Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Meaning" of murder of students in Mexico goes far beyond merely about drug violence

The recent massacre of six students of a rural teaching college in Mexico by police, and 43 more who were handed over by the same police to drug gangsters to complete the “job,” has been predictably blamed on the seemingly non-stop drug violence in that country. But that allows it to be too easy to ignore why those students were killed. The drug gangsters who carried out the brutal kidnapping and murder of the students have in some isolated instances become little more than hired thugs working for the social, political and economic elite classes in Mexico. In exchange for not targeting the power elites (and the police who protect their interests against the impoverished masses), they look the other way while the drug gangsters conduct their business, in exchange for “little” favors—such as these killings.

To recap what actually occurred a month ago, the mayor and his wife of the town of Iguala in the province of Guerrero, Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda—note the irony of “of the Angels”—both apparently ordered the police to “do away” students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa who were traveling to Iguala and were suspected of planning to “disrupt” a speech and a party in honor of the Pineda. According to human rights activists, these two make Macbeth and Lady Macbeth look like teetotalers. Abarca has in the past been accused of personally participating in the murder of local activists last year, and having a hand in the 2011 torture and killing of dozen of students from the same “radical” teaching college for poor students. Pineda herself has personal ties to the powerful local drug gang, the Guerreros Unidos, and her husband has cooperated with the gang in return for those “favors.”

Apparently after police intercepted the students, they fired on them, killing six. Police then arrested and detained another 43 before turning them over to the gang, who herded the students onto two trucks so tightly there was barely room to breathe. According to the testimony of three arrested gang members, many of the students died of suffocation; those who survived were taken to a landfill, killed, hurled into the pit, and set on fire. After fourteen hours of burning, the remains were allegedly crushed, bagged, and thrown into the San Juan River. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, instead of simply going unnoticed or unremarked upon, the disappearance and killings of the students sparked widespread and sometimes violent protests throughout the country. Abarca and his wife disappeared for a few weeks, but have since been arrested.

Of course this is shocking, but it isn’t as if we have never seen such barbaric behavior apparently sanctioned by civil authority; it occurred on even a greater scale in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Although it can be said that in Russia these were the actions of an extraordinarily paranoid man who saw enemies everywhere, in Germany the public had at least a vague, but purposefully unspoken, knowledge of what was going on, and people who considered themselves the “epitome” of high civilization felt “justified” in committing mass murder; mass graves were near many German communities, and the crematoriums were less about covering up the evidence than a matter of the “practical” use of available space. Rather than tens of thousands killed as in Mexico, the numbers dead in Germany and Russia was in the tens of millions of victims.

Today, such actions seldom fly under the media radar, particularly with the reach of “social media.” Such actions today occurring on our southern border seems beyond any moral comprehension, despite the mass shootings occurring in this country seemingly on a “regular” basis. In Mexico the drug violence is so commonplace that it is natural that those who have the most to lose—upper class Euro-elites—have sought to nullify any potential harm to themselves by coming to an “understanding” with the drug Cartels and gangs. Federal, state and local authorities and law enforcement either do not have the will or the “firepower” to deal with the gangs. Even when there is public testimony of complicity between government officials and the gangs—such Abarca’s role in previous student and activist murders—federal authorities are loath to prosecute because their own hand are dirty. 

But the problem in Mexico—and much of the rest of Latin America—runs much deeper than that. The media tends to ignore that rampant social and economic inequality that is at the heart of the dysfunctionality in those countries. For example, the UK The Guardian states that “The disappearance of the students has exposed both the terrifying levels of violence in some parts of Mexico where organized criminal groups dominate large territories, and the direct involvement of some local authorities in the horror.” But just like in this country, lack of viable employment opportunities and the proliferation of low-paying jobs makes drug-dealing in some quarters a “preferable” job opportunity. Drug-related violence in this country is not necessarily less common in Mexico, it is just more “spread out,” and the media tends to focus on white female murder victims rather than the much more common drug-related killings that occur in impoverished neighborhoods. 

And it goes beyond even that. Mexico’s social, political and economic elites do not want social, political and economic equality in that country. That is why those students were killed—because they were protesting conditions in Mexico and they were seeking to be heard and achieve redress. In a country like Mexico or Latin America generally, that is “revolutionary” talk; this is why the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and his “socialist” agenda was demonized by the U.S. media (TIME even wondered if he was “crazy”) and viewed with alarm both by the U.S. government and the “elites” in his own country. 

The hypocrisy of the power elites in Mexico and their desire to crush efforts to upset the status quo was subtly revealed by Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto—himself no “stranger” to accusations of corruption—sought to avoid the real meaning behind the killing of the students by suggesting that the prior disturbances to the status quo by the students (who among other things claimed that there was less funding and fewer job opportunities for students of rural colleges) and currently by protesters were little different than the killings themselves in principle. 

Nieto even suggested that the protesters against the killings were not actually concerned about the killings themselves, but sought to “exploit” them for “political reasons.” This is a highly ironic statement, since the students who were killed were so for “political” reasons. Revolutions have occurred in Mexico in the past, but actual “change” in the way the country is structured is viewed by those in power as extremely dangerous and must be “contained”—even to the point of enlisting the “help” of drug gangs.

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