By Bhavya Kumar:
The going gets tougher for President Enrique Pena Nieto as massive protests turn violent, and Molotov cocktails fly around as a form of expression by the agitated students of Mexico City. Effigy of the President was incinerated, protesters swarmed inside the premises of the National Palace and managed to burn the door down. Benito Juarez International Airport was where a massive confrontation between riot police and about 300 protesters took place. Police charged into the protests and it got increasingly violent, though there has been no casualty. The G-20 meet at Brisbane didn’t go well either, where local protesters joined in, and made it clear that Nieto was not welcome in the wake of what happened back in Mexico. Their rage was triggered by massacre, fairly recent, which was pulled off by a local drug gang and corrupt policemen.
The protesters are convinced that the state is involved as well, which they they think is evident from the inadequacy of their investigations.
On 26th September, about fifty seven students, teachers-in-training from a small college (Ayotzinapa’s Normal School), were abducted in the southwestern city of Iguala by the police. While fourteen of them were let off, the rest forty three were declared “missing”, then assumed murdered, most probably incinerated. The students, it has been reported, were present for a protest where they clashed with the police and were allegedly wound up by them and handed over to Guerreros Unidos from the local cartel, who carried out the massacre, burnt the bodies and dumped them into the river. Investigations led to the arrest of the highest local police authority, Cesar Nava Gonzalez, who was instrumental in the abduction. The mayor himself has come under the scrutiny of investigators.
These 43 students were protesting against certain educational reforms and increasing university fees. President Nieto’s educational reforms were controversial as it is. The state intends to take into its hands the standards of qualification and salaries of public school teachers and lending greater autonomy to schools at the same time, and the latter is particularly striking because of the fact that Mexico’s poverty-stricken regions don’t even have proper facilities in schools, let alone utilization of autonomy anyway. Guerrero, where all this action took place, is one of the poorest states in Mexico, where this ambitious plan might not work. While the reforms are rather comprehensive, they haven’t taken into consideration the poorer or ill-funded schools. The problem is not just that of the schools and the education system, but that of the deep-entrenched socio-economic disparity that Mexico is characterized by.
Students own this movement. I admit there’s some diversity among the protesters, but they are largely students, who are expressing their anger not only about this Ayotzinapa massacre, but also about so many things that came along with it. Demanding justice isn’t enough, the cause of injustice has to be dealt with as well. On November 17, there was a call for a countrywide strike against government corruption. There’s more to this discontent, though. This agitation is important because it exposes the thick mess of so many problems that hinder the growth of the Mexican society. Drug cartels continue to affect Mexican polity in multiple ways. Mass graves are common in Mexico where the unidentified dead are found, and at one point of time, a mass grave consisting of 28 corpses was thought to be that of the Ayotzinapa students. It wasn’t. But the fact that the grave itself existed says a lot about how bad the situation of civil rights is in Mexico. The highest rates of homicide within Mexico come from Guerrero. Mexico itself has the highest crime rate. The Mexican Drug War reached its peak in 2008, leaving about 80,000 people dead. The state was not only weak but also tied by its multiple compromises with these cartels. What we call violations of human rights is the everyday reality of Mexicans in areas where these drug cartels are the most prominent.
There’s yet another, deeper and more expansive aspect to this movement. It is only another one of its kind in the long history of struggle between students and the state. Mexican politics has this strong infusion of left-wing ideals which has been maintained through and through by none other than the students themselves. They seek a revolution. Mexico’s dirty war was characterized by the struggles between the left-wing students’ guerrilla organizations and the PRI government, which has been in power in Mexico for almost a century now by sordid political maneuvers at all times. The Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 started out with a massive number of students calling for a “revolution”, when an indiscriminate firing by the army and the police killed about 300 of them. National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) was, and still is, actively rallying support of students adhering to left-wing ideologies and today, in Mexico City, is the driving organization behind the massive student protests.
Mexico has its own peculiar socio-political setting. But, coupled with other Latin American countries, it seems to be somewhat in harmony with the agitations in those countries, for instance, Chile. It will take another article to write about the Chilean Students’ Movement, but it’s interesting to note that student groups there as well have turned to the Left. Camila Vallejo, a bright young woman trained to be a geologist, headed a students’ movement in Chile against the educational set up of the country. Communist Youth of Chile, which is a very active political party there, and which Vallejo is a part of, indicates the larger influence of the left-wing over Chilean politics. This students’ movement came to take into its ambit what Mexican protests also aimed at – corruption and socio-economic disparity.
It’s difficult to see which path shall Mexico actually take in all this. Though the protests are very much alive and electric, it is rather difficult to see if it shall evolve into a long-term movement of radical transformation at all. And amongst all this, one can see the face of Che Guevara in red and black adorning walls, buildings and other spaces and surfaces across Mexico.