Mexicans Protest Disappearance Of 43 Students
TOM FUDGE: Our top story on Midday Edition, the case of missing people is nothing new to Baja California and the rest of Mexico. An estimated 22,000 people have gone missing since 2006, supposedly due to the work of the drug cartels. But more recently, anger has reached a tremendous pitch in the country as a result of the kidnapping and desappearance of 43 students who lived in the state of Guerrero where most of them attended a teachers college. Their disappearance seems to have touched off emotions that have seethed for many years due to the violence of Mexican drug gangs and the complicity of so many Mexican officials. In the past days government buildings have been torched and police have clashed with protesters. Joining me to talk about this latest protest movement and what it may mean for the country are Ev Meade and Carrie Kahn. Carrie Kahn is NPR's Mexico correspondent and by the way a former reporter for KPBS. Carrie, thanks for joining us. CARRIE KAHN: It's great to be back here at KPBS. TOM FUDGE: Ev Meade joins me here in studio. He's director of USD's transborder Institute and thanks to you. EV MEADE: Thanks for having me, Tom. TOM FUDGE: Carrie, tell us when and how did this tragedy of the 43 students begin. CARRIE KAHN: It dates back to September 26 and 27th in Guerrero. It's called [Iguala], it is an industrial town in the South of the state and they were coming there to protest gather funds, these are students in a teaching college. It's not your conventional sort of teaching college it's for poor students, they have subsidized tuition and everything, but they have very unorthodox ways of raising money. They commandeer buses, they commandeer, they go into towns. They ask for money. They also commandeer tollbooths on federal highways and take the monies for the tolls. So they were coming to this town. They had had confrontations with the mayor and his wife before. The mayor according to authorities believe they were coming to disrupt the speech given by the mayor's wife. The mayor gave the orders to intercept the students and police that were working on his behalf and on the behalf of a drug cartel in the area intercepted the students. There was a terrible gunfight, six people died, three of the students were killed, three bystanders were shot TOM FUDGE: And Carrie, this was prior to the kidnapping, right? CARRIE KAHN: This is what happened on September 26th and into the morning of September 27th. This attack on the students. And after the attack the local police, the corrupt cops rounded up the students, took them to, in police vans to a drug cartel and deliver them to this cartel. There was some communication between leaders of the cartel and there was miscommunication if you believe what the authorities are saying, that they thought these kids were getting members of a rival cartel and the head of this one group gave an order to kill them and they were all taken to a dump, a trash, municipal trash dump, and they were shot and their bodies were burned and the remains were picked up and put into trash bags and thrown into a local river. And that is the version that the authorities have told us. TOM FUDGE: Yes that is the version the authorities have told us, but do we know that it is true? I mean, have DNA records been checked to confirm that the remains are those of the kids who were kidnapped? CARRIE KAHN: The problem is that all that remains according to authorities are just ashes and a few bone fragments. In fact, all that they sent to a lab in Austria, which was the only experts that said that they could possibly do a DNA recognition, identification of this, they sent a knee cap and a bone fragment. And they've been saying that it's going to be taking weeks and it's possible and probable that may be there would not be positive identification of this. It's a very difficult task from something that has been burned out long. But what has come up also from this is that parents do not believe this version that the authorities have given us. But they showed us scenes of the remains that they found, they've also shown publicly which I believe is unprecedented, the Atty. Gen. Showed the confessions of these gang members who said that they actually shot the students, threw them in the dump and burn their bodies. TOM FUDGE: But Carrie, I think you said in some of your reporting, this is happening in a country where coerced confessions are fairly common. CARRIE KAHN: Definitely. That is true. That is something that you can convict somebody on an eyewitness account and also that during this investigation in and around the town of [Iguala], I think they were up to 11 clandestine graves with up to 30 bodies in those graves. So it is a very, it's a difficult story. It's a very difficult for Mexicans to hear of the corruption that went on in this town and in surrounding towns, this corruption of the police, the uncovering of all the bodies and just that there is no conclusion to this case yet. TOM FUDGE: Well Ev Meade, let's get you involved in the conversation would you make of this case? EV MEADE: I'm really glad that the world is paying attention to the case of these 43 kids but I hope, to begin with, I hope that it's a gateway to understanding that these are 43 of thousands since 2006, estimates go from 60 to 120,000. They are not the first students taken. They are not the first people taken by municipal police and handed over to criminals. They are not the first people tortured. They are not the first people to be found in mass graves. So as long as we see this as a gateway to something bigger I think it's good. In terms of what it's revealing about corruption in the government there's a couple of really important things we want to recognize here. First, that this idea of corruption of the local authorities collaborating with organized crime is not new. It's particularly not new in Guerrero. This is something that goes back generations. It has a kind of clan politics. It's not the first massacre associated with it. There are whole string of massacres you can trace back to 1962 in Guerrero. Guerrero has been a hotbed of this for a very long time. But something has really changed. It