It appears that a mass grave found near Iguala, Guerrero, over the weekend which is said to contain up to 34 bodies, contains the remains of at least some of the 43 students who were kidnapped by police on Friday.
The students were rural youth studying to become teachers. Their student association is known to be one of the most organized and combative in the country. They were brothers, sons, and friends, and some of them were fathers. They were tortured, dismembered and burned before being buried.
This isn’t the first grave of it’s kind to be dug in Mexico, far from it.
There have been hundreds of clandestine mass graves dug and filled with corpses since Felipe Calderón declared the war on drugs in December, 2006. The discovery of some of these graves garnered international attention, while others went under the radar almost completely. There’s no solid, reliable count of bodies, or of graves. Then there are those which have yet to be discovered. Migrant activists go so far as to call Mexico a giant cemetary, claiming that as many as 120,000 migrants could be secretly buried across the country.
The US media is struggling to tell the story of the bad Guerrero police who passed detained students off to crime gangs. The first thing we can do to break the silence about what is happening in Mexico is call things by their name.
The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.
Parts of Mexico are deeply paramilitarized, a process which was accelerated and fortified by the Merida Initiative as well as internationally sponsored police professionalization programs.
I’m a grad student in Mexico, and in talking with my peers over the past couple days, the fear and the rage is tangible. On Wednesday students around the country will bravely march against this barbarity, this terror at the hands of the state. The worst thing we can do is to be silent about this.
The disappearance of 57 students on Friday last week by municipal police in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, is in my view easily one of the most scandalous events that has taken place in Mexico over the past seven years. It’s so awful it’s hard to think about.
What started out as a student protest on Friday turned ugly when cops opened fire multiple times, killing six people and wounding 25. They then detained 57, and when I say “detained” I mean kidnapped. Anarchists denounce police kidnappings all the time at protests, well, this case is a worst case scenario as far as these things go. Fourteen of students have since been returned to safety. That means there are still 43 missing students, all young folks from a rural area in Guerrero state who were in a teacher training program. They are no longer officially in police custody, if they’re still alive they are likely to be in the hands of drug cartels (which are inseparable from the police).
According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Every hour that goes by and we don’t find them, the possibilities that we will find them alive get smaller,” said Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer for a local human rights group. Mr. Rosales said hopes had faded that the missing students have been hiding at the homes of friends following the protests. “The most common hypothesis is that they are in the power of organized crime groups that work with Iguala’s municipal police, which is very penetrated by organized crime,” he said.
Twenty two cops have since been arrested in connection with killings. But that’s a weak, media friendly band-aid solution, and does nothing to bring back the 43 missing students.
The President of Mexico cancelled a visit to the state that had been planned for the weekend, blaming weather. Yeah, right. In terms of the situation with the students, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the state government had to take responsibility for the violence in the region as it was not the job of the federal authorities.
Mr. President, 43 disappeared students, grabbed by cops and handed off to drug gangs/cartels/paramilitary groups is everybody’s business.
This is a national fucking emergency, and a tragic disgrace. It is taking place 46 years after Mexican pigs massacred at least 36 students at Tlatelolco in the lead up to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
There’s thousands of students throughout the country protesting in the streets today, acts which in this context we must understand as being incredibly brazen and brave. All power to the people in the streets.
#BringBackLosNormalistas #El2deoctubrenoseolvide #FTP
Originally posted on the Media Co-op.
It’s been a busy time, but I thought I’d write up a short update. I am less than 10 days away from putting the last touches on the manuscript for Drug War Capitalism before it goes to the printer. Right now myself and the lovely folks at AK Press are in the excruciatingly tedious and yet crucially important proofing stage. The book will be printed by November, and I’ll do the first launch at the Howard Zinn Memorial Bookfair in San Francisco. After that I plan to tour with the book on the west coast, in December I’ll visit the east coast, and in January, Arizona and south Texas. If you have tips or ideas for the tour you can email me at (all together) dawn paley at gmail dot com.
A couple days ago I did a short interview with teleSUR English about the new Global Commission report on drugs, folks might be interested in checking that out, which you can do here. Below, a short excerpt from the article:
“We should use a new metric to understand the success of Plan Colombia, one that examines how it benefits transnational capital,” Paley told teleSUR English. “If we were to examine the results of Plan Colombia based on how it deepened neoliberalism in Colombia, we would have to recognize that it was a success. This was exactly what inspired the Merida Initiative in Mexico and other, similar drug war policies elsewhere.”
On top of finishing the book and so on I also recently started a PhD program in Mexico, during which I plan to work on a second book that deals with clandestine mass graves and exhumation in Mexico from 2007 to present. But more on that another time!
Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and patience,
I did this review recently for Upside Down World.
Todd Miller. Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. City Lights Books, 2013.
These are wild times to be a border cop. They have big salaries, new toys, and all kinds of powers to roam the country racially profiling people, and detaining those without proof that they crossed the border legally. An increasing number of agents are returned combat vets who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, who bring warlike attitudes to their work in the U.S. But this (mostly) boy’s club is not without its drawbacks: it is also a place permeated by a culture of militaristic racism where having a different opinion can get you blacklisted.
