Mexican Mayor Responsible for Disappearance of Students Had Ties to Drug Cartel

By Victoria Kim 10/29/14

Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria have been fugitives since late September.

Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and wife.jpg
Wanted. Photo via

The fugitive mayor of the small city of Iguala in southern Mexico responsible for the recent disappearance of 43 students had a close connection to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel. More evidence about the events leading up to the students’ disappearance has been uncovered following the arrests of Iguala police officers and the leader of the Guerreros Unidos, Sidronio Casarrubias.

Casarrubias said Mayor Jose Luis Abarca received a payment of two million to three million pesos, or $150,000 to $220,000, a few times a month from the cartel. The Guerreros Unidos bribed the mayor and local police with money earned from growing opium poppies and selling opium paste to be refined for heroin destined for the United States. The mayor and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, left town on the day of the students’ disappearance and are now fugitives, along with the Iguala police chief.

On September 26, Abarca ordered police to detain the protesting students because he suspected they were plotting to disrupt a speech by his wife. The students were picked up by police and taken to a police station, and then to Cocula, a nearby town.

According to Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, at some point, the students were loaded on to a dump truck and taken, apparently still alive, to an area on the outskirts of Iguala where several mass graves were discovered. Casarrubias claimed that at this point, one of his lieutenants had told him the students were members or sympathizers of a rival gang.

The search for the missing students has uncovered a total of nine mass graves containing 30 sets of human remains. Murillo Karam said an initial DNA test confirmed they weren’t the bodies of the students, but officials are waiting for a second round of testing.

It was previously reported that the mayor’s wife, Pineda, had family ties to the cartel, but according to Casarrubias, she was in fact “the main operator of criminal activities” in Iguala. According to a federal official, the drug gang started trafficking more opium after income from marijuana dropped, possibly due to legalization of the weed in some U.S. jurisdictions. A total of 52 people—including police officers, city officials, and gang members—have been arrested thus far in the case.

Last week, Mexican authorities ordered the arrest of Abarca, his wife, and an aide, charging them with masterminding the attack. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed to find those responsible, offering a $110,000 reward for any information about the missing students.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr