At nearly a year of the severe and unfortunate events in Iguala, when 43 students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa were forcibly disappeared, parents still do not know the whereabouts of their children. In July, the head of the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR), Luis Raúl González Pérez, classified the investigation of the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) as “incomplete“.
The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (IMCI), designated by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to assist in the case issued several reports with dozens of recommendations to the PGR. The third report of the IMCI confirmed that that the fate of the 43 students, victims of forced disappearance, cannot be considered resolved in any way with the version and the evidence offered by the PGR, because there is no strong motive to support the version given by the federal authorities, among other things. The first days after the nightmare began for the mothers and fathers, the civil society rose up in protest and demanded answers. The National Popular Assembly (NPA) took over 30 of the 81 city halls of Guerrero as a way of applying political pressure and municipal popular councils in the state were established. Families, students, and sympathizers marched numerous times on the Mexican streets and outside of the country as well. The civil society participated with tens of thousands of people, in numerous marches, meetings, blockades, and demonstrations to demand answers and justice.
However, while the desperation of the families and the civil society grows, there are few advancements in respect to what really happened on the night of September 26, 2014. The official version given in January from the, then, Attorney General, Murillo Karam, identified local authorities responsible of the incidents. It has received strong criticism from the civil society for the lack of proof that supports this conclusion, and the slogan “It was the state” was born to counter it. According to research published by the magazine Proceso, federal forces participated in the attack against the students in the city of Iguala. Proceso claims that the Mexican Government knew, in real time, everything that was happening in Iguala the night of the massacre. Proceso notes that the attack was orchestrated to strike the heart of “the ideological structure and governance of the institution” of the rural normal school. Because of this alleged complicity of the federal authorities, some argue that the disappearance of the 43 normalistas should be understood as an act of genocide that forms part of a strategy to control the population, especially social activists and particularly young people, by the federal government.
As Raymundo Riva Palacio points out in an article in El Financiero, the international crime of genocide is made up of a series of actions “with the intention to destroy, completely or partially, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”, which includes “killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group, deliberate infliction of the group’s existence calculated to bring its physical destruction wholly or partially”. The same source claims that if it is proved that the Mexican army was involved in the disappearance of the students, they may constitute the crime of genocide documenting how, for years, there has been an elimination of the normal rural schools in the country and that there have also been repressive systematic actions against normalistas, especially those of Ayotzinapa. Riva Palacio continued: “the omissions and inactions of the Army the day of the crime, and the silence about how much the Battalion 27 knew of the criminal gangs where it is headquartered, establish the context of the strategy. The opacity of the PGR on their evidences and the growing lack of credibility of the government contribute to the political and legal defeat of the authorities, one that they haven’t foreseen. Above all, it fosters the nightmare for Peña Nieto that could lead him to have to face a legal battle over genocide even before the end of his presidency.”
Analysts argue that this strategy of extermination of the critical and uncomfortable social actor for recent governments, such as the rural normal schools, has actually been implemented for years. As mentioned by Lorenzen and Orozco: “The rural normal schools, like Ayotzinapa, have suffered neglect from the State and financial suffocation, with the clear intention to dismantle these schools that have traditionally been leftist places of learning and critical thinking, where many social activists and even some guerrillas have come out. Thus, of the 36 rural normal schools that came into existence in 1939, only 16 remain today.” Financial abandonment over many years has weakened the rural normal schools and diminished the graduation rates, even though they are usually the ones that reach the most remote and poorest communities. Without the rural normal schools, the education of young people in the rural communities would probably be neglected even more. As Adrian Ramirez, president of the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH) in an interview with TeleSUR said: “There is a systematic effort to silence students from the normal rural schools with a tendency of disappearing them by removing the resources they have, to reduce tuition, to decrease support for rural normal school education, as well as the graduates and in the same way the voices that accompany them are being silenced.” Interestingly, given the strong social pressure surrounding the disappearance of the 43 young men of Ayotzinapa, the House of Representatives was forced to approve an additional budget of 400 million pesos for rural normal schools.
The state of Guerrero is suffering a profound security and human rights crisis with severe levels of violence in various parts of the entity. According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the murder rate in Mexico rose from 10.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2000 to 22.8 in 2011, while Guerrero recorded the highest rate in the country with 42.7 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014.
In the report Mexico Peace Index 2015 by the Institute for Economics and Peace, Guerrero was paradoxically the federal entity that recorded the highest per capita spending in containing violence in 2014 with a budget of $43,666 pesos, while the national average was of $33,414 pesos. According to information from the Attorney General of the state of Guerrero, about 20 organized crime groups are in dispute of territory in the state. According to security forces of the Mexican state of Guerrero, 12 mayors allegedly have links to criminal groups, (8 the Party of the Democratic Revolution – PRD and 4 of the Institutional Revolutionary Party – PRI).
There are red lights in various zones of the state. The city of Chilapa is the scene of frequent violent clashes between organized crime groups, mainly The Rojos (Reds) and The Ardillos (Squirrels). On May 9, about 300 armed civilians took control of the city. For five days they set up checkpoints, searched cars, raided residences and commercial establishments, and detained people. Upon leaving, after an agreement with the Army, they had not returned the detainees and allegations of disappeared people began. In the regions of the Costa Grande and Tierra Caliente, thousands of families remain displaced by the terror of organized crime groups that threaten them with extortion, robbery, kidnapping, and murder. Entire communities have been left desolate and inhabitants fled mainly to Chilpancingo and out of state.
