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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Los 43: Mexico's Missing Students

The 43: An interview with a student about the crisis in Mexico

The Mexican national anthem begins with the words

"Mexicanos, al grito de guerra, el acero aprestad y el bridón, y retiemble en sus centros la tierra, al sonoro rugir del cañon!"

In English, this translates to 

Mexicans, at the cry of war, make ready the steel and the bridle, and may the Earth tremble at its centers, at the resounding roar of the cannon!

The cry of war has sounded in the state of Guererro, a state south of Mexico City on the Pacific Coast. The people have made ready the steel and the bridle, and the earth trembles beneath their feet, even if there are no cannons around today. 

43 Mexican university students are missing.  Many fear they are dead, kidnapped and massacred by a drug cartel. 

To shed light on this crisis is Javier, a native of Mexico and former president of George Washington University's Mexican Student Organization.

Javier, can you describe the circumstances of how these students went missing? What happened?

The students went missing on September 26th, 2014, around 9 in the evening.  They were ‘normalistas’ (students aspiring to become professors for rural, impoverished areas) who were traveling by bus to Iguala. The municipal police attacked and chased them. After they were taken to their main facilities (cuartel),  Cocula police (Cocula is a town close to Iguala) moved them to Pueblo Viejo, where they were handed over to the Guerreros Unidos, a drug gang. 

So was this a random disappearance? Or did these students anger some entity to cause their disappearance?

The students wanted to protest and boycott the annual DIF governance report (informe anual) of María de los Ángeles Pineda. She's the wife of the mayor of Iguala.  Last year they had boycotted the same event, but this year, she tried to prevent protests by deploying policemen in streets around the event’s venue. Pineda wields considerable influence concerning the  everyday work of the Iguala municipality, and her family had a criminal history.  She is facing a criminal prosecution, accusing her as the main operator in government of the Guerreros Unidos gang. This is a website you can go to to learn more. 

What's the consensus among people you know, either in Mexico or in the United States, about the fate of these students? What do people think happened to them?

The consensus is that the students are dead, but we have the underlying hope that they could still be found alive. People think that certain municipal governments and their police forces are corrupt and allegedly work closely with gangs and/or drug cartels.

I've read that some seem to believe the state, or actors linked to the state, were responsible for this crisis, and possibly the death of these students. Why would the Mexican government, or people linked to the Mexican government, kill a few dozen college students?  What motivation would they have?

The Mexican government has three levels, namely federal (1), state (32) and municipal (2,438). Its structure is similar to the US-the country's official name is United Mexican States.  Some municipalities, such as Iguala, have close ties with gangs and drug cartels.  Public servants like them have become ‘caciques’ (power-tyrants) who are corrupt and nepotistic. They act and feel immune to law enforcement. 

Admittedly, I don't know much about the Mexican government. I know Enrique Pena Nieto is president, and before him was Felipe Calderon. From my limited perspective, it seems as if Mexico is a generally democratic country that struggles with corruption. Feel free to correct me if I'm making any incorrect assumptions.

Democracy in Mexico is present, even mature, but imperfect, much like most other democracies. Corruption is a problem, though, and because of corruption, government institutions are not strong enough, the rule of law is not fully enforced, and not everybody is equal before law.

What role do the Mexican Armed Forces play in this crisis?

The role of the Armed Forces is minimal when talking about Ayotzinapa. The only tangible role they've played is  providing security in different municipalities of Guerrero in recent weeks. 

Is the government trying to prevent these protests or are they allowing them to proceed?

I would argue that all protests are uncomfortable for the government, but the protests have proceeded.  The population does not trust the government.  The government puts a lot of effort on planning, but now that the situation has become less controlled, the handling of the crisis has been clumsy and reaction has been very slow.  Instead of been more publicly available in media, Peña Nieto has isolated himself.

Are the protests peaceful?

Yes, they are generally peaceful. Violence has occurred, but it's isolated and uncommon.  There have been some events such as the burning of buses and buildings-two buses have been burned in Mexico City and these actions haves been linked to revolutionary groups, who are not usually very active.  Suspicion exists primarily on professional agitators or infiltrated people.  In regards to the building burning, that only happened in the state of Guerrero and were targeted against parties and public servants’ facilities.

If the president was to resign, what would be the next step?

Long story short, if the President resigns before December (before two years of government), a new interim President would be appointed by Congress and new elections would be eventually summoned for next year.  If the president resigns later, Congress would designate a new President that would finish this term.
The President's probably not going to resign, though.  The next month will be very important to see if his position improves or worsens, and every Mexican president since 1934 has completed their six-year term, despite all sorts of crises.

Are any political entities or parties calling for reform? Or is this discontent directed at all of Mexico's political establishment?

Discontent is directed at Mexico’s entire political establishment.  Iguala’s major was a member of the leftist PRD.  Guerrero’s governor, who resigned weeks ago, was of a coalition between the leftist PRD and the rightist PAN, but was a lifetime member of the PRI.  The President of Mexico is form the centrist PRI.

You mentioned you were born and raised in Mexico. Have you noticed a change in recent years as to how the situation has deteriorated? How do your relatives and family feel about this crisis?

Mexico’s a large country, the situation has improved in some areas and deteriorated in others.  For example, higher education has improved while basic education has deteriorated.  

Focusing on security, the problem has worsened throughout the years.  Please look here: 
Focusing on economics, economic growth has decelerated in the past two years (Peña Nieto’s government) and the lack of money is felt in most homes.  Reforms were promised as drivers of economic growth, but there has not been a significant effectInterestingly, Querétaro (my state) has kept is growing pace.  Please look at this note that was written more than one year ago.  Prosperity keeps increasing. 

Who is Jesús Murillo Karam and what was the significance of his remark of "Enough, I'm tired"/"Ya me canse"?

Jesús Murillo Karam is the Attorney General and main prosecutor of the Ayotzinapa case since the PGR (Procuraduría General de la República = Attorney General) relinquished the case from the Guerrero State Attorney.
The "Ya Me Cansé" phrase was a great phrase that Murillo crafted after the information conference about the state of investigations. He said it on camera when the press was asking him questions about the crisis, so in turn,  the population has turned it around and used it to say they are tired of the Mexican political system and the Ayotzinapa situation.  It was a global trending topic at the time and has been a trending topic for one week.

Do you know anyone living in Guerrero? Are they involved in the protests? 

I know people of Guerrero, not from Ayotzinapa or Iguala.  They are not involved in protests.  But on the other hand, people I know in Mexico City have attended the protests.

Have the protests spread to other large cities in Mexico? Have their been protests among Mexican-

Americans in the United States?

Probably not.  Mexico is a very centralized country, so protests escalate from the focal source to Mexico City, and that’s it.
Mexican-Americans have not protested directly as one voice.  But those who are interested attend protests organized by Mexican students not only in US Universities but around the world.

Have similar problems been epidemic in other Central American countries? 

The closest may be Brazil.  The spark that started the protests was different but the underlying issues are similar: corruption, overspending, small economic growth, violence and inequality.

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