Ayotzinapa protests awaken Mexico from a nightmare

(via ROAR Magazine)

Demonstrators march with crosses with writing that reads in Spanish "Narco Cops" in protest for the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico City, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Federal police detained yesterday Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, who are accused of ordering the Sept. 26 attacks on teachers' college students that left six dead and 43 still missing.  (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)The political and humanitarian crisis in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero marks a new low in a country marred by corruption and drug violence. More than a month after the disappearances of 43 students there is still no sign of them, while official government search efforts are laced by ambiguities to say the least.

At the same time the disappearances have stirred up a hornet’s nest that has taken the form of an unparalleled and broad social movement in all corners of Mexico.

Mexico, with Guerrero at its epicenter, seems torn between despair and hope. Despair from the horror of the atrocious events in Iguala, and hope from the structural change promised by the societal response. Which social and political processes have erupted, exactly, and what does this mean for the possibilities of social change in Mexico?

 A breeding ground for revolutionaries

The entrance of the Rural Normal school in Ayotzinapa welcomes her students with murals of Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels, and Carlos Marx. The disappeared students come from a school with a history of left politics embedded in a special national education program set up to train primary school teachers. Started in 1920, this program has the express goal of social emancipation of the poor. The school has produced two of Guerrero’s most important guerrilla leaders in the seventies and, unsurprisingly, has gained the reputation of being a breeding ground for radical activism.

Contemporary students are the children of farmers and indigenous families living in the poorest and most marginalized areas of Mexico. The school’s position as a hotbed of activism has not gone unnoticed and has constantly forced students to face state repression in the form of chronic underfunding, police violence and criminalization.

 The disappearances

On September 25, a group of Ayotzinapa students went to the nearby town of Iguala to organize transport to the remembrance protest of the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre. For lack of money, the students appropriated three buses on the fateful night; in response, the mayor of Iguala gave orders to stop the buses “no matter what.” Enforcing the orders, the local police opened fire on several buses, killing six students and bystanders and leaving 25 wounded. The night deteriorated into a head-hunt for the fleeing students, 43 of whom were eventually abducted in police vehicles never to be heard of since.

The response of the government was riddled with exceptional incompetence, as the following events reveal. The day after the drama, the responsible mayor of Iguala requested a leave of absence and went on the run. Meanwhile, the governor of Guerrero and the president of the republic have been involved in a ping-pong game of finger pointing to avoid responsibility. The respected human rights center Tlachinollan, located in Guerrero, has pointed out the serious deficiencies in the official investigation and the search for the students. Consequently, the parents of the disappeared students have announced to only trust the findings of a foreign team of investigators. Mexicans have lost all trust in the authorities to bring the crisis to a just end.

Graffiti spray-painted on the wall in Mexico-City reading ‘narcoestado’, or narco-state
Graffiti spray-painted on the wall in Mexico-City reading ‘narcoestado’ (“narco-state”)

 A public secret revealed

The Iguala events have irrefutably revealed ties between powerful drug cartels, the local police force and the responsible mayor. The interwoven nature of local governments with organized crime is no secret. But the revelations brought to light by the recent events have forced the government to break with their policy of official denial. As president Peña Nieto stated at a press conference, “the Iguala events have revealed the naked truth.”

Ayotzinapa has become the paragon of institutional ties with drug cartels and represents the sickness that has been ailing Mexican society in the form of corruption, extreme violence and impunity for years.

The movement that has risen in response to the Iguala events breaths a certain sense of relief. A family member of an Ayotzinapa student who disappeared a few years ago, relates how the movement has helped her: “Without Ayotzinapa our voices would still be shrouded in silence.”

Where people used to whisper, they now openly agitate against the narcogobierno [drugs government]. This sea change must not be underestimated in the context of the extreme violence and repression which would normally make a public expression of this nature a dangerous act. Ayotzinapa has finally laid bare this public secret.

Thousands protests in the streets of Acapulco on October 17, 2014
Thousands protests in the streets of Acapulco on October 17, 2014

 The perfect storm?

