The horrendous incident in which police officers opened fire on students killing 6 people and injuring 17 and then kidnapped another 43 and handed them over to a drug cartel, has brought out sharply the depth of the rottenness of the Mexican capitalist state, to what degree its structures are linked with those of the drug cartels, and finally, how they stop at nothing in suppressing anyone they perceive as a threat to their interests.
On the night of September 26, students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Escuela Normal Rural in Ayotzinapa (a rural teachers’ college) were stopped by agents of the municipal police of Iguala, in the state of Guerrero, as they were leaving the town. Police officers opened fire with machine guns killing six people, three of them students and three others on two different vehicles. Seventeen other students were injured. As the rest of the students tried to escape they were kidnapped by members of the municipal police and then, in collaboration with police officers from neighbouring Cocula, handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel. To this day 43 students remain unaccounted for.
The dead body of another of the students, Julio Cesar Mondragon, was discovered in the place where the students had been kidnapped. His face had been ripped off to reveal the bare skull underneath and his body had suffered a severe beating. He had been injured in the original attack by the police, but witnesses say he was taken alive and bundled into a police car.
It has also emerged that two of the kidnapped students were taken just outside a military installation in Iguala, without the army intervening.
The confession of two of the local police officers has led to the gruesome discovery of a total of 14 mass graves with dozens of burnt bodies suspected to be those of the kidnapped students. In yet another macabre twist to the story, the first results of DNA testing on the found bodies revealed that none of those tested so far are the disappeared students.
A number of police officers from Iguala and Cocula have been placed under arrest and the local mayor of Iguala, his wife and the head of security of the local council have fled. There had been many reports and accusations regarding the links between the mayor, Jose Luís Abarca, of the PRD, and the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which is lead by his brother-in-law.
The governor of Guerrero Angel Aguirre, from the PRD, has now revealed that he was told about the incident as it was taking place but that he chose not to intervene “as the Iguala mayor didn’t answer his call”.
The authorities knew about the criminal links of the Iguala mayor as he had already been accused of the kidnapping and killing of three social activists in the city in May 2013. Eight members of the Iguala Peoples’ Unity organisation were kidnapped and tortured over several days. Three of them, including Arturo Hernandez, a local council member for the PRD, the mayor’s party, were shot dead by mayor Abarca according to the testimony of one of the survivors who managed to escape. Human rights defenders presented his testimony to the State Prosecutor’s Office (PGR) and the PRD party itself. Nothing was done. (http://www.lajornadaguerrero.com.mx/2013/11/26/index.php?section=politica&article=003n1pol)
The mayor of Iguala, Abarca, got his PRD nomination on the back of support from the main faction in the party’s leadership, the misnamed Nueva Izquierda (New Left) and was strongly opposed by a group of rank and file activists led by Arturo Hernandez Cardona.
The links between the PRD and this crime are particularly scandalous. The Party of the Democratic Revolution was set up in 1989 and attracted a wide layer of social movement activists, trade unionists and left-wing fighters. Dozens of its members were killed for their political activity and the state of Guerrero is the one with the largest number of PRD martyrs.
The party, over the years, became dominated by a number of right-wing bureaucratic factions which destroyed it as a genuine voice of the poor and the oppressed. In Guerrero, the PRD went as far as appointing a former PRI governor of the state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, as its candidate for governor, a position to which he was elected in 2011. What makes this particularly heinous, apart from the fact that he only became interested in being the PRD candidate when the PRI refuse to stand him, is that during his period as a PRI governor, several PRD social activists were killed in Guerrero. Ángel Aguirre Rivero is also linked to Nueva Izquierda.
The Ayotzinapa students have demanded a political trial of governor Aguirre. Even now that there are strong voices demanding that he should be removed from his position for his responsibility in the massacre of the students, the PRD is still defending him!
As a matter of fact, the whole of the state apparatus in Guerrero is in one way or another linked to the disappearance and killing of the students, the local police and the authorities of Iguala and Cocula, the governor and his Secretary of Government, the State Attorney’s Office in Guerrero which refused to investigate previous murders linked to the Iguala mayor, and so on.
