Students' deaths force Mexican leader to face up to police corruption

Since taking up office Peña Nieto has sought to play down drug violence

Two months after the disappearance of 43 students which shocked the nation and sparked a major protest movement, Mexico’s under-fire President, Enrique Peña Nieto, has announced broad security reforms aimed at preventing the infiltration of local governments and police forces by organised crime.

Since taking up office in 2012, Peña Nieto has sought to play down the drug violence that has ravaged Mexico in recent years and divert attention to the raft of reforms his government has passed in the energy, telecommunications and education sectors.

But the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 trainee teachers in the town of Iguala in the crime-stricken state of Guerrero in late September has made it all but impossible for him to keep avoiding the issue. The fact that dozens of police officers are accused of kidnapping the students and handing them over to a drug gang under the orders of the Iguala mayor crudely illustrated the issue of corruption in local governments.

The students have not yet been found, although the government believes it may have located their ashes after suspects admitted to incinerating their bodies.

Hours before Peña Nieto gave his speech on Thursday, authorities in Guerrero discovered the burned and beheaded bodies of 11 young men dumped by the side of a road. It is not yet clear if the victims could have been some of the missing students.

“Mexico cannot go on like this. After Iguala, Mexico must change,” said Peña Nieto

The President’s plans would allow the federal government to replace local administrations if investigators find that they have been colluding with organised crime. But by focusing only on corruption at local level, critics contend, Peña Nieto ignores infiltration of state and even federal authorities by criminal gangs.

“Some of the worst instances of organised crime infiltrating Mexican governments have occurred at state level, in Michoacan and Tamaulipas,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope told The Independent. Mr Hope predicted the proposed measures would provoke conflict between local and federal authorities: “The mayors, especially in large municipalities, are going to put up a fierce resistance.”

Peña Nieto also plans to dissolve the nation’s 1,800 municipal police forces – deemed most vulnerable to corruption – in favour of more centralised state forces, beginning in four of Mexico’s most violent states: Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacan and Tamaulipas.

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