The disappearance of the students has mobilized and brought together diverse local groups from all social strata and regions of Mexican society. Committees of support have been set up in the most remote corners of Mexico, the Zapatistas have held a silent march in Chiapas and famous Mexican actors have declared their solidarity. However, the heart of the movement is located in Iguala, in the Asamblea Nacional Popular (ANP) headed by the parents and schoolmates of the disappeared students.

The strength of the Ayotzinapa movement is based in the coalition of student and teachers organizations. This coalition seems to be the recipe for a perfect storm. Both are at the forefront of the struggle and are flooding Mexican streets with staggering numbers, of which the 50.000 strong demonstration on October 22 in Mexico City has been the largest so far.

In Guerrero, epicenter of the struggle, highways are blockaded daily, government buildings are torched and radio stations occupied and taken over. Students and teachers of leading universities have called various strikes, and there is talk of a general strike to come. To top all this off, teachers associations have set themselves the goal of taking over all of Guerrero’s town halls. At the time of writing the count is set at 22 out of a total of 81.

In recent Mexican history, teachers and students have been the vanguard of social struggles, which has given them an important symbolic value. It also provides the current movement with the needed practical experience and organizational structures to build upon.

 Roots of the movement

Mexican universities are well known for their militant and radical student movements. The latest revival took place in the form of a national movement called #YoSoy132 (#IAm132). The movement started during the presidential election campaigns of 2012 when the students agitated for the democratization of the media because of their their partial reporting, which favored erstwhile presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. The movement is organized horizontally and made up of 130 local and autonomous assemblies spread all over Mexico, coordinating in its national Interuniversitaria, which has now taken up the cause of the Ayotzinapa students.

Just like #YoSoy132, the radical teachers organizations besmirched the start of the presidential term of Peña Nieto with large-scale protests when he announced controversial neoliberal reforms in education, energy and telecommunications. The democratic section of the national teachers union CNTE, well known for their role in the Oaxaca uprising of 2006, has led the protests against the attempt to privatize Mexican education.

In Guerrero, these militant protests were led by the teachers organization CETEG, which has united the forces of farmers, indigenous people, students and community police, thereby broadening the struggle against the entire neoliberal offensive of the new government. Besides the education reforms, they protested the privatization of the energy sector, destructive mining projects, repression of political activists and the lack of public security.

The Interuniversitaria, CNTE and CETEG are the motor of the current Ayotzinapa movement.

 Banner reading “We are all Ayotzinapa”, “Don’t forgive, or forget”, “Punish those responsible”, “Alive they took them, alive we want them back”
Banner reading “We are all Ayotzinapa”, “Don’t forgive, or forget”, “Punish those responsible”, “Alive they took them, alive we want them back”

 Insecurity unites a diverse movement

“Alive they took them, alive we want them back.” Recurrent in all protests, this slogan expresses the most important demand of the movement: the unharmed return of the students and the punishment of all those responsible for their disappearance. Banners and social media also often show the hash-tag ‘#AyotzinapaSomosTodos’ [#WeAreAllAyotzinapa]. This sends the clear message that this ‘could have happened to anybody in Mexico’. This sad reality of the structural insecurity caused by the deep ties between the corrupt government and organized crime speaks to a diversity of Mexicans and is the glue that binds the Ayotzinapa movement.

A current in the movement articulates Ayotzinapa as a systemic problem. It is mainly the radical teachers organizations which are determined not to settle for the usual course of events in Mexican political crises, namely a reshuffling of the political cards and then back to business as usual. The protesters’ response to the resignation of Guerrero’s governor says it all. “It will not solve anything,” was the loud response after which the mobilization and protests continued with unrelenting zeal. Indeed, the appointment of an interim governor of Guerrero was answered immediately with the demand for his dismissal since he was not chosen by el pueblo, the people, but by the federal government. On their own terms, the Ayotzinapa movement demands the dissolution of the municipal, state and federal governments. As they say in Mexico, “The cob must be stripped of all its corn.”

The broad coalition that makes up the Ayotzinapa movement has its internal complexities and tensions. The issue of insecurity speaks just as well to people who want a properly functioning liberal democracy as to radical groups that would like to see far-reaching political change. This is evident from the following examples.

