Mexican government

Photo Credit: Itzel Alejandra Martinez | Daily Texan Staff

Following the disappearance of 43 Mexican students in the Mexican city of Iguala last month, University graduate students have organized a series of demonstrations calling for the safe return of the students and for an immediate investigation into the case.

In coordination with a global day of solidarity, Luis Vargas Santiago, art history graduate student, along with various U.S. academics, asked Mexican faculty members around the world to sign an open letter to the Mexican government condemning the State’s role in the disappearance of the students.

“We realized we needed to do something,” Vargas Santiago said. “We needed to express our support within the global days of action, so we thought of a letter that summoned the voices of different academics throughout the U.S.”

According to National Public Radio, students from a teachers’ college for low-income and indigenous youths in Ayotzinapa commandeered several buses on Sept. 26 on their way to Iguala, where they planned to fundraise money to attend an annual march in Mexico City. The annual march commemorated the Tlatelolco Massacre in 1968, in which the military and police killed hundreds of student protestors. Local police fired at the students in Iguala, killing six students and bystanders. Witnesses said the students were last seen being forced into police cars. 

Mexico Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca, who fled after the police attack, called for the police to fire on the students.

One week after Vargas Santiago’s call for signatures, the petition garnered more than 1,200 signatures in total and about 200 signatures from the Austin community.

Erica Saenz, the University’s associate vice president for community and external relations, said she signed the petition to show support for the students.

“We must live by our motto of ‘what starts here changes the world,’ and support our student body as they dedicate time and energy to a variety of issues, locally and around the globe,” Saenz said in an email.

At a protest at the Consulate General of Mexico in Austin last week, about 20 students called the names of the 43 missing students and later presented the petition to Consul General Rosalba Ojeda.

“We are all outraged,” Ojeda said. “We’ll make sure these signatures reach the government.”

Yoalli Rodriguez, Latin American studies graduate student and an organizer of the protest, said the authorities targeted the students because of their leftist leanings.

“It’s not a coincidence that the killed are dissidents,” Rodriguez said. “This is a national problem of institutions. This is a problem of corruption, of violence and of impunity on behalf of the State.”

Since the disappearance of the students, mass graves have been found in the outskirts of Iguala. So far, DNA tests have shown that the bodies are not those of the missing students.

“The mass graves are one of the most terrifying aspects of the Ayotzinapa case,” Vargas Santiago said. “The 43 students are still missing, but other hundreds of bodies have been found in the mass graves.”

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Students and members of the UT community held a protest in front of the Tower on Wednesday to call for justice for 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, who disappeared after police and civilian gunmen fired upon them in the neighboring town of Iguala.

Latin American studies graduate students organized the protest and held a brief moment of silence in honor of the Mexican students. All 43 names of the missing people were read. After each name, the leaders of the protest in unison with the protesters said, “Lo queremos vivo,” or, “We want him alive.”

Manuel Galaviz, a Latin American studies graduate student who took part in the protest, said freedom of assembly is often taken for granted in the United States, while protesting in Mexico could mean death. 

“Being a student in the U.S., we often take for granted that we can hold assemblies and actually protest,” Galaviz said. “We can do it without the fear of being prosecuted by the state or other authorities.”

According to the event’s Facebook page, the 43 students missing from the Normal Rural School in Mexico gathered to raise funds on Sept. 26 for an Oct. 2 protest in the capital. These students, training to be elementary school teachers, were planning to hold a protest against the cutting of funds at their state university.

Six students were killed while collecting funds and others were presumably taken away in police cars. Mass graves with bodies were found in Iguala on Oct. 6, and the Mexican government is currently investigating the possible link between the bodies and the disappearances.

Since the disappearances, relatives and human rights organizations have called for the return of these students and justice from the Mexican government.

Yoalli Rodriguez, Latin American studies graduate student and protest leader, said she wants to raise awareness about the current situation in Mexico.

“I’m really sad and angry about what’s happening in Mexico and the constant violence and state of repression in my country,” Rodriguez said. “These missing students are also the symbol of how bad the situation is in Mexico, and the repression against citizen voices. These students were fighting for their rights, and the message that the government gave them was, ‘You just have to shut up.’” 

Rebecca Jackson, Latin American studies graduate student and one of the protestors, said the protest is a call to put an end to the Mexican government’s lack of action.

“There is a history of disappearances and murders of which the Mexican government doesn’t answer or blames it on narco forces, and they claim that there is no way of finding out what happened,” Jackson said.  “We are here to take a stand on this long line of history, as it is simply out of control.”

Chanting slogans in Spanish, UT students and community members marched into the Texas Union building Friday afternoon and disrupted a conference hosting top Mexican government officials.

