The Ayotzinapa movement is transforming the country
The Ayotzinapa movement is a novel experience.
All attempts by those at the top to contain it have failed.
The US government’s answer has been to buttress Plan Mérida,
which provides weapons to Mexico’s government,
supposedly only to combat the drug trafficking cartels.
But those below haven’t been frightened off by the repression;
they’ve been creative in their actions,
and now represent the thousands upon thousands of people
fed up with the impunity, corruption and generalized crime.
They have proposals for transforming Mexico.
The tragedy of the still-missing Ayotzinapa teacher training school students who were forcibly disappeared by government security forces in Iguala, Guerrero, last September continued impacting Mexico and the world in the last months of 2014 and will surely go on doing so well into 2015, a municipal election year.
Three caravans toured the country in late September bearing the name of each of the disappeared students, then joined together in the capital. Marches calling for people to rise up were held in all the cities they passed through. A peaceful grassroots demonstration on November 20 again brought out thousands of citizens. That day the parents of the Ayotzinapa students created a social front, a huge national movement to demand resolution of the cases involving not only their own children but also the thousands of other people who have disappeared in Mexico. In addition to this fourth march, there were work stoppages in 114 universities and work centers, takeovers of highway tollbooths and other acts in 30 states of the Republic. Mobilizations in solidarity with Ayotzinapa also took place in 237 cities of 33 countries, including the United States.
Peña Nieto offers Amnesty International declared that President Peña Nieto doesn’t seem to fathom how serious Mexico’s humanitarian crisis really is, while US senators sent a letter to Peña Nieto’s secretary of state expressing their profound concern for the life of the 43 disappeared students. Even the president of the World Bank declared that their families deserved justice.
nothing but promises
Given the insecurity, Peña Nieto was forced to present a plan at the end of November, pulling out proposals from years back that prompted several people to remark that they were nothing more than a “refried” version of the Mérida Initiative and Plan Puebla Panamá. Human Rights Watch criticized the government plan as empty promises that did not address the grave human rights crisis.
The President was denounced for not taking into account the suggestions by either society or victims themselves and only trying to concentrate more power, attempting to deploy more security forces with no human rights guarantees and without reflecting on the infiltration of organized crime into all government entities. The opposition questioned his lack of self-criticism and considered his announcements insufficient and unworthy of trust. Although he talked about the need to attack corruption, he said nothing about the shady circumstances of the construction of his own wife’s house.
Investigate the Army Given the absolute lack of progress in the search for the disappeared students, their parents announced they were going to implement their own search plan, calling for support from community police. During their searches they found nine clandestine graves in Guerrero, but didn’t find their own children..
The parents insisted that the search should also involve checking the military bases and that the Army’s role had to be investigated, given the evident neglect by those on a nearby base the day the students were disappeared not to mention the central role Mexico’s Army has played in other people’s disappearance.. The representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico also reiterated that the investigations must cover everyone alleged to have any responsibility and that all dimensions of the incident had to be cleared up.
On the second anniversary of Peña’s administration, cloth effigies of him with bloody hands were burned in different places. People’s indignation and disgust with his government’s performance were reflected in the failing grades it received in the polls for everything from corruption, impunity, poverty and human rights violations to the lack of economic growth.
#Yamecansé The mobilizations didn’t let up in December, illustrating that the fear of repression had been overcome. Early in the month, members of the independent teachers’ organization in Guerrero burned busts of the former governors of that state and 43 tractors driven by members of the Barzón social organization rolled down the street in a march to remember the disappeared students. Their faces were also present in the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, where solidarity with the struggle to find them was expressed in several events by placing 43 empty seats in the auditorium.
And with #YaMeCansé saturating the social networks, replicas of this hashtag also began to be created in English (#IAmTired) to continue expressing international rejection of Mexico’s situation.
Put the pain behind them? Even with the United Nations demanding an in-depth investigation and discontent mounting, President Peña issued a call to put the stage of pain behind them. The movement responded by intensifying its actions demanding that the students be returned alive and accusing the government of wanting to even make their memory disappear.