A few days after the disappearance of the students, shopkeepers and merchants of Guerrero’s capital Chilpancingo joined the protest demanding the resignation of the governor. The extreme violence in the region has been seriously affecting commerce in Chilpancingo, leading to this groups’ participation. Under a similar pretext of insecurity, 200 striking police officers in Acapulco joined the struggle. While the middle classes focus on the issue of insecurity, a group of socialist students of the Ayotzinapa movement choose a more fundamental focus.

The students have decided to temporarily occupy two mega-stores in Chilpancingo to hand out food and basic supplies. Electronics and luxury items remain untouched, which makes it different from ordinary plundering, but rather sends a clear political statement that inequality is at the root of the problems in Mexico. This message also resonates in many of the highway blockades, where the Ayotzinapa movement gives civil vehicles free passage but denies it completely to the trucks of multinationals like Coca Cola and BIMBO, symbols of the inequality of the capitalist system.

The different currents that feed the Ayotzinapa movement are its strength because of the broad support. At the same time, the divergent currents carry with them the risk of fragmentation.

 From de-escalation to militarization

During the first month of protests, the government was surprisingly peaceful in its response. Even when more militant actions occurred, like setting fire to government buildings or occupations of town halls, the authorities did not intervene. The government seemed to be hoping for a fiery but short lived movement that would burn out by itself. Besides, this de-escalation strategy was at the time the only realistic course of action since a new victim of state violence would only have heightened the flames of discontent.

However, the government did employ its usual tactic of discrediting the students and teachers by labeling them as dangerous and radical vandals. More recently they have even stooped to the level of accusing the Ayotzinapa students of being allied to a drug cartel. Strikingly enough, these accusations have not had the sought-after effect on the people.

On October 29, more than a month into the protests, the first violent confrontation with the military police forces took place when teachers of CETEG attempted to occupy the Casa Guerrero, the White House of Guerrero. Meanwhile, the government is taking over control of the cities of Guerrero as well as twelve municipalities. A large-scale militarization of the region is taking place, denounced by the teachers organizations as an attempt to suppress the movement. Now that more and more anger is directed towards the president himself, the chances of a violent intervention are growing by the day.

 Self-organization: leading by example

The long-standing community police forces of Guerrero are an inspiration to the Ayotzinapa movement. When people speak of real solutions to rising insecurity, they are quick to refer to the self-organized community police, “where the people do it themselves.”

Indigenous communities, mostly, have organized their police groups based on their own culture and organizational structures. The police are directly responsive to the community which governs and controls their activities. The areas where the community police is active are seen as the safest places in Guerrero.

UPOEG is one of the community police organizations which has gained a lot of respect by immediately organizing search parties for the disappeared students, coordinating their efforts with the parents. As such, UPOEG is filling the void left by the government and shows the power and possibilities of self-organization. Besides its policing role, UPOEG is also putting forward a plan to create a ‘fourth level of government’ next to the existing federal, state and municipal structure of Mexico. This would take the shape of a ‘council of community leaders’ with the aim of pulling political power to the bottom of Mexican society: the communities.

Self-organization in Guerrero is referred to by the Ayotzinapa movement as an example of what another Mexico might look like.

Satirical version of Time Magazine cover depicting president Peña Nieto as Death, with the accompanying text “Slaying Mexico”
Satirical version of Time Magazine cover depicting president Peña Nieto as Death, with the accompanying text “Slaying Mexico”

 The importance of international pressure

The fear that political instability will disrupt Mexican commercial interests makes the country highly susceptible to international pressure. This was apparent when the Zapatistas rose up in 1994 during the implementation of the NAFTA free trade agreement. The pressure exerted on Mexico as a response to the international solidarity movement was of crucial importance in the course of the Zapatista struggle.

