SAN DIEGO – Mexican officials are trying to turn the page and get beyond the tragedy of 43 teaching students who were abducted and murdered by a drug cartel. The story is gruesome, including the fact that the bodies were burned beyond recognition in a mass incinerator. The problem is, these are the same officials whom many Mexicans believe helped create this nightmare in the first place.
Of course, the authorities want people to go on with their business because they have no interest in getting at the truth and giving a full accounting of who is responsible.
In any country, there are three common mistakes that government officials usually make when confronting a scandal. First, they try to pin the blame on patsies who are expected to take the fall to protect the higher-ups. Second, they drag their feet in getting out information in the hope that the media and the public will lose interest. And third, they say or do insensitive things that show they don’t really care about the pain and suffering being experienced by others.
Ever since the students disappeared on Sept. 26, President Enrique Pena Nieto and members of his administration have made all these mistakes – and a few others – in bungling their response to the story.
Authorities claim that they have arrested 99 people and collected hundreds of confessions and witness testimonies about the case. After all this, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said recently, “without a doubt, we can conclude that the students at the teachers’ college were abducted, killed, burned and thrown into the San Juan River, in that order.”
In other words, Mexico’s top law enforcement officer now knows what most Mexicans have known for months.
Come to think of it, this is just about the usual speed for Mexican officials. It took the federal government more than six weeks to even acknowledge the students had gone missing and that foul play might have been involved. Pena Nieto didn’t offer a public comment or meet with the grieving parents for more than a month. He never visited the town of Iguala, where this crime happened. But he and his wife found time during the crisis to travel abroad.
Meanwhile, Murillo Karam at one point callously told reporters that he was worn out by questions about the case. “Ya me canse,” Murillo Karam said. The phrase means “I’m tired” – or closer to “I’ve had enough.”
Now Pena Nieto & Co. have added two more errors to the list. First, they’ve concocted a far-fetched theory that doesn’t just border on the ridiculous. It actually jumps the border.
Tomas Zeron de Lucio, the head of the attorney general’s Criminal Investigations Agency, has concluded that this was simply a case of mistaken identity. Not an assassination, or an act of terror, or the covering up of a crime, or an attempt to send a message. Nothing so elaborate.
“We can conclude that the motivation was consistent 1 / 8with the theory that 3 / 8 the students were identified by the criminals as members of an organized crime rival group that operated in the region,” Zeron de Lucio said. “That was the reason why they were deprived of their freedom, initially, and then of their lives.”
So these students were killed because they were mistaken for members of a rival gang? Yes, of course, because you know how easy it is to confuse fresh-faced student teachers with gang members. It happens all the time.
And now, Pena Nieto is trying to shut down the story by declaring that it’s time for Mexico to move on.
Here’s a tip. In most countries, when officials start talking about the need to move on, someone is probably hiding something.
“I’m convinced that we should not remain trapped in this instant, this moment in Mexico’s history, of sorrow, of tragedy and pain,” he said. “We just can’t dwell here.”
Pena Nieto mentioned sorrow, tragedy and pain. But he forgot the one thing that “this moment in Mexico’s history” is really about: rage. Many Mexicans are enraged at the drug cartels, and at the government that is increasingly seen as protecting them.
And rage is the one thing that always continues to grow the more the powers-that-be tell you to turn the page.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.