Protesters in front of the White House questioned what happened to the students who are presumed dead, allegedly at the hands of local officials and police in league with a drug cartel. The dozens gathered in the city’s first winter snowfall were a smaller version of the massive street protests that have occurred in Mexico calling for Peña Nieto’s resignation.
The case has come to signify an ingrained abuse of authority and corruption in Mexico, and sparked indignation that federal authorities took 10 days to intervene. Peña Nieto has drawn criticism for saying it was time to “move beyond” the case just weeks after their abduction and taking a month to meet with their families.
Obama was under pressure from groups, including Human Rights Watch and the AFL-CIO, to press Peña Nieto to take the case more seriously. Mexican officials initially said they did not expect Obama to raise it, but he did by pledging U.S. support.
Obama told reporters in the Oval Office that Americans have been following the “tragic events surrounding the students whose lives were lost.” He said Peña Nieto described reforms he’s initiated around the issues that were raised.
“Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and the drug cartels that are responsible for so much tragedy inside of Mexico,” Obama said. But, he added, “Ultimately it will be up to Mexico and its law enforcement to carry out the decisions that need to be made.”
Peña Nieto responded by thanking Obama for working with Mexico to improve security, “especially this clear challenge Mexico has to continue fighting organized crime.”
Pressed later on whether the Obama administration believes that the investigation in Mexico has been credible, White House press secretary Josh Earnest pointed out that arrests have been made and the probe continues. He said Obama stands with Peña Nieto as he tries to put reforms in place.
The protesters across the street in Lafayette Park were so boisterous they could be heard by people in the Oval Office during the presidents’ meeting. The Oval Office is on the other side of the White House from Lafayette Park.