Ayotzinapa two years on: Mexican activists are exhausted, angry and united

To mark the second anniversary of the massacre, New Internationalist was on the ground in Mexico City, speaking with protesters demanding justice. Ryan Mallett-Outtrim reports in this photo essay.

Mexico City on the second anniversary of the Ayotzinapa massacre. by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

On the second anniversary of one of Mexico’s most brutal and mysterious mass murders in recent memory, activists hit the street once again in the country’s capital.

Tens of thousands of protesters blocked Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, Paseo de la Reforma, for hours on Monday 26 September, demanding federal authorities reopen the case of the Ayotzinapa 43.

The 43 were a group of student teachers who disappeared in the rural town of Iguala, Guerrero in 2014, while en route to a protest. Federal authorities say the 43 were detained by local police, before being handed over to a drug gang and massacred.

Later, federal authorities said they recovered the incinerated remains of the students at a nearby garbage dump, and declared the case closed. Only a small handful of officials faced criminal charges related to the massacre, including the former mayor of Iguala.

The families of the disappeared and their supporters, however, have long disputed the official story. They claim that the official story covers up alleged involvement of state and federal authorities in the massacre.

There have also been controversial allegations that military forces stationed in the area were at least partially aware of the killings as they were occurring, but did nothing to help the students. The official narrative was also contradicted by an independent forensic investigation in early 2015, which alleged that the incinerated remains found by Mexican authorities likely didn’t belong to the missing student teachers.

Since then, for many activists the Ayotzinapa 43 case has become a symbol of some of the most serious disappointments of the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto: including the failure to stamp out state corruption, drug crime, police brutality and the country’s deeply engrained culture of impunity.

For many activists the Ayotzinapa 43 case has become a symbol of some of the most serious disappointments of the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto

To mark the two year anniversary of the massacre, New Internationalist was on the ground in Mexico City, speaking with protesters who were taking to the streets yet again to demand justice for the Ayotzinapa 43.

Many expressed frustration with the lack of any deep police reforms since the disappearances, while others said they had become exhausted from two years of constant campaigning. Some people were angry, others in despair. Many said that even if the campaign has so far failed to deliver justice, it’s at least galvanised a vast coalition of social movements nationwide.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

The march began at the Angel of Independence, a key landmark on the Paseo de la Reforma. As protesters gathered at mid-afternoon, artists including Gabriel Marcotela painted dozens of faces on the road near the monument.

‘We’re … trying to represent not only the 43, but the thousands of other disappeared people all over the country,’ Marcotela said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Meanwhile, a group of priests from the Churches for Peace movement held a mass near the monument, calling for a new investigation.

‘We still don’t even know what really happened to them … even after all the investigations. So we’re here to accompany the parents of the Ayotzinapa 43, to once again highlight this state crime,’ the priest leading the mass said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

As the march began, Andrea from the Hijar Collective (not pictured) said she felt the movement had already gained a major victory: bringing activists from across Mexico together.

‘At least there’s more visibility now. People know what’s happening, and there’s more co-operation between social movements, because people understand we need to fight together,’ she said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Another protester, Julia Pelaugeto, told NI that protesters had to continue pressuring the government. Dressed in a mock military uniform and brandishing a blood stained flag, Pelaugeto said she remained convinced the government was still hiding details of the Ayotzinapa 43 case.

‘We still don’t have justice. So, I’m dressed like this to show that this is a case of state terrorism,’ she said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Pelaugeto wasn’t alone. The placard on the left reads: ‘Ayotzinapa: A State Crime’. The flag on the right: ‘Pena, get out,’ referring to President Pena Nieto.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

This sign reads:‘What rule of law? Justice, Ayotzinapa!’

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Another protester, Adair from the Jose Marti Cultural Centre (L), said he was protesting out of ‘disgust’ with the lack of political change. He dressed as a riot police officer with a monstrous face mask, and oversized fake gun.

‘We’re all totally tired, what more can be said? Now, we’re just sick of it all,’ he said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Family members of the Ayotzinapa 43 carried signs with the faces of their murdered loved ones, and the words, ‘A life taken away’.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

‘After all this time, I don’t even know what to say any more,’ said activist Susana Maria Gonzalez (not pictured).

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Ana Cristina, from the folk band Mixteca, said she was likewise frustrated, but wouldn’t stop protesting.

‘It’s been two years, and they haven’t done anything at all. Nothing!’ She said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

The banner on the left reads: ‘Shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, we are all Ayotzinapa.’ The one on the right reads, ‘The fascist government kills student teachers. The phony government kills students.’

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

Like many others at the march, protester Jose Molina said he had little faith left that the public will ever find out what happened to the Ayotzinapa 43. However, he said it was in his blood to protest injustice, even if it’s a hopeless cause.

‘It’s a contradiction to call oneself a Mexican, but not a revolutionary,’ he said.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

This couple was met with cheers when they roared down Paseo de la Reforma, a normally traffic clogged road closed due to the protest. The woman’s sign features a sketch of Pena Nieto saying the words, ‘I don’t give a fuck about the 1968 (Tlatelolco massacre), or Ayotzinapa.’ The case of the Ayotzinapa 43 is often compared to the infamous Tlatelolco massacre, when police opened fire on protesting students in 1968. The massacre left at least 300 people dead.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

The march ended in the early evening at Mexico City’s Zocalo. The Zocalo is one of the world’s largest city squares, and was packed shoulder to shoulder with protesters.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

The sign on the left reads: ‘They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.’ The one on the right: ‘Tear out the violence at the root.’

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

‘Ayotzinapa lives,’ the sign declares.

By the time the protest reached the Zocalo, around 2,500 police had been deployed. There were no reports of clashes in Mexico City, though at least seven people were detained during a similar rally in Guerrero state a day earlier.

Messages of solidarity also flooded in from across Mexico and abroad. From the southern state of Chiapas, the leftist Zapatista movement issued a statement condemning what it called ‘impunity’ for government officials allegedly complicit in the massacre.

'They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds'

‘On top of lies, deceit, and impunity, the bad government heaps abuses and injustices against those who have shown solidarity with and support for the struggle of the families and [comrades] of the 43,’ they said.

Internationally, solidarity rallies took place in a handful of US cities. In New York, Black Lives Matter protesters joined a march to the Mexican consulate, chanting ‘brown lives matter’.

Back in Mexico, Ayotzinapa 43 remains an open case for many activists, who say the disappearances are the tip of the iceberg of Mexico’s human rights crisis.

According to official figures, just under 30,000 people are missing nationwide, with many suspected of being disappeared by criminal gangs or corrupt police. However, independent estimates suggest as many as 300,000 Mexicans could be disappeared. That’s equal to one in every 400 people across the country.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim is an independent Australian journalist based out of Puebla, Mexico. More of his work can be found at dissentsansfrontieres.com.