Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rural Student Protesters Under Siege in Guerrero, Two Killed by Police

by Kristin Bricker

Plainclothes police opened fire on unarmed students.
Photo: El Universal
Mexico's normales rurales, or rural teaching schools, are publicly funded socialist schools that train poor peasants to be rural teachers.  In a country where many rural students don't have the opportunity to study because there are no schools in their area, or the schools don't have teachers, the rural teaching schools are crucial to rural development. 

The rural teaching schools believe that a populace must be educated in order to demand that their rights be respected and to organize to raise their standard of living.  For this reason, the Mexican government is attempting to shut down all of the normales rurales by slashing their budgets, doing away with the boarding schools (making it nearly impossible for the schools to teach their desired student base, which is rural, marginalized, isolated, poor students), slashing the incoming class sizes, reducing the number of teaching positions guaranteed to graduates, and eventually shutting down the schools entirely. 

The government's position has forced the normalistas to defend their schools.  The student union frequently negotiates contracts with government officials, and like any union, they use protest to strengthen their hand during these negotiations.  They frequently use highway blockades to force a meeting, as was the case in Guerrero yesterday. 

Photo: EFE
The students were unarmed; the police immediately responded to the protest with high-powered assault rifles.

What follows are translated clips from media reports about the confrontation.  The first two articles are regarding the confrontation itself; the third article provides more background on the situation at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School and what led up to the protest; and the fourth is an update on the wounded, detained, and disappeared, as well as continuing police and military operations against the students.

Police Kill Two Students While Clearing a Highway Blockade

*They were students at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School
*The protesters demand a meeting with Gov. Angel Aguirre
*The students report wounded and disappeared persons

by Sergio Ocampo Arista, La Jornada
translated by Kristin Bricker


Chilpancingo, Gro., December 12. Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, students at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teaching School in Ayotzinapa, died after they were hit by shots fired by federal and state police, as well as agents from the state attorney general's office, during a violent [police operation to] clear a group of students from that school who were blocking the Mexico-Acapulco Sun Freeway and a federal highway near the city of Chilpancingo.

At about 11:45am on Monday, about 500 formalists arrived in buses, supported by 26 indigenous people from the Peasant Organization of the Tecoanapa Municipality, and another 20 from the organization Xanii Tsavvi ("Mixtec Dream"), and closed the lanes of the aforementioned highways.

Their main demand is a meeting with Governor Angel Aguirre Rivero, whom they accuse of standing them up four times.  They also ask that classes be reinitiated in the school.  They have been suspended since November 2 because the teachers "are trying to impose" Eugenio Hernández García as school director.  The students say he is a repressor. 

Other demands are an increase in the class size from 140 to 170 students for the 2011-2012 freshman class and that the potential students who have a average of 7 points [on a scale of 1-10] be permitted to take the admission exam.

The blockade had barely begun when at least 300 officers with the federal and state police, with the latter led by Guerrero's undersecretary of Security, General Ramón Arreola Ibarría.  Later, agents from the attorney general's office arrived.

Workers from the Servicio Centro Comercial gas station recounted that just minutes after noon, the federal agents attempted to clear the formalists, who repelled the police by throwing stones, bottle rockets, and molotov cocktails.

At that point, in the gas station, some of the students from Ayotzinapa set fire to a gas pump, and that was when the federal agents shot into the air. [Translator's note: the students deny that they set fire to the gas station, see below.]

Dozens of state police, led by Gen. Arreola, were positioned about 50 meters away, on the bridge over Huacapa River near the Liverpool department store.

Several of the police were dressed in plainclothes.  "Let's go, cabrones!" yelled the undersecretary of Security to incite his officers to confront the formalists.  Several agents fired their guns.

[...]

The students were attacked on two flanks, from the north and the south, from both sides of the Sun Freeway, and from the Huacapa River bridge.

One group of students attempted to take cover in one of the busses, and another attempted to repel the police with bottle rockets and stones, but they didn't succeed.

On the contrary, the gunfire intensified.  The bus windows were shattered and the side panels were pocked with bullet holes.

Astonished and nervous, drivers of cars, busses, and trucks who witnessed the indecent from both lanes, fled to protect themselves from the gunfire.

The driver of a truck with license plate number 249-DC-5 was grazed in the face by a bullet, and an elderly man who took refuge in the truck was detained by police.  His whereabouts remain unknown.

Police also detained Eric Escobar, a reporter with the Chilpancingo weekly Trinchera, whom they beat in the face and body and then later released.

At 12:10pm the gunfire intensified, and that is when student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús was killed.

Jorge Alexis Herrera was shot down at about the same time.  Their classmates, thinking that they were only injured, tried to get them onto a bus to protect them, but when they realized that they were dead they decided to leave them on the ground.