The government attempted to close the case, claiming the disappeared had been incinerated. But having inspected the Cocula garbage dump, where the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) said this alleged act had occurred, the parents didn’t believe a pyre capable of cremation had been built there, and further argued that it had rained in the area that day.
Businesspeople pressured the government to come down hard on the marchers, while legislators tried to resuscitate legislation to punish the demonstrators. The Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy charged that the government was busy infiltrating supposed anarchists into the protests to try and detract from their legitimacy.
One student identified In early December the government released the results of DNA tests done in Austria identifying Alexander Mora, one of the 43 students, as dead or incinerated. The parents of the disappeared responded that from that day forward they would refuse to recognize the Peña government because it was an assassin. They argued that this was a state crime and would not go unpunished, that they would not cry for their children or give the government any respite. They prophesied that Mexico would never be the same after Ayotzinapa.
The Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center declared that the identification of Mora’s remains did not mean the other 42 had suffered the same fate. Argentine forensic experts who confirmed his death specified that they had no proof the remains had come from the Cocula garbage dump.
Toward another Although marches and demonstrations continued in various parts of the country, above all Guerrero, the parents of the disappeared students proposed moving on to another phase of struggle, demanding the departure of the authorities in Guerrero and the cancellation of the 2015 municipal elections.
phase of struggle
The 24th Ibero-American Summit was held in the state of Veracruz the second week of December. Although the Mexican government did everything it could to keep the issue of Ayotzinapa from cropping up in that forum, it failed.
Furthermore, in Sweden, a Mexican youth waving a bloody Mexican flag interrupted Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to beg her to speak out about Mexico. In later declarations, the young Pakistani did at least refer to Mexico’s “problems.”
“Propelled by pain” In commenting on Peña’s failure in the anti-crime struggle, the US government offered help in getting to the bottom of
the Ayotzinapa case. The Mexican government acknowledged the presence of FBI agents in the investigations, in the context of the Mérida Initiative.
On December 10, Mexico’s secretary of the Navy declared that the disappeared students’ parents were being manipulated. They shot back that he and his underlings were puppets obeying a corrupt and murdering President and that what was propelling them to pursue the case was their own pain.
It was revealed that the Center for Research and National Security, the intelligence agencyof Mexico’s Secretariat of the Interior, had begun spying on members of Guerrero’s Montaña Tlachinollan Human Rights Center. The government hoped to turn the defenders of basic guarantees into suspects and to intimidate and demobilize the groups organizing to protest the country’s utterly unsustainable situation: even according to official figures, nearly 34,000 people have disappeared in Mexico, 9,790 of them during these first two years of Peña Nieto’s government.
The Army and Federal Researchers from the Physics Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and from the Metropolitan Autonomous University presented the results of a study showing that the PGR’s hypothesis that the 43 disappeared students were incinerated in a Cocula garbage dump lacked scientific evidence. In mid-December the Mexican magazine Proceso published a feature article based on journalistic investigation, official documents, videos and testimonies that also refuted the official PGR version.
An UNAM physics researcher hypothesized that the only way the Ayotzinapa students could in fact have been cremated would have been by using private and Army ovens. He later charged that he had been harassed by the government after making his views public. Despite the fact that the sources in the Proceso article showed that both the Federal Police and the Army were involved in the attack on the students, the PGR stuck to its version.
On December 21, Proceso published new data revealing a cover-up by the State the night of the crime to exonerate the Army and Federal Police. The magazine referred to a flight log from that night by a military pilot of Guerrero’s Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection who was sent to look for the disappeared students yet recorded no sighting of any enormous bonfire such as the PGR insists occurred.
Reports in Proceso’s final 2014 issue highlighted the Ayotzinapa movement’s demands that the Army and Federal Police be investigated. The movement’s protests featured banners reading “Search in the barracks, the Army has them!”
The magazine’s first issue for this year returned to the theme, reporting that the Army’s prints were found even in the PGR’s own dossier on the Ayotzinapa case. The Secretariat of Defense limited itself to declaring that it had no crematoriums and the PGR again repeated its discredited version.