Border Patrol Nation, Todd Miller’s first book, is an in-depth look at how border enforcement has expanded drastically following 9-11. Since then, he reports, the government has spent $791 billion on Homeland Security, the agency responsible for border control. Miller convincingly argues that the expanding phenomenon of militarized border control is something that should concern all of us. He reports that in 2012, “The $18 billion spent on border and immigration enforcement outdoes all other federal law enforcement bodies combined including the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.” The money is also flowing outside of the U.S., to agents and client states in order to tighten their borders and prevent migration north.
The statistics are staggering. Border Patrol Nation details that prior to 1986, there were rarely more than 2,000 people deported each year. “By the late 1990s, the U.S. government was deporting more than 40,000 people annually, still only a fraction of what we see today. By the early 2010s, Homeland Security was expelling well over 400,000 people per year from the United States.” This drastic increase in deportations has taken place just as a variety of U.S. states, most famously Arizona, but also Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah have passed laws obliging local and state police to enforce immigration law. (more…)
Most of the reporting I did on the recent trip I took to Colombia will be appearing in my forthcoming book, Drug War Capitalism, but here’s a second, short piece from Arauca Department, near the border with Venezuela.
Published in Upside Down World.
FORTUL, COLOMBIA–Holding down an occupation for five months isn’t easy. Doing so in Colombia, even less so. But members of the community of Héctor Alirio Martínez in the municipality of Fortul, near the border with Venezuela, have raised the stakes even higher: they’re occupying land owned by the Ministry of Defense. The 100 hectare terrain now spotted with wood and plastic homes was slated to become a large military base.
Locals say the land originally was purchased by Occidental Petroleum in order to build a large new base to coordinate protection of a new oil pipeline which passes less than a few hundred meters from the lot.
“This land belongs to the Ministry of Defense, it was purchased and sponsored by Oxy, so we as good people from Arauca said that the most viable thing is to take over this plan, and see if the Minister of Defense will give it to us over time, many people needed this land,” said Jhon Carlos Ariza Aguilar, the Vice-President of the community of over 2,000 families. They began the occupation on November 26, 2013.
I met with Jhon and other members of the community on a hot February afternoon, weeks after the community was supposed to have been removed by force. On January 20, the army entered the shack settlement with a tank, and an eviction was scheduled for February 4, but that date came and went with community members in an uneasy calm about what would take place next. (more…)
Hello friends. For the record, my thoughts on events in Venezuela. Published by The Tyee.
In Venezuela, Street Protests Harper Can Get Behind
As the political situation continues to simmer in Venezuela, Canada has been making quiet gestures of support towards the country’s opposition movement.
Since February, the Venezuelan right has taken to the streets, attempting to undermine the democratically elected socialist government.
The street demonstrations came while an initiative of economic sabotage against the government was underway, including the hoarding and smuggling of basic foodstuffs and a smear campaign in local media.
Voices of reason warn that the media is failing to report the truth about the recent eruption of protests in Venezuela. But Ottawa has actively pointed a finger at the government of Nicolás Maduro, expressing alarm at state violence and defending the right to legitimate protest.
Such declarations are eyebrow-raising, considering how Canada treats left-wing opposition movements that employ similar (though far tamer) street tactics than the Venezuelan right. Think back to the mass arrests at the Toronto G-20, or ongoing sweeps of demonstrators under the P-6 law in Montréal.
The swell of support for protests in Ottawa would not be taking place if the Harper government wasn’t interested in regime change in Venezuela. (more…)
A short piece for The Dominion on Canada’s uptick in arms sales to Mexico.
MEXICO CITY—The beginning of 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, but instead of focusing on the ongoing revolutionary work of Indigenous people and their allies in the south of the country, the eyes of Canadians and people around the world were on the state of Michoacán.
In mid-January, thousands of federal troops and police entered the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán and stormed smaller villages, in an attempt to disarm self-defence groups. Local and global media carried striking images of federal forces confronting local people who displayed a variety of weapons, dressed in mismatched shirts, their faces covered with kerchiefs or swatches of fabric.
“These are citizens who have had people from their communities murdered, who have been extorted and who have come out to defend themselves,” said Javier Sicilia, one of Mexico’s leading peace activists, in an interview with The Dominion. “This is a case of civilian defence facing a state that cannot give it that which a state must give its citizens: peace and security.”
The self-defence groups have sprung up across the state of Michoacán in an uprising of organizations composed mostly of farmers and ranchers fed up with unfettered kidnappings, extortions and murders carried out by crime groups in collusion with the state. (more…)
On Sunday, March 9, I learned of the death of Ali Mustafa, a friend and colleague. He was killed in Syria by a bomb dropped by the Assad regime, along with at least seven others.