The gunfire continued for about 20 minutes from both lanes.  The police, guns in hand, chased the students, who threw stones at the agents.

Several students took refuse in the hills located on both sides of the highway and from there they moved to their school.  Others headed towards the town of Petaquillas, located about five kilometers from the highway blockade.

Some fled towards the municipality of Tierra Colorada, located about 45 kilometers away.  According to the students, two of their classmates were injured.

On the ground there remained stones, pipes, molotov cocktails, and dozens of bullet shells from weapons of the calibers that police use.

The shooting ended at about 12:35pm.  Minutes later, three military vehicles arrived.  They stayed for about a half an hour and then headed for the town of Petaquillas.

[…]

At 2:35pm the highway was reopened in both directions.  The persecution of the students didn't cease.  The police searched the hills for formalists until after 4pm.

Herrera Pino was from Atoyac de Alvarez, Guerrero, and Echeverría de Jesús was from Tixtla, Guerrero.  Near their bodies were 7.62 caliber shells for a G-3 rifle.

[…]


We Were Completely Unarmed, Say the Normalistas
El Universal
translated by Kristin Bricker

El Universal's images from the confrontation: http://www.eluniversaltv.com.mx/detalle.php?d=27281

Rural teaching students who participated in the confrontation yesterday with police in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, say that they were unarmed and that they didn't even have bottle rockets.  They blame the state agents for having initiated the aggression with gunfire, which led to the dead of two students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teaching School in Ayotzinapa.

The students, represented by student Jersey Peñaloza, said that they were never at the level of the police because of the weapons the police carried.  They said their intention was only to protest and to demand a meeting with Gov. Angel Aguirre Rivero.

He added that according to a preliminary list from the State Attorney General's Office, nine people were detained following the confrontation, although Peñaloza says that at least another 15 students are disappeared, and it is not known if they were detained.

"We demand that this crime that has been committed against our classmates does not remain in impunity, and that those responsible be punished.  They know who acted, there are videos that show that it was them (the police) who initiated the aggression, the unarmed students sought refuge," he pointed out.

Peñaloza stated that the agents kept shooting at them, and that the students only defended themselves with sticks and stones.

Regarding the fire in the gas station, the students said that it was the police who retreated to the gas station and set it on fire, and then later blamed the students.

[…]

"We Now Have the Green Light," Said Police Before Shooting
by Rogelio Velázquez, Contralinea
translated by Kristin Bricker

December 13, 2011

Students from the rural teaching school in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, demanded negotiations with the governor and recognition of their demands.  The blocked the Sun Freeway as a form of pressure.  The police operation's toll: two students murdered, at least five injured with gunshots, and 18 detained. "It was the Federal Police who shot at us; many of us fled for the hills and even there they pursued us with helicopters," they said in an interview.

This past December 12 at about 11am, students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teaching School in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, began to block traffic on the Sun Freeway, which connects Mexico City to Acapulco.  Their demands were clear: a meeting with the state government and compliance with a verbal agreement made my Governor Angel Heladio Aguirre Rivero to increase the incoming class size from 140 to 170 students and to grant 30 teaching positions to the school's graduates.

The operation was led by Federal Police, who were accompanied by Ministerial Police [from the Attorney General's office], and state police.

"There were about 400 of us--students and people from social organizations.  We blocked the freeway because the governor only says 'yes,' but he won't sign our demands.  It has to be signed before the year ends," one of the students who participated in the protest told Contralinea.  He is in hiding in Chilpancingo.

"Special Forces from the Federal Police arrived to clear our blockade.  We were dialoguing with them.  Then one of the police made a phone call--we don't know to whom--and when he hung up, they said that they had the green light to do whatever they wanted."

"That was when the Federal Police began to shoot tear gas at us.  Some of us ran.  Immediately afterwards they began to shoot us point-blank.  They didn't care that there were children and women with us.  The shooting continued, and all of us ran in different directions."

The bodies of two students, Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino, 22, and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, 21, were hit by bullets and fell to the highway.  The young men were students at the rural teaching school.

"Afterwards, they chased is in vehicles and on foot while they shot at us.  Some of us who hid in the hills were chased by helicopters.  We can't communicate with our classmates because the cell phones aren't working," he commented, alleging that the lines were cut.  "They're still looking for us."

Bertoldo Martínez, president of the Coalition of Democratic Organizations of the State of Guerrero explains that the protest also included the demand that missing environmentalists Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista, both disappeared since December 6 as they were headed from Chilpancingo to Mexico City, be presented alive. [Translator's note: Alarcón and Bautista were members of poet Javier Sicilia's anti-drug war Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), and were kidnapped on their way to MPJD meetings.]

