Forty-Three Faces that Move the World
Editor’s Note: The latest installment of Frontera NorteSur’s special coverage on the crisis in Mexico.
On a frigid November night, candles illuminated the photos of 43 missing young men laid out on the patio of the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A man crouched on the ground, reading out the names of the disappeared: “Leonel Castro Abarca (18), Mauricio Ortega Valerio (18), Felipe Arnulfo Rosa (20)…”
“Presente!” roared back a crowd of about 100 people as each name was read off. Mixed in ethnicity and age but with a heavy representation of young people, the demonstrators sang, chanted and spoke out about the murdered and forcibly disappeared students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.
“Justice! When do we want it? Now!” demanded the protesters. The November 13 Duke City demonstration was among numerous actions that swept the globe in recent days as outrage swelled over the police/cartel killings and forced disappearances of 49 students and civilians in Iguala, Guerrero, last September 26 and 27.
For Cipriana Jurado, the atrocities of Iguala are far from new. A longtime labor and human rights activist from Ciudad Juarez who participated in the Consulate protest, Jurado was granted U.S. political asylum following threats and the killings of her friends from the Reyes Salazar family in the Juarez Valley during 2010 and 2011.
“We’ve suffered other massacres like those in Juarez and Tamaulipas, but Ayotzinapa is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Jurado told FNS.
Inside and outside Mexico, demands for justice for Ayotzinapa resound like a trumpet call bouncing off mountain peaks, gliding into river valleys and crossing oceans. In various ways, the United Nations, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and European Parliament are involved in the issue.
Pope Francisco recently conveyed his “closeness in a painful moment” to the Mexican people.
Last week, 35 members of the UK Parliament signed a motion demanding that London pressure Mexico on the human rights front. In Chile, the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution calling on President Michele Bachelet to recall Chile’s ambassador in Mexico for consultations. On a visit to Guerrero, German lawmaker Heike Hansel, who represents the left fraction in her country’s parliament, met with Ayotzinapa parents, human rights activists and an official from the federal attorney general’s office.
Hansel told the local press that German arms illegally exported to Mexico were used in a 2011 police attack against protesting Ayotzinapa students that left two young men dead; civil society organizations are campaigning against a new security agreement between Mexico and Germany, the parliamentarian said.
In Amsterdam, meanwhile, dozens of members of Mexico’s vast diaspora staged a demonstration inside a soccer stadium where the Mexican and Dutch national teams were competing. A participant in the protest, Nela Avila, later said her group waved white handkerchiefs and shouted “43! 43! 43!” when the clock struck the 43rd minute of the match.
The shadows of Ayotzinapa followed Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to Australia for a meeting of the G-20 nations. A group of Mexican emigres and Australians, Australia in Action for Ayotzinapa, issued a statement while organizing protests in Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.
“Young people in Mexico are in constant risk and double victims,” the group declared. “On the one hand, they are victims of harassment, violence and murder perpetrated by state-criminal collusion; and on the other, (youth) are coopted by organized crime that takes advantage of the lack of educational and employment opportunities.”
In Mexico, protests electrified the country. Most were peaceful but some were not. Students from public and private universities led a march of 2,000 people in the state capital of Aguascalientes, while the National Coordinator of Education Workers shut down schools and occupied 113 city halls in the state of Michoacan.
Filmmakers Alonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro became the latest in a parade of celebrities to sharply condemn the violence against the Ayotzinapa students, joining the voices of soccer star Chicharito, pop singer Thalia, Mana’s Fher, and the norteño combo Los Tigres del Norte, among many others. At a Mexico City concert, 43 candles decorated the stage for a performance of the popular rock group Café Tacuba.
“This is a grave situation in which we live,” lead singer Ruben Albarran told the crowd of about 10,000 fans. “Let’s not confuse ourselves. This is a state crime.”
Across Mexico, protesters seized highway tollbooths, occupied commercial plazas and snarled traffic. On Friday, November 14, Mexico City traffic was paralyzed by multiple blockades inside the capital city and around three access highways. The police shooting and wounding of a young man on the Autonomous National University of Mexico campus November 15 further inflamed the situation, prompting clashes with local police and more protests.
As the week drew to a close, three caravans headed by parents of the Ayotzinapa students left Guerrero for different states of the Mexican republic, where meetings were held with a cross-section of Mexican society ranging from small farmers in Chihuahua to indigenous Zapatistas in Chiapas. The caravan plans to converge on Mexico City for a national protest on November 20—the holiday anniversary of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
“The flame of civil insurgency is lit,” declared parents’ spokesperson Felipe de la Cruz.
In the northern border region, about 100 students of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez occupied the rector’s office the evening of November 13, demanding that the university support the November 20 national day of protest.
The students also called on the university to take a stronger stance on the issue of women’s murders, or femicides. After an all-night occupation, university officials issued a statement declaring support for the protest and inviting the community to attend relevant activities at the school’s University Cultural Center on November 20.
“Because they were taken alive, we want them back alive,” read an official university statement. “We are all Ayotzinapa.”
A student survivor of September’s government carnage in Iguala who was present in Juarez said “he was really joyful to see all the support of all the students from Juarez,” according to Gio Acosta, member of the newly-formed El Paso-Juarez group Ayotzinapa Sin Fronteras.
In a phone interview with FNS, Acosta said the student movement was growing in Juarez, with the political discussion expanding to include issues such as femicide and the high cost of higher education.
“Students have been joining in. It’s hard to keep track of them, but the movement is becoming very plural in Juarez,” Acosta added.
At the same time, what might be termed the “Ayotzinapa Effect” rolled across the nation, surfacing in Tres Marias outside Mexico City, where residents blockaded the highway to protest another politically and criminally tainted kidnapping.
