Students fight for right to education and for accountability of police
â€œYou have not died, comradeâ€ is a cry that has echoed throughout Mexico since the death of two students Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino and Gabriel Echevveria on December 12th, 2011.. Th They were students at the Rural Mexican â€œNormalâ€ School Ayotzinapa and were killed by police at a student action demanding educational reforms on the Sun Highway in the Southern State of Guerrero.
The students deaths has shed light on the struggle to both preserve and foster quality public education in Mexico’s poverty stricken rural areas. In recent years more than half the Normal Schools have been closed, and those that have remained open have seen a largely reduced budget.
Pablo Ramirez Valente is a recent graduate of the Ayotzinapa Normal, the school that two murdered students attended. He says they were murdered fighting for their right to education.
â€œWe as young people have realized what reality we are living in this country, and this is what the government shows us how they pay us back. This is how they pay us, with repression, harassment, disappearance and the death of our comrades who were fighting for their rights.â€
The government has justified the excessive use of violence against the students, arguing that the students were throwing stones and molotov cocktails and that they launched one at a gas station, which exploded and fatally injured one of the workers. Students have denied all responsibility and are saying it was the government workers posing as students who launched the incendiary device.
During the confrontation, 300 state police and federal police including plain clothes officers fired live ammunition against protesters for nearly 20 minutes. Students were forced to flee into surrounding hillsides to escape the constant gunfire. This police assault left 2 students dead, 5 with gunshot wounds and over 24 people detained, one of whom says he was tortured in jail.
The state government of Guerrero issued their response of the day of the march:
“As a democratic government, our vocation is not repression but respect for the rights of all. So far this government never has prevented the public manifestation of the ideas enshrined in the federal Constitution, let alone limited public expressions of protest. “
The Attorney Generals office has investigated the incident and said that at least 22 of the police weapons on site were fired.
Evelia Herrera, mother of student Alexis Herrera says that instead of listening to her son’s demands the government murdered him:
â€œMy son was protesting so that the school could gain what they lacked. The school lacks many resources as you might have noticed, from hygienic bathrooms, to sufficient food
they don’t have much more than poverty. â€œ
â€œMy son was was very sociable and noble. He was always trying to help people just like us who were poor. He was always thinking about the future and many projects moving forward.â€
Some have criticized the students saying they â€œdon’t know their limitsâ€ and denying the necessity for rural education. Jazmin Vasquez is a student at the Tlapa Mountain Normal School in Guerrero and debunks these critiques.
â€œIt’s not that were so conflictive or trying to be rebellious, its just that we have to protest so that the government will actually listen to us. There are things that we want, and we have to protest so that they will pay attentionâ€
Previously students were guaranteed positions as teachers after their graduation, and that is no longer the case, leaving many graduates jobless. Vasquez still hopes to pursue this career.
â€œI’m in the pre B.A. program so I can eventually have a future as an educator. And we can have education in our hands to benefit the children. We can help foster their consciousness
and knowledge and change education.â€
Normal Schools were originally created in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution as boarding schools that would give a quality education to Campesinos and working class people and train them to become teachers in rural communities. Since their creation many campesino leaders, social justice activists and revolutionary guerillas have graduated from them. The schools are government funded but run by the (FECSM) Federation of Socialist Campesino Students.
Cristobal Osorio Tapia attended Ayotzinapa 15 years ago and has served as a teacher there since graduating.
â€œWhen these Normal Schools started during the government of Lazaro Cardenas. â€œThe government of Lazaro Cardenas was a socialist one and birthed a school in every state of the Republic. But as time has gone on the schools have been disappearing, as has already been mentioned. The government is not in agreement because it focuses on social consciousness for young people, that is very necessary today.â€ From the beginning the Normal schools can count many Social struggle activists in their graduates, including Genaro Vasquez, a Guerrilla Combatant in the 1970’s especially 1974. He studied there and formed his consciousness and eventually was gunned downâ€
Since the Normal Schools have a long history of social struggle, the students have naturally been organizing large rallies and actions since the death of the two students. On January 6th the important religious holiday of Day of the Kings, students took over more than 15 passenger buses and led a caravan to the country’s capital Mexico City. A week later during the month anniversary the caravan returned to Ayotzinapa with the support of hundreds of University students, campesinos and social activists from Mexico City and surrounding areas. Students welcomed the supporters and together they dined, chanted and sang preparing for a large march.
A few seconds of live Venceremos Song
These supporters and students then travelled to the nearby capital city of Chipalcingo to join with more than 5000 people to march on the Governors office to demand justice for the two murdered students. Prior to the march Normal students took over 3 radio stations to announce their planned actions.
Ana Arelly from the state Aguas Calientes says they have also suffered a lot of repression at her Normal School when demanding reforms and was glad to see such support.
â€œWe thought that a lot fewer people were going to attend and then when we got here we said “Wow!” People are really being supportive and it’s really good what’s happening. We see this very favorably that the people are helping in this way, because the struggle is not just for one
person. It is made up of many people.â€
Liz a campesina from San Salvador Atenco, a community with a long legacy of resistance that has also witnessed student’s deaths at the hands of federal police travelled to Guerrero to support the students because she says that their struggles are united.
â€œWe are one people, and as one people the actions the government takes against us affects us all. Campesinos, students, workers. If you attack a campesino, it affects a worker. If you attack a student, it affects a campesino. Our children, the children of campesinos, will also one day be students and we don’t want them taking away their rights. They have rights, the right to be heard, to be free and live with dignity.â€
Utilio Garcia a student from Mexico City who participated in the rally said this is a transcendental moment for public education
â€œAbove all, a moment in defense of public education. It’s not just the Normal Schools. It’s public education in general that is being attacked by neoliberalism and capitalism. putting priority on and giving lots of support to private education.â€
According the Mexican Magazine The Proceso, Normal students have claimed that the government has been trying to buy them off, offering them up to the equivalent of 8000 US dollars to remain silent.
A student leader with the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of the normal schools spoke at the rally said there would not be even be one moment of silence.
â€œWe are denouncing the death of our fellow students, because these deeds will not be left behind there. With these acts will come justice, we demand it and we will continue. That is why on this day January 12th we representing all these organizations are showing that we will not sell out or be silenced. We will continue to resist in struggle. â€œ
Following the students deaths the National Commission of Human Rights led an investigation to determine from where the gunshots were fired from and who was guilty. Raul Plascencia the national coordinator of the commission says the police are responsible.
â€œWe have observed grave violations of the right to life and personal integral security, to their liberty, to dignified treatment, to legal security and legality by the Federal Secretary of Security and also the government of the state of Guerrero.â€
Amnesty International has taken on the case of the student who says he was tortured while in police custody.
Currently 2 of the police who allegedly fired against the students are being held in custody to await the next steps to be taken by the government. Students and supporters say they will continue to march until â€œthe assassins are punishedâ€ including responsible politicians and also until their schools receive the necessary resources and support.
Andalusia Knoll for The Real News Network from Mexico City