Ayotzinapa: A Game Changer for Mexico?

The apparent massacre of students from Ayotzinapa in Iguala has completely shocked the Mexican public and provoked outrage across the globe.

Some have called this a game changer for Mexico. In some ways it clearly is, but maybe not in the ways we imagine.

Erika Lozano (Courtesy of másde131)

Erika Lozano (Courtesy of másde131)

The case of Ciudad Juárez

The brutal massacre at Iguala is far from an isolated event, but rather is the latest in a long line of atrocities that has plagued Mexico for decades. At the root of the problem we often find a complicated web of complicity involving local, state and even federal authorities.

There are striking similarities between events in Iguala and the ongoing murder of women in Ciudad Juárez, where there has been a marked spike in femicides since 1993.

In the book Daughters of Juárez, Univision anchor Teresa Rodríguez and investigative journalist Diana Montané chillingly detail dozens of cases of the rape and murder of women in the lawless border town. For over a decade, the bodies of hundreds of women were unceremoniously dumped in the desolate desert surrounding the city of Juárez. The isolation of the desert helped shield the perpetrators from detection.

But all of this changed, the authors claim, in November 2008, when the bodies of eight women were found in an abandoned lot in the heart of the city. The culture of impunity had become so absolute that those responsible for the crimes were getting bolder and bolder.  “It appeared that the perpetrators no longer feared the police,” Rodriguez and Montané assert.

When public outrage over the eight bodies reached a fevered pitch, two suspects were promptly trotted out, amid claims of forced confessions and use of torture. “When public pressure begins to grow, the scapegoat materializes,” said Óscar Maynez, former head criminologist for Chihuahua, who challenged the official version of events in this and other cases.

Similarly in Iguala, the brutality and boldness of killing 49 out-of-town students is unimaginable. However, the number of mass graves that have since been found dotted around the town point clearly to the fact that the mayor, local police and cartel members are used to enjoying total impunity.

Much like in Ciudad Juárez, the massacre at Iguala signals a total state of lawlessness in large parts of Guerrero. Any doubt of that has now been removed.

The confessions of three gang members, who allegedly burnt the bodies before dumping them in a river, also seems convenient for Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, which desperately wants to put a lid on this situation. They would love to be able to pin these heinous murders on a few dozen local people and close the case. Obviously, the real cause of this catastrophe is much more complex than the government is willing to admit.

For the people of Mexico, hope lies in what comes next.

John Ackerman recently wrote for Latino Rebels: “Not since the uprising led by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Chiapas in 1994 has Mexico been convulsed by such a powerful independent citizen movement which seeks to transform the roots of the existing system of repression and inequality.”

We can only hope that this mass mobilization of people, dubbed “la nueva insurgencia cívica,” sparks change that will put an end to the corruption and impunity that has characterized Mexico for far too long.


Jen Wilton reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at revolutioniseternal.wordpress.com

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GlennStehle says:

Jen Wilton said:  “The brutal massacre at Iguala is far from an isolated event, but rather
is the latest in a long line of atrocities that has plagued Mexico for
This is true and not true.  For me, it comes dangerously close to one of the main talking points being broadcast by Washington and Los Pinos:  that nothing in Mexico has changed for the worse since 2006.  Mexico, however, is a far, far more dangerous place today than it was 8 years ago.  It is also a far less free place than it was 8 years ago.

A brief history:

1)  Since the revolution of 1910, Mexico has never been a democracy.  It has always been a plutocracy, ruled by a small group of men called strong men or cauldillos.  “The perfect dictatorship,” Mario Vargas Llosa called it.

2)  Nevertheless, this authoritarian government did have the popular support of broad sectors of the civil society.  It was essentially nationalistic and put the interests of the nation first.

3)  That began to change with the election of Miguel de la Madrid in 1982.  Madrid began the rollout in Mexico of a new economic model called neoliberalism.

4)  Neoliberalism was a model designed by and imposed by Washington, under the aegis of what is known as the Washington Consensus.  National interests would no longer come first, but those of the transnational corporations.

