Johnny Hazard :
From the streets of Mexico: ‘Fue el estado’ (‘The government did it’)

President Peña Nieto has decried incidents of inconsequential or fabricated violence by
protesters without mentioning government-perpetrated atrocities.

fue el estado crop

Graphic from La Pinche Canela / Tumblr.

By Johnny Hazard | The Rag Blog | November 19, 2014

“We have been tolerant — excessively tolerant, according to some critics. But everything has its limit.”
— then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, one month before orchestrating the massacre of October 2, 1968

“We have worked through dialogue, but this too has its point of tolerance, and that is when the rights of others are affected.”
— Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, lead cabinet official,
November 14, 2014

MEXICO CITY — The drama of the police murder of six students and others in Iguala, Mexico, the disappearance of 43 education students and the subsequent cover-up at all levels of government continues.

The federal government’s attempt to provoke a catharsis and an end to the controversy by releasing certain (unverified) details of the atrocity has not had the desired effect. The Friday afternoon (November 7, 2014) release, timed so that people would just go on with their weekend, didn’t work, either; supporters of the students in Guerrero responded by setting fire to the headquarters of various political parties and government agencies.

A spontaneously-organized march in Mexico City the next day — Saturday night — drew thousands of participants. One of the slogans most frequently shouted in the marches now is “Vivos se los llevaron. Vivos los queremos.” (“They were taken away alive. We want them back alive.”) The other is simply “Fue el estado.” (“The government did it.”) When passing bars Saturday, the preferred chant of the marchers was: “Dejen de chupar/y vengan a marchar.” (“Stop boozing and come and march.”)

The release of this information — let’s call it the tentative official story — appeared to be timed to offer some kind of solution so that president Enrique Peña Nieto could press forward with his business trip to China and other countries in the Pacific a day or two later. The detention of the suspect mayor of Iguala and his wife recently didn’t satisfy anybody, either.

This is an extreme manifestation of the kind of repression that has occurred constantly since the presidential election of 1938. Many people are reacting less with a sense of passive resignation and are more critical than before. It’s obviously shocking this time, but not entirely new or unexpected.

People who normally talk only about soap operas and the weather are talking about this. The person who cuts my hair asked me the other day if I’ve been having classes or if my students are constantly on strike. I thought we were heading toward one of those conversations about how the agitators are tying up traffic, but no: she agrees that now is the time to take drastic action. Thankfully, she didn’t have her TV on that day.

Two events, in addition to the massacre itself, have outraged the general public.

Two events, in addition to the massacre itself, have outraged the general public:

1. José Luis Abarca, the former mayor of Iguala, was apparently detained in Iztapalapa, one of the poorest and, according to media hype, most dangerous boroughs of Mexico City, in an abandoned house with a cement floor and tin roof. Given what we’ve heard of his ostentatious lifestyle (and that of all Mexican politicians, who are among the most generously compensated politicians in the world and among the highest paid people in Mexico), this seemed strange, an attempt to link him to people from his political party, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) , which has a strong base in the area.

While the PRD is not worth defending, it seems to have been framed in this case. Evidence, some provided by activist priest Alejandro Solalinde, indicates that Abarca and his wife — official in his administration and sister of various narcotraficantes — were arrested in a luxury hotel in Veracruz and moved secretly to the house in Iztapalapa, which in turn is owned by a family that has a towing company that has been granted contracts by the PRD governments of Guerrero and Mexico City.

2. The nature of the testimony offered by attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam about the supposed incineration of the “43 or 44” students at a dump outside of Iguala lacks credibility. To burn a human body in a cremation oven requires a temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius for an hour and a half. This temperature cannot be attained in an open air setting, much less if, as John Gilber notes in an excellent interview on Democracy Now!, heavy rains were the order of the day in Iguala and most of Guerrero on September 26 and 27.

Gilber was unable to find any neighbors who noted an unusual amount of traffic, smoke, or odors in the area of the landfill. A recent video on you tube shows parents of the 43 disappeared entering the landfill site, noting that there are no barriers marking the area to be investigated. There are parts of bones scattered around, but of cattle, not of people.

‘I’m so sick of this government. They think we’re stupid.’

