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Revolution day passes as a new uprising begins

The Mexican army and the presidency stand accused of complicity in horrific killings, reports Emile Schepers

Thursday November 20 is normally celebrated as the anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20, which overthrew dictator Porfirio Diaz, killed up to two million Mexicans and established the outlines of modern Mexican state institutions.

But major public ceremonies were cancelled as the country continues to be rocked by massive protests demanding the return of 43 teacher training college students who were kidnapped by corrupt police on the night of September 26 and have not been seen since.

The teachers from the school in Ayotzinapa in the southern state of Guerrero had gone to the nearby city of Iguala to raise funds to go to Mexico City for protests on the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre. For their return trip, the unarmed students commandeered three buses.

These were then stopped by police who shot three of the students and three bystanders. Some escaped but 43 were allegedly handed over to a criminal gang, the United Warriors (Guerreros Unidos).

The Mexican federal government claims that this gang then killed them all, dismembered and burned their bodies, and threw the remains into the nearby San Juan River.

The government has blamed the municipal president of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, for ordering this atrocity, and both are under arrest.

The parents and friends of the 43 are not buying the government's line. They point out that the kidnapping of the students took place practically in front of the barracks of the 27th Battalion of the Mexican army whose soldiers did not intervene but rather harassed the survivors.

Now President Enrique Peña Nieto has promoted General Alejandro Saavedra, who was in command of the military zone where this took place.

They also note that it took an improbably long time for officials of the state of Guerrero to react.

Guerrero state has in recent decades been the site of several armed peasant uprisings, in which students and graduates of Mexico's "rural normal school" teacher training colleges have played a part.

Elected in 2012, Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has made it his goal to make the country friendlier to foreign corporate investors.

Investors are supposedly demanding that the educational system as well as labour and investment laws be reformed so as to make the country more attractive to them.

On taking office, Pena Nieto ordered the arrest of the politically ambitious Elba Esther Gordillo, head of the main national teachers' union, for corruption, and replaced her with a government sycophant.

But the teachers in Guerrero and Oaxaca belong to a different, militantly left-led union branch and have been a thorn in the side of the governments of both Pena Nieto and his predecessor Felipe Calderon.

The teachers fear that educational "reforms" proposed by the federal government are going to destroy the normalista system and its unique relationship with poor rural and often indigenous communities.

There are mining interests. What is potentially one of the biggest gold mining operations in the world is the Canadian Goldcorp operation in the county of Eduardo Neri, roughly halfway between Iguala and the Guerrero capital Chilpancingo. There has been a tense relationship between Goldcorp and local farmers.

Then there is the army, mobilised by Calderon to fight drug cartels, and having major US material support. Since the cold war, the army has had a mission of subversive-hunting.

In 1961, soldiers and police kidnapped and massacred peasant leader Ruben Jaramillo, who had ridden with the great Emiliano Zapata in his youth, and his entire family in Morelos state just north of Guerrero.

Jaramillo's crime was to have defended local poor farmers' land rights and also to have had ties to the Mexican Communist Party. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the murder.

Then came the events of 1968 and others. In June of this year, the army was implicated in the massacre of 22 prisoners in Tlatlaya, Mexico state.

These were young men arrested in conjunction with the government's anti-drug efforts but apparently they were gunned down while unarmed, and then weapons were planted on them to make it look as if they were killed in a firefight.

People going to the November 20 protests in Mexico City have reported harassment by military units, including the 27th Battalion.

Then there is Pena Nieto himself, who, when governor of the large and important state of Mexico, was widely blamed for a shocking incident in the town of Atenco in 2006 when authorities killed two people and beat and raped many more while trying to put down a protest by flower vendors and opponents of the expansion of the Mexico City airport.

So to the existing slogan of the protesters, "vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos" (they were taken away alive, we want them back alive) has been added the slogan "Fue el estado" (it was the state).

This and a growing corruption scandal have created a challenge to the Mexican state unprecedented in recent times.

The November 20 protests were huge and extended beyond Mexico to cities around the world, including several in the United States.

More protests are scheduled for December 3.

 This article first appeared on


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