Outrage over the disappearance and probable murder of 43 students shows no sign of abating in Mexico, with President Enrique Peña Nieto and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam bearing the brunt of public anger over the last week.
In a press conference in Mexico City last Friday, Karam announced that three members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang had admitted to murdering the students, burning their bodies and throwing plastic bags full of their ashes into a nearby river.
Shortly after delivering this delicate news to the victims’ parents, the Attorney General grew tired of answering questions and called the press conference to a close. “Ya me cansé,” he said, meaning, “Enough, I’m tired.”
The insensitive phrase immediately became a trending topic on social media under the hashtag #YaMeCansé, with thousands of Mexicans posting messages like “Enough, I’m tired of corruption” and “Enough, I’m tired of living in a narco state.”
Many people called for Karam to resign, but he was unrepentant on Monday, explaining that the remark was the result of emotional exhaustion and a lack of sleep.
Demonstrations turn violent
The victims’ apparent remains were so badly burned that identifying any of them will be a long and difficult process handled at a specialist laboratory in Austria.
But the news that the students had likely been massacred sparked massive protests across Mexico City and Chilpancingo, the capital of the southern state of Guerrero where the students were abducted. Demonstrators set several vehicles ablaze outside Guerrero’s State Government palace, while what had been a peaceful march in Mexico City culminated in the torching of the entrance to the National Palace on Saturday night.
Many Mexicans suspect that this, the most significant attack on a Mexican government building in decades, was actually the work of agent provocateurs, paid by authorities to discredit the protests.
Suspicions that the march had been infiltrated were raised by photos showing one of the hooded perpetrators being protected by riot police, plus the fact that the palace guards did nothing while the doorway was firebombed.
The demonstrations have not let up since, with parents of the missing students and other protestors blocking access to the airport in Acapulco, a popular tourist resort on Guerrero’s Pacific coast, on Monday.
On Wednesday, some 500 masked students and teachers set fire to the Guerrero State Congress building, while as far away as Amsterdam, thousands of football fans began chanting “justice” and holding up photos of the missing students in the 43rd minute of the match between Holland and Mexico.
Many protestors have called for Peña Nieto’s resignation and their anger at the president only grew when he left Mexico on Sunday for a weeklong trade mission in China and Australia, amidst the biggest crisis of his administration to date.
Presidential property scandal
Any hope Peña Nieto had that the crisis might have subsided by the time he returned was swiftly dashed on Monday when one of the nation’s most prominent journalists published an investigation into the ownership of a property that he shares with his wife, the soap star Angélica Rivera.
The report by Aristegui Noticias, a media outlet run by respected reporter Carmen Aristegui, revealed that the president and his wife own a $7 million mansion in Mexico City’s exclusive Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood.
Dubbed “the White House,” the lavish home was built to the couple’s specifications but is not listed among the properties that Peña Nieto is legally obligated to declare each year.
Instead, it is registered under the name of Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú, the head of Grupo Higa, a firm that was awarded contracts worth over $590 million when Peña Nieto was governor of the State of Mexico.
In association with the China Railway Construction Corporation, Grupo Higa was recently awarded a contract worth $3.75 billion to build a high-speed rail line between Mexico City and nearby Querétaro.
Yet every other bidder had pulled out of the complicated application process, complaining that they were not given enough time to complete their bids. In an attempt to avoid accusations of favoritism, the Mexican government abruptly canceled the concession last week and announced a new bidding period.
Critics contend that the president accepting a luxury mansion from Grupo Higa represented a clear conflict of interests, but the government claimed this week that the First Lady had bought it from the company using her own career earnings.
This explanation was not entirely convincing. A study by Publimetro revealed that even as one of the most highly paid stars on national broadcaster Televisa, the 45-year-old Rivera would have to have worked for 53 years to afford the property.
Mexico’s most influential TV network, Televisa has long been accused of providing Peña Nieto with favorable coverage, but this week Aristegui Noticias revealed that it also gifted his family another $2 million house which is adjacent and connected to the controversial property in Lomas de Chapultepec.
Rivera was given the home on December 14, 2010, just 17 days after she married Peña Nieto. Neither the government nor Televisa have explained the reason for this most charitable of donations.