Mexico: Guerrero protesters seize city halls

Students, teachers and parents attacked government office buildings in Chilpancingo, the capital of the southwestern state of Guerrero, on Oct. 13 in ongoing protests over the killing of six people, including three students, and the disappearance of 43 other students in Iguala de la Independencia the night of Sept. 26-27. The demonstrators blocked the entrances to the main state office building from around 11 am, keeping some 1,500 employees trapped for more than five hours. In the evening, after some skirmishes with riot police, the protesters broke into one of the buildings and set it on fire. There were also attacks on various vehicles and on Chilpancingo's city hall. (La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 14)

Protests continued throughout the week. In addition to occupying tollbooths on the Mexico City-Acapulco highway, teachers in a militant teachers' labor group, the State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG), began a campaign to occupy the city halls of all the state's 81 municipalities. As of Oct. 16 the teachers, backed by campesino groups, claimed to have taken over the local government buildings in Chilpancingo, Huamuxtitlán, Mártir de Cuilapan and San Luis Acatlán; state government sources said the mayors of 12 other municipalities had told their employees leave their offices in anticipation of further building occupations. On Oct. 17 thousands of protesters marched along the Miguel Alemán Coastal Highway in the resort city of Acapulco in a demonstration called by the CETEG and 43 other organizations. Another march was held in Iguala itself, headed by a statewide organization of community police groups, the Union of Peoples and Organizations of Guerrero State (UPOEG). Claiming concerns about an approaching tropical storm, the state government closed schools for the day. There were also demonstrations on Oct. 17 in six other states, including Chiapas, Chihuahua and Zacatecas. (LJ, Oct. 17, Oct. 18, Oct.18)

At a meeting held on Oct. 18 in the Che Guevara auditorium at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, representatives from various universities called for a two-day national student strike Oct. 22-3, to include informational actions, the blocking of streets, a large march in Mexico City and various local actions to be determined by different schools. There was also discussion of occupying radio and TV stations. (LJ, Oct. 19)

The investigation into the events of Sept. 26-27—in which police and alleged criminal organizations targeted students from the activist Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in the town of Ayotzinapa—has had mixed results. It seems likely that the 43 Ayotzinapa students who are still unaccounted for were murdered and buried in mass graves somewhere in the area around Iguala. On Oct. 14 federal attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam announced that the 28 charred bodies found 10 days earlier in the hills outside the city of Iguala were not those of the students. But a total of at least 14 mass graves have been found in the area so far, some by community police affiliated with the UPOEG. Technicians are trying to identify bodies by DNA, and speculation grows about how many unidentified bodies are buried in Guerrero's hills. (LJ, Oct. 15, Oct. 19)

As of Oct. 14, state and federal authorities had arrested a total of 46 people in connection with the attacks on the students: 22 municipal police from Iguala, 14 municipal police from the nearby town of Cocula and 10 civilians, including members of a local criminal gang, Guerreros Unidos ("United Warriors"). The authorities were preparing—but had not yet issued, contrary to earlier reports—arrest warrants for Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca, and his police chief, Felipe Flores Velázquez; both were in hiding. The authorities were also investigating María de los Angeles Pineda Villa, Abarca's wife and the sister of at least two Guerreros Unidos leaders; she too was in hiding. (LJ, Oct. 15)

The investigation is complicated by maneuvering among Mexico's three major parties. Protesters are regularly calling for the resignation of Gov. Angel Aguirre Rivero, who, like Mayor Abarca, is a member of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its dominant New Left ("Los Cuchos") faction. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto is a member of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and there are reports that his government is protecting Gov. Aguirre in exchange for the New Left's agreement not to call for the resignation of México state's PRI governor, Eruviel Avila Villegas, whose government apparently covered up the military's responsibility for a June massacre in Tlatlaya municipality. The center-right National Action Party (PAN) is demanding Aguirre's removal, but it has its own problems in Guerrero. The state party's general secretary, Braulio Zaragoza Maganda, was murdered in Acapulco on Sept. 28. On Oct. 18 Guerrero state attorney general Iñaky Blanco Cabrera announced that five of Zaragoza's fellow PAN members were being charged in the killing, which was termed political. Two of those charged in this case were accused in an earlier murder of a PAN politician, the Jan. 4, 2007 killing of state legislator José Jorge Bajos Valverde. (LJ, Oct. 17, Oct. 19)

A new center-left party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) of former PRD leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is also tainted. Until Oct. 16 Guerrero's health secretary was Lázaro Mazón Alonso, a MORENA member and a longtime associate of Mayor Abarca. That day Gov. Aguirre announced that he had asked for Mazón's resignation so that Mazón could answer investigators' questions about his relations with the fugitive mayor. Ironically, on Oct. 17 the state legislature confirmed that Luis Mazón, Lázaro Mazón's brother, will be the replacement mayor of Iguala. Luis Mazón was Abarca's deputy; his appointment as mayor is to be ratified on Oct. 21. (LJ, Oct. 17, Oct. 18)

On Oct. 17 the daily Reforma published a poll it had taken of 500 adult Guerrero residents on Oct. 16 and 17. Asked if Gov. Aguirre should stay in office, 43% of the respondents wanted him to stay, while 42% favored his resignation. Some 65% felt the state government had handled the Ayotzinapa case badly, but they were split on the federal government's handling of the case, with 43% saying it had done well and 42% saying it had done badly. 49% expected the guilty parties to escape justice, while 37% thought they would be punished. A full 63% said they supported the protests; 75% opposed actions like the burning of government offices on Oct. 13, but 21% felt they were justified. Reforma said the poll's margin of error was +/-4.4% . (Reforma, Oct. 17)

In the midst of the current crisis, on Oct. 15 the Guerrero Truth Commission (Comverdad) was scheduled to release its report on the "dirty war" the military carried out in the state during the late 1960s and the 1970s against rebel groups like the Party of the Poor (PdlP) of Lucio Cabañas Barrientos. The commission, whose two-year term expired with the release of the report, documented 463 cases of severe human rights violations, including 24 summary executions and 230 forced disappearances. Comverdad also found the remains of two rebels and new evidence on "death flights," in which the military dropped its victims' bodies from planes into the Pacific. The commission discovered that the dirty war wasn't just history. Even though Comverdad was formally established by the state legislature in 2012, its office was vandalized, its funding was cut and its members were harassed and received death threats. Armed men attacked commission members Pilar Noriega García and Nicomedes Fuentes last January.

The state's new crisis "is the product of impunity from that era," Noriega told New Mexico State University's Frontera NorteSur, referring to the time of the dirty war. "It is the product of not having clarity about that epoch." Asked about the US government's role in the counterinsurgency, Noriega told Frontera NorteSur that while Comverdad found no evidence of direct US involvement, records showed that Washington was closely "following the matter." Kate Doyle, the director of the Mexico Project of the DC-based National Security Archive research group, said US agencies gathered intelligence and sometimes provided it; the US supported "implicitly and explicitly anything Mexico did to maintain stability," according to Doyle. (LJ, Oct. 14; Frontera NorteSur, Oct. 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 19.