Holding signs written in Spanish such as “We are the Outraged” and “Felipe Calderón: Murderer,” the demonstrators protested a potential teaching position being offered to Mexico’s outgoing president, Felipe Calderón. Some said they belonged to the Yo Soy 132 group, a group fighting for democracy in Mexico, and that they believe that Calderón is responsible for crimes against humanity and the deaths of thousands of Mexicans. Demonstrators expressed concern that a teaching position at UT would be a way for the Mexican president to avoid prosecution in Mexico.

“There’s currently a petition going around in Mexico and the international community to get Calderón to be tried by an international court for crimes against humanity for the deaths of over 60,000 people,” Spanish-Portguese graduate student Rene Carrasco said. “[A teaching position] is a way to open the doors for immunity and not to get justice done.”

In August, the Dallas Morning News reported that Calderón and President William Powers Jr. had met at least twice to discuss the idea of teaching at UT after his term is over in November. The protesters aimed to convey their opposition to Mexico’s Secretary of Interior, Alejandro Poiré Romero, who spoke at the conference. They held signs accusing Calderón of crimes against humanity and said they hoped their message of opposition would reach the Mexican president.

UT Police Department officers responded to the protest but no arrests were made because it was a peaceful protest, police said.

UT spokesperson Tara Doolittle declined to comment on any talks regarding Calderón and his future teaching position at UT.

Charles Hale, director of Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, said he welcomed the viewpoints of the demonstrators, but that they could have been expressed in a more constructive manner.

“[The Institute] strongly endorses the principles of free speech,” Hale said. “In this particular case, my reaction was to endorse and respect the protesters’ right to express their views. In fact, I wanted to hear their views articulated more fully, and I was disappointed that their participation was mainly in the form of chants and slogans rather than substantive questions and challenges to the speaker.”

The Friday workshop in the Union Building was organized by the Long Institute for Latin American Studies in collaboration with the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the UT School of Law. Speakers included Poiré, Instituto Federal Electoral advisor Benito Nacif Hernández and Mexican election judge Manuel González Oropez.

Printed on Monday, September 24, 2012 as: Students protest Calderon, UT

On Sunday, the largest newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, El Diario de Juárez, announced in a front-page editorial that it would restrict news coverage of the drug wars currently plaguing the region. The piece came in response to the murder of El Diario photographer Luis Carlos Santiago.

It was the latest blow to the rights of the Mexican people, who saw an estimated 6,500 to 8,000 cartel-related murders in 2009, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. It’s also got me thinking that it is time that we, as Americans, accept our significant role in creating this situation.

The coked-up elephant that is sitting in the Mexican drug wars’ room is that demand from the United States has spurred the cartels into power. In 2009, nearly 1.5 million kilos of marijuana were seized at the U.S.-Mexico border, with an additional 17,000 kilos of cocaine also discovered, according to the Department of Justice.

If that seems like a considerable amount, remember that it was only the stuff authorities found. In fact, the drug business is so vibrant in Mexico these days that the National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that the cartels make anywhere from $18 billion to $39 billion each year. To put that into perspective, Google made $23 billion last year.

That money isn’t coming from the cartels selling to their countrymen. Americans have the appetite and the money for the drugs, and we have no problem ponying up the cash for the weed and coke because we detach our actions in America from the repercussions felt in Mexico. After all, people on the other side of the border should be able to handle their own problems, right?

Only, in this situation, we’re not just funding the cartels that have in essence overthrown the Mexican government — we’re also turning a blind eye to this fact. Everyone believes that Mexico has become significantly more dangerous the past few years because of the cartels, and we hear stories about the Zeta drug group killing 72 migrants, and we say “God, it’s terrible what is happening down there,” but what we really mean is that instead of Playa del Carmen for spring break, we need to learn where the hotspots are in Costa Rica.

When El Diario announced their cease-printing, they were the largest newspaper to do so. While many of the smaller newspapers had already stopped reporting on the drug wars, El Diario was still working to report the news. Carlos Lauria, a senior coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based watchdog group, sounded defeated when he told reporters for The Associated Press, “The fact that they’re giving up is really bad. It’s an indication that the situation is out of control.”

It has become painfully obvious that right now, the Mexican government, for lack of power or saturation of corruption, has become ineffectual against these cartels and is badly losing the fight. El Diario directed its plea to the cartels, writing “We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect.” It appealed directly to the gangs because in the most dangerous city in Mexico, the gangs have become the de facto leaders.

We have done this. I say that in the most blunt terms possible. Some might find issue with it, saying that the Mexican government allowed it through corruption, or that it is not the individual American but the government that is allowing these cartels to thrive like the gangsters did during Prohibition, and those are fair points, but that’s just excusing our actions as a secondary cause.

No, we have done this. We have created a neighbor so desperately poor and fearful that its right to information, that inalienable right that we hold as the constant in our world, has been bullied into oblivion. We have done so without so much as a hint of guilt.

Because I am not yet on a horse high enough, I will mention a quote from James Madison that I find especially relevant to this situation: “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

The tragedy is going on every day in Ciudad Juárez and throughout Mexico. The farce, I fear, rests on this side of the Rio Grande.