The Mexican government does not want to lose her image as ‘stable’ and ‘open for business’. The protesters in Mexico are well aware of this fact. They have made a satirical version of the cover of the influential Time Magazine and spread it far and wide via social media. The image parodies an edition of Time with Peña Nieto ‘Saving Mexico’ on the front cover. The parody depicts the president as Death with a scythe in his hand, accompanied by the text “Slaying Mexico.” This is a firm call for international pressure.

International intellectuals supported the struggle with a critical open letter to president Peña Nieto signed by Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco and more than two-thousand other academics.

Once more, it is of crucial importance that the eyes of the world are turned to Mexico to restrain its government from using all-out repression against the Ayotzinapa movement. The course of struggle is unclear, and a burst of violence lurks in every corner, just like the possibility for social change. One thing is certain: a diverse group of Mexicans is envisioning Another Mexico, which now more than ever, is possible.

Maggie Blanca is an independent journalist and PhD student in Cultural Anthropology.

Jeremy Crowlesmith is an independent journalist based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with a background in student organizing and independent media.

Zapatistas march for Ayotzinapa in San Cristobal

(via CIP Americas Program / Upside Down World)

Some twenty thousand members of the bases of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation marched briskly through San Cristobal de las Casas on October 8. They gathered on the outskirts of the city, under a blue sky stained with clouds that threatened rain and then walked in long, orderly lines toward the central plaza of the city. The long river of Zapatistas moved fluidly and silently; the only sound was the steps of their shoes and boots. They carried signs that read “Your rage is ours”, “Your pain is our pain” and “You are not alone”.

front of the march with banners (ezln, mexican flag, signs of support for victims)

The message was for the students of  Ayotzinapa, Guerrero and for the families that found out that on on Sept. 26-27 their sons were killed or kidnapped as they traveled by bus, at the hands of municipal police in complicity with the drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos. Two weeks from the attacks there are 6 dead and 43 disappeared.

“In Ayotzinapa the state appears as the intersection between official powers and criminal powers that dispute political control, using new forms of social discipline. We have arrived at a point of dehumanization,” said Dolores González Saravia, director of the NGO SerAPaz, during the presentation of the 2013-2014 report of the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Center for Human Rights.

masked zapatista mujeres showing solidarity with the disappeared

The bone-chilling story of these youth and the indignation at the corruption of the police and the Mexican institutions spurred many acts of solidaryt. Oct. 8 more than 60 cities in Mexico and throughout the world responded to the call to mobilize. They organized marches, roadblocks, occupations and blockades of government offices.

In Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, thousands of students demonstrated, along with teachers and other citizens, while the community police of the  Unión de Pueblos Organizados de Guerrero (UPOEG) organized an independent search for the 43 students. In Mexico City 15,000 people joined the march. In Barcelona, New York, Montreal and Buenos Aires they showed pictures of the youth, talked about their personal stories, demanded their appearance alive and punishment for the guilty.

“The institutions are not going to do justice, they won’t bring justice, since the whole chain of command is corrupt, but to demand the appearance of the students alive is a form of pressure to present them if they know where they are. However, even this is not complete justice, because presentation of the missing will not repair the incalculable damage suffered by the students and their families,” one Zapatista supporter who preferred to remain anonymous told us.

MARCHAEZ081014OB8

In San Cristobal de las Casas members of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle joined students, teachers, famlies and civic organizations that organized two marches that came together in the plaza.

The EZLN route went through the plaza, a where it has a long history, crossing through without stopping. The Zapatistas marched in silence just as they had on Dec. 21, 2013 and May of 2011, when the indigenous organization answered another call in solidarity with the victims of state violence, launched by the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Then the Zapatistas joined national marches against the war on the cartels started by  ex president Felipe Calderón. The Mexican government’s  anti-drug crusade, instead of decreasing crime, caused some 100,000 deaths and 30,000 disappeared. Today the country is inundated by corrupt institutions, drug cartels and paramilitary groups; the EZLN leader Galeano, assassinated by paramilitary groups May 2, is one of the victims.

