high-flying businessmen and authorities have added fuel to the fire.

An investigation by a well-known Mexican reporter, Carmen Aristegui, published a day after Murillo Karam’s press conference, revealed that the house of President Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife is registered under the name of a subsidiary firm of Grupo Higa, which won contracts worth billions of dollars when Peña Nieto was still governor of the state of Mexico.

More recently, Grupo Higa, led by a businessman close to the president, was also part of a consortium that, as the only bidder, won a contract to build a high speed train from Mexico City to Querétaro in central Mexico worth about $4 billion.

In a surprise announcement three days before Aristegui’s article appeared, the contract was canceled by Peña Nieto, who called for a more transparent process.

The president’s wife, Angélica Rivera, a former telenovela star, said late on Tuesday that she had decided to sell the house in order to not allow the scandal to “put in doubt my honor.”

Earlier this week, a student was shot in the leg by a police officer on the campus of Mexico City’s prestigious UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), aggravating feelings of discontent among the student body.

The Mexican magazine Proceso, related earlier this month events eerily similar to those in Iguala having taken place in the neighboring state of Oaxaca. A small-town mayor gave the order to shoot at locals who were protesting against his administration.

At least 17 people were injured, the article said, including children and women. The mayor has managed to escape.

A series of unrelated events, some argue, but ones that have strengthened criticism of Peña Nieto’s administration, which is keen on economic and energy-sector reforms but which has turned its back entirely on early promises to deal with Mexico’s long-standing problems of injustice, corruption and impunity for those in power.