Dispatches from Mexico


Nov. 22, 2014 (San Diego) Watching and reading news from Mexico one can see the ghosts of heroes coming out of their graves and strolling in the streets. The most obvious of these ghosts is that of Lucio Cabanas. He was a teacher and a graduate of the same rural school at Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, where the missing students came from.

He was horrified by the abuses of a social system that forced the workers, the campesinos, to give up their lands to the caciques. The revolution of 1910 was still in the memories of many. Emiliano Zapata still strolled in the memory of people, as well as Franciso Villa. Cabanas saw Zapata as a model.

Lazaro Cardenas nationalized oil in 1938, and created Petroleos Mexicanos. He also created the rural schools. The goal of these schools was to teach the youth in the countryside, the basics. These schools were to help in the development of the country into a modern state. It was part of a project from the left, to extend opportunity to all members of society.

The wealth of the expropriated oil from was to benefit all Mexicans. Cardenas had to ask for help from the people to pay the oil companies, such as Standard Oil of Indiana. The very poor walked into collection centers with chickens to help pay for it, while the wealthy gave up family jewels.

It was the moment the revolution of 1910 became something of an institution. Today the PRI, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, is the heir of that evolutionary process. People like Cabanas were outside that institutionalized revolution, even if he himself was a product of it.

He went to the same rural school as the students who disappeared Sep. 26. He learned there about class struggle and then went on to teach rural children who barely had enough to eat, on a good day, and many had no shoes. He went on to teach teachers how to organize the campesinos to fight the caciques who wanted (and did) to exploit the forest for foreign interests.

For Cabanas there was a very simple distinction, the rich (which were the caciques, a class of land owners going to a time even before the war of independence in 1810), and the poor. He defended the poor who he saw as an exploited class. This was not a Marxist view, or a traditional European left view. The best way to look at the conflict is between serf and land owner of the Middle Ages. He became a thorn on the side of the government. His small guerrilla movement was successful in keeping the army at bay, until he died in in a shootout in 1974.

He had the support of those who once followed Zapata, and Vicente Guerrero a century earlier, and a few others. His ghost is now present in many a demonstration inside and outside Mexico. He was one of the many thousands of victims of the Guerra Sucia, the dirty war. It was a war waged by a state that no longer was revolutionary, but rather was the source of power that had to be fought.

It looks like the tactics of the dirty war of the 1960s and 70s, when Mexico saw Cabanas take arms in the sierra, and urban guerrillas, like the Frente 23 de Septiembre, are back. The repression looks different, but when the government targets youth because they are youth, and charges them with terrorism, and conspiracy, criminal intent and attempted murder, we are seeing the same kind of tactics. One has to wonder if those youth will go missing as well.

Proceso is reporting that the students, who were picked up after the 20th of November march, have been charged with extremely serious crimes. Like the previous batch 10 days ago, they were targeted, according to Proceso due to their age, not because they attacked the police.

There is more, according to witnesses, they were forced to admit guilt without proper legal representation, except that provided by the state. Nor was this legal representation that actually was helpful. These are the tactics of a government desperate to put an end to this.

One of those detained, Lawrence Maxwell, is not a Mexican citizen, but was targeted because he was in the area where protesters fled from the police. He is a Chilean graduate student at the National University. His government has now intervened, as required under the Geneva Conventions.

According to reporting from La Jornada he was forced to give declarations by the authorities, a clear violation of not just his rights before the legal system, but human rights according to the United Nations.

So looking at this from the historic precedent, we are seeing a government that has a serious conflagration, and has no idea how to put it out. It is going back to old tactics that worked in the past.

Yet, they are facing something very different from the Mexico of 1968, where the tough boot of the state was applied. In the south the Zapatista movement has some internal independence from the central government. There was a peace treaty. This is the Treaty of San Andres, where the Mexican Government recognized the rights of indigenous peoples, to their culture and their language. There are now charges that it is being violated, but that is a significant difference.

There are other differences from 1968. The main one is that Mexico already is in the middle of something that looks like a low level Civil War. Because of the war on drugs, Mexico has lost 100,000 people to murder since 2006, and the country has at least 8,000 missing. I have seen numbers as high as 20,000.

There is an environment where people are tired of a regime of fear, as well as impunity to those who have money and access to power. In some areas, especially in the south, places like the State of Guerrero and Michoacan, people have formed self-defense groups. These self-defense groups started with very basic weaponry, some going back to the Revolution of 1910, such as Mauser rifles. Some of these groups are extremely well armed with military grade weaponry these days. Some were taken from narcos.

At time the authorities recognize these groups, local police formed by local citizens, at times they are not. These groups believe that they can do the job that the army, the navy and feds are not willing to do. Best case, or, they are unwilling to do. This is to fight the narco traffickers face on. Some of the battles where narcos have fallen have been between these civilians, and the narcos.

In a country with tight gun control of who has guns and what guns, we have militias fighting the narcos. A few of their leaders have been arrested and charged by the same government that they feel has been unwilling, or unable to fight the narcos, with murder. Their leaders have accused local authorities of being one and the same as the narcos. At times they have gone as far as charging federal officials of the same.

Then there is Facebook and other social media. This has been used as a great tool of mobilization, and to express rage. The Twitter has been very alive in particular.

Mexicans are tired. They are tired of illegalities, and abuse of power. This murder, this disappearance of 43 students will likely not be the last one. Yet, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The rage in Mexico is very real. It is very painful, and not just the PRI, but every established political party in Mexico has lost credibility. Government institutions are in tatters, and there is no trust in them.

These days the expressions of rage even come in the form of corridos, and music by well-known artists. This corrido is from an unknown singer. He explains what happened Sep. 26, as well as the will of young men and women to attend these rural schools.

While at the same time we have this take on the national anthem, from well-known singers in Mexico. It is a protest song, asking how are we going to explain the blood shed, and the disappeared. Or how do you explain why murderers go free? The Mexicanos al grito de Guerra, is taken out of the anthem.

Here at Reporting San Diego we will continue to cover this as a movement. In the view of this writer it is also part of the slow movement against globalization.

Nadin Abbott holds a Masters Degree in Mexican History fron San Diego State University.

Twitter: @nadinbrzezinski

Facebook: Reporting San Diego

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Categories: analysis, Ayotzinapan, Mexico

4 replies

  1. Thank you Nadin; this is good background for what is going on in Mexico now!


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