Most of the Zapatistas who marched on Oct. 8 were young, like the students of  Ayotzinapa. The tourists that strolled through the streets of the colonial city were amazed at the unexpected procession. The people of San Cristóbal de Las Casas –a historically conservative city–looked out from the stores and restaurants and took pictures of the long march of masked indigenous people. No one spoke, some whispered. One women outside a hotel applauded, shouting, “Long live the people!” and the eyes of some of the Zapatistas smiled behind their masks.

MARCHAEZ081014OB4

Death of a Zapatista: neoliberalism’s assault on indigenous autonomy

Compañero Galeano sitting on a tree
Compañero Galeano

(via libcom.org)

“On Friday May 2, 2014 an Indigenous Zapatista teacher, Jose Luis Solís López – known by his name ‘in the struggle’ as ‘Compañero Galeano’ – was ambushed and murdered. He was beaten with rocks and clubs, hacked with a machete, shot in the leg and chest, and as he lay on the ground gasping for air – he was executed by a final bullet to the head. The reason he was subjected to this callous violence varies depending upon what account is heard or read. But in truth, he was assassinated because he was Indigenous, because he was a teacher, because he was humble, and more specifically – because he was a Zapatista. And in a contemporary global system of neoliberal production and colonial governance, people like Galeano are deemed to be threats – threats that need to be killed in cold blood and suffer brutal deaths.” […]

The primary reason that Galeano and the other Zapatistas were targeted is because they are living a life of decolonial, anti-capitalist, collective resistance. A life that focuses on mutual aid, equitable gender relations, autonomous education, horizontal decision-making, and in addition, a life of shared laughter, dancing, and caring for one another. And during a time in which unimpeded capitalistic production, the rampant extraction of natural resources, the attainment of individual status, and unequal systems of patriarchal governance continue to be enabled and rewarded, living a life that rejects those things is something that hierarchical power sees fit to punish.

Additionally, the Zapatistas were subjected to this violent attack because they are exercising sovereignty as Indigenous people in the face of an omniscient neoliberal industrial complex, or more accurately, a sterile system of banal domination driven by individualistic notions of competition, private ownership, and ambition. The Zapatistas thereby continue to be encroached upon by military and state authorities because they collectively choose to rebuke and disregard the abusive structure of negligence that neoliberalism proves to be. And at this given moment, the success of the Zapatistas in contesting and opposing the ideals of neoliberalism has caused reactionary violence on the part of the colonial government.

The responses to the victories of the Zapatistas by those who wield power and privilege have been attempts at dividing Indigenous communities and pitting them against each other. This is done through the distribution of co-optative government ‘assistance’ to anyone who will disrupt the Zapatistas and their struggle. In their steadfast conviction against ever becoming dependent upon official authorities, the Zapatistas wholly refuse to accept any of the hollow amenities the state offers, referring to such superficial ‘aid’ packages as migajas (‘crumbs‘). In addition, the Mexican government also relentlessly endeavours to discipline, humiliate, disappear, and make suffer those Indigenous rebels who have had of the audacity to reject its neoliberal edicts and shallow offerings. Consequently, military encampments and state repression are intensified in the areas where Indigenous communities are based, primarily due to the democratic spaces and international solidarity that the Zapatistas have built.

And while those who profit most off of the spoils of neoliberalism continue to loathe the Zapatistas for their resilience, what proves to be a greater threat to the political and economic powers at be – is the autonomy of the Zapatistas. Autonomy is dangerous because it shows agents of capitalism and administers of colonial domination that they are no longer necessary. Consequently, the liberation that the Zapatistas have fought for and won, along with their ability to create socially just spaces and sustain democracy within their own communities, continues to be subjected to heavy-handed, reactionary aggression by the neoliberal government. This is because neoliberalism, just as ongoing colonialism, fear being exposed – more precisely, they fear being exposed as incompetent, unjust, violent, and ultimately, useless. And this reality – is exactly what the Zapatistas have shown us all.

zapatista families

Read full article here

Zapatismo and the Latin American cycle of struggle

” […] This series of mobilizations that have sprouted throughout Latin America for the past two decades positively indicate that grassroots movements are alive across the region. Many of them are carriers of a new political culture and a new form of political organization, which is reflected in multiple ways and which is different from what we knew in the 1960s and 1970s.

