The Blazing Ashes of Ayotzinapa

Editor’s Note: Frontera NorteSur’s continued coverage of the crisis in Mexico triggered by the Iguala Massacre and forced disappearance of students.


In late 2014 Mexico there is one word that captures the socio-political reality: Ayotzinapa. From border to border and from coast to coast, the crisis triggered by the September 26-27 police killings and forced disappearances of students and civilians in the state of Guerrero only deepens, with unpredictable consequences for the 2015 Congressional elections, the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto and Mexican polity as a whole.

Rising with a three-day national protest October 29-31 and continuing into the November 1-2 Days of the Dead festivities, protests in support of the 43 missing male students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero sizzled throughout the country and abroad.

The students, whose photos have practically become iconic images in Mexico, were detained and disappeared by municipal police officers in Iguala, Guerrero, after a confrontation developed over the students’ collection of money in public. Opening fire on the students and others, the police-and paramilitary gunmen linked to a drug cartel working with them- were then blamed for killing three students and three passerby.

The disappeared young men, who were all first year students at the Ayotzinapa school, were then bundled into police vehicles and whisked off to an uncertain fate.

“They took them alive, return them alive!” were words again reverberating on Mexican streets this past week.

In the northern border region, university students spearheaded a brief blockade of the Santa Fe Bridge connecting Ciudad Juarez and El Paso on the evening of October 31.  The action was the fourth closure of an international border crossing by protesters in the northern Mexican city in about three weeks.

A protest sign glimpsed at the action read: “They wanted to bury us but didn’t know we were seeds/Tlatelolco (1968 Mexico City massacre of students) touched my father, Ayotzinapa touched me. Struggle so your child won’t be touched..”

On the same day, approximately 400 students, teachers, doctors, garbage collectors, and others occupied a toll booth on the Tijuana-Tecate Highway in Baja California in solidarity with Ayotzinapa. Students and community members were also on the move in the Sonora border cities of Nogales and San Luis Rio Colorado, while in the state capital of Hermosillo, 1,200 rural teacher students attended a Day of the Dead event that prominently featured an altar for the Ayotzinapa students.

“What we are doing today in Tijuana might seem insignificant,” said Marco Antonio Pacheco Pena, coordinator for the Teacher Resistance Movement. “But it is a grain in the sand of what is going on at the national level, because this is being repeated in other states, in the sphere of human rights, public education and labor rights.”

On Sunday, November 2, more than 1,000 demonstrators returned to the streets of Tijuana again, demanding the safe return of the Ayotzinapa students. Dr. Jose Manuel Valenzuela Arce, professor and researcher for the Colegio de la Frontera Norte,  said the protests come from “a society aggrieved by impunity, violence, death and racism.” According to the Tijuana academic, many victims of violence are like the students of Ayotzinapa-young, poor and indigenous.

Valenzuela maintained that the “decomposition” of the Mexican political and social order had to be reversed. “But I celebrate that, from distinct levels of civil society, the people are mobilizing to change things,” he
said. “Enough. A country can’t develop over the bodies of its young people.”

In Oaxaca, meanwhile, a large movement blockaded the Puerto Escondido airport, seized gasoline stations and occupied department stores. Among the biggest October 31 demonstrations was the march held in the old tourist center of Acapulco, Guerrero, where thousands of students, teachers, popular movement activists and relatives of the Ayotzinapa 43 paraded through the streets demanding the safe return of their loved ones, the ouster of new Governor Salvador Rogelio Ortega and the jailing of the former one, Angel Aguirre Rivero.

“We will continue moving ahead and die for our sons,” cracked the emotional voice of Epifanio Alvarez, father of disappeared student Jorge Alvarez Nava.

Acapulco demonstrators also demanded justice for murdered activists like Rocio Mesino, leader of the Campesino Organization of the Southern Sierra Madres gunned down in October 2013, and freedom for Nestora Salgado, Marco Antonio Suastegui and other Guerrero leaders the popular movement regards as political prisoners.

The chief of the community police in Olinala, Guerrero, Salgado sent a message from her jail cell in Nayarit, where she is being held on what supporters insist are  kidnapping charges that were trumped up after her policing activities disturbed the interests of organized crime.

“What a shame that I am not here,” Salgado said. “If I were here, I would be at the first in the struggle to uncover the assassins of these companions.”

A day prior to the Acapulco protest, some 5,000 people marched in Tixtla, the town closest to Ayotzinapa and home to 14 of the disappeared students, also demanding the new Guerrero governor’s ouster.

Pro-Ayotzinapa actions continued on the international scene as well. On November 2, the Day of the Dead, 60 people held a vigil for the students outside the White House. Organized via social media, the vigil was mainly attended by Mexican residents of Washington D.C.

“It’s outrageous for us that something like this could happen in a country like Mexico in the 21st century,” said Francia Rabago, spokeswoman for the vigil. “We ask for no more impunity and accountability.” Rabago contended that the U.S. and other countries had a responsibility to get involved in the Ayotzinapa affair so “everything is clarified.”

