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Friday, December 9, 2016

Mass protests have blocked highways, overtaken town squares and disrupted government buildings. Protesters are in their third unrelenting month of marching and organizing, demanding answers for the brutal deaths of the young men.

The latest polls show the president’s approval rating is sinking to new lows, in part, because of the obtuse way the administration is handling the scandal.

No, this is not the United States.

It’s Mexico, a country whose citizens may finally be finding their voice to push back against the political corruption that is endemic to the country.

Even by Mexico’s record, the latest atrocity — the gruesome mass murder of 43 aspiring teachers in late September — is nearly unfathomable.

The story of what happened near the city of Iguala in the poor southern state of Guerrero has been slowly pieced together through confessions as more than 70 arrests have been made — including the mayor of Iguala and his wife, who were found in hiding in Mexico City. Many believe that the mayor ordered the attacks, so that the students — a defiant lot known for their leftist activism — wouldn’t disrupt a speech by his wife, who had her sights on a political career of her own.

The students were from the poorest areas of Guerrero. They attended a teacher’s college, a rural school long known for pressing the concerns of the poor. The students were heading to a demonstration of their own when they were stopped by police and handed over to a drug gang. Some were asphyxiated when they were herded into the back of a truck. Others in the group were shot. The bodies were piled into a pyre, with tires and scraps from a nearby junkyard added for kindling, doused with diesel fuel and torched.

After the bodies burned through the night and into the next day, the ashes were spread into a nearby river. A laboratory in Austria is attempting to identify the dead by examining DNA samples among the recovered remains.

But this case is far from concluded.

In addition to the mass demonstrations in Mexico, there have been solidarity marches in the U.S. for the disappeared students, often outside Mexican consular offices. Yet for the most part, most Americans know little of the story.

Such ignorance must end. Americans are certainly weary of intervening in hotspots around the globe, be it by sending our troops or our money. And, indeed, we’ve learned something sobering in the last decade about our ability to “save the world.”

Yet Mexico’s inability to bring an end to such massive human rights abuses will cripple our southern neighbor as a major trade partner. Don’t like undocumented immigration from south of the border? Well, the best defense is a stable Mexico.

Our gluttony for illicit drugs has helped fuel these horrible murders. Guerrero is known for its heroin and marijuana production. Members of a drug gang known as Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) have been accused in the crime.

Washington has been relatively silent about the deaths of the students. President Barack Obama and members of Congress would rather not take up more moral obligations, or to ruffle the feathers of a trading partner.

But our government must condemn this violence and corruption in no uncertain terms, and follow those words with action.

We need to find ways to shut off the firehose of drug money and other illegal proceeds flowing from North America to Central and South America. If that means legalizing — and taxing and regulating — certain controlled substances, let’s consider it seriously. If it means using economic and diplomatic leverage to force Mexico to clamp down on government corruption, let’s do it. If there are legislative or intelligence means to the same end, let’s consider them.

A prosperous, democratic and tranquil Mexico is in our country’s best interest.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO. 64108-1413, or via email at [email protected])

Photo: Montecruz Foto via Flickr

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