Why isn’t Michelle Obama holding a sign on Twitter that says #FindOurStudents?
If you do not know what that hashtag reference is about, then you are not alone. Many Americans are more familiar with #BringBackOurGirls, a sign the First Lady sadly displayed on the social networking site in reference to 276 young Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Islamist insurgents in April 2014. Nigeria has been in the midst of this insurgency where over 7,000 civilians have been killed since 2009, and over half of those deaths occurred since 2013. The resulting public campaign — greatly encouraged by Obama’s very public support — has placed great international pressure on the Nigerian government to either rescue the girls or negotiate more effectively with Boko Haram, the insurgent group holding them and hundreds of other innocents.
But yet, another tragedy involving young ones occurred only one month ago just next door, relatively speaking, in the drug war-torn Mexican state of Guerrero. According to The Guardian, 43 students from a rural teacher’s college in Tixtla — about two hours south of the city of Iguala — went missing on September 26. They were trying to collect money to attend upcoming protests against discriminatory hiring practices for teachers. After fundraising and protesting in Iguala, the students apparently tried to hitchhike back to their rural teacher’s college in Tixtla, but police say the students eventually commandeered three buses from a local terminal — a practice that is considered common for groups from that school.
From The Guardian:
“Municipal police pursuing the convoy reportedly fired on the buses during the chase, but the attack intensified when the buses stopped and some of the unarmed students got out … Many fled, but about 20 were driven away in patrol cars. About three hours later, a number of students had returned to the scene of the attack and were talking to local reporters when they began to hear gunfire coming their way … Two students died and one was left in a vegetative state following the two attacks. The body of a third student was found dumped nearby later, his face reportedly skinned and his eyes gouged out.”
Fast forward to today: 43 of those students are still missing, and there are photographs of 26 of them being forced into police cars. Four days after the confrontation, 22 local police officers were detained and charged with homicide. Making matters worse is the fact many of the officers were working closely with Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang. Shortly after this, Iguala’s mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa fled, but were arrested without incident on November 4 in the Mexico City suburb of Iztapalapa. Fifty-eight people have now been arrested in connection with the disappearances, and the search of several unmarked graves has horrifyingly unearthed dozens of bodies — none so far identified as the missing students.
According to The Daily Beast, Pineda Villa was said to have given the Iguala police chief a fateful order when she mistakenly imagined the students might disrupt a party she was throwing in honor of herself. Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, a member of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, described her as “the key operator” of criminal activity in Iguala. Pineda Villa also allegedly funneled more than $40,000 a month in bribes to the town cops and that she has extensive ties via her brothers to the Guerreros Unidos gang and to the Sinaloa cartel. Mexican authorities are hoping that the arrest of Abarca and his wife will reveal the location of the students, or at the very least their remains.
The outrage by American celebrities, human rights groups, and average people over the kidnapping of 276 innocent young girls by Nigerian insurgents is understandable. However, Nigeria is over 6,000 miles away from the United States, and while Boko Haram has expressed an interest in attacking US interests in Nigeria, the group has only conducted attacks inside the African country. We share an almost 2,000 mile-long border with Mexico, which is our third-largest trading partner and has seen over 120,000 murders attributable to the drug war since 2006. An increasing proportion of these murders is comprised of innocent people — migrants, business owners, landowners, and now students.
It is understandable that the First Lady or any other American in the media spotlight has a right to pick and choose which tragic world events they want to bring attention to. However, as an increasing number of US media outlets report on the status of the month-long search for these innocent young men and women, it’s fair to ask why there isn’t more public and celebrity support for the search of 43 missing students in a country we call one of our closest friends. Mexico has its own ongoing insurgency, albeit a criminal one and not a terrorism problem like Nigeria. But the same kinds of people responsible for kidnapping — and possibly executing — those students are living and trafficking drugs in our own communities across the U.S., which is something that cannot be said for Boko Haram. Now it is up to those who want to shine that spotlight on the search and corruption that caused the disappearances to help #FindOurStudents.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about the activities of Mexican drug cartels in her new book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.