I met Ali at the G-20 in Toronto in 2010, and we kept in touch now and then as he tried to make his way in the difficult world of freelance journalism. Before he was killed he sold photos to some major outlets, taking huge risks in order to make some coin and get a foothold. But he was also in Syria because the suffering there was something he felt he needed to expose. Please take the time to have a look at Ali’s work at his blog, From Beyond the Margins.
There aren’t that many Canadian freelancers out there in the world who consistently file for independent media. I consider myself one of them, and Ali was another. His death has rocked our small, under resourced, and sometimes fragmented community. I hope that it will lead us to further organize so that we can continue to produce critical journalism from places where being a writer or a photographer is a risky affair. We really do need to take better care of each other.
RIP Ali. You will be remembered always, and you will be deeply missed.
This is the first of a couple short pieces from my recent visit to Arauca, Colombia. I was mostly gathering material for the book but wanted to get a few articles out meantime. This piece was originally posted on Upside Down World and re-posted by Truth Out.
FORTUL, COLOMBIA — On Saturday, November 23rd, Giovanny Yamid Aldana left his humble family home in a rural area in the municipality of Fortul, to take his pregnant wife and son to the clinic. There, she took an ultrasound test, and the young family stayed over night in the city of Saravena, in the department of Arauca, near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.
The next morning, Aldana got a call from a local authority, informing him that his house had been bombed by the Colombian Air Force. One of Aldana’s farmhands was reported dead, and the other injured.
Aldana didn’t dare return to his home until there was a delegation going that would ensure his safety. “On Tuesday we went with a municipal government official and two people from the Red Cross,” said Aldana during an interview in Fortul’s municipal government offices. “What we found there was everything in debris, and even pieces of people, inside and outside of the house, which was totally destroyed.”
Aldana took a single, letter sized piece of paper out of his bag, which had four grainy photos printed on it, showing the charred remains of the house he had lived in for the past year, growing bananas, yuca and other vegetables in order to support his family.
The army reported that nine members of the guerrilla were reported dead in the bombing, and two others were captured. “The Army stated that it was a guerrilla camp, but the owner of the house, Giovanni, who was dedicated to farming, and that’s where they bombed. Yes there were combatants, but there was also civilians there,” said Aide Cristancho, a human rights official with the local government who provides assistance to victims of the armed conflict in the municipality of Fortul.
While media and government focus on the killings of guerrillas in the bombings, civilians who live in the area are sidelined and stigmatized as guerrilla supporters, regardless of the truth of the assertions. (more…)
War on the Poor in Honduras: Social Control, Gangs and the US’s Role in Remilitarizing Central America
Here’s a piece I reported from Honduras for my friends at Toward Freedom.
TEGUCIGALPA—Election day in Tegucigalpa kicked off on November 24th last year with the feel of a carnival, a rare sensation in a city where the vast majority of residents are faced with grinding poverty, regular gang extortion and a murder rate that is among the world’s highest. In front of each voting station, tents from the various political parties provided shade, blaring music at each other from huge speakers as groups of youth and volunteers hung around. Police, army and masked military police oversaw the crowds. Cars honked and people waved Honduran and political party flags as their vehicles crawled through the fray.
But for Marta de Jesus Raudales Varela, who lives in a small house on a steep unpaved street, it was a heart-wrenching day. In January, her son Ángel Francisco Durón Raudales, an activist with the leftwing LIBRE Party was murdered along with five others around the corner from the family home in the Las Ayestas neighborhood.
“[The killers] told them to lie face down, so they lay face down, and they emptied their pockets so that they could pretend it was a robbery. [The killers] had their faces covered, but everyone could see what happened,” said Raudales. The killers shot all six in the back and in the head as they lay with their faces to the sidewalk.
Two days after the massacre, street gangs posted signs and handed out pamphlets warning residents they were imposing a 7pm curfew. Almost a year after the massacre, no one dares to mention gang involvement in the killings for fear of reprisals. A tough-as-nails grandmother, Raudales Varela was robbed at gunpoint four times in a single year while she walked home from selling lottery tickets a few blocks from her house. She cried quietly during our interview, wiping her eyes with her apron.
Durón Raudales was a construction worker who organized a local base committee and made flags in support of the LIBRE Party. His mother thinks he may have been targeted because of his political activity. “I’m going to go vote this evening, but I really didn’t feel like going,” she said. “I feel bad today.”
Violence in Honduras is sometimes presented as random and wanton, or as somehow involving drugs. During his inauguration speech on January 27th, Honduras’ new President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that approximately 70 per cent of homicides in the country are linked to drug trafficking. Dead bodies are routinely publicly attributed to gang members, regardless of the evidence and circumstances; and residents of the country’s biggest cities are under the firm grip of social control enforced by terror and threats meted out by street gangs. But according to a recent report put out by human rights organizations, only one per cent of crimes in Honduras are followed up by a police investigation. What Juan Orlando doesn’t want to admit is that an important number of killings in Honduras are politically motivated attacks on peasants, poor people, political activists, journalists, and queer and trans people. (more…)