Students keep up the fight in Mexico

October 22, 2014

Héctor A. Rivera reports on the latest developments in a struggle shaking Mexico.

OCTOBER 22 will be a day of action in Mexico and around the world in the latest mobilization to demand justice more than three weeks after police opened fire on a caravan of student teachers from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa in the city of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero. The assault that left six people dead, 17 injured and the whereabouts of 43 students unknown has rocked Mexico in the ensuing days.

Although more than 19 shallow unmarked graves with charred bodies have been discovered, forensics experts are still confirming DNA samples before releasing results. Meanwhile, the search for the 43 missing students continues, with local community police groups joining the search.

However, according to Catholic priest and well-known human rights activist Alejandro Solalinde, the students were killed and some of them burned alive. In an interview with the Russian news agency Novosti, Solalinde claims a police officer involved in the murders came to him and told him that the students were killed--and that their bodies were doused in diesel and set on fire, even those who were injured, but still alive. These claims have yet to be confirmed.

Protesters demand justice for the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa
Protesters demand justice for the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa (Rodrigo Barquera)

Meanwhile, protests continue across the country to demand justice for those killed and the return of the 43 missing students. Last week, student assemblies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), Autonomous University of Mexico City and University of Chapingo in the state of Mexico declared a 48-hour strike in solidarity with the students for Tuesday and Wednesday, October 14 and 15.

On Wednesday, thousands of students from various universities in Mexico City gathered at the offices of the General Prosecutor's Office to demand that the students be found alive. Meanwhile, students from the system of rural normal schools continue to stage protests, blocking highways and toll roads across the country.

Donation centers to support the Rural Normal School at Ayotzinapa have been set up across the country, and solidarity caravans from Oaxaca and Michoacán arrived at Ayotzinapa with money and supplies to support parents of the missing students and others who are camping at the school, awaiting information.

Guerrero state and its capital of Chilpancingo have seen the site of the strongest protests and mobilizations. Students from the Federation of Socialist Rural Students of Mexico (FESCSM) warned the government that if the missing students weren't found, these demonstrations would escalate.

On Monday, October 13, for example, students, teachers and supporters blockaded and then torched the governor's palace in Chilpancingo. After clashes with police, City Hall was also torched, and the state Congress building was taken over.

FESCSM members, students from normal schools across the country, parents of the missing students, teachers from the Coordinator of National Education Workers (CNTE)--the left-wing section of the national teachers' union--and other popular organizations from Guerrero have announced that they will occupy the 81 municipalities of the state of Guerrero in the coming weeks until the missing students are found.

On Friday, October 17, student-teachers and their supporters from around the state marched in Acapulco to demand justice. The march proceeded peacefully through the city despite a strong police presence and the local authorities hiring taxi drivers to operate as shock troops to repel protesters in case they took over buildings.

MEANWHILE, THE political crisis for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) continues to deepen.

The mayor of Iguala, a leader of the PRD, as well his wife and the chief of police, are at large, raising suspicions of political protection from government authorities. Furthermore, media investigations continue to reveal extensive ties to organized crime among various leaders of the PRD.

Although the PRD was historically an opposition party to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), with Guerrero as one of its strongholds, the party has been deeply penetrated by organized crime. It has also become embedded in the political establishment. Last year, it signed on to the Pact for Mexico, together with the PRI and the pro-business National Action Party (PAN) to ratify the fraudulent election of PRI President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is carrying on the party's neoliberal agenda.

Since the killings, the PRD has also come under fire from opposition political leaders in the PAN--together with the Guerrero branch of Mexico's main employers confederation, Coparmex, the PAN has been pushing for the state government to be dissolved and reelected.

Ángel Aguirre, the PRD governor of Guerrero has refused to step down, but recent reports indicate the federal government, currently controlled by Peña Nieto and the PRI, will demand that he resign, with full agreement from the national director of the PRD, Carlos Navarrete.

The PRD had hoped to perform well in next year's state elections, but the crisis caused by the massacre in Iguala has almost certainly destroyed those expectations. At this point, the PRD's best hope is to do some damage control by putting the Harvard-educated senator, Armando Ríos Peter, in charge of the state.

The murderous attack on the students of Ayotzinapa points to a frightening trend beginning to emerge in Mexico: extrajudicial killings and the disappearance of political activists. This could foreshadow a return to Mexico's dirty wars of the 1970s and '80s.

Although Solalinde's claims have yet to be confirmed, if the 43 students are found dead, government officials and the business sector fear a rebellion might break out in Guerrero, if not nationally.

While the political establishment fights over the corpses of the students like vultures, the social justice movement that erupted following the police attack on the student-teachers has called for an international day of action on Wednesday, October 22. The call is for the 43 students to be returned alive, punishment for those responsible for the attack and more funding for the system of rural normal schools.

Organizers expect this will be the largest day of action so far, with protests taking place in more than 100 locations nationally and internationally, according to reports.

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