Accusations that police killed 43 students in Iguala have unleashed protests throughout Mexico. Should the Mexican government continue delaying an in-depth investigation into the massacre, including the arrest of officials that have mysteriously disappeared, these demonstrations will certainly continue.
One group in particular that the government should not want to alienate are the Zapatistas, which carried out a non-violent protest demanding the punishment of the massacre’s culprits this past Wednesday. In the 1990s, the Zapatistas became a global household name that continues to enjoy international support today, and the Mexican government would be ill-advised get on their wrong side.
The massacre of Iguala
The incident that became known as themassacre of Igualaoccurred on September 26th, when a number of students from the Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa that were travelling via bus were fired upon by a group of police officers. While details are still emerging, it appears that the police officers involved were subordinates of the Guerreros Unidos cartel.
Furthermore, recounts by survivors and confessions of police officers involved explain in detail the brutal way in which several students were taken to a mountain by Pueblo Viejo, a town in the state of Guerrero, to be executed. A total of 43 students are missing. As a result, authorities have been combing the area. So far, a number of pits have been found with the charred remains of some 28 individuals, though so far it is unclear if the bodies are those of the missing students.
The massacre has prompted proteststhroughout Mexico, particularly in the state of Guerrero and Mexico City. The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), popularly known as the Zapatistas, has joined the demonstrations.
The Zapatista movement, made up of indigenous Mexicans, gained national and worldwide prominence in 1994 when they staged a series of protests demanding greater autonomy. The EZLN’s reliance on non-violent initiatives and the eloquence of its long-time leader,sub-comandanteMarcos, helped the group garner international support. To this day, scholarly analyses highlight the Zapatista movement as an example of a successful, non-violent, indigenous initiative.
While the Zapatistas are not as active nowadays as they were in the 90s, they still carry out significant activities. For example, in June, President Enrique Peña Nieto visited Madrid, during the trip, he gave a presentation at the Teatro Real as part of an investment forum. Prior to his speech, two Zapatista sympathizers pulled out signs and began yelling that the Mexican government must pull out paramilitary groups from Chiapas. The Mexican head of state minimized the severity of the incident, declaring that it demonstrated the plurality of his country.
While the Madrid incident was generally low-key, a more tragic incident that prompted a new wave of Zapatista protests was the May 2nd assassination of Jose Luis “Galeano” Solís López, a Zapatista schoolteacher. His death was caused by a paramilitary group called the Central Independiente de Obreros Agricolas y Campesinos Histórica.
“Galiano’s” murder sparked outrage not only domestically but internationally as well. A May 25th op-ed in theMexican dailyJornadamemorably declares that the political class “in Mexico accumulates hate towards the Zapatistas. It does not forget that the EZLN brought to light its shortcomings, including its mediocrity, its betrayal to the revolution’s principles … and selling the country to transnational companies.” Additionally, protests by pro-Zapatista groups occurred not only in Mexico but also in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Spain and the U.S., all demanding justice for the late “Galiano.”
In other words, the Zapatistas continue to have a strong record of civic activism, as well as a general distrust of the country’s government.
The EZLN and Iguala
As for the Massacre of Iguala, this past Tuesday October 7th, the EZLN, now led bysub comandanteMoisés, called for a mass protest in San Cristobal de las Casas (in Chiapas) to showcase support for the missing students. In a communiqué, Moisés declared that the students “are not alone, their pain is also our pain, your dignified rage is ours also.”
The silent, non-violent demonstration took place on Wednesday, October 8th. According to reports, hundreds of Zapatistas walked throughout San Cristobal, including the town’s cathedral.
In recent days, there have been a plethora of commentaries about how the massacre of Iguala will affect the Peña Nieto presidency. These analyses understandably focus on how political parties will react to the president’s decisions regarding the punishment of politicians (i.e. Iguala’s mayor José Luis Abarca) that may have ordered the students’ murders as well as the police officers that carried them out. However, not much has been written about the recent actions taken by the Zapatistas; this is a mistake as the group carries a gravitas that should not be overlooked.
Throughout the 90s and as recently as the aftermath of “Galeano’s” murder, the EZLN has proven to be highly successful at accomplishing its goals and making an international splash. The Mexican government would be ill-advised to not take protests and statements by the Zapatistas seriously.