The missing students of Mexico

Mexico is suffering a national tragedy, the details of which make the Day of the Dead look like a walk in the park. And, for some Mexican officials, keeping up with the gruesome details can be exhausting.

Earlier this month, in an off-the-cuff remark that went viral on social media, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told reporters that he was worn out by the relentless questioning about the abduction and apparent massacre of 43 students who were training to be teachers.

"Ya me canse," Murillo told the journalists. The phrase means "I'm tired" - or in this case, more like, "I've had enough." As it deals with murder and mayhem, the question for Mexico is whether it, too, has had enough.

Murillo's comment came across as insensitive to the victims and their families, and it made the attorney general appear to be tone-deaf. And yet, during a television interview a few days later, he insisted that he didn't regret his choice of words. "I was tired and that is the truth," he said.

Here is more truth: Murillo, like President Enrique Pena Nieto, belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). And the PRI historically has had plenty of blood on its hands. In the 1960s and 1970s, at least 2,000 people disappeared after clashing with the government and were never heard from again. Over the last 50 years, there have been several documented massacres of Mexicans by police and military.

The Mexican people are fully aware of this, and that's why they're taking to the streets and trying to storm the presidential palace. This is why they're demanding that Pena Nieto resign immediately. It's all coming back to them that the PRI has long been the party of thugs, murderers and scoundrels.

There was a faint makeover intended to fool Mexicans into thinking that the era of Pena Nieto would be different. But given that it took the federal government more than six weeks to tell people what happened to the students, the new Mexico looks a lot like the old Mexico.

The 43 - all young men ages 18 to 25 who were studying at a rural teachers college - went missing on Sept. 26 after clashing with police. More than four dozen people have been arrested in the case, including police officers in the small town of Iguala, about 120 miles southwest of Mexico City, to which the students had traveled for a protest. Mexican prosecutors believe it was there they caught the attention of Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa. Both are now in custody.

Also in custody are three members of a drug gang called Guerreros Unidos. They are providing details of what happened to the students, and their stories sound like a horror movie. Murillo, the attorney general, told reporters that the gang members had confessed to killing the students and burning their bodies over a 12-hour period to cover up the crime.

The main villain in this drama is Abarca. Murillo believes that the mayor was so worried that the students might disrupt a speech to be delivered by his wife that he ordered the police chief to round them up. Officers then opened fire on the buses in which the students were traveling, killing six immediately while the rest - 43 of them - went missing. Eyewitnesses saw police officers cramming the young men into squad cars. According to Murillo, the police then turned the students over to Guerreros Unidos. The leader of the gang told authorities that he ordered his henchmen to make the young men disappear. They complied.

And to think it wasn't that long ago that, under Mexican President Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party, the government was at war with the drug cartels. In 2012, the PRI's main selling point in electing Pena Nieto was that it could stop the war and offer "peace and security" because it knew how to negotiate a truce with the drug traffickers. A war-weary Mexican public bought the pitch and put Pena Nieto in office.

Get a good look at those charred bodies, Mexico. This is what happens when the government goes from battling the devil to partnering with him.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is

© 2014, The Washington Post Writers Group

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