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“They took them alive, we want them back alive”

In Mexico, the so-called escuelas normales rurales are pedagogical institutes where the children of poor farmers study to be teachers to new generations of campesinos. There are only 15 in the country, and they are known for their students’ commitment to social and political issues. But for the government, these institutes are a breeding ground for guerrillas.

On Sept. 26, a group of these students, called “normalistas,” from the town of Ayotzinapa, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, was fundraising in the city of Iguala to travel to Mexico City, where they wanted to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre of students from Tlatelolco, occurred on Oct. 2, 1968.

While in route home, the students occupied three buses and were victims of an attack by municipal police, who shot at them. A group of armed civilians arrived to back up the police, and they also fired shots. The toll from the attack was six dead students, 25 injured, and 43 missing, two of which were abducted just meters from a military facility, without anyone intervening.

“Order at last,” declared the headline of the newspaper Diario de Guerrero.

Estudiantes de Chiapas tomaron el palacio municipal de San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Foto: O.B.

Mayor behind crime
Initially speculation abounded about what happened in Iguala. Among them was the version that the students took over the buses near a public meeting where María de los Ángeles Pineda, wife of the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, was presenting a progress report as head of the National System for the Family Integral Development (DIF), of the municipality. Fearing that students would approach the square and boo at his wife, the mayor — who is now a fugitive — ordered his security chief “to chase them, arrest them and teach them a lesson.” According to the Attorney General´s Office (PGR), the couple has close ties to the drug cartel of the Beltran Leyva brothers.

This version was confirmed by the Prosecutor General’s Office on Oct. 22, which accused the mayor Abarca — who was removed from office on Oct. 17 by the Congress of Guerrero — and Pineda as alleged masterminds of the facts, for having ordered the city police to attack students. The Prosecutor General’s Office also blamed Felipe Flores, head of the Municipal Police, and issued arrest warrants against Abarca, Pineda and Flores.

“They assumed that the group that was approaching was going to sabotage the celebration headed in that moment by the mayor´s wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda, due to her activity report [as head of the DIF, the welfare agency for the child and family],” the attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam said.

On Oct. 6, two members of the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos — an offshoot of the Beltrán Leyva organization — confessed that the night of the attack, the local police handed them 17 students they then killed, burned, and buried in a mass grave. There is no word about the other 26 missing men. To date, 36 police officers and 17 cartel members have been detained in connection with the case, including gang leader Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado.

Good relationship with the mafia
According to the book The Sinaloa Cartel: A History of the Political Use of the Narco by Diego Osorno, in the 1970s drug trafficking czar Alberto Sicilia Falcón and a group of military officers introduced illegal crops to Guerrero, and the authorities were always complacent. The students of Ayotzinapa may have been the victims of the strong ties between the mafia, politicians, and military, who decades ago established the basis for impunity, turning Guerrero into a state inextricably linked to criminal cartels.

“What the government wants to achieve with this aggression is to scare us, and given the horror that was committed, the least we can do is get the people to the street to protests, instead of being paralyzed by fear,” a demonstrator who participated in an Oct. 8 protest in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, and preferred to remain anonymous, told Latinamerica Press.

Marcha del EZLN en solidaridad con estudiantes desaparecidos (Foto: O.B.)

That day, more than 60 cities around the world mobilized to demand justice for the Ayotzinapa students. In San Cristóbal de Las Casas, 20,000 Zapatistas marched in rows, crossing through the colonial city’s center in silence with signs that read “your anger is our anger, “your pain is our pain,” and “you are not alone.” The Zapatista Army of National Liberation joined the national protest in solidarity with the missing students and their families on Oct. 22.

Searching operations
As the one-month mark since the disappearance of the 43 students approaches, nothing is known about where they are. Faced with governmental inaction, on Oct. 13 masked demonstrators lit on fire the Guerrero government headquarters in the state capital of Chilpancingo, and wrote on one walls: “They took them alive, we want them back alive.”

On Oct. 4, five mass graves were found near Iguala with 28 bodies. Official experts said they did not belong to the students, while the independent Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) does not yet have the results of their investigations.

As the search expanded, more unmarked gravesites were found. Until now, 19 have been discovered. Who do these bodies belong to?

“Father [Alejandro] Solalinde, director of the migrant shelter ‘Hermanos en el Camino’ [Brothers in the Road], conclusively describes this country: it is a huge mass grave,” freelance journalist and writer Gaspar Morquecho Escamilla told Latinamerica Press. “In particular, the state of Guerrero has a long history of violence. Not long ago, they found the burial sites for guerillas killed in the 1970s; it was common practice to make people disappear, assassinate [them], and secretly bury their bodies,” he said.

The IACHR urged the Mexican State “to immediately adopt the necessary measures to find those who are still missing” and “undertake a prompt, objective, and impartial investigation into the events in Iguala.”

“The investigation must shed light on the causes that led to these serious violent acts and identify and punish the perpetrators and masterminds. Justice must also be served for the victims and their families,” the IACHR said. “The Commission believes that it is essential to adopt the necessary measures to protect the students who survived these attacks, as well as the families of the victims and their representatives. The State must also adopt the legal, institutional, and administrative measures necessary to ensure that these acts are not repeated.”

Article published by Latinamerica Press on 10.23.2014

Versión en español

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