Saturday, November 1, 2014


March from Angel of Independence in Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma to the Zocalo, Oct. 14,2014 (Cuartoscuro)


There has been a massive outpouring of indignation and condemnation not only in Mexico but all over the world caused by the attack by police on Mexican students from the Rural Normal (teacher training) School of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, which took place on the night of September 26 and 27.  In the attack, which can only be called a massacre even though the fate of many of the victims has not yet been determined, 25 students were wounded (several seriously), 6 people killed, three of whom were students (Daniel Solís Gallardo, Julio César Mondragón, and Yosivani Guerrero) and 43 students have gone missing, presumably abducted or murdered by the state police and/or drug gangs. An as yet unidentified corpse found near the scene of the attack the next day with the skin of his face ripped off and his eyes gouged out is thought to be that of another possible victim of the attack.

According to the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR), the Mexican Attorney General’s office, on the evening of September 26 teacher trainers from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa, or “normalistas”, were making a collection of funds, as they often do in Iguala, on this particular occasion to pay for a trip to Mexico City to participate in student demonstrations commemorating October 2, 1968, the date of the Tlatelolco massacre of Mexican university students at the hands of the military. According to witnesses, this attack on the normalistas lasted two hours, occurred in two stages and was carried out by local police from Iguala and the neighboring village of Cocula as well as members of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, to whom the students were handed over. They were told that the students were members of a rival drug gang, Los Rojos. A van, which was carrying the members of a local football team and was not even associated with the normalistas, and a passing taxi cab were also attacked in the course of the night, resulting in the death of three other people.

As for the intellectual authors of the crime, the PGR has implicated the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)– the New Left faction (NI)-- who went into hiding shortly after the crime and is still at large, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, who has been proven to have connections through her brothers with the Beltran Leyva drug cartel, who are active in the area, and the Guerreros Unidos gang, which is affiliated with the Beltran Leyva cartel. In addition, there are persistent rumors that Abarca was also involved in the assassination of a social activist, Arturo Hernandez Cardona, head of a local leftist political party, Unidad Popular, one of the first indigenous political parties in Mexico, and two of his associates in May of last year.


There have been demonstrations and shows of solidarity with the students all over the world in which the demand has been “Vivos se los llevaron y vivos los queremos” (“Alive you took them away and alive we want them back”). In Guerrero, in addition to marches, highway blockades, and demonstrations there have been several instances of violence. Members of the local branch of the CNTE teachers’ union burnt down the PRD headquarters in Iguala and after a demonstration in Chilpancingo, the state capital, unidentified individuals burned down part of city hall. In addition, students from the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico (Federacion de Estudiantes Campesinos Socialistas de Mexico -- FECSM) and local residents looted at least two supermarkets in Chilpancingo. The unspoken fear is that the students are already dead and the continuing searches for their bodies have turned up many mass graves in the areas surrounding Iguala. Although the burnt remains found in one of the biggest graves uncovered so far were declared by the PGR not to be those of the missing students, the Argentinean forensic team also engaged in the investigation is withholding judgment for the time being and many of the families of the victims suspect the worst.

The outrage of the families and the local community, as well as the country as a whole, has only been aggravated by the government’s inadequate response to this horrendous crime. It was not until October 6, over a week after the incident, that President Peña Nieto committed the federal government to an investigation which he had said at first was the sole responsibility of the local authorities and the Governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre Rivero. Adding to the anger of the victims’ families has been the PGR’s attempt to implicate the normalistas with drug trafficking and the Los Rojos drug gang. The longer the crime goes unsolved and the whereabouts of the students remains unknown, the more people suspect a government cover up is under way. Meanwhile, Aguirre Rivero has been pressured into resigning his post.

The singular cruelty of this horrendous crime and the government’s response are fueling a larger political crisis in the country. This massacre has occurred at a moment when it has just been disclosed by forensic experts that a so-called shootout between Mexican military and drug dealers in Tlatlaya, the State of Mexico, on June 30 which resulted in 22 civilian deaths, was more likely a summary execution. Eight members of the military have been detained in connection with the crime but the fact that it took so long for the truth to come out, and was broken by a foreign press agency (AP), is seen as evidence of yet another cover up. Furthermore, this crime has coincided with the release of report this past month by a Guerrero government Truth Commission concerning the “Dirty War” waged in Guerrero between 1969 and 1979 in which over 500 people were killed, tortured and “disappeared” in a strategy similar to that implemented by the dictatorships of Chile and Argentina at about the same time.  Lastly, anger over the massacre of the students is combining with a student movement led by the students of the National Polytechnic Institute, who are negotiating a list of grievances with the government and have called for a student strike on November 5, which will certainly be joined by students from other institutions as well.

