Sunday, June 16, 2024

Protesters briefly breach Mexico City’s National Palace

Students protesting the abduction and presumed murder of 43 students in Guerrero in 2014 used a pickup truck to break open wooden doors at the National Palace while President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke at a press conference inside the historic building on Wednesday morning.

Video footage shows young men — reportedly students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Guerrero — pushing a Federal Electricity Commission vehicle into doors at an entrance to the National Palace on Moneda Street in Mexico City’s historic center.

Protesters streaming into Mexico's National Palace after breaching an entrance
While protesters streamed into the presidential residence following the breach, they were stopped by military police before reaching the Treasury Hall, where President López Obrador was holding a press conference. (Cuartoscuro)

The National Palace is both the official residence and working office of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel López Obrador.

The 43 who went missing in 2014 were students at the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college. To date, the remains of only three have been found.

The protesters broke two wooden doors, and while some of the men reportedly entered the National Palace, none made it into the Treasury Hall, where López Obrador was speaking to journalists at his morning press conference, or mañanera.

Government personnel barricaded that room. Outside the National Palace, authorities used tear gas to disperse protesters.

Asked about the incident, López Obrador said that the government wouldn’t “repress” the protest.

“What we want is to know the truth [about] the disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa in 2014,” he said.

Mexico's President Lopez Obrador at a press conference on March 6, 2024
At his press conference on Wednesday, President López Obrador said that advances have been made in the contentious Ayotzinapa 43 case. But the president is running out of time to fulfill a pledge to solve the case before he leaves office this year. (Presidencia)

“We’re going to achieve it, and we’re going to find the young men,” López Obrador said.

He didn’t express any great concern for the damaged doors, saying that they will be fixed and that there will be “no problem.”

The president claimed that the protesters aimed to “provoke” the government. He asserted that they were “being manipulated” by groups opposed to his administration.

“We don’t want confrontation, we’re making progress in the investigation,” said López Obrador, whose government published a new report on the almost decade-old Ayotzinapa case last September.

The Centro Prodh human rights organization, which has provided lawyers for the missing students’ families, said on social media that “fathers and mothers are not being ‘manipulated’ by @CentroProdh” or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“They have agency over their process,” the NGO said on the X social media platform. It said that it “regretted” that “the protest of some young men escalated” to the breaking down of the National Palace doors.

Before that post, Centro Prodh provided some “context” to the events that unfolded on Wednesday morning. It said that the military — which has long been suspected of involvement in the students’ disappearance — is refusing to hand over relevant documents and that there has been an “absence of meetings” with the president for months.

The NGO also said that there is a “governmental attempt to divide the families” of the students.

“… We urge the reestablishment of respectful dialogue supervised by international human rights authorities,” Centro Prodh said.

López Obrador said that lawyers and advisers for the students’ families were “not allowing” him to speak with the parents, but stressed that his government was willing to meet with them.

Parents of Ayotzinapa 43 kidnapping victims protesting at Mexico's senate
Although nearly a decade old, the unsolved case still sparks protests, like this one last month at Mexico’s senate by parents of the victims. (Galo Cañas/Cuartoscuro)

Millions of Mexicans have participated in hundreds of protests since the 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, on the night of Sept. 26, 2014. Protests involving current Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College students have on occasion turned violent.

In recent times, some have maintained a sit-in protest at the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square opposite the National Palace, as relatives, friends, Ayotzinapa students and others continue to seek justice and some sense of closure in the mystery-shrouded case.

On the night they disappeared, the 43 students were allegedly handed over to a local crime gang by corrupt municipal police. There have been well over 100 arrests in connection with the students’ disappearance, but no one has faced trial or been convicted of the crime.

The previous government’s official version of events — the so-called “historical truth” — was widely rejected, and the current government initiated a new investigation and pledged to definitively determine what happened to the young men. López Obrador now has less than seven months left in office and thus risks finishing his six-year term without the case having been resolved.

The case is a major blight on the record of former president Enrique Peña Nieto, who had been in office 22 months when the students disappeared. Mass protests held in the weeks and months after the crime occurred called for Peña to resign, but the president weathered the storm — at least by his own reckoning — and fully completed his term in 2018.

With reports from Reforma and El Economista

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