On September 26th, approximately 58 students from Ayotzinapa Normal School in Mexico headed toward the city of Guerrero to take part in a protest. They were enrolled in a teachers’ training program, and were demonstrating against recent education reforms, as well as discrimination against teachers in the education system. The protest’s outcome was as horrible as it was unforeseeable. Regardless of the radical reputation that had characterized these student protests in the past, this confrontation with the Mexican police escalated to terrible heights.
The reform against which these students were protesting concerned the degree of government control over teachers. Already, there is discrimination within the Mexican education system, with teachers from urban areas having a higher chance of getting a job than rural teachers. To make matters worse, the control over the teachers would extend to their pay based on evaluations which the government deem appropriate. Additionally, there would be mandated increases in the university prices. As students, the economic struggle when paying fees along with having an unfamiliar system imposed is neither ideal nor relatable. The outcome of this protest though was unforeseeable, and this struggle between student teachers and the government ended up costing them their lives.
The students from Ayotzinapa had planned to meet up with other students in Mexico City later on to take part in an annual protest which, based on past experience, was potentially going to be a violent one. However, upon encountering the police, their journey was brought to an abrupt halt in Guerrero.
Things turned violent when the police killed six of the protesters and injured another 17, prompting deadly clashes between security forces and the protesters. The shooting initiated by the police force occurred while the students were on their bus towards the protest. After the students departed Guerrero, there are two sides of the story regarding how they left. According to the police, the students had seized other buses on their own, which was a catalyst for a bus chase by the police. The students contend that they were simply leaving behind the negative outcome their protest had brought. This is when the students had been last seen.
Witnesses, including a surviving student, claim that the protesters were forced off the buses and into a police van. On the Saturday following their disappearance, a mass grave was discovered on the outskirts of Iguala, a city 100km away from Mexico City. Once the deployed search for these students was sent out, federal and state police cordoned the area of Iguala where a gravesite with the bodies of some 30 people was found. The bodies had been charred, dismembered and thrown into a pit.
Iguala is a city known for its lawlessness, and is a prime location for drug cartels and criminal activity. The mayor of the city is now on the run, having fled after the mass grave had been found. Likewise, the police chief has disappeared from the public eye. Not only does this call into question the violence brought upon political protest in Mexico but more profoundly focuses on organized crime between officers and city leaders, which should not be taken lightly.
Currently, 22 police officers have been charged in connection with the killings. To the dismay of the students’ families, forensic investigations will only be pursued within the next couple of days so their identities cannot be revealed until a later date. However, although the bodies have not yet been officially identified as being those of the missing students, the evidence to that effect seems overwhelming. Indeed, state prosecutor Inaky Blanco has shared his certainty regarding the identity of the bodies. Blanco gives credence to the police and city of Iguala being responsible for the death of these students based on his belief that ‘El Chucky’, the leader of the violent gang in Iguala known as Guerreros Unidos ordered the students to be murdered after the chief of police asked for assistance in their disappearance. As a result, further evidence points to the police being responsible for the tragic events that occurred after the student protest.
The United Nations has called the killing of the students ‘one of the most terrible events in recent times’ and is urging Mexico to conduct further investigations. Already, the government has offered a $75,000 reward for tangible information regarding this incident. This case is one of the many that involves bodies being dispatched in Iguala, indicating the lack of basic human rights in Mexico. Although there is a reward for these missing students, how many more deaths are to occur before the government is capable of coming up with a serious strategy towards these investigations and drug gangs? From an undesired reform to the multiple killings, the focus of Mexico’s government should not simply be rewards but preventative measures to these drug related organized crimes.
– Gabriela Navarrete-Rolls
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