An encounter with two Mexicans who bear witness to the lives and passion of 43 disappeared education students made me think of the words of Jesus about Herod—the Roman Empire’s puppet king—to those who warned him against travelling on to Jerusalem. Jesus responded that he would continue teaching and healing until going to Jerusalem: “Go tell that fox!”
How do contemporary leaders react to such words? Sadly, the story of the disappeared students gives us a clue about what the powerful will do to protect themselves.
The mother of a missing student and one of his classmates were part of the Ayotzinapa to Ottawa caravan. By the time I met them in Toronto on April 24, they had already been in Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City, and would go on to visit the Six Nations reserve, Ottawa and then Toronto again. This one of three simultaneous delegations: others are in Europe and the United States.
Hilda Legideño Vargas (top right) is the mother of 20-year-old Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, one of the missing students. She lives in Tixtla, Guerrero (north of Acapulco and east of Chilpancingo, the state capital). The municipality of Tixtla includes the community of Ayotzinapa, where the Raul Isidro Burgos rural normal school is located.
Jorge Luis Clemente Balbuena (right) is a third-year student in Ayotzinapa. He is from the community of Capulín Chocolate, municipality de Marquelia (east of Acapulco in the “Costa Chica” region).
What stayed with me days later was less what they said but how they said it. While it was evident that pain, anger and a fervent desire for change drove them, they spoke of what they did, not what they knew or thought. There was no editing for middle-class sensibilities, no attempt to interpret reality for a Canadian audience. Just the facts. And responsibility to comprehend their words was up to the listener.
Hilda spoke of her search for her son, and frustration with refusal by federal and state authorities to investigate. Officially, the case is closed, and the subject of many conflicting theories. “We have no trust in the Mexican government,” she said.
“We go abroad to put pressure on the Mexican government. Here in Canada, we ask your government to intervene with the Mexican government.” Later, Hilda was more specific: Canada should send a Parliamentary delegation to conduct its own investigation. (On April 26, Hilda, Jorge and a lawyer from the Tlachinollan human rights centre would speak to the House of Commons human rights subcommittee.)
Jorge spoke of his school, one in a network of rural teachers training colleges created in the years after the Mexican Revolution a century ago. “The government fears us. Our schools turn out teachers with a commitment to society, to rural people, to socially-just education, to people who have fewer opportunities.”
He added: “In 1968, President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz dismantled half of the rural normal schools. They were turned into high schools, monasteries or even military barracks. Those that continue maintain themselves. We do not allow any authority to tell us what to do. We commit ourselves to a self-sustaining model. We adapt the curriculum to our way of life. The vision is to supply teachers to a society that needs them: all free. That they continue is because we care for them. Because of our cohesion, we are big problem for the government.”
Politicians don’t solve our problems
I asked him about the Guerrero state elections that are scheduled for June 7. “Una porquería,” exclaimed Jorge. (I usually translate that as “pigsty;” it certainly implies filth.) “A lot of people say politicians don’t solve our problems. People in many municipalities don’t want the elections to go forward. Teachers and students will not allow their communities to be trampled.”
Raul Burbano of Common Frontiers asked about different concepts of development and about Canadian investment in Guerrero (where Goldcorp operates the large Los Filos gold mine). Jorge responded: “Destruction, eviction, death, disappearances, the disappearance of education itself. All who oppose the sale of land are attacked and disappeared.”
These presentations were refreshing to me. They reminded me of something the late Chilean Jesuit Ronaldo Muñoz said at a conference on liberation theology in Vancouver in 1986: “The poor have seized the microphones.”
For the first time in decades, the Mexican state has lost control of the public agenda. People are talking about 23,000 disappearances, tens of thousands of murders, and dozens of mass graves.
Protests are continuous now. In Mexico and far beyond, state repression is made visible and, as Luis Hernández Navarro, opinions editor at La Jornada newspaper, points out: “forced disappearances are at the centre of political attention in a way that could not be imagined a short time ago.”
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