used to be that corrupt politicians conquered and taxed part of the drug trade. So they would go to a drug trafficking organization say we will protect your route, go after your enemies and offer you X percentage. They would make a deal. But they were the ones in charge. They were the authorities. Most recently in the last couple of years what we've seen is a real reversal of that. Where organized crime figures are going to municipalities, basically taking them over by force and they are setting the terms. And they are then using the apparatus of the municipal, of the government or the local government for their own ends. Some of those ends have nothing to do with trafficking of drugs. Sometimes it's taking and percentage of municipal revenue or taxing public employees. So this is a real change in the power dynamics and will have a huge impact on how we deal with this going forward. TOM FUDGE: You're listening to Midday Edition on KPBS. My guests are Ev Meade and Carrie Kahn. Carrie joins us by a ISBN from Mexico City where she is NPR's Mexico correspondent. Ev Meade is joining the in studio. He's director of the USD transborder Institute. Carrie, there have been, I think it's fair to say violent protests on burning of buildings in recent days as a result of people's anger about the disappearance of these students. What is the mood like in Guerrero and in the neighboring states? CARRIE KAHN: There have been a string of violent protests where the government, state government offices in the capital of Guerrero were burned. Cars have been burned. There have been stores that have been looted it seems to be going on for days. There's been sort of a lull in the violence recently. There was an incident in Mexico City at the large University over the weekend. But I was just in Guerrero over the weekend. I went to Acapulco, which is the power, economic generator of the state. I was told of the 81 municipalities in the state, 76 depend on the economy of Acapulco and the tourism. And it has just tanked in recent weeks and this was just a long holiday weekend. We were celebrating the 1910 revolution of Mexico. But, the tourists were not out in force in Acapulco like they were I think the losses they said were up to about $50 million of hotels and occupancy was below 50%. So people are very wary of going to the state. When you travel on the roads, sometimes you come up on the tollbooths and the mass students have commandeered the tollbooths and are taking the money from you. That happened to us going down on for tollbooths it's interesting they can give you change, they will give you change 50 pesos for 100. They're harmless they just want you, they're just trying to collect money for the movement. TOM FUDGE: They're harmless because part of the way you describe some of the students they almost sounded like baby, that of a criminal gang themselves. CARRIE KAHN: I think part of the reason there is so much sympathy for the students is that the teaching college is a poor, rural teaching college. It takes students that cannot get out of the cycle of poverty especially in Guerrero which is one of the poorest states in the country. And these students are not gang members. They are not criminals. They have unorthodox activists roots and unorthodox practices, but the country knows that they are not criminals. And the government has we talked about you know there are more than 20,000 people suspected of being disappeared. Why do these 43 students make such a big clamor? It's because the government could not say that they were criminals, that they were part of a drug gang. This all happened in real time. Usually these disappearances are discovered months or weeks later. This happened in real time. People knew that the students were kidnapped and that they were disappeared and that they knew that they were not drug gangs. So there's a great deal of sympathy for them. I was standing a couple of tollbooths while they were taking their donations, and quotations. People were rooting them on, saying keep up the fight, no violence. People are not in favor of all the burning and looting, but but they know that the students the cause, they believe and said to them they'd that it is just and they wanted to keep up the fight. There were support among motorists giving donations. TOM FUDGE: Donations, right. Now Ev, I've heard a number of people say that the government always blames the drug gangs for things that happened and this is false but the way you describe some of these countries in central Mexico it is not entirely clear where one ends and the other begins. EV MEADE: Yeah, that is very true. It's difficult because at the national level there are a lot of institutions in Mexico that work there a lot of good and committed civil servants and a lot of pieces of Mexico that, we are not talking about Afghanistan. The other hand the local level, there's a whole lot of force and there are like I say there are these organized crime groups that basically conquered territory in local municipalities. There's also a long history of this and I think this is really important. If you look at it a state like Guerrero and if you look at the 1970s the beginning of the war on drugs you find it overlaps perfectly with Mexico's dirty war period, in which people were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in this period on the pretext of drug enforcement and there are really key lessons in terms of what we do going forward that have to be based on that. When you look at the institution that was most responsible in the government for asserting this, the [inaudible] secret Mexican political police you find out the overlap between the DFS and drug traffickers was more or less seamless. When Kiki, Enrique Camarena, US DEA agent was tortured and murdered in Mexico the agents that went down to investigate in 1985, the local fixer show them a safe house shared by the DFS and that water lahar could tell. So there's been this overlap for really long time and I think that is important for policymakers here to understand just giving money to the war on drugs is not going to do this. The other thing I would think about is to think about the targeting think about going after 43 students