Militarized police patrolled this violent city Tuesday after the entire local police force was relieved of duty, with some members implicated in the disappearance and possible massacre of 43 university students.
“We’re looking for halcones” — lookouts working for the drug gangs — said a well-armed officer with the gendarmerie, Mexico’s new specialized law enforcement agency, as he staked out corners of a downtown park. “It is hard to find them because they blend into the population.” He did not give his name, citing security reasons.
The federal government dispatched the gendarmerie to Iguala, in Guerrero state, late Monday in a joint operation with the army, in an attempt to quell rising tension over the students’ disappearance and the subsequent discovery of hidden mass graves.
Authorities recovered 28 bodies from the makeshift graves on the outskirts of Iguala, in rugged, brush-covered terrain accessible only along rock-and-dirt paths. They are attempting to identify the bodies, many of them burned, and determine whether they are those of the students, most of whom were in their late teens or early 20s and came from poor, rural families.
The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, was forced to take a leave of absence and then disappeared. He is wanted for questioning. Officials of his Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, said the ties of his wife’s family to the Beltran Leyva cartel have long been known to Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre and other authorities.
Two of the wife’s slain brothers were lieutenants for the cartel, their mother, Leonor Villa, said in a video that circulated Tuesday.
PRD official Rene Bejarano said he blamed state and federal authorities for ignoring Guerrero, a poor, mountainous state with a turbulent social and political history. “I think they never calculated the effect of letting these groups grow, that act with such violence, savagery and barbarity,” he said.