Bases Zapatistas del municipo autonomo Olga Isabel mantendran  el bloqueo permanente por la construccion de la carretera ya que solo es pretexto la construccion del camino para que entre el  ejercito, seguridad piblica y policia municipal senalaron zapatistas al ser entrevistados.
Bases Zapatistas del municipo autonomo Olga Isabel mantendran el bloqueo permanente por la construccion de la carretera ya que solo es pretexto la construccion del camino para que entre el ejercito, seguridad piblica y policia municipal senalaron zapatistas al ser entrevistados.
(Foto: Victor M. Camacho)

Some of the movements, from the Chilean secondary school students and the Zapatista communities, to the Guardians of the Conga Lakes, the Venezuela Settlers’ Movement and the Movimento Livre Passe (MPT) of Brazil, reveal some common characteristics that are worth noting.

The first is the massive and exceptional participation of the youth and of women. As vulnerable victims of capitalist exploitation, their presence revitalizes anti-capitalist struggles because they can be directly involved in the movement. Ultimately, it is they — those who have nothing to lose — who give movements an intransigent radical character.

Secondly, a unique political culture is gaining ground, which the Zapatistas have synthesized in the expression “governing by obeying” (mandar obedeciendo). Those who care for the lakes in Peru — the heirs of peasant patrols (rondas campesinas) – obey their communities. The young activists of the MPL in Brazil make decisions by consensus in order to avoid consolidating a majority, and they explicitly reject the “loudspeaker cars” that union bureaucracies used to impose control on their marches.

Another common feature to these movements is the project of autonomy and horizontality, words that only started being used 20 years ago but which have already been fully incorporated into the political language of those involved in the various struggles. Activists claim autonomy from the state and political parties, as well as horizontality — the collective leadership of the movement rather than that of any individual. For instance, members of the Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES, its initials in Spanish) of Chile function horizontally, with a collective leadership and an assembly.

The fourth characteristic is the predominance of flows over structures. The organization adapts itself and is subordinate to the movement; it is not frozen into a structure that conditions the collective with its own separate interests. The collectives that struggle are similar to communities in resistance, in which all run similar risks and where the division of labor is adjusted according to the objectives that the group outlines at every given moment.

In this new layer of organization, it is difficult to distinguish who the leaders are — not because referents and spokespersons do not exist, but rather because the difference between leaders and followers diminishes as the collective leadership of those from below increases. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the new political culture that has been expanding over the course of the past two decades.

Finally, Zapatismo is a political and ethical referent — not so much indicating a direction for these movements, but rather serving as an example from which to take inspiration. Multiple dialogues are taking place among all the various Latin American movements, not in the style of formal and structured gatherings, but as direct exchanges of knowledge and experience between activist networks: precisely the kind of exchange that we need in order to strengthen our struggle against the system.”

[…]

Read the full article at: http://roarmag.org/2013/12/zapatistas-latin-american-movements/

=========

See also:

* New Forms of Revolution (Part 1): The Lacandona Commune

* EZLN: treinta años del más sensato de los delirios

On this day in history – December 22, 1997: The Acteal Massacre

On This Day: In 1997 armed paramilitary troops with assault rifles entered and attacked the unarmed Tzotzil Maya village of Acteal in Chiapas, Mexico in what has come to be known as the Acteal Massacre. The Tzotzil were attending a prayer meeting when the troops entered the village and massacred 45 people, including pregnant women and children. The paramilitary troops were retaliating against the Zapatista National Liberation Army, whom the Tzotzil had supported.

Mourners in the aftermath of the 1997 Acteal massacre.

Declassified documents reveal the role of the Mexican government and military in this massacre: The documents describe a clandestine network of “human intelligence teams,” created in mid-1994 with approval from then-President Carlos Salinas, working inside Indian communities to gather intelligence information on Zapatista “sympathizers.” In order to promote anti-Zapatista armed groups, the teams provided “training and protection from arrests by law enforcement agencies and military units patrolling the region.”

(Text from: Indigenous People’s Issues & Resources, Facebook)