Lawmakers in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state are calling for a truce with protesters a day after students and teachers torched state government buildings over the case of 43 missing students who are feared to be dead. The monthlong demonstrations have intensified in recent days after gang members reportedly confessed to killing the students and dumping their ashes in a nearby river.
The president of Guerrero’s state congress, Bernardo Ortega, called for a dialogue with families of the victims on Thursday while criticizing the protesters’ tactics. “We ask for a truce with this movement, which cannot keep destroying what was built long ago,” Ortega told Mexican journalist Adela Micha in a radio interview.
Around 500 masked protesters, mostly students and teachers, rushed into the Guerrero state legislature building Wednesday evening and set fire to the library, main assembly hall and several vehicles outside the building. Earlier in the evening, they torched the audit building of the state education department.
“Last month they broke all the glass, and at least 15 days ago we put it back together. Now they broke it again,” Ortega said. “All of those repairs, items lost, will come out of public funds, and projects will be halted now that we have to rebuild everything that’s been destroyed.”
Protests over the disappearances have been ongoing since the students first went missing on Sept. 26. Federal authorities say the mayor of Iguala, the town in Guerrero where the students were last seen, ordered police to shoot at the students and then turn them over to the Guerreros Unidos gang. The incident has sparked widespread outrage at pervasive corruption and impunity among local police forces and government officials and at the security policies of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Although the anger has resonated nationwide, much of the demonstrations have remained concentrated within Guerrero state, where a radical student protest tradition and close ties between gangs and local governments have created an incendiary combination. On Tuesday, student protesters set fire to the Guerrero headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the political party of President Peña Nieto. Last month, a group of protesters also set fire to parts of the Guerrero government palace.
Ortega also referenced economic losses for Acapulco, the nearby beach resort town that has reported falling figures since the protests first began in late September. According to the Association of Hotels and Motels of Acapulco, nearly 16,000 trip reservations to the popular tourist spot have been canceled for the week of Nov. 20, a holiday commemorating Mexico’s revolution. The association estimates Acapulco could suffer a loss of some 25 million pesos ($1.8 million) from the cancellations.
Javier Saldivar, vice president of the Business Coordination Counsel of Guerrero, also asked for a dialogue with family members of the missing students to protect business interests in the state.
The protests have swelled again in recent days after Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced last week that gang members confessed to killing the students, setting fire to their bodies and dumping the ashes in the San Juan River. But many family members of the missing students have refused to accept the veracity of the confessions without DNA evidence to corroborate the deaths and accused the federal government of attempting to close the case quickly. While federal authorities have recovered some remains from the river, Murillo Karam said DNA testing would be difficult given the charred conditions.