Monday, November 17, 2014
The Persistence of Abductions, Violence and
Death in Mexico
By Kent Paterson
Downtown Ciudad Juarez,
Mexico, includes a visual landscape of ubiquitous painted black crosses on pink background, faded posters of missing persons
and street art that protests femicide. In November 2014 new faces stare out from fresh posters displayed on the streets.
“They were taken alive, we want them returned alive,” demands a poster near the corner of Avenida Juarez
and Avenida 16 de Septiembre.
“It was the State,” proclaimed the poster
bearing the face of 20-year-old Carlos Ivan Ramirez Villareal, one of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’
college kidnapped and reported murdered by policemen and paramilitary gunmen in Iguala, Guerrero, last September 26 and 27.
In a border city that became synonymous with the so-called narco war, Ayotzinapa is but among the latest histories
stitched into the dozens of paradoxically pretty handkerchiefs that were draped from the fence surrounding the city’s
Benito Juarez Monument last weekend.
In a comparison of the 1968 Olympics massacre of pro-democracy
students in Mexico City, one handkerchief proclaimed: “October 2, 1968 Tlatelolco and September 26, 2014 Ayotzinapa.”
Another handkerchief listed the names of the 43 students forcibly disappeared in Iguala.
tears welling in her eyes, Magda Rojero voiced a common reaction to Ayotzinapa and the events which have turned a nation upside
“We are completely indignant. All these people could have been our children.
I consider them my children,” Rojero said. An activist with Stitching for Peace, the international network that produces
the hand-stitched, color-lettered handkerchiefs with anti-violence messages, Rojero’s words exemplified the widespread
distrust in Mexico, reminiscent of the credibility gap that permeated U.S. society during the Vietnam War, over the recent
statement by Federal Attorney General Jesus Murrillo Karam that the 43 missing students were murdered, their bodies burned
in a garbage dump, and their ashes dumped into a river.
“We don’t know if they are
the victims,” she said. “The government has created a theater. Mexicans don’t believe in them.”
Born of a generation that grew up in the somber shadows of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, Angel Ortega defined Ayotzinapa
as “a repetition of Tlatelolco,” even though “we were supposed to have evolved beyond these kinds of politics.”
Ortega added that Ayotzinapa recalls another historical precedent: the ovens of the Nazi concentration camps. “We’re
doing it to our own people,” he lamented.
As Ortega spoke, passersby glanced at
the handkerchiefs hanging beneath the statute of revered President Benito Juarez, telling bits of horrid stories like the
murder of 62 people, many of them simply named “unknown,” in the state of Sinaloa last September, and the forced
disappearance of 80 families in Allende, Coahuila, back in 2011.
“The country became
a secret grave,” reads the handkerchief dedicated to Coahuila.
As if Ortega’s points
needed further evidence, the Juarez press reported the November 9 discovery of the burned body of a woman, who had apparently
been beaten, in the Anapra section of the city bordering Sunland Park, New Mexico. For Ortega, the future of Mexico rests
with its young people, whose education in historical and contemporary issues is severely limited in the schools. “For
me, the key is to have critical thinking among the high school students,” he said.
student Diana Solis, 24, is from another generation with its own big taste of violence. Growing up in Juarez when violence
dramatically escalated, Solis said she became politicized by events such as the federal police shooting and wounding of an
Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez student on campus property during an anti-militarization protest in 2010.
"It was an awakening for me to begin thinking about what was going on, what I should do as a young person,”
“Juarez was the experiment to kill young people, so it could extend all
across the country,” Solis contended. “(Ayotzinapa) was the breaking point in the violence that has been going
on against youth for years, since the last presidential administration.” In the Ayotzinapa affair, the government’s
involvement “can’t be hidden,” the young woman insisted.
against the attacks on the Ayotzinapa students have been less numerous and intense in Juarez than many other places in Mexico,
but local activists are on the move, according to Solis.
In addition to four separate blockades
of international border crossings last month, hundreds of residents — including university students — have staged
street protests, public “die-ins,” and placed posters along the streets with pictures of the missing Ayotzinapa
The burst of activism has met some push back.
instance, Solis said she was part of a group that was passing out flyers outside the Cobach High School a week ago when the
school’s administration locked the doors so students could not join in the protest. School staff members then physically
pushed Solis and attempted to grab a camera away from another protester, Solis charged.
to the activist, municipal police showed up but ended up supporting the contention of her group that it had a right to publicly
protest. In Solis’ analysis some things have changed in Juarez since a few years ago, when thousands of soldiers and
federal police occupied the streets and dozens of murder victims were simultaneously racked up on typical weekends —
but the elements that ignited the hyper-violence of 2008-2012 have not gone away.
forms may have changed, but the root of the matter is the same,” Solis reflected. “Death and disappearance still
Disappearance is a word that has dominated the lives of Jose Luis
Castillo and his wife in recent years. For more than five years, the couple has waged a practically ceaseless campaign to
protest the disappearance of their 14-year-old daughter, Esmeralda, one spring day of 2009 in Juarez.
“We managed to establish that our daughter was taken by a (human) trafficking network,” Castillo said
in an interview.
About the only thing that slowed down Castillo’s search and
protests was a seven-month imprisonment in 2012 on charges of committing armed robberies together with his son. Eventually
released, Castillo maintained his innocence, blaming the arrest on his activism. “We thought the intention was to kill
us,” he said. “We were pointing out people who were involved.”
Castillo’s scrape with the law, the federal attorney general’s office has assumed the responsibility for investigating
Esmeralda’s disappearance and, as part of the probe, is offering a reward of nearly $250,000 for pertinent information.
But Castillo contended that authorities lack “political will” in searching for all the missing girls
and women, who number more than 100 according to different government and civil society organization reports. And like the
Ayotzinapa episode, crucial gaps in understanding what happened to the victims persist.
were the (victims) delivered to?” Castillo pondered. “Who were they sold to?”
movements for the disappeared in both Juarez and Ayotzinapa are among “many fronts in the struggle,” Solis added.
Local activists are charting more actions in the coming days, she said.
Meanwhile, as Mexican
President Enrique Peña Nieto spends the week on an Asian business and diplomatic tour, the protests show no signs of
letting up throughout the country, according to the latest Mexican press reports. The week kicked off with a peaceful march
for Ayotzinapa by hundreds of university students in Chihuahua City. Teachers led blockades of Citigroup-owned Banamex branches
in more than a dozen Michoacan cities, while rural teacher college students blocked highways and seized toll booths up and
down the state of Oaxaca.
In Acapulco, thousands of people conducted a shut-down
of the city’s international airport November 10, causing the cancellation of several flights from Mexico City and the
United States. Preceding the temporary airport closure, several students and policemen were injured in a battle involving
rock-throwing and bottle rockets.
On Tuesday, November 11, a clash in the Guerrero state
capital of Chilpancingo reportedly left more demonstrators and police officers injured and the state headquarters of President
Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) damaged in a blaze set by some protesters.
Quoted in Mexican media outlets, the federal attorney general’s office said last week that it was sending human
remains recovered from a Guerrero dump to an advanced laboratory in Austria for tests that could indicate whether they belong
to any of the missing Ayotzinapa students.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur. Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free,
on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.