who were protesting education reforms in Mexico and complaining about the local government rate what possible interest would a big drug cartel that deals with tens of millions if not billions of dollars through their federations and allies, what interest would they have been going after a bunch of indigenous scholarship students? The motive behind this is not protecting the drug trade. The motive here with politics. It is having control over these municipalities. And that is really important and something we have to address and the history of these things. If you go back to 2010 and look at that San Fernando massacre intimately but for 72 American migrants were killed we ask the question why would that upset us cartel which again moves billions of dollars worth of illicit products? Why would they go after 72 impoverished Central American migrants? The US Consulate in Matamorros, a de- classified document the cable he wrote at the very end it sounds very blasé but he says it remains to be seen how these debts benefit the state has. There's a different logic of violence here and if we just look at this through the prism of a war on drugs or on drug enforcement we are missing something much more fundamental. TOM FUDGE: I've talked to people who looked at these protests in Mexico and group intended to say this is Mexico's spring like they did in the Arab world where it looked like protests were eventually we are actually going to demand reform. Well I think we know looking at some of those Arab countries that did not work out that way. But is there something going on here? I mean is Mexico in a position where they have a middle-class, and educated class and people who really will demand reform? EV MEADE: I think people are demanding but the question of whether it turns into a coherent social movement is something that remains to be seen and that has a lot to do with how the government responds and how the pieces of the Mexican state that function respond here. A lot of people are making comparisons to the repression of the student movement in 1968. At the initial level there's a very good comparison and that is if you look at the '68 student movement at the time the government attacked them in the [inaudible] massacre most of the demands were very small. They had a very young movement, only a few months old, they wanted a friend out of jail, they wanted certain cops to be fired, very parochial demands. But then massive repression by the government turned that into a catalyst for something bigger. Here we are just at that point and I think everybody is waiting with bated breath to see how will the people who really have power in Mexico, Mexican government, powerful business sectors, how are they going to respond to this and is there really going to be some justice and change here because if not there could be something bigger. But yeah, I think we're still kind of early days and I really hesitate to make any predictions about that. TOM FUDGE: Carrie, last question to you. When you look at what has happened in the case of these 43 missing students, how do you see, how do you see this playing out? CARRIE KAHN: That is a great question. That is a big question of the time right now. There's been a national protest call for Thursday. We will have to see how that happens, but Ev is right on, let's not draw conclusions right now it's too early in the movement right now to see what happened. There is no political party that is backing this movement either. All the political parties here have been hurt by this scandal. The PRD, the leftist party was are greatly because the mayor and his wife are from the party and the state of Guerrero also and they seem to be imploding upon themselves pointing fingers at each other. The president is under great pressure right now to take leadership and do something but all power structures are very wary to bring out police force. And to stop any of these protest. They've been very very cautious. When you have seen the Acapulco Airport taken over for hours. There were very few police there. Nobody tried to take them over. The burning of the state capital in Guerrero, there was a very small police presence. And I believe on Thursday that will be the scene, too. So we will have to see how it plays out. But the government is very wary of being called repressive, or that anybody is killed in any of these demonstrations by police forces. And so everybody's moving very cautiously right now, everybody's waiting to see what the president does. What the president will do. There are many calls for a strong security pact, some sort of security initiative, judicial reform to be taken right now but we have not heard anything yet. So we're just going to have to wait and see. TOM FUDGE: Okay, we will wait and see and in the meantime thanks very much to Carrie Kahn and Ev Meade. We've been talking about the missing 43 students in Mexico and how that incident has led to many protests and political action. Ev Meade is director of the UCSD, I'm sorry the USD transborder Institute, and Ev thank you very much. EV MEADE: Thanks very much, Tom. TOM FUDGE: And Carrie Kahn is NPR's Mexico correspondent. She joined us from her home in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie. CARRIE KAHN: Thanks for having me, Tom.
The case of missing people is nothing new to people in Baja California and the rest of Mexico.
An estimated 22,000 people have gone missing since 2006. But lately, anger has reached a tremendous pitch in the country as a result of the kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students.
The students lived in the state of Guerrero where most of them attended a teachers' college. Their disappearance seems to have touched off emotions that have seethed for many years due to the violence of Mexican drug gangs and the complicity of so many Mexican officials. In the past weeks, government buildings have been torched and police have clashed with protesters.
In Tijuana last week, a group of protestors urged reforms in the wake of the students' disappearance.
More protests are scheduled around San Diego Thursday to coincide with other marches and rallies in Mexico, where there's a call for a national day protest.