Ayotzinapa: Past and Present
Residents cast their shadows on a mural painted by students to demand the government justice for the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Resistance to police terror and to government plans to close the Raúl Isidro Burgos college at Ayotzinapa is part of a long history of student activism.
The Ayotzinapa teacher-training college near the town of Tixtla, Guerrero, is now internationally known as the object of an attack in which local police killed six, wounded 25, and forcibly disappeared 43 of its students on September 26-27, 2014.
One of 17 teacher-training schools that still exist in Mexico, Ayotzinapa is a legacy of the Mexican Revolution. Beginning in the 1920s, more than twice the number of schools of this type were created explicitly for the children of campesinos in an effort to raise literacy rates and open up the country’s education system to the rural poor.
Classes began in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1933 that the construction of the school building — erected on 2 hectares of land that was part of the old Ayotzinapa hacienda — actually started.
Like other rural teacher-training colleges, Ayotzinapa was established as a boarding school, where the students live and work. Since the early days, students have not only studied to become elementary school teachers, but have also become involved in efforts to deal with poverty and social problems in the surrounding rural areas. They are encouraged to engage in critical thinking and see themselves as agents of social change. The students also participate in the administration of the school.
Ayotzinapa students are not only responsible for their studies, but also for raising corn, sorghum, and vegetables, and tending to livestock and chickens. They frequently travel to surrounding communities to help in the fields and give workshops in literacy and basic education to help lift people out of poverty.
Ayotzinapa students are not only responsible for their studies, but also for raising corn, sorghum, and vegetables, and tending to livestock and chickens.
The rural teacher colleges are known as strongholds of leftist politics and this is particularly true in the case of Ayotzinapa. Two of the school’s most famous alumni are Lucio Cabanas and Genaro Vazquez, leading figures in guerrilla movements that arose in Guerrero state in the late 1960s. Their images, along with that of Che Guevara, now adorn the walls of the school.
Students at the teacher-training schools are also part of one of the oldest student organizations in the country: the Federation of Rural Socialist Students of Mexico (FECSM). Founded in 1935, it has played a key role in the survival of the schools, which have been consistently harassed by government authorities.
The number of boarding schools in the country were drastically reduced during the presidency of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, when the Guerrero state government was controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) party.
Former PRI members became Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidates, and Zeferino Torreblanca (PRD), took office as governor of Guerrero in 2005. He stated on several occasions that he did not favor the type of education given at the teacher-training schools and took steps to cut funding and reduce the number of students at Ayotzinapa. In September of 2007, he called out the police to repress students protesting against his measures to do away with their school.
Torreblanca’s policies were continued by the next PRD governor, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, who continued to cut funding for the teacher college. For the 2014 school period, the budget was just over 49 million pesos, the lowest in the last four years. Aguirre is frequently accused by student protestors of being responsible for the recent massacre of Ayotzinapa students in September of 2014, and also for the police murders of two students on December 12, 2012.
Due to funding cuts the building is physically run down with broken windows and holes in the walls and floors. The students themselves must engage in fundraising simply to have enough to eat and travel to other parts of the state to engage in fieldwork. Lacking in transportation, they have adopted the practice of requesting donations at public events and commandeering buses to get where they need to go.
The Ayotzinapa students killed, wounded and disappeared by police last September 26-27 had traveled to Iguala to raise funds and get buses they would need to travel to Mexico City for the annual march commemorating the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre on October 2. The Ayotzinapa massacre is now considered by many as the worst crime of state committed in Mexico since Tlatelolco.
But the story doesn’t stop there. The struggle for justice being led by Ayotzinapa students and family members is creating a crisis for local, state and federal officials with far-reaching implications.