I translated to English this article by Óscar de Pablo, originally published in GKillCity. I don't necessarily agree with all of it, but I do think that he makes important points that, as Mexicans, we need to consider when thinking about the moment our country is going through. Also, it is essential for people abroad to get a better understanding of what's happening and, unfortunately, big media in Mexico is not doing a good job providing elements for this. To what he states, I would add that the causes and consequences of the crisis go well beyond our borders and into the United States territory: this is a conflict that we absolutely need to consider in an international context. I hope Óscar's voice, brave and elocuent, somehow contributes to the discussion among my English-speaking friends.
What kind of “order” requires the disappearance of 43 people?
'Order reigns in Berlin!' exclaimed Rosa Luxemburg with bitter sarcasm briefly before being murdered in the repression of the workers’ uprising in 1919 Germany. This was the same kind of “order” that needed to be guarded at any cost on September 26th 2014 in Iguala, in the Mexican state of Guerrero. There was supposed to be a party that day, one that the mayor of Iguala would attend with his wife. But the celebration was threatened by eighty students of the Normal School of the nearby town of Ayotzinapa. They were there as political activists and the police brutally attacked them by orders of the municipal government. This is the episode that placed Mexico in the international spotlight. The following day, the official press celebrated the repression with an article called “Finally, order is set”. During the next days the image of this cover spread in the national media together with images that made the blood freeze: this was graphic testimony of what the word “order” meant in Guerrero.
The agents shot at the bus in which the students were travelling. But the bullets happened to hit –by mistake– a soccer team’s bus. The driver of the bus and a 14 year old player were killed. Blanca Montiel, a passerby, also fell in the shooting. By Saturday 27th at dawn, there were twenty injured boys and five fatalities. Of those who survived, 45 were arrested or, rather, kidnapped. Among them was Julio César Mondragón, who was brutally tortured to death the following day: his face was flayed. Rumor has it that this happened because he spit at his captors. The remaining 43 have not been seen since that day and the federal government takes them for dead.
On September 26th, the students were in Iguala raising money to travel to Mexico City and participate in the annual “2 de octubre” protest, which commemorates the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968. Their main complaints were directed, above everything, at budget cuts for public education. In the Ayotzinapa Normal School, future rural teachers are not embarrassed about their peasant origins nor do they hide their political affiliation. They study not only to be able to teach, but also to understand the social reality they will face as teachers. They are as poor as their future students and, in order to survive, they have to supplement their insufficient state scholarships with intense work, for the school is also a collective farm. If they endure these conditions, it is not for their own advancement, but to help the people, whose sons they consider themselves to be. They are members of the Federación de Estudiantes Campesinos Socialistas (Socialist Peasant Students Federation). They decorate their space with portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, as well as of some Mexican guerrillero leaders of the seventies: Genaro Vásquez and Lucio Cabañas, two rural teachers that graduated from that same school.
The government’s spokesmen, the rightwing parties, and the media have always called them rioters, agitators, criminals. And not only them. Last year, a rural teachers’ protest in Mexico City triggered an explicitly classist and implicitly racist hate campaign. Under those conditions, violent repression has turned into an “occupational hazard” of the normalista. In December 2011, two of them were shot to death by the state police during a protest in Chilpancingo (Guerrero’s capital), an event that produced practically no fuss.
Both the government and the press (national and international) present the massacre of Iguala as yet another episode of the long “war against drugs” that has devastated Mexico in the last seven years. The probable collaboration of organized crime with Iguala’s police in this attack has contributed to darkening the very specific political nature of this crime. The federal government declared it was outraged and blamed the local government for everything. The implicated policemen and some civilian accomplices were arrested by federal forces. The mayor, José Luis Abarca, had time to run away and was captured two weeks later far away from his city. Gradually, his responsibility in previous acts of political violence became public together with the family ties that his wife, Ángeles Pineda, had with the powerful Beltrán Leyva cartel.
Through the tangle of different government levels, implicated political parties and drug cartels, a simple, condensed, three-word motto is being heard: IT WAS THE STATE. What underlies this understanding is not only that the perpetrators were policemen or that they acted in response to higher orders, but that their motive was the state motive par excellence: the defense of established social order through repression of dissidents.
