5 Months on from Ayotzinapa

By Ruby Zajac

‘¡Fuera Peña!’(Peña Out!) and ‘¡Fue el estado!’(It was the state) are two of the most common slogans in the revolutionary movement currently gripping Mexico. Five months ago, the president lost his already tenuous mandate to run the country, and most people I’ve spoken to don’t think there’s even any point in voting in the upcoming local elections – all the parties are in bed together, they tell me.

The state’s involvement in the Ayotzinapa forced disappearances is much more than a far-fetched conspiracy theory; it is widely accepted as fact.  The phrase narcoestado (narco-state) is never far from people’s lips, although its use is debated by some leftist groups such as the Socialist Workers Movement, who believe cleaning up the state is not enough; the whole system needs to be renewed. The solidarity implied by the now world famous slogan ‘Todos somos Ayotzinapa’ has important exceptions: the political class and the bourgeois elite who maintain the official story that the Guerrero cartel murdered and cremated the students.

But Latin America knows too well not to trust the official story. At a rally on Feb 19th at the country’s biggest university, the Nacional Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Cristina, the mother of Benjamín Ascencio Bautista, one of the disappeared Ayotzinapa students, told us she was recently handed a card by a woman while protesting to demand justice for her son’s disappearance. Rather than condolences, the card asked her to please stop protesting and accept the loss of her son. As she justly pointed, would the woman feel the same way if it were her son? The family members thanked the crowd for their continuing support, because not everyone is Ayotzinapa, least of all those responsible. At this point a determined, emotion-filled voice cried out ‘No están solos!’(You are not alone), echoed by others in the crowd.

The bond which has formed between the populous and the Ayotzinapa case is not simply a case of empathy for a national tragedy. When the people shout ‘Cuando tocan a uno nos tocan a todos’(When they touch one of us, they touch all of us), it is not just a metaphor to galvanize the power of the masses. The fact of the matter is that Ayotzinapa is far from an isolated case. The number imprinted in the memory of hundreds of thousands of people around the world should not be 43. It should be 22,610, and that’s a conservative estimate from Amnesty International.

Ayotzinapa and the surrounding events will be recorded by historians as a tipping point in the use of forced disappearance as a tool of oppression by the state in contemporary Mexico. The people are not going to let this one lie. The evolution of the public feeling is mapped out in a series of slogans. These can be seen and heard at the marches, on stickers in the metro, spray painted on walls and all over the internet. It started with ‘Todos somos Ayotzinapa and ‘Ya me cansé’, five months on, it’s: ‘Ayotzi vive, la lucha sigue’and ‘Nos quitaron tanto que nos quitaron el miedo’(They took so much from us that they took away our fear) – a sign of the urban war being fought by the graffiti artists and the protestors, the pamphlet printers and the occupiers,  the song writers and the rap artists, the poets and the actors, and the students, who despite seeing classmates disappear and end up in prison or worse, dead, will not give in to the terrorism of the state. In the metro on the way to last week’s march they were chanting: ‘¡Alerta, Alerta, Alerta que camina, la lucha estudiantil por América Latina!’ (Attention, attention, attention passersby, for Latin America, this is the student fight)

The Ayotzinapa disappearances have catalyzed a democratic politicised movement which calls for change more substantial than a new government.  A student who attended the rally at the UNAM on the 19th tells me it was attended by far fewer people than the demonstrations of November, but that it’s political agenda was much more focused, with speeches from numerous workers unions and socialist political groups. If it ever was, this is no longer perceived as a fight for the lives of 43, but for the future of the country, which is choking in the grip of neoliberalism.

On Feb 26th at the march to mark five months since the Ayotzinapa forced disappearances, numbers are still high, but the atmosphere is subdued, tired. Police officers in bright yellow uniforms stand in packs at various points along the avenue Reforma, but their stance is relaxed, they chat. Despite the high turnout, my friends agree that the mood is not the same as it was at the peak of the activism in November. From my perspective, it is as if the people know they’re in for a long fight, a fight to change the entire system of drip down prosperity and mass poverty. How can anyone stomach the fact that in the same country you find the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, and 54 per cent of children living in poverty?

The students cry ‘¿Por qué, por qué, por quénos asesinan, si somos la esperanza de América Latina?’(Why are they killing us, if we are the hope of Latin America). The question is of course rhetorical; the hope for a more equal society, better social services, real democracy and an end to the militarised state, the hope which lies in the hands of the youth, is the great fear of the neoliberal agenda. These values were what the Ayotzinapa students were fighting for when 43 were disappeared and several others killed in September. And they are the same values that the teachers in Acapulco were protesting for on Tuesday 24th Feb, when 65 year old retired teacher Claudio Castillo was killed in a clash with police.

It’s worth remembering that this is not only a youth-led fight; I captured a shot of a bohemian-looking middle-aged couple standing stoically at the side of the road at Thursday’s march carrying a simple, hard-hitting banner, reading: ’Because they were taken alive and alive we want them back. It was the state. Peña out.’‘Quisieron enterrarnos pero no sabían que eramos semilla’another placard reads: They wanted to bury us but they didn’t know that we were seeds. The seeds have been planted and five months on, they continue to grow, perhaps slowly at the moment, but the roots have taken hold: the people have awoken, and they won’t be going back to sleep.

Update: On March 1st Mexican publication Sin Embargo reported a bloodbath in Iguala, with 14 deaths in 72 hours. (http://www.sinembargo.mx/01-03-2015/1267354) The memory of Ayotzinapa is not all that’s pushing the movement, the atrocities continue, the news stories keep coming in; this is happening now.

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