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article imageMayoral couple flee after attack on Mexican students

By Carola Sole (AFP)     Oct 24, 2014 in World

With their designer clothes and jewelry business, Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda had risen to the pinnacle of this Mexican town, flaunting their wealth and power.

But on September 26, they skipped Iguala, leaving behind a mystery about their role in a night of police violence that stunned Mexico.

Abarca is alleged to have ordered police to attack a crowd of student protesters, setting off clashes that left six dead.

More disturbing yet, 43 students remain missing nearly a month later, the subject of a manhunt and protests that have grown angrier with each passing revelation of the culture of corruption that has permeated this small provincial city in the state of Guerrero, 200 kilometers (125 miles south) of Mexico City.

Mexicans have learned that even before the students went missing the mayor had been accused of murder, and that his wife was related to drug traffickers, all the while presiding over Iguala.

Few here can explain how the kid who once sold clothing and straw hats on the street rose to become a local magnate and eventually the town's mayor.

Abarca was known to be tenacious and many looked askance at his flamboyant wife, now one of the most wanted people in the country.

In prison interviews, members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel described the wife as an ally who ran criminal enterprises from Iguala's city hall.

The head of a local state children's protection charity accused Abarca of ordering the attack on the students, to prevent them from disrupting a speech by by his wife.

- Pride and arrogance -

Traumatized and ashamed to find their town's seamy underside exposed to the world, locals have just two words to define this "imperial couple": pride and arrogance.

Picture taken on a screen of Maria de Los Angeles Pineda Villa during a press conference for Attorne...
Picture taken on a screen of Maria de Los Angeles Pineda Villa during a press conference for Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam at the Attorney General building in Mexico City on October 22, 2014
Yuri Cortez, AFP/File

Maria, who works at a small jewelry shop that also sells dollars to businesses, recalled Abarca treating her with contempt when she delivered a bundle of cash to him five years ago.

"What are you bringing me? Garbage?" Abarca cried when she offered bills of one, five or 10 dollars.

"He was a despot. Anything less than $100 was garbage to him," recalled Maria, who declined to give her last name.

Always dressed to the nines, the cold and haughty Pineda was considered by many to be the dominant half of the couple.

It was no secret that she had ambitions to replace her husband at the end of his mandate.

"We were scared," said a city hall employee who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely about the couple's nepotism.

"It was high time for them to leave."

- 'Hardworking' politician -

Abarca's family, which remained in Iguala, gives a very different image of the mayor, who is said to own 17 properties in the city, including a major shopping center.

"He is a hardworking boy who set about meeting many challenges. He earned his money himself and was in a very good situation economically long before becoming mayor," his sister Roselia told AFP.

She insists on her brother's innocence, saying he left out of fear and will soon reappear.

Chairs with portraits of missing students are seen  during a march demanding justice for the 43 miss...
Chairs with portraits of missing students are seen during a march demanding justice for the 43 missing students, along a street in Mexico City on October 22, 2014
Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP/File

The son of modest shopkeepers, the third of five brothers, Abarca dropped out of medical school to go into business.

He entered politics in 2012, "invited by people who wanted change" for Iguala and who saw him as a "stranger to dirty politics," Roselia said.

"He had no clue about where he had set foot. Politics is the worst of all," added Roselia, a school principal.

She recalled a period when her brother courted Pineda in his youth. At the time, Pineda supplied dresses sewn by her mother to the shop owned by Abarca's parents.

Roselia said she knew nothing about the accusations that Abarca was involved in the murder of an agricultural leader last year, or of his supposed links to drug traffickers.

"He liked his wife, not his brothers," she said.

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