In response to this, another acquaintance, this one with historic family ties to the ruling party, the PRI, was on the verge of tears the other day when she said: “I’m so sick of this government. They think we’re stupid. They think we’ll believe any lie they throw at us. I’ve never seen a crisis like this.”

In the first weeks after the massacre, the federal government tried to portray it as a local or state problem. It was especially adamant in claiming that the army had no particular knowledge of or participation in what had happened. Since the counterinsurgency campaigns in place since the sixties, there have been tens of thousands of soldiers stationed in Guerrero at any given time. Since the declaration by then-president Felipe Calderón of a war on drugs (which is also a pretext to continue the anti-guerrilla campaigns) at the end of 2006, military presence has been reinforced, oriented toward drug crop eradication in the most benign of cases.

mexico city protester

Demonstrator in Mexico City. Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt  / AFP / Getty Images.

Evidence of military involvement

The testimony of Omar García, a student who survived the attacks, belies the federal government’s claim of noninvolvement. Attorney general Murillo Karam spoke glibly of the military during his press conference of November 7, saying: “It’s a good thing the army didn’t leave the barracks. What would have happened? Who would it have supported? Obviously, it would have supported the constituted authority,” meaning the city government.

This prompted columnist Gloria Muñoz Ramírez of the newspaper La Jornada to reprint survivor Omar García’s largely ignored statement:

I moved toward…downtown, where my companions were running. When we got there, three or four blocks away, the army was now patrolling. Not the city, but that exact spot, and they were saying: “Shut up. You asked for it. You wanted to show that you’re men. Now step up and take the consequences.” We were afraid and angry at the same time, because we couldn’t even receive phone calls. If somebody called us, a soldier stood by and listened and told us what we had to say: “But don’t say you’re detained by the army. Say you’re fine.” They supposedly called an ambulance, which never came.

Columnist Muñoz asks where, in the attorney general’s explanation, is the justification for the initial police killing of six people (before the other 43 were supposedly “turned over” to gangsters).

1968 redivivus?

As the epigraph to this article suggests, there are parallels between today’s student movement and that of 1968, also galvanized by police violence. In both cases, the president delegated his cabinet officials to do the majority of the dirty work and the media appearances. And then as now, the government has looked to compliant media to decry the “violence” of acts of marching, spray painting, occupations of tollbooths, etc. and to minimize state-perpetrated brutality.

Peña Nieto, from Australia or wherever he was any given day, has on two or more occasions broken his silence to decry this inconsequential or fabricated violence, without mentioning government-perpetrated atrocities. At the end of the November 8 march in Mexico City, someone — “anarchists,” the police and media say — set fire to the wooden doors of the historic Palacio Nacional. Witnesses say the federal police on the scene, far from keeping the supposed arsonists from getting to the door, surrounded them so others could not see what they were doing. Immediately after the fire started, someone opened a door from within and extinguished it. There was no visible damage to the door.

This and other incidents seem orchestrated by the government to discredit protests.

This and other incidents — the burning of a bus near the national university, for example, on the day of a previous march — seem orchestrated by the government(s) to discredit protests. (I’m speaking here of Mexico City; in Guerrero, many people have historically chosen non-pacifist forms of protest and that is now occurring.) The evident purpose of these campaigns to stigmatize and discredit protesters is to create a climate of public opinion in favor of more police repression.

Upon returning from his trip on November 15, Peña Nieto made some comments that were perhaps more disturbing than those of his underling:

The government has the right to use force when other mechanisms to restore order have been exhausted. I hope that is not the case now, that the government will have to do that this time, that we will not have to arrive to the extreme of using the force of the public sector. We want to call for order and peace, and we call on people not to convert this moment of pain and grief into a banner for other causes that lead to violence.

A slogan painted during the improvised march on Sunday on a surface along Paseo de la Reforma, a showcase boulevard that is the site of frequent protests, responded succinctly: “The violence of the state is more violent than grafitti.”

Curiously, the very disciplined protests of students of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) shortly before the events of Iguala had forced the police, in Mexico City, at least, to adopt a much more passive approach to the monitoring of protests and concomitant street closings. And the generalized outrage over the attacks against students in Guerrero had caused the local police to keep an even lower profile.

