Inside his home in Chilpancingo, in Mexico’s southwestern state of Guerrero, Humberto, a soft-spoken middle-aged teacher, watched his daughter prepare a traditional posole soup. Apart from coconuts and Acapulco Gold marijuana, the dish is one of the state’s best-known commodities. Weeks had passed since 43 students from a nearby teaching school in Ayotzinapa were abducted and presumably murdered by a local drug cartel, allegedly with tacit approval from the local authorities, but the city still shook with unrest. That night, a relatively subdued protest simmered in the city center, but the smashed windows of the government offices down the road were reminders of the clashes that occurred earlier in the week.
Humberto mentors several students from the Ayotzinapa teaching school. Speaking alongside one of them that evening, he tied the tragedy to the many deep-seated problems plaguing Guerrero. When it comes to investment, security, and economic development, the state simply hasn’t been a priority for Mexico’s federal government. Its education system is massively underfunded, leaving residents woefully unprepared to succeed in Mexico’s increasingly globalized economy. And soaring crime rates have made improving public schools more difficult. “You can’t reform education when there’s this much instability,” Humberto explained. The student, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, explained that because of this lack of policy support, students and teachers have come to ally themselves with another downtrodden group: Mexico’s poor farmers. “The vision [our] school has is showing solidarity with humble fieldworkers,” he told me. “We help farmers to harvest. The school participates.”
Guerrero is not alone in its plight. Other southern Mexican states, too, are at a vast disadvantage compared with the more developed and industrialized north—a disparity that has stoked public anger for years. Although the students’ disappearance provided the spark for waves of protests that have swept the region, the roots of the discontent lie much deeper. For President Enrique Peña Nieto, the protests are a harbinger
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