5)  Even though neoliberalism produced some of the richest men in the world in Mexico, it has also devastated Mexico’s peasant (campesino) and working classes.  Between 1982 and 2010, the number of persons in Mexico living in extreme poverty has grown from 5 to 22 million.  In that same period, the purchasing power of the average Mexican union worker’s pay has fallen by 50%, and that of the minimun wage by 71.3%.  Millions of Mexicans were forced to migrate to the United States, one of the largest mass migrations recorded in the history of the modern world.  And the carnage continues.  The freefall in wages has not abated since 2010, and continues its downward spiral.
“The country was threatened with an acute case of schizophrenia,” Carlos Fuentes wrote.  “A minority centered their lives on the New York stock Exchange, and a majority on the price of beans.  One economy was all gilded wrapping paper, the other all huts and untilled land.  The former was the minority’s, the later the majority’s.”

6)  In such a situation, it takes a lot of state violence to keep the majority under control.  As Chistian Parenti noted (speaking of the United States, because what has happened in Mexico is not unique), “Reagan created whole new classes of poor and desperate people.  It was in response to this social crisis, created by the elite response to the profit crisis, that a new wave of criminal justice crackdown began.”

7)  State violence, government oppression and the punishment of political dissent increased dramatically beginning in 2006 when Mexico’s newly elected president, Felipe Calderón, declared his Orwellian “War on Drugs.”  The “War on Drugs,” however, carried out under the aegis of Washington under the umbrella of the Merida Initiative, was in reality a war on the majority of the Mexican people.  Peña Nieto has continued this same policy, but on steroids.

8)  The collusion between the narcos, the Mexican Government and the US government has existed at least since the time of Miguel de la Madrid, which has by now been amply documented by a wide-ranging group of investigators, all the way from J. Jesús Esquivel to Peter Dale Scott, amongst others.
9)   However, it was Calderón, with his so-called “War on Drugs,” (the “blackwhite,” “doublethink” and “newspeak” that emanates from Washington’s and Los Pinos’ “Minstries of Truth” would make Orwell proud) that cemented the pact between the Mexican state and the narcos.  Organized crime would largely replace paramilitaries as the state’s leading proxy in the role of social control.  The narcos would become the right arm of the Mexican state and castigate political enemies of the state and sow state terror.  “The objective of Calderón is to generate chaos and violence,” charged Carlos Fazio, “chaos and violence which justifies measures each time more repressive.”  Robinson Salazar Pérez calls it “the administration of chaos.”

10)  The outcome has been a bloodbath and a level of repression of political dissent which far surpasses Mexico’s Dirty Wars of the 1960s to 1980s, a wave of violence which has not been seen in Mexico since the dictatorship of  Porfirio Díaz.  In a recent interview on Univision TV, José Miguel Vivanco, Director of the Americas for Human Rights Watch, gives the grim toll:  90,000 deaths, 25,000 disappeared, thousands of tortured people, graves everywhere.  And these are only the offical figures.  Many investigators put the actual figures much higher, because many people are so afraid of the authorities that they don’t report crimes, even major crimes like kidnapping and forced disappearances. INEGI reported that in 2013, one out of three households had at least one memeber who was the victim of at least one crime.

Observe the increase in the homicide rate of women since 2008 in this graph:

GlennStehle says:



The above is a link to a book review of Humberto Padgett’s new book, Las muertas del Estado. Feminicidios durante la administración mexiquense de Enrique Peña Nieto (The Deaths of State:  Femicide in the State of Mexico during the governorship of Enrique Peña Nieto). 

Below is a translation to English of some passages from the review:

Hatred of women in the State of Mexico is measured by the parade coffins, the longest in a country in which murder is only beginning to be defined.
During the same years that made Ciudad Juárez the femicide capital of the world, in the State of Mexico 10 times more women were killed.
The politicians from the State of Mexico have distorted the numbers of the dead.  They argue that comparisons with Juárez don’t count because theirs is a state, which also has the nation’s largest population.
However, the numbers are clear: Death for death, coffin for coffin, during the 21 years analyzed in this statistical study — six of them under the government of Enrique Peña Nieto — the State of Mexico was the worst place to be a woman, not in absolute numbers but rates.  And even though  only 13.5 percent of Mexicans live in the State of Mexico, it has provided a quarter of the deaths.
This text is part of the new book The Deaths of State: Femicide in the State of Mexico During the Governorship of Enrique Peña Nieto, written by Humberto Padgett and published by Editorial Grijalbo.