They are now closing ranks to defend each other. The state assembly in Guerrero has created a “commission of enquiry” made up of local representatives of the different parties (PRD, PRI, PAN, PVEM, MC). In a meeting with national legislators visiting Guerrero, they went as far as blaming the victims for what happened. They said that there should be a “review of the existence of the Normales Rurales (Rural Teacher Training Colleges) as they are a breeding ground for guerrillas”!! They defended their commission as being “unbiased” and defended the governor as he would not have a “motive”, “after all someone sent the students to Iguala and there is something hidden there”!!
These statements against the Normales Rurales are a powerful indicator of the political motivation behind the attack on the students. The Normales Rurales are Teacher Training Colleges drawing their students from very poor peasant backgrounds and operate on the basis of a strong commitment to social struggle in the countryside. The dominant students’ organisation is the communist Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico (FECSM).
Under attack from the government which would like to see them disappear altogether, the Normales Rurales have waged a long battle for their survival. In 2000, there were clashes at the El Mexe Normal Rural in Hidalgo, when armed police officers attempted to break a hunger strike by the students. Enraged local residents then attacked the police, managed to capture dozens of police officers who were then exchanged for the arrested students.
In Guerrero itself there have been a series of important struggles in the recent period, as well as killings, disappearances and arrests of social and political activists. In addition to Hernández Cardona and his comrades in Iguala, in 2013 there were also the murders of Raymundo Velázquez, from the Emiliano Zapata Revolutionary Agrarian League, and two of his comrades, as well as the assassination of one of the leaders of the Sierra Sur Peasant Organisation Rocío Mesino.
Local newspapers have speculated that the reason for the attack on the students was the fear of the local mayor that they were in Iguala to disrupt two high profile public meetings, one hosted by himself and one by his wife, which were to take place on those days.
In fact, the students had gone to Iguala to collect donations to fund their travel to Mexico City to take part in the October 2nd march which marks the anniversary of the massacre of striking students by the state in 1968. The bus they were travelling on they had seized from a local operator, something they had already done before. According to survivors, when the police stopped them they thought they were going to be arrested, but never suspected they were going to be shot at and then kidnapped.
What emerges is a complex web of links between political operators, from all the main parties (PRI, PAN and PRD), the different institutions of the state apparatus and the drug cartels which are said to have infiltrated or dominate to one degree or another about two thirds of all local councils in the country.
This is what puts the Peña Nieto government in a very sticky situation. On the one hand he would like to offer some sort of quick resolution to this affair in order to preserve his image as a “reformer” and a “moderniser”, the representative of a “new way” of making politics in Mexico, free from corruption and state repression. On the other hand, this affair cannot be solved by simply sacrificing a couple of minor scapegoats, as the whole of the state apparatus in Guerrero is in one way or another involved. Additionally he relies on the PRD votes in parliament to guarantee the passing of his counter-reforms.
As in many other parts of the country, in Guerrero the problems with drug cartel infiltration and fusion with the state apparatus are compounded by a long history of political assassinations, massacres and a dirty war against social and political activists. This is what has led repeatedly to guerrilla groups being created in Guerrero. As a matter of fact, both Genaro Vázquez and Lucio Cabañas, the legendary peasant leaders, had been a teacher and a student at the Normal Rural in Ayotzinapa . They both decided to take up arms and set up peasant guerrillas in reaction to two massacres carried out by the state.
In the period of the dirty war (between 1969 and the early 1980s) of the state against the different guerrilla movements which emerged in the aftermath of the 1968 students massacre, the state carried out killings, torture and kidnappings of hundreds, perhaps thousands of students, peasant and trade union activists. In the state of Guerrero some of the activists kidnapped by the state were then thrown into the ocean from planes, in some cases tied and bound, in others stuffed into sacks with rocks. None of these crimes have ever been properly investigated and the state apparatus has never been purged. The same personnel and some of the same methods are still in place.
The rise of the power of the drug cartels, which now control large parts of the country and its economy, is not just a problem of crime. As a matter of fact there is a de facto convergence of interests and collusion between the state and the main political parties and the cartels. The cartels control the state in a numerous municipalities (the local police, judges, state attorneys, elected politicians) and even a number of state governors are known to be linked to the cartels.
