Prime Minister Harper’s decision to indefinitely postpone the
North American Leaders’ Summit – better known as the annual
‘Three Amigos’ meeting – likely has a lot to do with his own
electoral calculus. But it also does Mexican President Peña
Nieto a huge favour.
The Canadian media has speculated that Harper delayed the
meeting because of tensions with the US over the Keystone XL
pipeline. But it has ignored how Peña Nieto is currently facing
the biggest political crisis of his administration as a result
of the forced disappearance of 43 students from the rural
teachers’ college “Raul Isidro Burgos” in Ayotzinapa, and the
murder of 6 others, on the night of September 26th in Iguala,
For the last four months, the forced disappearance of the
students from Ayotzinapa
has moved hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to take to the
streets over and over again.
The continuing protests have expressed sadness, not just for
the 6 dead and 43 missing, but for the more than 150,000 dead
and 22,000 missing since the start of the proclaimed war
against organized crime and drug trafficking. ‘Alive they were
taken, alive we want them back’ is the constant refrain, as
demonstrators also express rage at widespread impunity and
corruption in the face of a situation that exposes state
collusion with organized crime in Mexico.
In response to the crisis, Peña Nieto’s government first
waffled about the need for federal involvement in the
investigation in Iguala, and has repeatedly tried to wash its
hands of the situation with callous announcements that the
students are all dead and burned, and their DNA cannot be
But the Mexican government’s explanation, that municipal
police, acting under orders of the local mayor, are entirely
responsible for the forced disappearance of the students and
their delivery to a group of narcos who claim to have burned
them in the Cocula garbage dump, has never been believed by the
surviving students or their parents.
On the contrary, this story is falling apart.
Investigative journalists working with the UC Berkeley’s
Investigative Reporting Program and Proceso magazine
have found that the federal government’s claim that the
municipal police and Iguala mayor are solely to blame for these
disappearances is dubious at best. They report, on the
basis of official documents and testimonies from police, the
mayor, and detainees, that key witnesses were tortured, putting
the federal government’s version in doubt. They also report
that federal police and army officers were tracking the
students’ movements on September 26th, were present at the
scene, and may be directly implicated in the murder and forced
disappearance of the students. However, when investigators
sought to search federal police stations and army barracks for
the students, they were denied entry.
Additionally, Mexican scientists at the National Autonomous
University of Mexico (UNAM) have further determined that
it is impossible that 43 bodies could have been burned at the
Cocula garbage dump given the amount of fuel it would
require. They urge an investigation of private and
This is news that is ‘top of mind’ daily in Mexico right now.
When Peña Nieto visited President Obama in Washington on
January 6th, he could not escape the crisis. The visit was
supposed to address immigration reform and economic issues, but
was overshadowed by public demonstrations and media commentary
about the Ayotzinapa murders and disappearances. Hundreds of
Mexicans from all over the United States, from as far away as
Los Angeles, protested his visit with shouts of ‘assassin.’
Obama also publicly called Ayotzinapa an ‘outrageous tragedy,’
although he fell short of condemning the Mexican government’s
handling and cover up of the case.
In contrast, Harper and his government have not once spoken out
about the horror of what took place on September 26th and the
terrifying conditions that make it possible for 43 students –
and so many others – to be brutally killed or disappeared.
Harper’s silence and the postponed summit are surely welcome
for Peña Nieto. Further to this, the quiet complacency with
which Harper and his government are treating implications of
state collusion with organized crime and armed forces in
torture, forced disapearances, and murder in Mexico avoids
crucial questions over how NAFTA-fuelled Canadian business may
Mexico is the top destination for Canadian mining investment
outside of Canada, with nearly 200 Canadian mining companies
operating in Mexico. This includes
Goldcorp’s highly profitable ‘Los Filos’ open-pit gold
mine, located a short distance from Iguala, Guerrero. Other
companies, such as Minaurum
Gold, Torex Gold,
Capital have interests in the immediate vicinity. How and
at what cost do they operate there when there is currently an
all out war between competing criminal groups for control in
nearly every municipality in Guerrero, whose business has been
shifting to include extortion?
The Canadian government should, at a minimum, join the global
cry for full and impartial investigation into the crimes
against the students of Ayotzinapa and that everyone implicated
– at all levels – be brought to justice. Beyond this, Canada
urgently needs a full and impartial investigation of its own
about how Canadian economic interests could be fueling or
benefitting from this state of terror that is disappearing,
murdering, and displacing Mexicans on a daily basis.
‘Alive they were taken, alive we want them back.’
Photo credit: Sharon Murillo (http://regeneracion.mx/).
Picture by Students of University of Texas, El Paso