All of these events are conspiring to cast serious doubts on Peña Nieto’s program to “modernize” Mexico by opening the country up to foreign investment and imposing unpopular reform laws involving labor, education, the privatization of the national oil company PEMEX and tax collection. National midterm elections will be held in 2015 and the incident is seriously affecting not only President Peña Nieto’s administration and party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but the country’s other major political parties (the PAN, the PRD and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s Morena) who are all frantically scrambling to either control the political damage caused by the incident or to capitalize upon it. There seems to be a certain hostility to all the political parties on the part of civil society as was manifested when the founder of the PRD, Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, and a respected left-wing academic from Mexico’s National University, Adolfo Gilly, were heckled and physically harassed three weeks ago when Cardenas gave a speech in Mexico City’s Zócalo to a large demonstration in solidarity with the normalistas. The crisis is also damaging the international image of Mexico and revealing the media campaign of the past two years to refurbish Mexico’s image internationally among foreign investors to be just so much false media hype and propaganda. 


It is perhaps significant that the loudest outcry against the violence committed against the students of Ayotzinapa has not come from political parties, but from religious, non-governmental and human rights organizations such as the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and individual celebrities and lawyers, including the Spanish human rights lawyer Balthazar Garzón, who became famous for his efforts to bring Augusto Pinochet to justice, who are calling the massacre a crime of lèse humanité. The Vatican has also raised its voice in homage to the normalistas.

The universal clamor is for justice. But whose justice? The question is how can justice be served in a corrupt society that is collapsing? Most people see this monstrous act as just further evidence of the continuing decomposition of Mexican society and its institutions as a result of which murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, bribery, the discovery of mutilated corpses and mass graves are almost becoming a part of daily life, especially in some of the poorer areas of the country. Everyone lives in fear and many of serious crimes go unreported for fear of reprisal. For example at least 300 residents of Allende, Coahuila, a town of 27,000, are thought to have been killed in 2011 when it was attacked by members of the drug gang Los Zetas but the news of the incident did not surface until this year. (1) It is common knowledge that organized crime has been slowly infiltrating Mexico’s political and legal institutions at all levels for years. This and the violence of an eight year war on drugs that has claimed between 40,000 and 60,000 people is engulfing the country and threatening to make it ungovernable and plunge it into a state of chaos. There is a recognition that all the country’s institutions have become dysfunctional and that they have to be completely revamped from top to bottom. (2)

Meanwhile, peasants in the small backward communities like those in Guerrero and Michoacán are taking justice into their own hands and fighting the criminal cartels that invade their communities to terrorize and extort them and their families by forming armed community self-defense groups. Just recently, the crisis that these groups in Michoacán have been posing for the state and federal government was temporarily resolved by removing the governor and by deputizing the local self defense groups. And yet, one of the major drug lords of Michoacán and leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel, Servando Gómez Martinez, (La Tuta), is free and at liberty to grant interviews to journalists and politicians, while one of the most influential and respected leaders of the local self-defense groups who refused to be deputized, José Manuel Mireles Valverde, is behind bars on charges of fire arms possession.

The clamor is for justice, and justice should be done as far as possible, but fundamentally this is not a legal issue that can be settled in a court of law no matter who is in the dock. More than a crime it is a battle in a long running war. It is no coincidence that this latest crime took place on the eve of the anniversary of the student massacre of October 2, 1968.

Banner of the disappeared students organization, Federación de Estudiantes Campesinos Socialistas de Mexico, leading the march to the Zocalo on Oct 14,2014.

The Rural Normal School Raul Isidro Burgos of Ayotzinapa is part of a system of teacher training schools all over the country that were founded in 1920 by Jose Vasconceles and they still reflect the principles and values of the Mexican Revolution which many in the rest of the country have long ago abandoned as anachronistic and the price to be paid by Mexico for “modernization” and integration into the global market. Among these principles are that the young generation of poor rural farmers and peasants have a right to public education, that the curriculum should respond to the particular needs and conditions of the local community, and that the normalistas should actively work in the community to alleviate social injustices and inequalities.(3)

