While the targeting of young college students in Mexico may seem extreme or unusual, kidnappings and “forced disappearances” have become almost commonplace in Latin America over the past half-century. According to numerous human rights organizations, the perpetrators of such crimes include government officials, municipal, state, and federal police, the military, and members of drug organizations (often in collusion with each other). So frequent are these atrocities that the victims of such actions have come to be called “Los Desaparecidos” (The Disappeared).
The practice of forcibly “disappearing” a perceived enemy dates back to Hitler’s 1941 “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) decree, authorizing German authorities to abduct, murder and make vanish the bodies of those deemed to “endanger German security.” Countless military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes used the practice during the “Cold War” years of the late 20th Century. The Argentine military dictatorship “disappeared” some 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983.
Over the past fifteen years, during the so-called “drug war,” more than 100,000 Mexicans have been “disappeared.” This figure does not include the tens of thousands of Central and South American migrants “disappeared” in Mexico during the same period.
The official logic of the drug war in Mexico has enabled many to accept as normal murder, massacre, disappearances, torture, and a political apparatus that not only allows these crimes to go unpunished but, in far too many cases, sanctions or commits them. In a 2014 report, Amnesty International found that the use of torture by the Mexican military and police was widespread and routine.
Indeed, the very concept of corruption in Mexico has become outmoded: In most of the country, the state forces and “narcos” are fully integrated, and none of the major political parties is exempt. Mexicans have a phrase: “The drop that spilled the glass.” It’s their version of “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” For many, the attacks and the mass forced disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students in Iguala became the drop that spilled the glass. These acts obliterated the government’s insistence that in the drug war, a clear distinction exists between good guys and bad, between law and lawlessness.