Days of struggle over ChristmasAs solidarity actions multiplied all over the country, the universities began their sixth round of actions for Ayotzinapa on December 21, to ensure that the issue wouldn’t be forgotten over the year-end vacation. For several days they did theater performances and organized health brigades and other activities. The demonstrators insisted that cases such as Ayotzinapa and the preceding one in which at least 15 alleged delinquents were executed in Tlatlaya, in the state of Mexico, are not isolated as the federal authorities would have people believe. They argue that they show the structural nature of violence in a country in which it is no longer possible to differentiate organized crime from that of the political class.
The People’s National Assembly of Guerrero drew up a plan of action for Ayotzinapa: both Christmas and New Year’s Day would be days of struggle and they would issue a call for voters to boycott the June 2015 municipal elections in that state. They also proposed intensifying the blockade of ports and airports, “liberating” toll booths, taking over gas stations and various media centers and continuing with the global action campaigns. They repeated the demand that the Army, Navy, national gendarmerie and all official police bodies leave Guerrero and called for the continuation of people’s assemblies in each community, ejido, neighborhood, settlement and factory.
Assigning responsibilitiesMexico’s human rights situation in 2014 was one of the most complex in recent years, according to social organizations. Spain’s social movements joined forces with some of the associations of Mexican students and citizens in that country in a public offensive to denounce Mexico’s authorities.
By failing to seriously and responsibly take on investigations into this and other cases, the Mexican State is encouraging the impunity and corruption that already exists in public administration and in the armed and police forces. The protesters demanded an intensive investigation that establishes responsibilities at all three levels of the government and in the Federal Police and Army, including the pathetic role played by the National Human Rights Commission.
The Bishops declare “Enough!” Mexico’s Episcopal Conference warned that there will be no peace in Mexico if the victims of the violence and insecurity aren’t properly addressed. The bishops believe there is a humanitarian crisis not only in Guerrero but throughout the country that has grown into a social and political crisis.
Christopher Pierre, the Vatican nuncio in Mexico, celebrated a Mass for the parents of the 43 students on December 22. They took the opportunity to give him letters asking the Pope to intervene, requesting an audience to personally express their experiences and begging him not to leave them alone.
Priests in Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, closed their churches to protest the lack of results in the search for the 43 students. Raúl Vera, the bishop of Saltillo, told the parents of the disappeared that “you haven’t remained fearful and paralyzed in a kind of still shot of the terror, contemplating the pain overwhelming you and the tragedy of not seeing your children and husbands returned; rather each day awakens a hope in you.” He described the relatives of the disappeared as a sign that Mexicans are no longer willing to allow these tragedies to happen in their country. In his Christmas message, Bishop Vera stated that organized crime members are part of the governmental structure in all three levels of public administration, adding that the business and financial sectors are colleagues and business partners of organized crime.
After Christmas the bishops also demanded an investigation into the case of Father Gregorio López Gorostieta in Altamirano, kidnapped and murdered a few days earlier after accusing the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel operating in Guerrero and Morelos of the Ayotzinapa crime in his last homily. The priest had also insisted that the Church would not remain silent in the face of such abominable events.
Other elders of the diocese of Tlapa who have supported the demand for the appearance of the teaching students have received death threats. With that the Mexican bishops again issued their demand: “Enough!”
The weapons that killed them Parents of the disappeared students demonstrated on the night of Christmas Eve near the presidential palace, but were kept at a distance by police. The Federal District’s religious community of the Movement for Peace and its People’s Social and Civic Congress led a public prayer for the students and called on people to move from indignation to dignified action. A demonstration was held in the Zócalo at almost the same time to express solidarity with the students and urge the population not to forget the multiple grievances suffered by Mexican society.
On December 25 parents and friends of the disappeared students demonstrated in front of the German Embassy to condemn that country’s sale of arms to the Mexican government, which the Federal and State Police used to kill three of the students at the moment the others were taken away. The parents warned again that there would be no elections in Guerrero because they will not allow politicians protected by organized crime to govern them.
