The most unfortunate aspect of Ayotzinapa -- apart from the fact that the 43 students are unlikely to ever resurface -- is the inability of the government to do much about it. Governments across Latin America frequently promise to tackle notoriously difficult police and judicial reforms and unroll one security strategy after another, frequently to no avail (Colombia may be one exception, with some caveats). Local police forces are corrupt, underpaid, and poorly regarded, and the police are as likely to be the perpetrators as much as the victims of violence. The relatively more competent Mexican federal forces, such as the marines, are overstretched. Local politicians are bought off, extorted, and threatened into accepting the demands of organized criminal groups. As they say in Mexico, plata o plomo. Take the silver, or take the lead.
President Enrique Peña Nieto should be riding high now. Early in his term he managed to craft a broad political coalition to push forward a number of ambitious reforms, such as to open Mexico's telecom and energy sectors. Through the middle of 2014 he was relatively popular and analysts pointed to Mexico as being one of the few countries in the hemisphere that was undertaking important structural reforms. But last September the positive narrative shifted, and the government's security policies have come under fire. Critics complain that the president has tried to sweep Mexico's security problems under la manta in an attempt to shift attention to the economic reform agenda and attract investment; that the policy of targeting and eliminating top cartel leaders results in power vacuums and generates even more violence as the underlings wrest for control; that statistics on homicide rates published by the state institutions are "pure crap", as one contact complained.
As the families of the missing students continue to convene protests, as young students in Houston weave the stories of the disappeared into their poetry, as the international media attention slowly fades away, not much will be done. Polls from the 2015 midterm election cycle show that Peña Nieto's PRI party isn't taking much of a hit from public dissatisfaction with the state of security -- while EPN is unpopular, the party trudges on (though the PRD party, which controls Guerrero state where the students went missing, appears likely to lose its control over the state to the PRI gubernatorial candidate). Promises will be made, contracts will be signed, companies will write security costs into their business plans. But as long as the fear of lead, and the lure of silver prevails in remote towns with little appetite for rule of law, little will change. The story of Ayotzinapa will repeat itself again.