Gov. Angel Aguirre Rivero of the Mexican state of Guerrero resigned abruptly on Thursday, in the latest sign of the instability that has gripped the region where 43 teaching students from Ayotzinapa Normal School went missing nearly a month ago after an attack by local police with suspected drug ties.
Aguirre is the highest-ranking political figure to fall so far since the September 26 attacks in the city of Iguala, and resigned after tens of thousands of people marched in dozens of cities calling for him and other officials considered responsible for the crippling lack of the rule of law that afflicts much of the country to step down.
Aguirre announced that he would take a leave of office — a constitutional formality — until an interim governor could be named. It was not immediately clear who would be taking his place.
"The priority must be locating the missing students, and that those responsible for these acts are punished," Aguirre said Thursday during a brief press conference at the governor's residence in the capital of Chilpancingo. "These incidents should lead us to a period of national reflection, to create a new national security policy… so that these tragedies are never repeated in Guerrero or in any other part of the country."
The governor took no questions from reporters after speaking and left swiftly for Guerrero's congress to deliver his formal resignation request. His online profile on the Guerrero state website was immediately taken down after his statement.
Aguirre has had a long and complex career laced with scandal and conflict.
He spent most of his political life as a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, until party leaders declined to name him candidate for governor of Guerrero, prompting him to leave the party in 2010. Aguirre ran for governor anyway on the ticket of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, and won in January 2011.
It was actually his second stint in the governor's office. Between 1996 and 1999, Aguirre served as Guerrero interim governor after Ruben Figueroa was forced to vacate office after the Aguas Blancas massacre, in which state police killed 17 unarmed campesinos in June 1995.
So a massacre of civilians led to Aguirre's first term as governor of Guerrero, and another potential massacre — the recent killing of six and the disappearance of 43 others — has led to his downfall.
Aguirre also served as a federal senator and a deputy in Mexico's lower house of congress, and is regarded as a longtime friend of current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
But he has been unable to shake accusations of corruption and abuse of power. Last year, a video surfaced showing an interrogation of the mother-in-law of fugitive Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca. She appears bound and blindfolded, and says that Aguirre's gubernatorial campaign was financed by a drug cartel.
The Iguala incidents have cast a harsh light on the PRD, a party that was founded in 1989 by idealistic grassroots dissidents within the PRI behemoth but which has since also faced accused of collusion with organized crime groups at the state and local level. Julio Cesar Godoy, a PRD congressman from Michoacan, was stripped of government immunity in 2010 for his alleged links to the formerly powerful Familia Michoacana cartel. His brother at the time was the Michoacan governor.
Not even the populist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a two-time PRD candidate for president, emerges unscathed by the Iguala tragedy. He's been linked in reports to a member of Aguirre's cabinet, Lazaro Mazón, who also recently resigned and is the political patron of the fugitive Iguala mayor.
The PRD on Thursday still managed to send a jab to its rivals, declaring via Twitter: "Aguirre can go, but for the insecurity that lives in the country, who will follow?" The tweet then asked skeptically of other governors facing security and impunity issues on their turf, including the Mexican president's initials, EPN.
Omar Garcia, a 23-year-old student at the Ayotzinapa Normal School teacher's college and a survivor of the Iguala police attacks, told VICE News during Thursday's protests that Aguirre's resignation ultimately matters little to the crisis in the state of Guerrero.
"It's a partisan question that doesn't interest us," Garcia said as students marched from the school to the center of Chilpancingo. "They can change them today, change them tomorrow, or change them later — it's the same shit. Our compañeros aren't here."
VICE News reporter Melissa del Pozo contributed to this report.
Follow Daniel Hernandez on Twitter: @longdrivesouth