Francisco Goldman in the New Yorker (photo by Alejandro Acosta/Reuters):
In mid November, three caravans converged on Mexico City, led by family members of the forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School whose abduction, in late September, has led to nationwide protests. One caravan was coming directly from Guerrero State, where the students disappeared, another from the state of Chiapas, and another from the city of Atenco, in Mexico State, the site of the most notorious act of violent government repression committed by Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s current President, in 2006, when he was governor there. The plan was for the caravans to come together and for the travellers to lead a giant march on November 20th.
The kidnapping is now known to have been carried about by the municipal police of Iguala, Guerrero, on orders from the city’s mayor. According to the government, the police handed the students over to a local narco gang, which murdered them and burned their remains in the Cocula municipal dump. This scenario is still awaiting forensic confirmation, and the families of the missing students, and many others, do not accept it. “They were taken alive, we want them back alive!’ remains one of the most common chants at the marches. “It was the state!” and “Peña Out!” are also staple slogans.
As the caravans approached Mexico City, President Peña Nieto, along with members and supporters of his PRI government, began issuing statements and warnings that seemed to signal an aggressive new strategy to counter the protests. On November seventeenth, Beatriz Pagés Rebollar, the country’s Secretary of Culture, published an editorial on the PRI’s official website. “The chain of protests and acts of vandalism—perfectly well orchestrated—replicated in various parts of the country, demonstrate that the disappearances and probable extermination of the 43 normal-school students were part of a strategic trap aimed at Mexico,” she wrote. “All these activists and propagandists have the same modus operandi.” Pagés included opposition media on her list of these activists and propagandists, accusing them of fraudulently confusing Mexicans into believing that the students’ disappearance “was a crime of state, as if the Mexican government gave the order to exterminate them.”
Two days later, Carlos Alazraki, a veteran PRI insider and an advertising executive who has worked on the election campaigns of several of the party’s Presidential candidates, published an editorial entitled “Open Letter to All Normal Mexicans (Like You)” in the newspaper La Razón. “46 days ago, two bands, students and Iguala narcos, got into a brawl,” he wrote. “There are varying versions of what happened. . . . That one [band] were guerrillas, the other narcos. One or the other wanted to run the whole region.” Since the start of the “narco war,” in 2006, equating victims’ criminality with that of narcos has been a routine pro-government strategy.