43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico were kidnapped in the southern state of Guerrero on Sept. 26. They were arrested for protesting their government’s discriminatory hiring practices, and traveled to Guerrero from their teaching college in Ayotzinapa to do so. They were training to teach kids living in rural, poverty-stricken areas. The testimony of the students who were able to escape revealed that the authorities began opening fire at them before making their arrest.
The next day, five bystander casualties were declared, and a student’s corpse was found. More explicitly, he was found with his face skinned off and his eyes gouged out.
Ties between the local gang, “Guerreros Unidos,” and the town’s mayor were discovered, stripping the town’s law enforcement of any real security or legitimacy. Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de Los Angeles Piñeda, went into hiding after the students went missing.
The couple was eventually found in Mexico City and arrested for orchestrating the kidnapping. Apparently, they had ordered the authorities to hand the students over to the Guerreros Unidos because the mayor feared that their protesting would interfere with a town event being put on by his wife.
Three gang members have since been discovered and taken into custody.
On Nov. 7, their testimony suggested that they had murdered all 43 of the students, which eliminated any hope that was being held onto by the families and citizens who were protesting for their safe return.
The gang members confessed to transporting them to a remote landfill after having already killed some students and having pinned the surviving ones to the floor of the trucks that transported them. When they arrived, the rest of the students were executed by gunfire. Their dead bodies were dismembered, covered in fuel, and set on fire. The fire burned for over half a day, which is why they have not been able to perform DNA testing. The fire pulverized their bones and teeth. Some of their remains were also disposed of in the San Juan River according to Mexican authorities.
Seventy-four people have been arrested in this case, including Guerreros Unidos leaders and police from Iguala and the nearby town of Cocula, according to Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo.
It took Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s president, 11 days to address the kidnapping and 33 days to meet with the respective families. An outraged country has put him in the spotlight for his inability to contain, or even address, the violence that has categorized his last two years of presidency.
Since his election in December 2012, a total of 8,000 people have been reported missing. The country has become angry with the disappearances of people, especially in light of the 85,000 people estimated to have been killed or gone missing since the previous administration.
The disappearance of the 43 students fueled families and thousands of citizens to organize protests, city strikes, and candle-light vigils. Their fear of authority has been replaced with a need to fight against it.
The students were killed for freedom of speech, which is something that people in the U.S. are protected under the First Amendment . Their protesting and stance against injustice is something familiar to the people of San Francisco and many others across the nation, however, activism is essentially suicide in Mexico.
USF’S RESPONSE TO GUERRERO
Luis Enrique Bazan, associate director for Global Social Justice and Community Action and director of the Arrupe Immersion Program, addressed the way the crisis will affect the program scheduled to depart for Mexico in March.
“Our students traveling to Puebla in March are going to face this tragedy head on, and then it will become personal,” he said about the upcoming trip.
He hopes that the students will return with a newfound perspective and need to raise awareness about what they saw. It is important that their motivation come from the connections they make during their stay. Even though the trip is not happening for a couple months, the mass-homicide of the students will all but be forgotten, explained Bazan.
“There is a misconception about what the university should do and what the students should do,” said Balzan, in regards to the activism of USF students who are aware of the current conditions in Mexico. He explained that some students have turned to USF and have demanded a course of action from the university.
Bazan’s response to what students should do was simple: “As students, you are more than society’s future, you are it’s present.” In other words, if anyone should stand against what happened to the students it should be us because no one represents them better than we do, explained Bazan.
USF professors are making an effort to integrate the situation in Guerrero into class time.
Theology Professor Wendy Monique Arce dedicated a time in her Religion of U.S. Latinos class to discuss the 43 students who were killed in Guerrero. When she asked the class about the issue, very few knew about it. Even fewer students were keeping themselves updated about it.
“The problem with this is that our lives in California are directly linked to Mexico,” said Arce. “Our livelihood is based on the suffering of their people. Our consumerism and the drug market. Our lives are interrelated.”
Alexa Gonzalez, a Latin American Studies major, is from Nogales, which is a bordertown between the U.S. and Mexico. Nogales was violently affected by the war on drugs, which skyrocketed after 2006 when Felipe Calderon took office.
“He’s [Peña Nieto] mishandling everything. People strayed away from democracy by electing him. But he’s incompetent,” said Gonzalez.
His impeachment is one of the many reform changes that people are fighting for. The outcome could potentially redefine Mexican politics, and whether or not gravitating back to a more democratic society would improve conditions for them is unclear. The current government’s shortcomings have resulted in a country full of people screaming “Ya Me Canse” or “I’m Tired” of the inhumane living conditions.