The Mouse Trap Continues; the unfolding in Mexico

by Mari Gomez

Photo: New York Times from a recent story about Mexico. 

Photo: New York Times from a recent story about Mexico. 

This past Independence Day in Mexico was marked by a very confusing ceremony by Enrique Peña Nieto. From the National Palace balcony, where he stood with his wife, there seemed to be a good amount of people cheering him on. Yes, there were many people who voluntarily showed up to the ceremony, a lot of them coaxed in by the prospect of seeing their favorite musical acts perform at the event. Others perhaps with the simple hope of celebrating a special day. However, varying reports show that a lot of these people were bused in from poor communities around Mexico State, promised dinner and goody bags, and corralled into their spots below the National Palace’s balcony. (This friendly trade off was reminiscent of Soriana store gift cards handed out to people in exchange for their vote during the 2012 election and is therefore not surprising.) At the same time employees of institutions like DIF (Sistema para el Desarollo Integral de la Familia/National System for Integral Family Development) was making it mandatory for all their employees to attend the ceremony. 

El Grito happens every year throughout the country on the night of Sept 15th and it commemorates the heroes and patriots of Mexican history that contributed to the independence from Spain. The biggest celebration, however always takes place in the capital. Watching Peña Nieto take part in these ceremonies, yelling out: “Viva Mexico, Viva Mexico!” with crowds cheering below, is an experience of disorienting cognitive dissonance.

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There were a few moments however, that showed the cracks in the pretty picture that appeared in the television broadcasts: pictures of busses unloading what Mexican media calls “los acarreados”, students holding up signs that said “Peña Asesino,” alleged yells of “Culero!” and “Puto,” the famous Mexican soccer chants. There were videos and photographs of children being intensely patted down before they could enter the enclosed, heavily policed area. There was the painfully forced smile of the First Lady, La Gaviota, as she is affectionately called, which showed the facial tension of someone whose internal monologue is composed of prayers that she not be shot. Yet, for the most part, for an unsuspecting viewer the mainstream media broadcasts of this ceremony could have made it appear as if everything was just fine in Mexico. 

It must have been a real bummer and PR disaster for Peña Nieto to have the independent investigations on the 43 come out a few days before Independence Day. So much so that this advisers must have emphasized the importance of making this thing look good and that despite the President’s fear of the people, he should go out there and smile and celebrate. For, there have been new developments that only further complicated the 43 case. 

It is difficult to watch Peña Nieto do anything without feeling like you’re watching an incredible piece of absurdist theater. There is nothing to that man’s eyes. Peña Nieto is already a ghost, a mere specter of a dark and bloody history. 

If there is one thing Peña Nieto has mastered in his presidency though is his ability to withstand vast amounts of humiliations. This began before he was even elected. One of my first memories of Peña Nieto was an early interview as they asked him to name the books that had been influential to him and he couldn’t name a single one. Not a single book. People have yelled obscenities at him in various occasions, including a conference in Spain where a young man yelled out “murderer!” Yet, somehow he continues to go through the motions.  


Tensions against the government are especially high after the recent independent investigation from the Independent Group of Interdisciplinary Experts (GIEI) of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) contradicted the government’s official narrative regarding the fate of the 43 normalistas; this has re-ignited national outrage. The investigation concluded that the fires in the dumpsters of Cocula, could not have gotten hot enough in the open air to completely destroy 43 human bodies. 


On Wed the PGR, the federal government, gave a press conference releasing new findings from scientists testing various remains in a specialized laboratory in Innsbruck, Austria. The remains were sent to Austria, after the events occurred because said remains were in such bad condition that this was one of the only laboratories with the capability of conducting these tests. 


In this press conference by the PGR a new piece of information was released: that one other normalista had been identified within these remains. The remains of one normalista, Alexander Mora, has been identified back in January.  The timing of this new revelation seemed oddly coincidental. A week and half after these new reports from the CIDH, a breakthrough is announced? To anyone that watched the press conference, it was clear that head of the PGR, Arely Gomez, was announcing this piece of news as fact, or seemed convoluted enough to seem that way. The suggestion here being that if there were two identified victims from the site in Cocula, this meant the other 41 missing students must then also be there. Therefore, case close. As if, it wasn’t horrifying enough to admit  that the students remains were pulverized in this site, but that seems to be the convenient answer. 

However, Aristegui News, Proceso, and Sin Embargo and others began releasing reports that this was not the case. The experts in Austria had not confirmed that this was in fact a match. They considered it a high possibility, but very much an “open case.”


The scientists’ press release stated as much. According to the release there is a high probability of the match, but it is not conclusive. There is about a 73% chance that the DNA is a match to the sample taken from the student’s mother. However, one of the main reasons that it is inconclusive is because of complexities with the site. There have been 300 cases of disappeared people in Iguala in the last 4-5 years, which means that if the remains did in fact come from the San Juan river near Cocula, it’s possible that there are so many dead in the site that the match is a mere coincidence. 


Think of it this way the release suggested: If a plane crashes on a site, the remains you find there are limited to the people you know were on that airplane. Because there were so many other bodies found in this site and because so many have been disappeared, there is no certainty that those remains are only of the 43 disappeared. 


The independent experts also point out that they were not present at the time and place where these remains were found. The PDR insists that these remains were found in the river of Cocula in a bag, a claim that cannot be confirmed by the experts, or anyone, because they were not there. 

It seems to me that it has reached a point where the Mexican people cannot and will not accept any answer from thee PGR. Even if what the government said had some elements of truth in it, which I admit is unlikely, the ordeal has reached a point where any government story is simply not going to be accepted.


On Wed reports of “El Gil” being arrested as the main guy behind the 43 disappearances, was announced. The reception of this news was mostly ambivalence. It doesn't matter anymore. I don’t know that anyone will be satisfied to simply find an "accused" person and put him in jail. Even if “El Gil” was in fact the main conspirator behind these disappearances, it feels like people will feel robbed, cheated. 


If you talk to Mexicans living in the country, their response is either detached or  filled with fury. If you visit news sites and magazines where this news is being reported, the overwhelming response from the reader comments, is complete and absolute distrust, rage, and incredulity. People’s reactions towards Peña Nieto’s administration seems to be utter disgust. 


This is not to suggest that the comments section on any site is empirical evidence of a nation’s sentiments, but  it's possible that it represents some section of the common populace and contrary to popular belief, Mexicans are well aware of the doings of their government, but for a long time had no real outlet in which to express themselves. 


Perhaps the major difference with this scandal, is that it's going to be very difficult to provide people with a story they could believe. It doesn't mater anymore. There is complete and utter frustration with the government and maybe all this will be the boiling point. Maybe only something as extreme as Peña Nieto’s resignation would yield some satisfaction, but it would spark a sense of triumph in the people, which, I presume, is the last thing the government wants. Putting someone in jail is only symbolic in Mexico anyway; it means nothing to the people and it means nothing to nation as a whole, what they want is something more threatening, more fundamental, more complex.

Mari GomezComment