Paint remover: Mexico activists attempt to drone out beleaguered president
The Rexiste collective, a Mexican anti-government movement, is using a graffiti-spraying drone to challenge the state over the disappearance of 43 students
Droncita, billed as Mexico’s first graffiti drone, prepares to deface a picture of the country’s embattled president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Photograph: Droncita Rexiste
Although opponents of Enrique Peña Nieto are lacking in neither number nor novel protest strategies, his latest critic has her own special way of expressing disdain for Mexico’s embattled president.
Rather than taking to the streets, she hovers over them; rather than bellowing her grievances, she levels a canister of spray-paint at a portrait of Peña Nieto and disgorges its contents until his head is lost in a blood-red blur.
One of the collective’s works adapts a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince to highlight the disappearance of the 43 students who vanished last year. It reads: ‘One day I saw the sun set 43 times’. Photograph: Rexiste
Billed as Mexico’s first graffiti-artist drone, Droncita (Dronette) is the newest recruit to the protest movement that erupted in the country after Peña Nieto was elected in 2012, and which has swelled in the wake of the unsolved disappearance last year of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college.
The case has become a symbol of the culture of narco-violence, corruption and impunity in a country where, according to the UN, more than 150,000 people were killed between December 2006 and August this year. At least 26,000 people are also estimated to have gone missing since 2007 – many as a result of enforced disappearances.
Droncita’s comrades in the .
In it, footage of Droncita spraying over the presidential countenance is accompanied by a voiceover in which she addresses both Mexico and its leader, accusing the state and the security forces of involvement in the students’ disappearance.
“This isn’t the country you dreamed of,” she says. “But you already know that. Ayotzinapa was only the beginning of our story – and of his end. You tried to order the truth into its barracks. You tried to fool us. It’s time to change everything.”
Rexiste – whose name is a shunting of the Spanish words for resist and exist – emerged from the #YoSoy132 student movement that sprang up to oppose Peña Nieto’s candidacy and to denounce the broadcasting giant Televisa for trying to “impose” him on the country through biased coverage.
Until the arrival of Droncita, the collective was best known for delivering a very public verdict on Ayotzinapa by daubing Mexico City’s huge central square, the Zócalo, with 30 litres of paint and three enormous, unambiguous words: “Fue el estado” (“It was the state”).
Rexiste is best known for daubing Mexico City’s main square, the Zócalo, with the words ‘It was the state’ – an accusation that the government was complicit in the disappearance of 43 students. Photograph: Eduardo Velasco Vasquez/Rexiste
Despite a fondness for slogans, Rexiste is less keen to label itself. “We’re not a collective of artists or activists,” says the collective, which, naturally, does not possess a spokesperson. “We operate in the public space, we hack political discourse and we do what we do because it’s part of our everyday lives. We exist because we resist.”
Its weapons in the fight against a “military dictatorship that grows amid international silence” are humour, ridicule, art – and now a flying robot.
“Droncita was only born a couple of weeks ago but she’s already deeply loved and her videos have been shared across social networks,” says the collective. “The impact’s been surprising and we think it reflects the need to renew the ways in which we get involved in the public debate; protests and marches are necessary but they are not enough.”
Rexiste also looks beyond Mexico’s borders. This stencil-sticker was left on the Israeli embassy in Mexico to commemorate the Palestinians killed during an Israeli attack. Photograph: Rexiste
Rexiste hope to use Droncita to write graffiti and are raising funds to pay for the research and development. Once they’ve figured out how to do it, they plan to share the hardware and software plans so that anyone can build their own version of Droncita.
In the meantime, their “little sister” has helped them open up a new front in the struggle against the state.
“Droncita has come from the future to remind us that we can change everything,” says Rexiste. “She gives us another perspective and allows us to see ourselves as we are even if we can’t see it: as big and as organised. The aim is to defend life and dignity. It’s a fight against authoritarianism.”
The Mexican government has rejected criticism of its handling of the Ayotzinapa case, noting that 111 people have been arrested in connection with the disappearances, insisting it is fully committed to finding “the truth in this case,[and] to block[ing] impunity, corruption and crime”, and pointing out that it requested technical assistance from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The government has said it believes the students were killed after a drug gang working with corrupt local police officers mistook them for members of a rival gang. But the panel of independent experts assembled by the IACHR rejected that version of events last month, citing scientific inconsistencies and doubts over evidence, and raising the possibility that state security forces – including the army – may have been involved.
This stencil plays on the Spanish word urna, which means both ballot box and funeral urn. According to Rexiste, ‘Death is all that’s represented in this country’s ballot boxes.’ Photograph: Rexiste
The Mexican army has denied the allegations but refused to allow the experts to question troops.
At the end of a visit to Mexico last week, a senior UN official painted a desperate picture of the country’s justice system and civil society, noting that 98% of all criminal cases were unsolved. “No one in Mexico can feel safe,” said the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein. “They’re not enjoying the protection of the law.”
Zeid said he had urged the Mexican authorities – including the president – to heed the findings and recommendations of the IACHR.
“I don’t think that Mexico, or we in the human rights community, can really rest until we find out what happened to [the students],” he said, “and until there is justice and accountability for whatever may have happened to them.”