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Questions Linger Regarding Bodies Of 43 Mexican Students

ARUN RATH, HOST:

A very different type of war is being fought right now in Mexico, where cities and states have become battlefields in a brutal drug war over the last decade. The latest casualties, 43 young students from the city of Iguala. That's in the southern state of Guerrero. Those students first disappeared on September 26.

Last Friday, Mexico's attorney general said the students were abducted, murdered by members of a drug gang who then burned the corpses. But the remains that have been recovered have yet to be positively identified, and the parents of the students remain skeptical of the government. People around the country have gone to the streets to protest both the violence and the government's handling of the crisis. For more on the story, I spoke with Enrique Acevedo. He's a Mexican journalist and an anchor and correspondent with Univision.

ENRIQUE ACEVEDO: Mexico has been suffering unspeakable violence for the last eight years. But what happened on the night of September 26 - what allegedly happened on that night - the disappearance and now the killing of 43 young students is a breaking point in Mexico. I believe the history of Mexico would be explained before and after Iguala. We're talking about that kind of a moment for the country. People want to send a message to corrupt officials and to the criminals that enough is enough, and they crossed a line that, you know, they shouldn't have crossed.

RATH: So this is about more than - obviously, what happened with these students allegedly is horrible enough - but this about more than that.

ACEVEDO: It's much more than that. It's not just a few rotten apples. I think the problem is structural. It's a word - you know, it's a buzzword - systemic. But I think that's the case in Mexico. When you have the farmers that are the parents of these 43 students are making 10 dollars on a good day by working in the fields all day, and then allegedly the president owns a $7 million mansion in one of the most exclusive districts in the capital, and when you have the richest man in the world living just a few miles away from people that are in extreme poverty, I think, you know Mexico can be explained through its contrasts. And the lack of justice for many and the impunity that criminals have or benefit from is the most important of those contrasts and the most important of those disparities to explain Mexico.

RATH: You criticized Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, in part because he left Mexico and traveled to China soon after the government said it had discovered a mass grave. What do you want to hear from this president?

ACEVEDO: I don't think you can say that the president is guilty of what happened the night of September 26 with the students. But I think he's responsible for the response of his government right after that night and the days that have followed the tragedy. His government has seemed unable to provide solutions. They're more worried about crisis management than being proactive in terms of looking for a solution. They're more worried about criticism and are hypersensitive to criticism but not hypersensitive to the reality of what's going on in the country.

So I think that instead of traveling to China to attend the APEC meeting or Australia for the G20 meeting, I think this is a time where the president should be in Mexico addressing these difficult issues and trying to provide leadership. I don't want him to resign. I just want him to do his job, the job for which he was elected.

RATH: So the announcement by the attorney general - it obviously did not satisfy the families. It didn't satisfy the protesters. Where does this go from here?

ACEVEDO: I think that's an interesting question. They've asked for an independent investigation. They've asked for technical cooperation from abroad. We have a team of Argentineans working alongside the specialists from the Mexican attorney general's office. And they've, you know, they've been pretty much confirming the results of the Mexican authorities up to this point.

We'll see where it goes from there, but right now we can see, especially in Guerrero, the violence is escalating. And I think it's worth to say that the president and his aides want to project the violence-ridden State of Guerrero as an exception. And it's true to an extent. Mexico is a complex nation and not everything is black and white.

But to know Guerrero and to know what's happening in Guerrero is also to know the brutal reality of Mexico. So if you're born a poor farmer, you quickly learn to keep your head down in Mexico and in Guerrero and in many other states. If you don't have the influence or the money, you quickly learn to keep your head down in Mexico. And some people thought that the country had changed. They are not complying with that rule. And look what's going on in the country.

RATH: Enrique Acevedo is a Mexican journalist and correspondent and anchor with Univision. He joined us from their studios in Miami. Enrique, thanks very much.

ACEVEDO: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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