The 43 Students Demand Change

The protest movement demand justice for the 43 students

Between April 17 and May 19, 2015, a delegation from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, visits European cities. Their aim is to raise consciousness about the ongoing struggles in Mexico, and to demand the return of the 43 students that were abducted in September last year.

More than seven months have passed since the Mexican police abducted 43 students from the normalista teachers school in Ayotzinapa. The families and comrades of those abducted have responded to the obductions by taking to the streets, demanding justice for all of Mexican civil society, and that the 43 students be returned alive.

Their reaction has sparked a massive movement that holds the Mexican state accountable for its widespread repression of political movements, both the local and the international level. Despite this resistance, the state refuses to admit to any responsibility.

—It was the State!

“We’re missing 43; it was the state. We’re missing 25.000; it was the state.”

The human rights activist Román H. Rivas is dead clear about who is to be held responsible for the abductions of the 43 students and the thousands of others who have gone missing in Mexico in recent years. With Omar Garcia and Eleucadio Carlos, Rivas is part of a delagation from Ayotzinapa that is travelling Europe for a month, visiting several european countries and cities. It is important for them to stress that the abduction of the 43 students is not some isolated event, and that rather, it has to be seen in the context of Mexican history, which is stifled with violence, abductions, and massacres commited by the state.

“This is not the first time we’ve had problems with the authorities and the police. On October 2, 1968, there was a huge massacre in Mexico,” says García. He’s referring to the the massacre of Tlatelolco where several hundred demonstrators (mostly students) were massacred by the Mexican army. As in 1968, the current regime often utilizes brutal methods to reach its goals. Official figures show that 25.000 people have been abducted and more than 100.000 have been killed in Mexico in the past nine years. “In today’s Mexico, everyone is affected by the crime and the uncertainty. Everyone’s a potential target for murder, obduction, blackmail or government corruption,” says Garcìa.

The State and Civil Society

Despite the widespread and extreme use of violence, both historically and today, the state has not been able to stamp out the social movements organizing in Mexico. These movements exist in various sectors of Mexican society, and organize around a variety of struggles, such as those of students, workers, peasants, and indigenous peoples. Internationally, the struggle of the (neo-) Zapatistas is probably the most well known. On January 1, 1994, the (neo-) Zapatistas became world-famous overnight when they launched an armed insurrection against the Mexican state, conquering several cities in the southernmost state of Chiapas. The insurrection was a response to the Mexican government implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an agreement which implications would reverse important gains won by Emiliano Zapata and the Zapatista movement during the 1910-1920 Mexican revolution.

The Mexican revolution was a rebellion against the skewed distribution of land ownership in the country, where 900 individual landlords owning as much as two-thirds of all the arable land. The Zapatistas managed to implement agrarian reform, redistributing the land among the peasants, and instituting a bill saying that all Mexican land is orginally communally owned. In 1919, Emiliano Zapata was assasinated, the movement was supressed, and the revolution was eventually bureaucratized, bringing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power in 1929. PRI held this position for 71 years, a period that has been characterized as “the perfect dictatorship.”

The new movement that emerged during the past seven months has also received a lot of international attention. In many ways, the events of September 26 and the following month have come to be a symbol of the political climate in Mexico, a climate characterized by high tensions between the state and civil society. Common people has taken to the streets in large numbers, expressing what they describe as a dignified anger. García points out that the movement has arisen spontanously, and as a direct response to the abductions. This movement was not planned by any politicial organization, and should be seen as a manifestation of a widepread anger among the Mexican population.

United for Autonomy

“We stand united against the lies of the government,” says Carlos. “We’re part of a movement that after 26 September has stood up, and with a powerfull voice told the Mexican authorities, international organs and the international society that enough is enough,” García concurs. They have had enough of a state based on lies and abuse of power, and they have therefore chosen to lead a struggle for liberation from the state. “For the sake of our dignity we’re not gonna ask for rights from the same institutions that seriously violate peoples rights. The Mexican state is responsible for war, luting, militarzation, landgrabbing, abductions, and murder, crimes that amount to a full fledged attack on the Mexican people. Because of this, we’ve decided not to interact with the state,” says Rivas.

“Rights is something one doesn’t ask for. Rather, they’re taken and practiced. Several organized localities in Mexico have shown us that practicing human rights from below is possible,” he continues. Rather than waiting for freedoms to arrive from above, several Mexican communities have instituted them through direct action. For many of these communities, this meant that they make a total break with how states organize society, and instead implementing forms of administration and government that seek to eliminate hierarchy and domination. Even though these initiatives are many, diverse and geografically spread, they are trying to come together in networks, federations, and congresses. These efforts have been strenghtened by the movement that arose after september 26.

International Solidarity

Despite the popular mass mobilisations following september 26, the state has continued its policy of repression, and the authorities have refused to awknowledge any responsibility for the Ayotzinapa events. Instead, they have responded by fabricating narratives about what happened to the students, aquitting themselves of any blame. As part of this agenda, this February the government declared the students dead and closed the criminal case. In response to this, the families and comrades of those abducted now aim at mobilizing solidarity abroad, stressing that the struggle against the repression wrought by the Mexican state is structurally interlinked with the repression conducted by regimes in other countries.

First and foremost, it is of critical importance to mobilize international pressure to force the Mexican government to concede to the basic demands of the delegation. These demands are that the missing students must be returned alive; that similar abductions must never occur again; that the Mexican people must be guaranteed basic human rights, and that justice must be served for those killed. In the long run, though, the granting of these demands is not enough. In order for the movement to be able to achieve permanent structural changes in Mexican society, it is vital that European grasroots movements raise their voices. The delegation has not come to Europe to seek sympathy, but to forge international bonds of solidarity that can help the struggle go global.

Oppression, exploitation, and alienation are structural issues that transcend national borders. As an actor in the world marked, the Norwegian state plays part in the neo-colonial exploitation of Latin America. At home it is—just as any other state—an institution of centralized power and privilege, denying the population institutions of autonomy and meaningful democracy. To us, Norwegian politicians—Erna Solberg, Børge Brende and the rest of the Norwegian government—are as much representatives of privilege and centralized power as are Pena Nieto and the Mexican government.

The delegation from Ayotzinapa has come to Europe to globalize its struggle. Since power has become increasingly indifferent to national borders, grassroots movements should articulate and construct alternatives to centralized power internationally, on all geographical levels. Building local alternatives can thus form and integral part in international struggles, and point the way toward genuine forms of community and democracy.