A November 16 march of 5,000 people in Ecatapec, Mexico state, protested growing insecurity in the city while expressing support for the Ayotzinapa students.
In a similar vein, teachers in Acapulco shut down about 100 schools in the city November 13-14. Despite previous strikes over the same safety grievances, and federal and state intervention in Acapulco’s law enforcement, teachers claimed 19 fellow educators had been murdered in 2014 alone.
“The repudiation of the kidnapping of 43 student-teachers has a new focal point in Veracruz, where the 22nd Central American and Caribbean Games are underway,” wrote Proceso’s Noe Zavaleta. “In this encounter of international projection, students, politicians and activists have undertaken an effort to give visibility to one of the most brutal cases of government criminality in recent years.”
At the November 14 kick-off of the games, thousands of people reportedly booed Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong. Soldiers and police have militarized the zone around the games and even outnumber the 5,000-plus athletes, according to some media accounts.
To say the situation in Guerrero is explosive would be a monumental understatement.
If a soundtrack were to accompany some episodes in Acapulco and the state capital of Chilpancingo, the old Rolling Stones’ song “Street Fighting Man” would be an apt addition, as pitched battles between police and groups of protesters have involved rocks, clubs and bottle rockets; almost systematically, brigades of hooded men have trashed and set fire to government buildings and the offices of political parties.
A November 15 shootout in the rural section of Acapulco between gravel company employees and members of the Cecop, a landowners’ coalition that is opposed to a proposed dam and supportive of the Ayotzinapa students, left four people dead and five others wounded. Conversely, a silent march of more than 250 people proceeded without incident through Chilpancingo to draw attention to the “forgotten victims” of the September 26 Iguala violence, in addition to the Ayotzinapa 43.
Relatives of bus driver Victor Manuel Lugo Cortes and 15-year-old soccer player David Josue Evangelista Garza, who were both killed when police fired on a bus carrying Los Avispones soccer club members, participated in the march for justice. The families were joined by other “forgotten victims”—survivors of last year’s Tropical Storm Manuel who contend they have gone more than a year without adequate government assistance.
With the passage of each day, the possibility of more repression grows. Upon returning from his trip to China and Australia this past weekend, President Pena Nieto immediately gave a press conference in which he condemned violent protests and insisted the government was “privileging dialogue” with different groups.
“I aspire to and hope it is not the case that the government must arrive to the extreme of using public force,” Pena Nieto said. “We want to convoke order and peace.”
North of the border, Ayotzinapa-themed vigils, protests outside Mexican consulates, press conferences and university roundtables have been recently held in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and El Paso, among other places.
Convened by social media, the November 13 Albuquerque vigil was a very spirited event. Mexican Consul Mauricio Ibarra walked up to the large candle-lit circle and thanked the attendees for their concern about Mexico and events that “should not happen.”
But Ibarra was soon fielding shouts for President Pena Nieto to resign and recriminations over the controversial statement by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murrillo Karam that the 43 missing students had been murdered and incinerated at a garbage dump. Ibarra assured FNS that the Mexican government is awaiting the results of an investigation by the University of Innsbruck in Austria to determine if ashes recovered in northern Guerrero belonged to any of the students.
“We are treating the case as a disappearance until there are other indications,” Ibarra said. Asked about the Mexican government’s view of the worldwide protests sparked by Ayotzinapa, Ibarra said it was striking to see “the solidarity people are showing to the people of Mexico.”
Addressing the crowd, speakers talked about the role of U.S. arms in fomenting violence in Mexico, the influence of Mexican media giants Televisa and TV Azteca and generalized insecurity south of the border.
Gemma Olvera, who moved to Albuquerque less than one year ago from the northern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, told FNS that conditions back home had not improved during the Pena Nieto presidency.
Olvera said the public safety climate took a sharp dive about six years ago, recalling a shootout in front of an elementary school in her town during regular school hours that forced the children to duck and cover. Nowadays, criminals freely roam private universities demanding pay-offs, extort small businesses and leave bodies on public highways, the young woman said.
“There are shootouts and deaths in Tamaulipas every day,” Olvera said. “Everybody is afraid to speak out in Mexico. Ayotizinapa is the tip of the iceberg of everything that is happening in Mexico.”
Political exile Cipriana Jurado agreed that Ayotzinapa could also be a watershed moment. “It’s very important,” she said. “Now Mexicans all over the world are tired of the situation in Mexico—massacres, impunity, the murders of women. The line between government and organized crime is erased—it’s the same.”
The Albuquerque Consulate protest ended with shouts of “Long Live Zapata!” and a performance by two young musicians singing Molotov’s “Give me the Power,” the classic broadside against the socio-economic order and Mexican political class. Local activists plan another demonstration for the Ayotzinapa students at the Consulate on the evening of November 20.1
—New Mexico State University News, November 17, 2014
1 Additional Sources: El Sur, November 15 and 16, 2014. Articles by Anarsis Pacheco Polito, Lourdes Chavez and Carlos Moreno A. Nortedigital.mx, November 13 and 15, 2014. El Diario de Chihuahua, November 15, 2014. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), November 15, 2014. Article by Hector Briseno. La Jornada (Aguascalientes edition), November 14, 2014. Article by Alejandra Huerta. El Diario de El Paso, November 13, 2014. Article by Diego Murcia.
La Jornada, November 12, 13, 13, 15, 16, 2014. Articles by Rubicela Morelos, Josefina Quintero, Sergio Ocampo, Ernesto Martinez, Jorge A. Perez Alonso, Diana Manzo, Elio Enriquez, Rosa Elvira Vargas, Silvia Chavez Gonzalez, Hector Briseno, Javier Salinas, the Associated Press, AFP, DPA, and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, November 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 2014. Articles by Beatriz Pereyra, Noe Zavaleta and editorial staff.