Of all the consequences of the Mexican government’s slow response to the disappearance of 43 students in September, it is the continuing protests in Mexico City and throughout the country that are most revealing of the public’s deep discontent with the current system.
“I think it’s very clear that we’re seeing a huge crisis in human rights in the country,” said Maureen Meyer, senior associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights at the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), a nonprofit research and advocacy group.
The case of the missing students – who disappeared on their way to a protest in the southwestern city of Iguala on Sept. 26 – are indicative of that crisis, which involve not only human rights violations but also public security issues in parts of Mexico, Meyer said. It is a crisis that stems from widespread corruption and a lack of political commitment to justice on the part of the Mexican government, especially in some areas of the country, she added. It is also caused, in part, by the United States.
“The carnage south of our border is closely intertwined with US security and trade policies that have intensified rather than stanched the flow of blood in Mexico,” Lauren Carasik, director of the international human rights clinic at the Western New England University School of Law, wrote for Al Jazeera America.
The Mexican government acknowledged in February last year that more than 20,000 people have gone missing in the country since 2007. Human Rights Watch also released a 2013 report documenting 250 missing persons cases in Mexico. More than two-thirds were forced disappearances that involved state agents, the report found.
“The full extent of the problem is hard to know,” Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, told The WorldPost. “What we do know is that there has been a consistent failure on the part of the authorities to investigate and prosecute these cases.”
The situation reflects what Meyer calls a “climate of permissiveness of abuse,” in which weak institutions, corruption and impunity take the place of rule of law in some parts of the country.
“Mexico is quite stable as a state, but it is highly uneven as far as rule of law is concerned,” Andrew Selee, executive vice president and senior adviser to the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars, said in an email. “It’s advanced in some places and not in others.”
The United States’ role in its neighbor’s troubles is considerable.
Billions of US taxpayer dollars continue to be spent on counter-narcotics programs such as the Merída Initiative, which provide weapons, equipment and military training to Mexico’s security forces – the same ones that Human Rights Watch and other groups have determined are involved in thousands of forced disappearances over the last decade.
Experts also say that the war on drugs worsened the situation instead of improving it: the cartels in charge of trafficking substances remain entrenched in Mexican society while the death toll is at more than 80,000.
At the same time, illicit drug use is increasing the US, with close to 24 million people above the age of 12 having either used an illicit drug or abused medication, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The resulting humanitarian crisis spills into the US as well, as thousands seek refuge across the border. The US government received more than 9,000 requests for asylum from Mexico in 2012, four times the number in 2006. Only a fraction are allowed into the country.
“Our appetite for illegal drugs has contributed to the violence [in Mexico],” WOLA’s Meyer said. “And when it comes to stemming migration to any country, violence is a factor.”
A ‘failed state’
In an interview published Nov. 21 in Foreign Affairs magazine’s Latin America edition, Uruguay president José Mujica used stronger words, calling Mexico a "failed state." Mujica’s statement came a day after thousands hit the streets in Mexico City and around the world, demanding the missing students’ return.
Mujica has since backtracked, reaffirming his country’s solidarity with Mexico.
The people, however, have not backed down, gathering again on Tuesday to resume their call for justice.
"There are thousands of disappeared, thousands of clandestine graves, thousands of mothers who don't know where their children are,” protester Nora Jaime told The Huffington Post. “The entire country is outraged.”