The demonstrations intensify The demonstrations only intensified after December 26, the third month anniversary of the tragedy. In Iguala, where the Ayotzinapa teacher training school is located, the protest went as far as the military zone itself. Students and teachers battered down one of the doors of the 41st Infantry Battalion headquarters and the parents of the disappeared students accused the Army of having their children.
A Mexico City march ended up with a rally at the Monument of the Revolution during which demonstrators called on the population not to vote in the 2015 elections until the youths appear and those responsible are punished. There were also protests in Guadalajara, Culiacán, Colima and Saltillo. It was the first time in recent history that there were so many protest acts during a vacation period.
By the end of December the Ayotzinapa movement had taken over 28 mayor’s offices in Guerrero, setting up municipal councils in several of them. The goal is to take all 81 mayor’s offices in that state.
The Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity concluded its December meeting in Caracas with a declaration expressing its profound indignation at the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students in Mexico, which it defined as a state crime against humanity. They said President Peña Nieto was the main person responsible for the tragedy and extended their support to the Mexican people, stressing that Ayotzinapa synthesizes the assaults against them by the empire and the local oligarchy.
“The tragedy that The Mexican newspaper that has provided the most information about this tragedy has been La Jornada, but El Universal came in a close second with titles like “Ayotzinapa was the event of the year” and “The tragedy that changed everything.” In a vote promoted by that publication, three quarters of those who responded listed Ayotzinapa as the news event of the year.
The case also generated more than 11.4 million documents in the social networks. El Universal tallied 17 mobilizations in October, 9 in November and 10 in December, together with 22 other forms of protests in October, 11 in November and another 11 in December, with 74% of the demonstrations held in Mexico and 27% in other countries of the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania. A YouTube video showed citizens of 12 European, American, Asian and African countries saying that “43 are missing” in the world. In short, there was no let-up; the issue was not being forgotten, as the government had hoped.
Boycotting the elections On the final day of 2014 the relatives of the disappeared students marched as close as they could get to the presidential palace. Although the police again blocked their progress, they fulfilled their promise to be in front of the presidential residence demonstrating their indignation on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. There they announced that they will conduct even more forceful actions in 2015 to demand that the students be returned alive, and charged that the government is more interested in training criminals than educating students.
is a major objective
In January, President Peña visited the state of Oaxaca, where he came up against demonstrations by teachers who declared him persona non grata. And in Guerrero teachers pledged to boycott the municipal elections in June and encourage the formation of people’s assemblies to govern the communities instead.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened 2015 with the statement that human rights violations such as the attack against the Ayotzinapa teaching students and the Tatlaya executions are directly connected to the impunity that reigned for crimes during what has been dubbed Mexico’s “dirty war.”
The People’s National Assembly meeting in Ayotzinapa, attended by 147 organizations, agreed to a campaign that would escalate the search for the disappeared students and to a massive concentration in Mexico’s capital on the fourth-month anniversary of the State crime. It also ratified the decision to boycott the municipal elections.
Support for the call to boycott the 2015 elections was expressed by Mexican poet, essayist, novelist and journalist Javier Sicilia, who tenaciously led a massive peaceful movement in 2011 to find those who had been disappeared during Felipe Calderón’s government after his 24-year-old son, a health administration student, was killed by drug traffickers in March of that year. Sicilia has insisted that the only way to break away from the political parties’ criminal culture is to take advantage of the moment of inflection Mexico is going through and “refound” the nation, pushing for a new Constitution and creating a Committee of National Salvation as the decisive voice leading the people instead of the “party-ocracy.”
