Editor’s Note: Our continuing coverage of the crisis in Mexico sparked by the government killings and disappearances of students and civilians in Iguala, Guerrero, last September.
In a little more than two months, the movement for justice for the murdered and disappeared students of the Ayotizinapa rural teaching college in Mexico has transformed from protest into a growing political insurgency.
In some regions of Guerrero state, where the students were attacked by police last September 26, the residents are forming citizen assemblies with an eye toward replacing local administrations they accuse of corruption and collusion with organized crime while, in turn, laying the groundwork for new forms of governance without the country’s political parties.
At a November 28-29 meeting in the town of Tecoanapa in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero, a popular assembly declared the dissolution of the official municipal administration and announced plans to install a government rooted in indigenous customs.
Participants in the meeting included members of the Union of Popular Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), the Guerrero State Coordinator of Education Workers (CETEG), landowners’ association officials, representatives of the community police, and parents of disappeared Ayotzinapa students.
Befitting the changing political winds, assembly members took down the picture of the last mayor that was hanging in city hall and vowed to replace it with images of the Ayotzinapa justice movement.
As in dozens of municipalities across Guerrero, protesters have taken over Tecoanapa’s city hall.
“We want a peaceful change, we don’t want violence,” stressed resident Tecoanapa resident Polo Mora. “But one has to always think the worst, and be prepared because the government is not going to remain with its arms crossed.. ”
Felix Jose Rosas Rodriguez, spokesperson for the teachers’ movement, said a jumble of insecurity, widespread extortion, murders, misuse of government poverty funds and the existence of a local “coalition government with narcos” drove Tecoanapa’s residents to take decisive political strides.
Legally, the assembly members justified their action on Guerrero State Law 701 and Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization, an international agreement ratified by Mexico, that uphold the rights of indigenous people to self-determination and cultural integrity. The Tecoanapa activists also cited articles of the Mexican Constitution that define political rights.
A similar process is underway in Tlapa, a municipality located in the heart of Guerrero’s indigenous La Montana region, where a new popular assembly was installed early this week as the first step in electing representatives for a municipal council on December 7 that will be tasked with organizing a new local government based on indigenous customs in 2015. Like Tecoanapa, the Tlapa assembly based its action on the Mexican Constitution, Guerrero State Law 701 and the International Labor Organization.
Elaborating on the legal basis for disposing of the local government, Vidulfo Rosales, lawyer for the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, a Tlapa-based non-profit organization that advises popular movements in Guerrero, said the Mexican Constitution’s Article 39 grants the right to “create new institutions that respond to the interests of the people.”
In taking its action, the Tlapa assembly removed the municipality from participating in the official elections scheduled for 2015. Besides Tecoanapa and Tlapa, popular assemblies are taking shape in Acapulco, San Luis Acatlan and Ayutla, among other places.
“We are telling the three branches of government that, for us, they are no longer legitimate and have no credibility,” said CETEG spokesman Walter Emanuel Anorve Rodriguez. “We need to create a power that truly comes from below, from the people.”
Anorve continued: “We are going to continue on this path, which finally brings about a transcendental change. We are at the perfect juncture for achieving this; not only for toppling (President) Enrique Pena Nieto as a figure, but the corrupt system.”
The political sparks of Ayotzinapa are spreading far beyond Guerrero. In the northern border state of Sonora, for instance, a popular congress has been formed with participation from students, miners, cattlemen, ex-braceros, feminists, environmentalists, victims of last summer’s toxic spill from a Grupo Mexico mine, relatives of the 49 children burned to death at the ABC daycare in 2009, and citizens in general.
Acting as a kind of parallel state legislature, the popular congress held its first “session” on November 20, the anniversary of the 1910 Mexican Revolution and a national day of protest for Ayotzinapa.
Occupying the legislative chambers in the state capital of Hermosillo, thousands of demonstrators demanded the resignations of President Enrique Pena Nieto, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, Sonora Governor Guillermo Paredes and University of Sonora President Heriberto Grijavla.
In addition to justice for Ayotzinapa, the popular congress demanded the arrests of the persons responsible for the ABC fire, the overturning of a university rule that allows for the expulsion of students for organizing protests and other changes.
“From Sonora, more than 104 years later, we reinitiate the Revolution that hasn’t walked,” Roberto Zavala Trujillo, father of an ABC victim, was quoted.
The Sonoran popular congress plans to reconvene for another mass meeting on December 5. Meanwhile, 150 people continue occupying the municipal government offices of Aconchi in a protest against the damages they suffered from the Grupo Mexico mine spill, considered one of the worst environmental disasters ever to visit Mexico.
In Guerrero, the emergence of the popular assemblies could be viewed as the logical outcome to decades of authoritarian rule, repression and criminal violence.
In a broad political sense, Ayotzinapa was the detonator of a political powder keg that had been sizzling for a long time, pressurized by episodes such as alleged frauds in the presidential elections of 1988, 2006 and 2012, as well as the Guerrero gubernatorial contest of 1999; the disenchantment with opposition governments headed by former President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) at the federal level and ex-Governor Zeferino Torreblanca (2005-2011) at the state level; and the unleashing of a new dirty war against political activists in Guerrero, especially after 2009;
The “rotting” of the center-left PRD party (once popularly viewed as a political alternative), in the words of columnist Alvaro Delgado, and the explosion of criminal violence and insecurity during the past decade, were among other factors kindling an incendiary political scene. The recent resignation of the PRD’s “moral leader,” Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, from the party he helped found a quarter-center ago perhaps sealed the coffin on the organization as a viable opposition force.
By the same token, the citizen assemblies emerge from a history of contemporary popular movements, including the indigenous movement for autonomy that gathered steam in the wake of the 1992 protests around the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas; the Mayan Zapatista uprising in Chiapas two years later; the armed uprising of the UPOEG against organized crime groups n early 2013; and the militant teachers’ movement against the Pena Nieto administration’s education reform, which also shook Guerrero and the country last year.
“All this forms part of the national indignation arising from a series of injuries and disagreements accumulated over the years, which then surge from the Ayotzinapa tragedy, in which corruption and narco infiltration are seen,” said Tlachinollan’s Vidulfo Rosales. “It has to do with the neglect that is found in education and the authoritarianism and arrogance that persists in politics.”
More protests arising from the Ayotizinapa crisis are planned in the weeks ahead. According to La Jornada columnist Luis Hernadez Navarro, thousands of students, teachers and small farmers, accompanied by horses, are expected to symbolically occupy Mexico City December 6 in a reenactment of the conquest of the Mexican capital 100 years ago by the revolutionary armies of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
The action, Hernandez wrote, goes well beyond mere political discourse and “appeals to the imagination, as in the announcement of the occupation of the Sonora legislature, to reinitiate the revolution that has not walked.”
Additional sources: La Jornada, December 2, 2014. Article by Luis Hernandez Navarro. El Sur, November 30 and December 1, 2014. Articles by Marianna Labastida and Carmen Gonzalez Benicio. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), November 30 and December 1, 2014. Articles by Hector Briseno and Salvador Cisneros Silva. Proceso/Apro, May 5, 2014; December 1 and 2, 2014. Articles by Alvaro Delgado and editorial staff.