Conquering Mexico’s misplaced fortitude

Mexico has to root out corruption and impunity if it is ever to hold its head up again. Starting with Iguala.

Mexico(1)More than a year after 43 students disappeared and three other students and three bystanders were killed in police attacks in the city of Iguala, in Guerrero State, the Mexican government has failed to discover – or has failed to make public – what really happened.

Recently, Latinamerica Press published an interview with human rights lawyer Maribel González Pedro (6 November 2015), who claims there is a systematic campaign against the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College, where the students were studying.

Maribel González Pedro is a lawyer and activist of the Human Rights Center of La Montaña Tlachinollan in Guerrero. Her organization assists the families of the 43 students who vanished on 26 September 2014 in their legal battle for clarification of a case that has shaken not only Mexico but the international community.

Asked why she believes that the 43 Ayotzinapa students were “disappeared”, she noted the widespread violence in Mexico, the corruption rooted in various levels of government, and the high degree of impunity that have allowed grave abuses such as Ayotzinapa to occur. Despite government promises, serious investigation on the part of the State seems to have stalled.

The disappearance of the 43 students has outraged Mexican society as a further instance of human rights abuse, but also because they were young people from the most marginalized areas of Guerrero getting an education. What happened in Iguala was a clear act of political repression and this time the participation of state agents as perpetrators was impossible to hide.

Mexico has a history of political violence. On 2 October 1968, 10 days before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, police officers and military troops shot into a crowd of unarmed students. Thousands of demonstrators fled in panic as tanks entered Tlatelolco Square in Mexico City. Government sources originally reported that four people had been killed and 20 wounded, while eyewitnesses described the bodies of hundreds of young people being trucked away. Thousands of students were beaten and jailed, and many disappeared.

The Ayotzinapa case is also tainted by racism. Most students in the College come from very poor indigenous families living in zones of marginalization, poverty, and little access to education. The fact that the Ayotzinapa college is a boarding school, with a preference for the children of campesino and indigenous families, has made it the only option for training for the region’s young people.

Before 26 September 2014, there was an earlier attack on the College at the end of 2011, when students demanded tuition and scholarships in keeping with their constitutional rights. After talks with the State governor collapsed, the students took their protest to the highway connecting Chilpancingo (the capital of Guerrero) with Acapulco. The governor’s response was to order violent police action, during which two students, Jorge Alexis Herrera Piño and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, were killed. No one has been prosecuted for their deaths.

Mexico(2)According to Maribel González Pedro, the Ayotzinapa College is being targeted for educating young people who will go on to teach in indigenous communities where other teachers never set foot. Rural teachers’ colleges encourage students to think critically and Ayotzinapa in particular has always challenged repression, unfair government policies, and the political party system.

There is another equally sinister explanation for what happened on the night of 26 September 2014: that the students unwittingly commandeered a vehicle which was carrying a hidden shipment of heroin or money, which corrupt police officers were ordered to hunt down and recover. This hypothesis rests on the fact that the mountains beyond Iguala are one of the main areas for opium poppy production in Mexico.

Solving this crime, however, will not root out the endemic corruption and impunity in Mexico. The country desperately needs a second revolution by people who want to shake off what Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude calls “resignation” or “fortitude in the face of adversity”. They are people who want justice for all and whose dreams have been “disappeared” – along with 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College.

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