IGUALA, Mexico – Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto visited the southern city of Iguala Wednesday for the first time since 43 students vanished there in 2014 in a case still haunting his administration.
Peña Nieto came to the Guerrero state city for the national Flag Day celebration, but the tragic story of the students has overshadowed Iguala’s significance as the birthplace of the nation’s colors 195 years ago.
“Iguala is a symbolic town in our national history. It cannot remain marked by this tragic event,” Peña Nieto said after watching a giant flag raised on a hill.
“Its people deserve to be known for their strengths, their qualities and their strong character to achieve things for their community,” he said as troops stood on a football field.
Este es un día de encuentro e identidad, de orgullo y unidad para los mexicanos. Hoy celebramos a nuestra Bandera, la más bella del mundo.
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) February 24, 2016
His visit comes as independent foreign investigators and parents of the students continue to question the official probe into what happened to the teacher trainees.
Scores of students from the nearby rural teacher college of Ayotzinapa were attacked by Iguala police on September 26, 2014, after the young men hijacked buses that they wanted to use for a future protest.
That same night, according to the authorities, the officers took 43 students and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which killed them, incinerated their bodies at a garbage dump and tossed the remains in a nearby river.
But experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Argentine forensic investigators say there was no scientific proof that a large fire was set at the dump.
The role of the army has also been questioned, with the commission experts calling for a probe into whether soldiers failed in their duty to protect the students. Iguala is home to an army battalion.
Peña Nieto said in his speech that the government has undertaken a “vast institutional effort to obtain justice through a deep, transparent and open investigation” with the collaboration of international groups.