President Peña gets a mixedGiven President Peña Nieto’s visit to the United States in the first days of the new year, Human Rights Watch called on President Obama to insist Peña investigate and judge the atrocious abuses committed by members of Mexico’s security forces, particularly the executions in Tlatlaya in June and the forced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students in September. The New York-based human rights organization stressed that Mexico is going through its most serious human rights crisis in years, with security force members participating in terrible abuses that are rarely ever sanctioned. It added that despite this the US government has provided significant funds to Mexico’s governments through the Mérida Initiative since 2007.
welcome in the United States
Although Washington says the Mérida Initiative requisites with respect to the defense of human rights are being met,
it is clear this is not the case. President Obama said his government had followed the “tragic” events of the Ayotzinapa students with concern, but decided to back Peña’s strategy after speaking to him.
Protest actions around Peña’s visit were held in more than 10 US cities to demand the students be returned alive and repudiate US aid to Mexico’s security forces. The US media gave greater coverage to the protests than to the presidential visit. In the end, Peña opted not to attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos to avoid triggering still more international protests.
They will continue the struggle The eighth national and international day of activities for Ayotzinapa was held at the end of the fourth month after the attack. In addition to marches and rallies in various parts of the country demanding that the students be presented alive, four marches starting at different points converged in Mexico City’s Zócalo the evening of January 26.
The day after that sizable march, the Attorney General’s office held a press conference yet again stressing its own discredited version: the 43 students had been killed then incinerated in the Cocula garbage dump and their remains thrown into the waters of the nearby Río San Juan. Following that, Peña Nieto ratified his wish that “Mexico must not remain trapped in the tragedy.” But the students’ parents unhesitatingly responded by ratifying their decision to keep fighting because they don’t believe the official version and arer determined that their strategy encourage the continuation of a broader struggle for human rights.
Even before the January 26 march and the PGR’s reiteration of the official version, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to technically assist the investigation into what really happened to the 43. After signing an agreement with the Mexican government and with representatives of the families of the disappeared students, it put together a team of several lawyers, a doctor, a sociologist and a former attorney general from different countries to help resolve the case.
A movement of a new typeThere hasn’t been a single day without some protest action since the Ayotzinapa movement was created. It’s a movement of a new type, given its depth, breadth and scope.
Ever since last October, all grassroots movements that have spoken out in Mexico have included the demands and presence of parents of all disappeared, not just those of the Ayotzinapa teacher training school. The Ayotzinapa movement has also made important alliances with the independent teachers’ movement and the Zapatista movement.
Its impact has been to demonstrate the corruption and inefficiency of the Mexican State and of the political class of all stripes. It has promoted the creation of autonomous governments in several municipalities and proposed putting the 2015 municipal elections in check. It has refused to be intimidated by repression and has shown a great deal of creativity in its actions. Its international repercussions haven’t let up, but have been buoyed by the dynamism that still remains of the #Yosoy132 (#Iam132) social movement. That movement began as student opposition to Enrique Peña Nieto’s candidacy in 2012, but when major Mexican media claimed those protesting at one of his appearances were not students, 131 of them appeared with their university ID cards on a YouTube video, which quickly went viral. Support for their opposition quickly branched out to general residents of Mexico, gaining support from some 50 cities around the world in which those backing the students and their cause identified themselves as number 132.
Ayotzinapa expresses Those at the top have failed in all their attempts to silence this movement. The United States has tried to buttress the Mérida Initiative, which supports both the Mexican State and the drug traffickers with arms, as exposed through the “Fast and furious” project.
both tragedy and hope
A large part of those at the bottom know that the drug cartels, the Mexican State and US imperialism have been waging a war against the people in their determination to consolidate a decadent capitalism. In turn, those at the bottom are testing out a broad new repertoire of strategies to defend themselves.
Despite the horror of the tragedy that has brought about the Ayotzinapa movement, it is giving reason for hope through its creation of new forms of relationships and its proposals for in-depth social change. With a large part of Mexico constantly under siege from the harshness of the capitalist exploitation and displacements, the Ayotzinapa movement is proposing to transform the country into a livable place. Given the system’s deadly pounding of people, the movement has put itself at the center of the national reality, demanding the rebuilding of life.
Jorge Alonso is a researcher for CIESAS West and the envío correspondent in Mexico.