On September 26, 2014, 43 students from a teacher’s college went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. According to official reports, the students commandeered several buses and traveled to Iguala on September 26 to hold a protest at a conference being led by Iguala’s mayors’ wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa. During their travels, local police intercepted them, and a confrontation ensued which resulted in several students being killed by gunfire. While conflicting details and accounts of what happened during and after the altercation have surfaced, the official government investigation indicated once the students were in police custody, they were subsequently handed over to the local Guerreros Unidos crime syndicate and murdered. Mexican authorities have accused Iguala’s mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa to be responsible for the kidnappings. Both of them fled after the incident, along with the town’s police chief, Felipe Flores Velásquez. The couple has subsequently been arrested. An additional 80 suspects have been arrested in the case, of which 44 were law enforcement officials. The kidnappings led to attacks on government buildings, violent protests, the resignation of the Governor of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, the call for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to resign, and the replacement of local law enforcement agencies throughout Mexico as a result of nationwide protests. The mass kidnapping and subsequent massacre of the students are most likely the largest and most difficult political and public security issue Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has faced during his administration. The handling of the kidnapping and investigation spotlighted the horrific level of corruption and dismal security situation in Mexico, which has led to International condemnation.
Present Situation and Government Response
At a news conference on December 08, 2014, Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam confirmed that Alexander Mora’s (one of the 43 missing students) remains had been found. The remains were confirmed via DNA analysis from a bone fragment that was recovered. President Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized for his slow response to the mass kidnapping. During the search for the missing students numerous additional graves were discovered, none of which held any student remains. While the president has stated that those responsible for the disappearances of the missing 43 students will be found and held accountable. The Mexican government has said little to address who the other people are, that were discovered in the mass graves. There have so far been 80 arrests in the case of the missing students, of which the majority were law enforcement officials. The former mayor of Iguala is currently being held in a federal prison on six counts of homicide charges. The most recent government response to the situation on December 04, 2014 has been for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration to submit a police reform bill that would replace municipal police with state-level police forces. The bill is in response to both the results of the official investigation and the violent protests that have emerged in the wake of the kidnappings. Municipal police in the states of Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Jalisco and Michoacan would be the first to be placed under state control.
Impact on Business and International Relationships
Concerns on foreign direct investment has intensified amid evidence that local politicians, police, and organized crime groups worked together to orchestrate the kidnapping. While the majority of international investments and businesses operate in northern Mexico and the current crisis has been largely located in the south, the resolution of the crisis could affect overall confidence in the government. These concerns would most likely spill into concerns about security and the risk involved with and international investment. Protesters marched in several cities in Mexico on 01 December 2014, on the second anniversary of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration and in response to the government handling of the case. During the first week of December 2014, demonstrators in Chilpancingo attacked the state prosecutor’s office, including torching several vehicles parked outside. In Oaxaca, protesters led by a teachers’ union blockaded roads leading to a PEMEX oil refinery, preventing traffic from entering or exiting. Thousands of protesters marched in Mexico City on both the 01 December anniversary and again over the weekend of December 06, 2014. While these highlight some of the more significant protests since the beginning of December, protests have been continuous since October. These protests have created significant property damage, disruption of services, road closures, and have resulted in violent clashes with Mexican police and military forces. Businesses in the resort town of Acapulco have been impacted by a wave of cancellations due to the violence and protests that have gripped the country. In early November, protesters blocked Acapulco’s airport for hours, which created financial losses in the tourism sector of approximately 35% over one three day period. On December 08 2014, Mexico hosted the 24th Ibero-American Summit in Veracruz. During the summit President Nieto publicly expressed his condolences to the relatives of the victims and expressed his appreciation to the other Latin American heads of state for their solidarity. However, the impact of the massacre has been significant with the leaders of Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Nicaragua cancelling their participation in the summit. Uruguay’s departing President José Mujica recently called Mexico a “failed state.”
Pinkerton suggests clients based in Mexico factor the continued demonstrations and replacement of municipal law enforcement into their business plans. Violence will likely escalate as the transition of law enforcement occurs, and clients should consider telecommuting options for their employees in areas affected by protests and violence. Additionally clients should continue to plan for alternate transportation routes in case of persistent road blockades. Clients are advised against traveling at night in Mexico. Pinkerton advises clients to monitor US State Department travel warnings for US citizens, or clients should check with their respective consulates in Mexico to obtain travel specific restrictions and advisement. Clients should stock up on materials for their facilities and employ extra security measures against looting and violent protests. While the largest protests have been primarily located in Mexico City and the southern regions of Mexico, Pinkerton advises all clients in Mexico to avoid government facilities where protests or violence are likely to break out. As criminal elements in Mexico are known to be extremely well-armed and will shoot indiscriminately, Pinkerton advises clients located in all areas of Mexico to avoid protests, demonstrations, or situations in which criminal syndicates, military, police, and protesters may erupt into spontaneous clashes or violence.