The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2015

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FEB 2015 Issue
Field Notes

Why Now? Why in Guerrero?

In addition to expressing indignation at the crimes the state has committed against the students of the rural Normal School Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, we think it is essential to analyze the events from a political perspective, in order to attempt to identify not only those responsible, but also the intent behind the crimes.

“IMG_0087” by Miriana Moro (, used under CC BY 2.0 / Desaturated from original.

In the first place, we must recognize that the government’s story, which aims at confining responsibility to the mayor of Iguala, some of the local police, and an organized crime group, is improbable, as public protests have stressed. The protests point to an act of repression of such magnitude and gravity that it obviously could not have been the decision of a mayor nor of the municipal police. There are no motives for the kidnapping of 43 students by an organized crime group; since the normalistas have no relations with cartels, the drug gangsters have no interest in such kidnapping. The participation of organized crime in the events in Iguala, then, cannot be explained by will or self-interest, unless they acted as mercenaries in service of others.

A second aspect of this situation that must be made clear is that the appearance in security cameras of black vans driven by hooded men, like the flaying of the face of one of the normalistas, and the very disappearance of the 43 students is strikingly similar to the counterinsurgency techniques utilized in Central America during the ’80s by government armed forces, trained by the United States. (Remember, for example, that Miss Guatemala, who carried messages for Guatemalan guerrilla forces, was detained and later turned up flayed.)

From a more general perspective, the case of Ayotzinapa exhibits two aspects that have become common in the last few years. The first is the fight against the Normales, particularly the rural schools, because these schools, created during the Lázaro Cárdenas presidency, have through the decades preserved a mystique of social commitment that now appears dangerous to the Mexican state. As a result, the budget for these rural Normal Schools has not only been cut, but terminated altogether. Only the struggle of students and normalistas has kept a few alive, in precarious conditions, within the country. In this context, it is important to remember the assassination of two Ayotzinapa normalistas on December 12, 2011 in Guerrero.

The second aspect that it is imperative to remember is that during the last few years the strength of organized crime, and the government campaigns to combat it, have served as a cover for three phenomena equally important to the people and the democratic life of Mexico.

First, the militarization of the country: Under the pretext of fighting organized crime, especially drug cartels, entire Mexican cities and even states have become completely subordinated to the army. Second, the deployment of federal forces, supposedly against organized crime, has served as a cover-up for the repression of popular social movements. Andthird, organized crime has been used to criminalize political protests and activists, with the notion of some secret connection between the Normal Schools and organized crime justifying unjust incarceration and murder. In the case of Ayotzinapa we must point out a fake connection between “some” of the missing normalistas and an unknown cartel called “Los Rojos,” invented to supply a motive for the (real) Guerreros Unidos to attack the normalistas.

Apart from this environment and these practices, which provide a context for the case of Ayotzinapa, we must ask ourselves: why now, why in Guerrero? While it is true that the normalistas have been at the center of a permanent struggle, their action on September 26, seizing three vans in order to raise funds to attend a demonstration in Mexico City on October 2, does not seem to provide a motive for an action of the size and seriousness of what happened. We must analyze, then, the national conjuncture in which it has taken place, and in particular the reform of energy policy which constitutes the fundamental piece of the political-economic project of the Peña Nieto government.

In this perspective, whatever we think of its ability to reverse the reform, a plebiscite promoted by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’s PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Party of the Democratic Revolution) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s MORENA (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, National Regeneration Movement) has gathered almost five million signatures, demonstrating strong opposition to handing over the main resources of the country (hydrocarbons), and the main input into the economy (electricity), to exploitation by private domestic and foreign companies. The first strategy to address this dissent was to discredit and trivialize the plebiscite mechanism by means of the proposals of the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party) and the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party) for referenda on the minimum wage and the number of deputies. However, this strategy proved very weak in the face of widespread questioning of the devastating energy reform. The repression of the students in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero, a state governed by the PRD and where MORENA is an important force—and in addition to having links to various state-government officials—is an attempt precisely to discredit these two political parties because they are the ones that are bringing together protests against the energy reform.

In part, this goal has been achieved: With respect to the PRD, not only the leaders of the New Left (known as los Chuchos, or the Mutts) but also Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas have been rejected in various ways by serious numbers of people. In the case of López Obrador, the crowd that filled the zócalo a few days ago shows that his ability to call people together has not diminished, but the very brutality of the crimes against the students is a grim indication of the lengths to which the government is willing to go in order to suppress the movement against energy reform. Last week the Mexican Supreme Court rejected the popular referenda, while the Diario Oficial published regulations for the laws establishing the energy reform, completing the final reform, the most devastating for the nation.

The popular response to the crimes against the students of Ayotzinapa was not expected to reach the dimensions that have been achieved today, especially the rapid identification of the events as state crimes. This response, coming not only from students but also from very broad sectors of the population, demonstrates that Mexicans have said, “enough is enough.”


Magdalena Galindo Ledezma

MAGDALENA GALINDO LEDEZMA is Professor in the Economics Department, UNAM.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2015

All Issues