But, though many of the founders of the once-left-leaning PRD were veterans of the student movement of 1968, local police under the PRD-dominated local government invaded the campus of Mexico’s largest and most prestigious public university, the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México (UNAM) on Saturday, November 15. Around 1 p.m., three judiciales — untrained, plainclothed, rough detectives, famous for their alcoholism and violence against women — entered the campus near the department of philosophy and literature.

The conflict escalated to a point at which the same officer shot and wounded two students
and a dog.

Students who, since a strike many years ago, have occupied an auditorium there asked the three individuals (four, according to some accounts) who they were and what they wanted. One of the three officers responded with verbal belligerence and pushed a student.  Students chased the three officers, found their car, and burned it, but not before taking from it the identification of the officer who fired his gun, thus demonstrating that he was a judicial.

The UNAM, like most public Latin American universities, is autonomous, which means that the government provides budget but cannot intervene in the self-government of the schools and that the police cannot enter the premises (much less if they are armed and shooting). There have been several attempts by the university administration and its conservative student shock troops to retake the auditorium, and thus the students there are always on the defensive.

A couple of hours later, the police or university administration announced that the former had entered to investigate a complaint relating to the theft of a cell phone a few days earlier. Thousands of cell phones are robbed or stolen every day in Mexico City and resold openly on the street, and no one has ever heard of such an extraordinary attempt to find the culprit in such an incident.

As word of all this spread, students and supporters headed toward the campus. Around 10 p.m., 500 granaderos (riot police) were reported to have entered the same part of the campus. Students repelled them with rocks, but they stayed for awhile on the perimeter of the campus. This is a three-day weekend and there will be no normal university activities until Tuesday. Unlike in 1968, when the president of the institution resigned in protest and headed marches when the army occupied the campus, university officials have, until now, condoned and justified this obvious violation of autonomy.

(University “rector” or president José Narro has now said the police presence was unacceptable and won’t happen again, but he permitted a police intrusion that lasted about 12 hours and his administration was in collusion with the police from at least the moment of their arrival.)


The Mexican government and business interests recently invented El buen fin, in imitation of the phenomenon of the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. (bizarrely named “Black Friday” at some point after I left the country). This three- or four-day orgy of consumismo occurs during the days leading to the Monday holiday that, as some people vaguely remember, used to fall on November 20 and commemorate key events of the Mexican Revolution.

To replace revolutionary fervor with shopping was obviously a wicked public relations victory.

To replace revolutionary fervor with shopping was obviously a wicked public relations victory. This year, protesters have wrought havoc in certain shopping centers and on certain highways already clogged with vacationers moving in and out of the city.

The spirit of large sections of the population is not pessimistic. It is, rather, combative and creative. In addition to the well-announced and organized marches, there are spontaneous protests that one can see anywhere: 43 candles at an intersection, 43 student desks arranged outside a school, a belly-dance protest outside Bellas Artes, one of the largest museums in the city. People debate about whether the protests should be symbolic, peaceful, or rudas.

In Acapulco — about two hours from the site of the massacre — the airport was occupied and shut down for a few hours. In the cities of Chihuahua and Juárez, both in the border state of Chihuahua, where people know something about disappearances and mass murders, there have been about two major protest events per week.

A paro nacional, an action that stops just short of a general strike, is scheduled for November 20, though not very well organized as we go to press. There will probably be attempts to shut down the airports of Mexico City, Acapulco, and Zihuatanejo, among other cities. So if your plane to or from Houston is delayed that day, don’t blame the weather. Coordination with independent unions has not developed as well as it should.

Another paro is planned for December 1, the second anniversary of Peña Nieto’s inauguration (and a day that marked the beginning of a new phase of police repression in a context of local-federal cooperation). Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera — lawyer, former police chief, empresario — will find himself increasingly the target of protests, now that Saturday’s events at the UNAM remind everyone of his iron fist mentality, and as the first anniversary of a 66.6% increase in subway fares nears.

Read more of Johnny Hazard’s reporting from Mexico on The Rag Blog.

[A former Minneapolis teacher, Johnny Hazard now lives in Mexico City where he is a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México and author of Con estos estudiantes: La vivencia en la UACM, a book about that alternative university.]

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