Thursday, November 13, 2014

The 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa

So far, I had refrained from writing about the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa here on the blog. Mexico gets a lot of bad press and my idea with this blog, in addition to keeping family and friends up to date with what I'm doing, has always been adding other types of stories (culture, food, holidays, travel, etc) to the conversation. Thinking about what's going on now, I didn't want family and friends to worry about me being here or, by writing about it, to help create more negative associations when people think about Mexico.

However, this is a reality that cannot and should not be ignored. 

On September 26th, students from a rural teacher's college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero went to nearby Iguala. The mayor, afraid they would interrupt his wife's speech, ordered the local police to stop them. After a minor skirmish between the students and police, the students left in "borrowed" buses. On their way out of town, they were shot at by local police and other gunmen, killing 3 students and 3 bystanders. From there, 43 students were taken by local police, and then reportedly turned over to a local drug cartel, Guerreros United. They have not been seen since. 

While searching for the students, multiple mass graves have been found nearby. It has been determined that the remains found in these graves do not belong to the students, though this obviously raises the question of, ok, but who are they? 

After hiding out for over a month, the mayor and his wife were found and arrested in the DF's Iztapalapa neighborhood on November 4. The situation is a bit fishy, with reports that they had been found in Veracruz and then were "planted" in the DF. 

On Friday (November 7), Mexico's Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, announced in a press conference that they believed the students had been executed and incinerated, with the remains thrown in a dump and the river. However, they have not been able to identify the remains they found (which have been sent off to labs in Austria), relying instead on testimonies by drug cartel hit men. The families of the students have rejected this story until they have proof. I've seen reports surface (though nothing official) that a fire with tires and gasoline couldn't reach the necessary temperatures to completely destroy all remains, comparing the reported actions with the cremation process, as well as reports of heavy rains that night. Murillo ended the press conference saying, "No more questions. Ya me cansé" ("I'm tired of this" or "I've had enough"), a phrase which has quickly been adopted as a slogan.

There have been protests all around Mexico -- against the violence of the State, impunity, corruption, and inefficiency of the investigations, and in solidarity with the students and their families. One of the main cries is "Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos" ("They were taken alive, we want them back alive"). There have been multiple large-scale protests in Mexico City. The UNAM and other schools went on strike (for lack of a better word in English), anywhere from 24 - 72 hours. In Acapulco (like Ayotzinapa and Iguala, also located in the state of Guerrero), protesters blocked the airport. There is another protest planned for Sunday in the DF.  

Sign on UNAM's campus 11/7/14: "Nos faltan 43" ("We're missing 43")

Sign on UNAM's campus 11/7/14: "Actua antes de que el próximo sea tu hijo, tu hermano, o seas tú."
("Do something before it's your son, brother, or you")

Signs on UNAM's campus 11/7/14

There have been some acts of destruction, though it appears that most need to be questioned. The metrobus (one of the multiple forms of public transportation in the DF) stop at the UNAM campus (in the south of the city) was burned while a major protest was going on in the center of the city. Was it the student movement? No one has taken credit for it and most of the students taking action would have been at the protest downtown. Was it a way to discredit the student movement? Maybe. Was someone just angry and fed up with the situation? Maybe. During Wednesday's protest, masked individuals lit the door of the National Palace (President's work place, but not where he lives) in the Zócalo on fire. However, photos have surfaced of one of the masked individuals hiding behind a group of police in front of the door, which obviously raises a few questions. 

There have also been reports of arbitrary detentions at the various protests in the DF (and in Mexico you're guilty until proven innocent). 

Tuesday night was "Una luz para México" ("A light for Mexico"), a movement spread through social media, calling for people around Mexico to light a candle and stand on the sidewalk, wherever they were, in solidarity with the students and their families. At an apartment complex close to the UNAM, a large group gathered with candles. They counted out loud from 1 to 43 (for each of the missing students), ending with calls for "Justicia!" ("Justice!") and "Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos!" ("They were taken alive, we want them back alive.") There was a group playing music, including a version of "La Bamba," with lyrics adapted to the current situation.

"A light for Mexico" 11/11/14

"A light for Mexico" 11/11/14

"A light for Mexico" 11/11/14
Video from Tuesday's "A light for Mexico":

People have been taking notice internationally as well. In addition to news reports, I've seen photos posted regularly on DesinformémonosFacebook page of protests and signs of support and solidarity from around the word and the Youtube video "The World is Watching" of 135 students from 43 countries and 5 U.S. Universities raising awareness and showing their solidarity, for example.

The situation is tense in Mexico. What has happened is terrifying and infuriating. It's not just about the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, either; the current situation has reopened a larger conversation and outcry for the many other cases of disappearances and violence (especially at the hands of the government) throughout Mexico, both recently and historically. I think there is hope in that people aren't just sitting it out or saying, "Well, it didn't affect me." People are angry and (using the phrase unintentionally coined by the Attorney General) "have had enough." They're making themselves seen and heard, demanding answers, justice, and an end to the violence, corruption, and impunity. 

For further reading (in English):
"Crisis in Mexico: The Protests for the Missing Forty-Three," by Francisco Goldman. The New Yorker, 11/12/14.
"11 Numbers To Help You Understand The Violence Rocking Mexico," by Eline Gordts. The World Post, 10/31/14
"Enough! Mexico Is Ready to Explode," by Homero Aridjis. The World Post, 10/28/14
"Disappeared Youth Spark Protests in Mexico's Worst Political Crisis in Decades," by Laura Carlsen. The Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, 10/26/14.

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