The human rights defender says that the Guerrero government is responsible for what is happening: "What is happening in the state is grave and shameful.  These sorts of situations don't get solved.  For example, the supposed suicide of Joel Santana Villa was a murder perpetrated by the State," he commented, referring to the death of an environmentalist who was imprisoned in the Iguala prison since last June.  His death occurred this past December 2 inside the prison.

Students from the Federation of Peasant Socialist Students of Mexico (FECSM) commented in a press conference--which took place in the offices of Local 9 of the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE)--that they still don't know the whereabouts of the detained (about 24) and they blame Gov. Angel Aguirre, Federal Police, State Police, and the Mexican military for the murder of the formalists.

"The attack occurred during a state of calm.  This was a normal protest, just like the ones we always do.  Now, after this, there's going to be movement," which means that they will take more forceful actions and that there will be more mobilizations.  "A few months ago the governor came to the school to talk with us, but he didn't want to sign anything.  His predecessor, ex-governor Zeferino Torreblanca, starved us, and this governor kills us."

Moreover, they stated that the rural teaching school is besieged by the Mexican military: approximately 14 military vehicles surround the school.  About twenty of their classmates are inside.  They fear that the school will be taking over by the armed forces in the next few hours.

They also note that the Secretary of Education in Guerrero has not responded to their demands.  They directly blame [President] Felipe Calderón for the strategy of war that is being carried out and for neoliberal policies that have deteriorated education in the country.

In a communiqué, the Interior Ministry said that it is working in coordination with Guerrero authorities to investigate the incident and to hold responsible those who were responsible for the homicides.  Meanwhile, the Federal Attorney General's Office opened criminal investigation PGR/GRO/CHI/CASO/387/2011 for any federal crimes that resulted from the incident.

José Ramón Salinas, spokesman for the Federal Police, stated that the Federal Police had not participated in the operation; however, Ramón Arreola Ibarra, undersecretary of Police Control for the state of Guerrero, contradicted him and commented that the Federal Police broke up the protest.

The government of Guerrero made a statement on its web site.  It explained that the governor had met with the students on various occasions and that the majority of their demands had been resolved.  Those that had not been resolved, "is because [the government] didn't have the ability to resolve them immediately."  Likewise, the statement reiterated the government's willingness to resolve the problems and demands from diverse sectors of society, respecting free expression of ideas and protest.

In response, the students stated: "We don't believe them.  How is it possible that they want a dialogue while they are preparing to close down the school by force? They want to close it because inside we practice self-government."

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), initiated a formal complaint with case number CGCP/309/11 regarding the aggression against the students.  In a communiqué it mentioned that it would provide accompaniment, legal support, psychological support, and medical attention if it is required to the victims' families.  Moreover, it declared the incident to be "lamentable and deplorable, and it should not, under any circumstance, remain in impunity."

Normalista Injured in Yesterday's Police Operation is in Grave Condition; 24 Detainees Are Freed
by Sergio Ocampo and Hértor Briseño, La Jornada
translated by Kristin Bricker

Several of the detainees say they were tortured in police custody


Chilpancingo, Gro. The Student Society of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School stated that student José David Espíritu, who was injured yesterday as police cleared a highway blockade in the capital city carried out by students, has been operated on and his condition is listed as grave.

Iván Alberto Alvarez Adame and Rubén Eduviges Cuautololo were also injured during the operation.  Today the State Attorney General's Office released 24 students who had been detained.

Of those, 11 are from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School, five are from the Autonomous University of Guerrero's Economics Department, four are from Chilpancingo Tech, and four are peasants from the Coyuca de Benítez municipality in the Costa Grande region of Guerrero.

Manuel Olivares of the Guerrero Human Rights Network, denounced that student Gerardo Torres Pérez, whom the state attorney general's office is accusing of having shot an AK-47, told non-governmental organizations that visited him that he was brutally tortured into stating that he fired a weapon.

The normalista said that the police took him to an area near the municipality of Zumpango de Neri, located about 10 kilometers from the capital, where they took him out of the vehicle in a parcel of land and made him fire the weapon four times.

Olivares also said that the whereabouts of 13 people who came to support the students are unknown.  The missing are from the municipalities of Ayutla de los Libres and Tecoanapa.

At 1pm there will be a protest march in the capital.  The central demand is the ouster of the Chilpancingo government and the removal of governor Angel Aguirre's cabinet.

People Are Still Being Detained

Jersey Peñaloza, representing the normalistas, that hours after "the massacre" teachers and people uninvolved with the protest were still being detained.  Some escaped and have taken cover in the hills.

[…]

Another student said that some of the detained have said that they were tortured.

[…]
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