Noted Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, whose chronicle of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre documented a watershed moment in Mexican history, is among many intellectuals, artists, musicians and even sports figures speaking out about a new generation’s defining moment. In a recent column, Poniatowska recalled  words she earlier penned that have relevance for today:

“I want a country where there are no murders, where the people have the same opportunities. We can’t continue like this, sitting on top of bones and above graves.  We have a common cause, the cause of love we have for the country,  for ourselves and for those who come later…”

Like the ashes that are once again sparking from the Popocatepetl Volcano outside Mexico City, the hot drift from the Ayotzinapa affair is shrouding the landscape and churning up human rights scandals new and old.

The mass disappearances and graves of murdered women, Central American migrants and Mexicans of many stripes in Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and elsewhere are again burning in the public eye, as are new atrocities like last month’s abductions and murders of three young members of the Alvarado Rivera family, U.S. citizens, in Matamoros, possibly at the hands of the police escorts of the city’s mayor, or the macabre disappearance and apparent murder in Reynosa of Dr. Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, whose Twitter messages alerted the public of insecurity and corruption in a city with a silenced press.

Father Conrado Zepeda, Jesuit priest and instructor at Mexico City’s Iberoamerican University, described Mexico as being in “an emergency situation” typified by 26,000 disappeared people, the regular discovery of secret mass graves and the imprisonment of activists like the leaders of Sonora’s Yaqui people.

Political analyst Jorge Carrasco Araizaga wrote that Mexico is in a fragile, vulnerable condition as a nation-state:

“Enrique Pena Nieto attempted to administer the security crisis in Mexico with silence. He wagered on diverting the issue by taking it out of the public discourse, in exactly the opposite way of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who only exacerbated it speaking about it. But for all the media image (Pena Nieto) bought, reality imposed itself and ended with exhibiting before the world the state he heads, incapable of complying with its reason for being: Guaranteeing the integrity and property of its citizens.”

The developments in Mexico, punctuated by the rapid spread of student protests and the almost immediate rejection by politically active segments of civil society of the top-down appointment of a new governor in Guerrero, contain flashes of the recent, massive Chilean student movement for public education and the popular revolt of Argentina in the early 2000s that toppled several presidents in succession and coalesced around the slogan: “Que se vayan todos!,” or roughly translated into English, “Throw all the bums out!”

Volatility is an ingredient in today’s atmosphere, perhaps illustrated by last month’s popular detention of kidnapping suspects, including one policeman, and the burning of police cars by about 1,000 residents in Ecatepec, Mexico state, or the pitched battle between police and street vendors in Guadalajara that paralyzed the city’s downtown for hours on the afternoon of October 31.

Dr. Juan Ramon de la Fuente, former rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, predicted that the outrage ignited by Ayotzinapa would continue to spread nationally and internationally. De la Fuente said the country was in dire need of an ethical, democratic rejuvenation,  the correct application of justice and quality education.

“We need governments with four characteristics-legitimacy, honesty, efficiency, and closeness to the people,” de la Fuente said.

In the weeks approaching Mexico’s long holiday season, Ayotzinapa is likely to remain at center stage. Organized as the Inter-University Assembly and National Popular Assembly, students, teachers and community activists have announced another round of nationwide protests for November 5-7.  Follow-up protests are on the map for November 20, Mexico’s 1910 Revolution Day holiday, and December 1, when a caravan is planned to leave Guerrero for a Mexico City camp-in.

“The government is responsible for this entire situation,” contended at student at Mexico City’s  National Polytechnic Institute. “We call on all students to be part of this movement and conduct a national strike in order to bring the State to its knees.”

Sources:, November 2, 2014. El Universal/EFE, November 2, 2014. El Sol de Tijuana, November 1 and 2, 2014. Articles by Laura Bueno Medina and Feliciano Castro, November 2, 2014. Article by Rogelio Agustin and Victor Hugo Michel. Nuevo Dia (Nogales), November 1, 2014. Tribuna de San Luis, November 1, 2014. Article by Brenda Roman., October 30, 2014.

La Jornada (Guerrero edition), November 2, 2014. Article by Luciano Tapia. La Jornada (Jalisco edition), November 1, 2014. Article by Alma Gomez. El Diario de Juarez, October 31, 2014. Article by Salvador Castro., November 1, 2014. Article by Miguel Vargas., November 1, 2014. El Sur, October 31 and November 3, 2014. Articles by Jacob Morales Antonio, Karina Contreras and the Reforma news agency.

Proceso/Apro, October 24, 28, 29, 30, 31, 2014; November 2, 2014. Articles by Luciano Campos Garza, Jenaro Villamil, Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Jose Gil Olmos, and editorial staff. La Jornada, October 21, 26 and 27, 2014; November 1, 2014. Articles by Javier Salinas Cesareo, Carolina Gomez Mena, Elena Poniatowska, Juan Carlos Partida, and editorial staff.

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