For this reason the normal schools have a long tradition of social and political commitment and struggle against the antagonism of successive governments which, with the sole exception of that of Lázaro Cardenas, have sought to dismantle the schools. (4) In 1935, during the term of President Cardenas, the Rural Normal School System founded the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico (Federación de Estudiantes Campesinos Socialistas de Mexico -- FECSM). Ever since the 1940’s the Normal School system as a whole has had to struggle against the government’s hostile efforts to close them down. There were 50 of these schools in the 1940’s. In 1969 President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz closed 15 of the 29 remaining normal schools nationwide. During her nearly 25 years in office, Esther Elba Gordillo, the former head of the National Teachers’ Union (SNTE), openly advocated shutting the schools down. The normalistas of Ayotzinapa and in the other remaining schools have had to struggle constantly to keep their schools open by collecting funds from the local community. These same schools were one of the principle targets of President Peña Nieto’s Educational Reform Law, passed in 2013, which opens teaching positions up in the public education system to professionals not trained in the normal school system, thus diminishing government and union influence over public education. The normalistas, the CNTE, (the dissident teachers’ union on the national level), and the CETEG, (the Guerrero branch of the teachers’ union), have all been in the forefront of resistance against these reforms ever since they were first proposed. They argue that the reforms amount to the privatization of public education and its subordination to the objectives of neoliberal economic policies.

Large murals depicting portraits of Che Guevara, Lúcio Cabañas, Genaro Vázquez Rojas, Frederick Engels, and Karl Marx decorate the walls of the Normal School in Ayotzinapa. Lúcio Cabañas, an alumnus of the Normal School of Ayotzinapa, and Genaro Vazquez, a former school teacher, were both guerrilla leaders in Guerrero during the 60’s and 70’s fighting against a government which responded with a brutal counterinsurgency campaign which has since become known as the “Dirty War”. Also on the walls of the school, along with the portraits of the students’ revolutionary heroes are the words of Karl Marx(5):
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”
It is no wonder, then, that the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa has acquired a reputation for being a “hotbed” of guerrilla leaders and social activism and has been demonized and ostracized by reactionary sectors of Mexican society for a long time. (6)
Nor is this the first crime carried out against the normalistas of Ayotzinapa. On December 12, 2011 two unarmed normalistas were shot to death and another wounded in a confrontation with federal police while the students were blocking a highway in Guerrero--another common form of protest in Mexico. The governor, Angel Aguirre Rivero, ordered an investigation into the crime, but those responsible are still unknown. (7)

Hopes are waning that the 43 missing students will ever be found alive. It is fitting that Mexico and the world should be shocked at the magnitude of this heinous crime and fitting too that NGO’s and human rights organizations focus the eyes of the world upon these horrific events. But there are specific conditions that have been the breeding ground for this atrocity. Guerrero is one of the poorest states in the country and is dominated by a tradition of caciquismo and peonage. It is a microcosm of Mexico whose poor still suffer from a long history of oppression, both foreign and domestic. The gap between rich and poor is becoming unbridgeable and the new government’s plan to “modernize Mexico” will only make the gap wider. Since the signing of NAFTA in 1995, the Mexican countryside and the peasantry in many areas have been virtually abandoned. This latest crime, like the attack on the normalistas in 2011 and the murder of Arturo Hernandez Cordoba of Unidad Popular in 2013, is the product of a long history. More than a crime it is only one battle in a long running war. Campaigns for abstract human rights and legal demands for justice should not lead us to forget or seek to obscure this fact or to minimize the political cause and the principles for which these young students were fighting and for which some of them, though exactly how many we do not yet know, ultimately gave their lives.

October 31,2014

Ramón Rodríguez
Mexico, D.F.


(1)    See Mexico News Daily Tranquility now in Allende, but 300 are still missing at:
(2)     See John M. Ackerman Fin al Narcogobierno La Jornada 10/13/14
(4)     For this information see Tanalis Padilla’s history and description of the Rural Normal School System and Ayotzinapa in Los inquietos in La Jornada 10/18/14 at
(5)     Op. Cit.
(6)     See, for example, Ayotzinapa en la mira in the magazine Contralinea, January 20, 2007 by Zosimo Camacho at
(7)     As an example of the media campaign against the normalistas see Las Normales Rurales comunistas by Godofredo Rivera December 19, 2011 written shortly after the attack by federal police on normalistas on December 12 in which two students were killed. A sample of his virulent anti-communistic rhetoric:

“In this kind of “school” the only aim is to indoctrinate young people in marxism and teach them that the road to power is violence. Far from training educators, they are training little guerrilla cells of the future that will end up with a bullet in the head. The State cannot continue financing guerrilla centers that are a powder keg of violence against other Mexicans.”

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