The cartels are no longer just involved in drug trafficking, but have branched out into all spheres of economic life, through extortion, smuggling, etc. What we have is the emergence of narco-capitalism. This makes any revolutionary or militant political or social activity in several states very dangerous, as the cartels and the state will not hesitate to kill anyone who can be a threat to their interests.
There have been a number of attempts by the local population to confront the power of the cartels by organising armed self-defence groups. The response of the state has been to attack them and arrest and jail their more prominent figures. In Michoacan, these self defence groups became very powerful during 2012 and 2013, driving the cartels and the army out of several municipalities.
In the case of guerrero we have seen the emergence of “community police” forces (policías comunitarias), particularly in rural communities. These are also armed self-defence groups, under the control of local peoples’ assemblies, against the cartels, but outside of the control of the state apparatus which in many cases is the same thing as the cartels.
During the struggle of the democratic teachers’ union against the education counter-reform in the spring of 2013, the local teachers’ organisation in Guerrero, CETEG, suffered repression from the state and some of their leaders were arrested. In reaction to this, the Policias Comunitarias declared their support for the teachers’ struggle. A column of armed policias comunitarias and teacher activists entered the capital of the state Chilpancingo, destroyed the offices of all the main parties and then forced the release of the arrested teachers.
Clearly, the class struggle in Guerrero in the recent period has had some insurrectionary features, and even before the recent attack against the students, there was a possibility of a general uprising like that of Oaxaca in 2006.
At national level, all the recent struggles against the counter-reforms (education, oil, labour law, etc.) of Peña Nieto have suffered a defeat. In some cases this was the result of their isolation, in others because of the lack of a proper leadership.
The explosion of the movement of the Polytechnic (IPN) students threatened to become a focal point for all the accumulated anger. This is the reason why the government was quick to react with an attempt to co-opt the leaders of the movement through concessions and a concerted attack against its most consistent wing, the CLEP students’ organisation.
Having more or less managed to contain the movement of the Polytechnic, now the protests over Ayotzinapa are providing a new focal point for the struggle. Yesterday and today, students in dozens of faculties and universities from all over the country went on a protest strike in solidarity with the Ayotzinapa students and against the government’s inaction on the matter. What is significant is that the assemblies to vote on the strike (which is going to be repeated next week) were not limited to small groups of activists, but were massive with hundreds and in some cases thousands of students taking part.
Ayotzinapa is becoming the straw which breaks the camel’s back. The movement of the students, at the IPN and over Ayotzinapa, is the continuation of the explosion of the youth movement of #yosoy132 in 2012 - a new generation entering the struggle with boldness and elan.
As could be expected,, there are some anti-political prejudices amongst the youth. This is not surprising, and to a certain extent is a healthy reaction to the rottenness of all official politics. We should not forget that all the main political parties (PRD, PRI, PAN and PVEM) signed the “Pacto por Mexico” which means the passing of a whole raft of counter-reforms which would destroy the last vestiges of historical conquests won during the Mexican revolution and the Cardenas government in the 1930s.
In a situation where all official avenues and channels for expressing discontent and opposition are blocked, an almighty spontaneous explosion is inevitably being prepared, of which we have already felt the first tremors.
The Ayotzinapa students and the democratic teachers of CETEG have already announced that as long as the kidnapped students are not found, they will take over and occupy the town halls of every single town and city in the state of Guerrero. They have already started to put their words into action. Workers at the Guerrero university are going on strike tomorrow and other groups are joining in the movement, in the state and nationally.
This will put the government under strong pressure to find a solution to the case in one way or another. But whatever they do, the result could be an even bigger explosion of anger. If the students are found alive, then many questions will have to be answered as to who was responsible for their kidnapping. If they are finally found dead, the same questions will be asked. One way or another, this case will mark a turning point in the whole political situation in Mexico.
This case has lifted the lid revealing the putrid cesspit of the capitalist state in Mexico. What is being put into question is not just a local corrupt official, but a whole system of collusion between criminal gangs, bourgeois politicians at all levels and the state apparatus.
The struggle against it will not be easy. The youth starting to rebel will need to draw the necessary political conclusion: only by getting rid of the capitalist system itself can they put a final stop to the endless cycle of violence, repression and massacres.