Mexico's new president launches probe into missing students

Pedro Pardo / AFP (file photo) | Protesters march in Acapulco, on October 17, 2014, to demand answers over the fate of 43 missing students.

Newly installed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched his "transformation" of Mexico Monday with a return to presidential press conferences and a commission to investigate the internationally condemned disappearance of 43 students in 2014.


The anti-establishment leftist known as AMLO, who assumed the presidency Saturday, got down to business with a 6:00 am meeting with his public-security team, followed by a 7:00 am press conference -- something his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, habitually avoided.

He then signed a decree creating an investigative commission to unravel the unsolved case of the missing students, a stain on Pena Nieto's legacy.

"I promise you there will be no impunity, not in this terribly sad and painful case, and not in any other," Lopez Obrador said at a ceremony where the students' parents were present.

Mexico is still haunted by the disappearance of the 43 student protesters from the Ayotzinapa teachers' college in the southern state of Guerrero.

They were attacked and then detained by municipal police in the city of Iguala on September 26, 2014.

According to the official investigation, corrupt police then handed them over to hitmen from the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who killed them and burned their bodies at a garbage dump.

However, independent investigators found numerous holes in the official story -- including a lack of forensic evidence at the supposed crime scene and indications that many of the suspects were tortured into confessing.

Trump's 'respect'

Lopez Obrador's nearly hour-long press conference touched on a wide range of issues. But the biggest news may have been the event itself.

It was a dramatic departure from the style of Pena Nieto, who read out scripted statements to the press on a semi-regular basis but almost never took questions from journalists.

"We are going to guarantee the right to information," Lopez Obrador, 65, told a room packed with reporters.

"We're at your disposal to answer your questions. There are no limits, no censorship... The media are instruments to keep the people informed."

The former protest leader and Mexico City mayor said both the early-morning press conference and meeting with his public-security team would be daily rituals, calling the record-breaking violence fueled by Mexico's drug cartels "the issue that most worries Mexicans."

He also repeated his statement that he has a "respectful" relationship with US President Donald Trump, and called for a deal in which the United States would invest in economic development in Mexico and Central America to stop the flow of migrants across the US-Mexican border.

The challenges facing Mexico's new president

Trump for his part is pressuring Mexico for a deal to keep asylum-seeking migrants on its side of the border while their claims are processed, a possible source of tension between the two leaders.

But they have gotten off to a warm start so far -- and Trump again tweeted his congratulations.

Lopez Obrador "had a tremendous political victory with the great support of the Mexican People. We will work well together for many years to come!" he wrote.

Economic worries

Lopez Obrador also touched on his controversial decision to cancel a new $13-billion airport for Mexico City that was one-third complete, saying bonds from the project would be repaid.

He said he would give further details in Tuesday's press conference after meeting with his finance minister, Carlos Urzua.

Criticized by opponents -- especially in the business world -- as radical and authoritarian, Lopez Obrador has triggered fears about the future of Latin America's second-largest economy after Brazil.

In the latest report from the central bank, a panel of independent economists revised down their forecast for Mexico's economic growth next year, from 2.2 percent to 1.9 percent.

Lopez Obrador won a landslide victory in the July 1 elections promising sweeping change in a country fed up with corruption and crime after 89 years of government by the same two parties.

Vowing to lead his anti-corruption, pro-austerity push by example, he has cut his own salary by 60 percent and forsworn the presidential residence, security detail and jet.

The latter was flown to California Monday to be refitted and sold.


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