During a press conference on November 7th, the attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, denied that the Mexican State as a whole held any responsibility for the actions of the municipal government. However, in the same breath he admitted matter-of-facty that if the federal army had been present, far from protecting the students, it would have contributed to the repression. Their job as an institution is to protect the constitutedauthority.
Since Mexico is a presidential and centralist country, the person that –in form and fact—controls the armed forces in all the national territory is the President of the Republic. Today, that man is Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). So the parents of the victims, after meeting with him, instead of showing the traditional “respect to the authorities”, declared him responsible for what happened to their children.
The nationalist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) is also to blame. Some call this electoral option “the left”. Abarca, the mayor of Iguala, belonged to this party as did the governor of the State of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre, who, faced with evidence testifying to his closeness to Abarca, had to resign. This circumstance, far from obscuring the political nature of the crime, has somehow simplified it: the differences between parties are now irrelevant when compared with the abyss that separates them from the social movements, especially of the younger people.
So distant is it from the public power, that there have already been strong demonstrations of repudiation not only against the headquarters of the two previously mentioned parties (PRI and PRD), but even against those of the third party, the National Action Party (PAN). The PAN was not directly involved in the Iguala massacre, but it was the ruling party when the militarization started, less than ten years ago. Back then, President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), eager to legitimize his government after a questioned electoral process, started a full-on war against drugs. To do this, he extended the role of the army and broke certain pacts or equilibriums that had allowed the citizens to live, to a certain point, peacefully.
In the last days, the classmates of the disappeared students and the militants of the magisterial state union have twice set fire to the main building of the state government. They have also taken food from big chain stores to distribute it among the population of Chilpancingo, and they occupied Acapulco airport for three hours. In the rest of the country there have been several student strikes, one after another, getting longer, and at a protest in México City there were people trying to set the wooden door of the emblematic National Palace, seat of the federal government, on fire.
Because of these actions, the consensus that dominated Mexican society during the days that followed the students’ disappearance has dissipated into consternation. As protests get more and more radical, the people who express their outrage inwords take distance from those expressing it in actions. The most radical acts are attributed, each time, to government infiltrators, as in this cartoon. And this makes solidarity increasingly difficult.
There are more and more people that compare the violence of the victimizer to the resistance of the victim, valuing the objects that have been destroyed by the protesters more highly than the lives that have been lost in the repression. Before the attempt of setting the National Palace’s door on fire, PRI public servant and youth leader Luis Adrián Ramírez expressed in florid language what many others say between the lines. In social networks, he stated that the government should not by stopped by the “fucking idea of preserving the human rights of these beasts who don’t deserve to live… and today more than ever I call for the return of somebody like Mr. Gustavo Díaz Ordaz”, making reference to the president associated with the repression of the 1968 student movement. The daughter of a union leader associated with the PRI illustrated in six words the underlying motive for this aggression when she wrote on facebook: “No wonder that they burn them…nacos”. “Naco”, in Mexico, is a word used to refer to the socially poor and ethnically indigenous.
The same words that were used against the students before their disappearance –rebels, vandals, criminals– are used today in the commercial media against those who protest their disappearance. Solidarity between intellectuals is turning more difficult and more necessary. However, as spokesmen, journalists, writers, and academics distance themselves from the protests’ violence, more and more workers gather at its base. Several important unions have formally joined the movement. People who do not usually get involved in politics, even conservatives, defend the very same actions that the “opinion leaders” condemn. The hairdresser begins by talking about her economic problems but ends up speaking about “the boys from Guerrero”. The taxi driver, after hours of enduring a traffic jam caused by the protesters blocking a street, explains: “It is about the boys”, and then remains respectfully silent. A couple of women sitting next to me at the movies are outraged about a government ad and shout: “We didn’t pay to listen to their lies!”
So again, as so often in the last eight years, fellow citizens are dead. Sadly, this is not news anymore. Why did this particular case detonate the protest? Perhaps because these were not just any kind of citizens. They were young boys fighting for the poor and trying to get a better education for them. They were not accidentally murdered, they did not refuse to pay extortion, they were not trespassing, and they did not belong to a cartel. They were murdered because they defied the fundamental state policy in educative and social terms. And, deep down, everybody in Mexico knows this. The intuition is spreading: the police of the rich killed the sons of the poor because they were defending the poor. All of them.