Mexican police capture a former mayor and key suspect in a massacre

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman with "The World". A breakthrough today in a story that's captivated Mexico and a lot of the world for the past few weeks. I'm talking about the disappearance of forty-three students from the small Mexican city of Iguala. The biggest suspects in the case are the city's mayor and his wife and they were arrested today. Both had been in hiding - fugitives since the students vanished in September. Federal investigators in Mexico say the couple have ties to a powerful drug cartel and ordered local police to attack the students. Franc Contreras with CCTV in Mexico City has been reporting on this story. How do we know, first of all, that this mayor, Jose Luís Abarca, and his wife are actually involved, Franc? What's the evidence?


Franc Contreras: Well, the evidence comes from Mexico's federal attorney general here in the capital. He sent investigators and for a month they started digging around, following the disappearance of these forty-three students. And what they discovered was the wife of the mayor of Iguala, her name is María de los Ángeles Pineda, she has family ties to drug traffickers.


Werman: And have they talked about the evidence? I mean what is it?


Contreras: They tell us they have the evidence, but they haven't come forward directly to show us what that is. It's the Mexican government basically saying, "Take our word for it. We've investigated this and we have documents and recordings showing that this family is Guerrero State has these ties." So it's essentially the word of the federal government here.


Werman: Were people in and around Iguala at all suspicious when the mayor and his wife went into hiding the same moment that the students went missing?


Contreras: Oh absolutely. I was there in Iguala days after this took place, Marco, and people told me that for years actually since the mayor took office, people were just living in fear. They had this sense right away that something was going wrong in their city because there was more and more drug-related violence taking place in a town that before was one of the most peaceful towns in southern Mexico. It's the place where the Mexican flag was created way back more than a hundred and fifty years ago. And so as this drug-related violence and murder started taking place, people started getting kidnapped and everybody basically took the decision just to stay quiet. They saw it all happening under this mayor, Jose Luís Abarca, and so there were strong feelings from the people there that I spoke with that he had something to do with this.


Werman: And now we've got this very confident declaration, but very little evidence to show for it from the Mexican Federal government. These forty-three students are still missing. How much closer does this declaration of their involvement get us to discovering what happened to the students?


Contreras: Well, it turns out that in the past weeks since the students went missing, the Mexican government has arrested more than forty local police officials and some of those officials are now giving testimony over to police officers while they are in detention. So there's hope now that the arrest of this mayor will lead to more evidence and hopefully, families believe, they'll be able to discover what actually happened to these forty-three students who went missing back in late September.


Werman: Yeah, because it's still very much a mystery. Franc, just take us back to the day that those forty-three students went missing. Who were they? Because I'm hearing they were earnest students attending a teachers' college with kind of a left-wing orientation. Others say these students were not necessarily innocent kids at all.


Contreras: Well, the students are from some of the poorest parts of Guerrero State. That's a state located in the southern part of Mexico where Acapulco is located. A lot of them came from ranches and places where there are no job opportunities, so there was a large amount of competition for the few seats available at this teachers' school in Ayotzinapa. That's the name of the school where these students attended. And when you go to the school you'll see on the walls there are murals of Karl Marx and Che Guevara. So a lot of this kind of rhetoric and these belief systems get into the minds of these young people as they attend this school. But what I saw was basically a lot of very poor people who are demanding things like better schools and better clinics in their part of Mexico. And yes, they do use radical rhetoric and they do very frequency commandeer buses. That's what the students were doing in Iguala, by the way, on the night of September 26th. Every year around that time of September they go to Iguala, they take buses and they go and they ask for money to come here to the capital and participate in an annual protest march remembering a previous massacre, a massacre that took place in 1968 against students here. And so apparently, according to reports from federal police agents, it was they mayor who ordered police to block the students and then at some point the decided to open fire. They killed at least six people that night of the 26th. Three of them were students, and then that's when the forty-three are part of this part of disappeared students.


Werman: Franc Contreras with CCTV in Mexico City. Thanks so much as always.


Contreras: Thank you, Marco.