Government and municipal elections, held in June, took place in an atmosphere of violent clashes between militants from the different parties. There were several attacks of political party headquarters and against people related to the electoral process, which resulted in at least the murder of 14 of them, including candidates for federal representatives, mayors, campaign managers, political operatives, and militants. On the day of the municipal elections, in Tlapa de Comonfort, a young member of the Popular Guerrero Movement (Movimiento Popular Guerrerense (MPG)) was hit by a bullet, presumably from the Federal Police, and died. Several candidates had withdrawn due to concerns for their safety.
There is a dispute over the control of territory and lands between different groups due to a divergence of interests: the ones of transnational corporations and the federal government over mining opportunities and other mega-projects such as hydroelectric dams, on the one hand; the drug cartels’ production of marijuana and poppy as well as their sale and distribution on the other. Local communities have been organizing themselves into auto-defense groups and citizens’ police to defend their territories against expropriation and the escalating violence.
Auto-defense groups, which began to appear in 2013 in the states of Guerrero and Michoacan, had given hope to decrease corruption and injustice through agreements made by the same communities. However, their movement seem to be decreasing and their collective projects are weakened. There have been numerous acts of violence and confrontations between different groups of auto-defenses in general and, specifically, between the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG) and the United Front for Development of the State of Guerrero (FUSDEG). In early July, there was a clash between those two groups about disagreements over the ownership of territories where, supposedly, poppy is being grown. On July 26, the professor Nelda Edilia Sánchez López, was murdered. She served as part of the coordination of FUSDEG in the municipality of San Marcos. In early June, a confrontation between FUSDEG and former members of FUSDEG left 10 dead people in the community of Xolapa near Acapulco. A month later, in August, Miguel Angel Jimenez, UPOEG leader, was killed by gunmen in Xaltianguis, municipality of Acapulco.
Analysts say there is a visible strategy of dividing by the government in the confrontations between auto-defense groups. As Adrian Ramirez, president of the LIMEDDH said in an interview with TeleSUR: “The death of Miguel Angel Jimenez in the context of an apparent confrontation between groups of community police is one element more in this genocide. We cannot fail to overlook the Colombian model which led here in our country, the head of the Colombian National Police Oscar Naranjo Trujillo at the beginning of the government of Enrique Peña Nieto. He came to create these auto-defenses, to confront civil society and community police groups, and even today many of them are in prison. The original and ancestral community police have been arrested and the rest of the groups are confronted in their communities. The death of Miguel Angel Jimenez Blanco, is another element in the constant battle by the Mexican state that tries to silence the voices that protest and to impede further progress in [the case of Ayotzinapa], a year after the events”.
A reporter from Proceso recounts in his book Battles of Michoacan (2015) how the auto-defense groups against organized crime developed with the help of the federal government in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacan during 2013. “The loss of governance and control over Michoacan territory have concerned international businessmen interested in investing in a stable country. The government of Enrique Peña Nieto thus launched a secret plan that was prepared for several months with the person who was the main adviser on public safety, the Colombian General Oscar Naranjo”. According to the author, it was about arming civilians from Tierra Caliente who were tired of the climate of terror caused by the Caballeros Templarios, giving them weapons, money and protection to fight criminals in their own territory. It is also said a pact was made with a criminal group enemy of The Templarios, in exchange for their protection. José Manuel Mireles, leader of the auto-defenses in Michoacan, who was left out of this agreement, tried to make the auto-defenses an agent of change and of fight against organized crime in Michoacan and across the country. This resulted in his prosecution and imprisonment in Sonora.
Human rights organizations claim that the strategy of control of the population by the government also includes this form of incarceration of social activists. In recent years, several arbitrary arrests of defenders that resulted in the confinement in high security prisons have been seen. For example, Nestora Salgado, coordinator of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities – Community Police (CRAC-PC), was arrested in August 2013 for kidnapping (even though they were people who were in the process of re-education by the CRAC), and imprisoned in a high security prison in Nayarit. Two years after her arrest, she has not been able to return home, but has been transferred to the Women’s Social Rehabilitation Center Tepepan in Mexico City. Another example is Marco Antonio Suástegui, spokesman for the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to the La Parota Dam (CECOP) who has been fighting for 12 years against the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the outskirts of Acapulco. He was jailed in June 2014, accused of involvement in a shooting and assault. On August 21, 2015, Suástegui was finally released without the case being solved and ʺwithout real justiceʺ, as the defender himself said. The Human Rights Center Tlachinollan, responsible for his defense, reiterated in this regard that “the Marco Antonio Suástegui case is a clear example of how the ministerial authority lends itself to fabricate crime.” In the past, Tlachinollan had denounced the imprisonment of defenders in maximum security prisons as “The systematic use made by the executive state of federal prisons, of medium and high security, as a tool of coercion against social movements that weaken international treaties ratified by Mexico”.
Guerrero remains the largest poppy producer in Mexico, whose main market comes from the United States, where heroin consumption has risen in comparison to cocaine. According to an investigation of El Universal and Esquire Mexico Magazine, in 40% of Guerrero territory, 42% of the country’s poppy is grown in an area that includes Michoacan and Morelos. At least five criminal organizations are located in this geographical area: Guerreros Unidos, Los Rojos, Cártel Independiente de Acapulco, La Barredora and Los Granados. Moreover, the state of Guerrero, given its geographical location, is established as an important area for the smuggling of drugs from the Atlantic Coast to the Midwest.
Limited funding for rural normal schools by the government, harassment,and harsh repression of their students for decades, has resulted in the loss of real options to build a healthy and safe future for young people in rural areas. As underlined by Mathew Lorenzen and Zulia Orozco in the article ‘AYOTZINAPA: Our portrait in the mirror’: “The abandonment of rural normal schools is very serious [… because] they represent a mechanism of social mobility for the children of campesinos and rural residents. It is important to note that other means of social mobility include internal and international migration and, disturbingly, entering organized crime groups”..