In September 2014, in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, first-year students from the teacher training college of Ayotzinapa came into conflict with the police, who fired on their bus. During the confrontation, forty-three of these students disappeared. The remains of only one of the students have been found.
Guerrero is known as one of the poorest and most violent states in Mexico. Its inhabitants live under the constant pressure of poverty and fear. The following video by The New Yorker shows that the abduction of the students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School is part of a long-ignored history of insecurity and pain in Guerrero.
The abduction has shaken the world. Not only has it shown the violence against young innocents (in stark contrast to the common narrative of Mexico’s violence being enacted between drug cartels and national security forces only), it has also shown the striking complicity of the central government in brutality against ordinary citizens. The Mexican government’s claims that the students were murdered by drug-traffickers after being kidnapped by police, and their promises that municipal government officials will be tried have been greeted with scorn. Witness testimony suggests that, in addition to local police forces, military personnel from a nearby base were also present at the confrontation. But the government refuses to investigate the military. Many people in Mexico feel that this symbolizes the failure of the government to ensure the safety of its citizens and to take responsibility for the violence. For some, this seems to be proof that the federal government is deeply implicated in the violence.
Unsurprisingly, protests have broken out across Mexico. The cries of the protesters reflect various types of pain, anger at multiple injustices. There have been links made to the government’s violent suppression of student demonstrations in 1968, known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. Proponents of greater autonomy for Mexico’s indigenous populations, such as the famous EZLN or Zapatista Army who led armed rebellions against the central government in the 1990s, have added cries for economic equality, land reform, and more local power. These people have joined together in common frustration at a government that has earned their deep mistrust. For most, the abductions signify yet another instance of state-sponsored violence, widespread impunity, and the failure of the government to perform the most basic terms of the social contract—to protect its people. In light of this, many have begun to question the legitimacy of the national government, and there have been calls for revolution.
Ultimately, the Ayotzinapa kidnapping has brought a history of tensions to a head. The Mexican people are asking what the future of their country can be. How can they secure their families and themselves from vast, unpunished violence? How will crime, corruption, and poverty be addressed? Can the central government, a body whose public support and citizen trust is corroding, play a part in creating this future? While international bodies like the UN have condemned how the Mexican government has handled the case, the U.S. government has been largely silent. Human rights organizations were outraged when U.S. President Obama did not mention the case during a meeting with Mexican President Peña Nieto in January 2015. This begs even more questions—what should Mexico’s relationship with the United States look like as the country moves forward? Can the U.S. government be trusted to partner in protecting the lives and interests of the Mexican people? What effects might this have on trade, foreign investment, and the lives of Mexican immigrants living across the U.S.-Mexico border?
These are the questions we ask students to grapple with in the latest edition of Between Two Worlds: Mexico at the Crossroads. Students learn about Mexican history from the Olmecs through Spanish colonization and the fight for independence, investigate the economic and political changes the country encountered after independence, and consider some of the challenges Mexico faces today. Students then examine three options for Mexico’s future in a role play. They use their knowledge of Mexico’s history and current challenges to present arguments about who is responsible for Mexico’s problems; how crime, violence, corruption, and inequality should be addressed; how the United States should be perceived; and what the role of the central government should be in building Mexico’s future. Finally, students design their own options for Mexico’s future, sharing their opinions on what Mexico’s policies and priorities should be. Learn more about the unit here.