Ayotzinapa’s Uncomfortable Dead [1]

Image: Open Source #IlustradoresConAyotzinapa

Image: Open Source #IlustradoresConAyotzinapa

by Charlotte María Sáenz

via: Other Worlds

11 xi 14

Vivos se los llevaron y vivos los queremos. “Alive, they were taken, and alive we want them back,” became the national and international public’s rallying cry for the 43 disappeared male student teachers attacked by municipal police and then handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang on September 26, 2014 in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. This remains the rallying cry even after the official press conference of the Attorney General (PGR) [2] announced last Friday that those missing had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes as detailed in the suspected assassins’ video testimonies shared at the press conference alongside maps and photographs of suggestive evidence. However, there is no conclusive proof yet and so the 43 missing remain undead. Their parents refuse to accept this verdict, and in doing so, reveal the state’s incompetency, not only to deliver justice. But also their inability to act with any kind of legitimacy or credibility before a populace to whom it has become ever more clear that the federal government is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose.

This refusal of death has led to rage in all of those protesting in the streets, on social media and even in the National Chamber of Deputies, where photographs of the missing 43 surround Deputy Luisa María Alcalde Luján who while withstanding the interruptions and dismissal of her peers, insists that Ayotzinapa is a State crime. The PGR press conference was itself a theater of death that revealed many gruesome details, but no definitive confirmation of whether the disappeared are, in fact, dead. Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam characterized the inconclusive investigation as bastante exitosa, quite successful, but also emphasized that he could not confirm if the ashes found belonged to the students without further mitochondrial DNA studies for which they have sent the remains to a specialized lab in Austria.

Perhaps unwittingly, Attorney General Murillo Karam pointed to a crucial difference between individualist vs. collective ways of being and knowing that produce radically different approaches to action. In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, he explained that the parents of the 43 disappeared son gente que toman decisiones en conjunto, are people who make decisions together. It is not about whether any of the parents as individuals believes or disbelieves Murillo Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged garbage dump crime site and confirmed their disbelief based on what they observed. Rather, they share a common refusal to accept the insufficient state evidence and its silence about its own complicity in the attacks and probable execution of their sons. Collective decision-making is characteristic of Mesoamerican communities and is still widely practiced in much of the territory of what is today called the nation-state of Mexico. This points to an important distinction between how decisions are made in the vertical elite power centers “above” in what contemporary political theorist/activist Gustavo Esteva calls el México Imaginario, Imaginary Mexico, and in the participatory assemblies of grassroots indigenous communities “below” from what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo. These metaphors suggest that the actual power of the elite functioning through what has increasingly become a narco-state, is imagined, conjured up through the artifice of the mass-media duopoly Televisa and TV Azteca, a crucial part of the long-standing recipe of submission, by keeping people badly educated, misinformed and mal-nourished. But thankfully, rumblings from below, of the many dead and of these most recent 43 undead, together with those deeply held memories of ways of being, knowing and doing from México Profundo are joining up with the ranks of the living to combat the fear that can momentarily pause Mexico’s deep and persistent resistance.

Antithetical to the fear that often weaves its wave through the narco-state’s theater of death is the defiant Mosaic of Life portrayed in multiple performances and visual arts representations (such as http://ilustradoresconayotzinapa.tumblr.com/) from all over the world giving “life” through faces and names to the missing 43. Forty-three student-teachers have now come to signify all of the disappeared and killed, by growing exponentially into a movement calling itself “43 x 43”, where thousands continue to take the streets in Mexico City and cities all over the nation and world. #Ya me cansé (“I am tired” said Attorney General Murillo Karam after an hour of presenting and responding to questions) was immediately taken up as a new hashtag for Mexican society to express that it, too, is tired, tired of being afraid, of being full of digna rabia, dignified rage, but not tired of fighting for justice. Students and teachers everywhere are rising up to greet these undead, who with the more than 100,000 killed and/or disappeared since 2006, the start of this drug war under former President Calderón, call us to fight for dignity in both life and death.

The refusal by the parents of the disappeared 43 is part of a larger refusal: that of a Mexican society fed up with decades of terror and death at the mercy of an increasingly horrific narco-state. It is also a refusal of the dead to remain dead, and so in this week right after a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico and its diaspora, the dead return multiplied exponentially. This is similar to what happened last May in the Zapatista autonomous municipality known as el Caracol de la Realidad [3] in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, 2014, Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist. He then disappeared into the night. The assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?” In response, hundreds of voices affirmed “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled, and now 43 disappeared student-teachers have now multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state. The Zapatistas do not seek revenge for Galeano’s murder, but rather justice for all; in making this important differentiation, they echo the larger country’s calls. Dignity belongs to both the dead and the living…and both refuse to be extinguished as the globalized Death Power Machine would have them be. As the now “deceased” Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos, now Subcomandante Galeano in honor of his deceased compañero, said: “Quisieron enterrarnos, pero no sabían que eramos semilla.” They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.

Mexico’s bloody history has buried many seeds of resistance, which have sprouted in all sorts of creative grassroots-led alternatives. Among these are various policías comunitarias, community police, from Michoacán to Guerrero [4] who have begun to build greater autonomies that visualize a better life with alternative education, health and governing systems. Seventeen of the 43 disappeared students were from the Costa Chica region, one of the poorest and most marginalized areas where policías comunitarias operate under principles of community justice.[5]  There is now a call for a nation-wide general strike, which includes taking the Mexico City Benito Juarez Airport, scheduled for this coming November 20th, the 104th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Let us see if this newly sprouted 43 x 43 movement can finally edge the country closer to comprehensive structural change that can nourish the kind of collective leadership which already exists in another of Mexico’s poorest provinces: Chiapas. The Zapatista alternative political system has existed for over 20 years, and is a viable home-grown model of a systemic alternative to the capitalist narco-state. Small communities across the nation have already been building their own versions of autonomy–whether around healthcare, education, justice or government. This may well be an opportunity to take this learning to the next level; it’s not only the dead who are now uncomfortable, but also those who deny the living.


[1] With a nod to “Muertos Incomodos,” (The Uncomfortable Dead), a Mexican novel co-written by spokesman Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and Mexico City crime writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II, in 2004.

[2] In Mexico the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) is an institution belonging to the federal executive branch that is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of federal crimes.

[3] With profound, beautiful and symbolic names that describe alternate realities and places, like La Realidad: Mar de la Esperanza de Nuestro Sueños (The Reality: Sea of the Hope of our Dreams), the Zapatistas give names and actions to other parallel geographies that nourish their movement, one which holds an ethical compass for so many others around the world.

[4] For an in-depth description, please read “Community Police in Guerrero’s Costa Chica Region to Celebrate 19 Years of a Better Way to Combat Crime and Corruption,” by Greg Berger and Oscar Oiivera, Narco News, November 7, 2014. http://www.narconews.com/Issue67/article4761.html

[5] Ezequiel Flores Contreras, “Padres de normalistas recorren basurero de Cocula y reiteran “No les creemos,” Proceso, 9 de noviembre de 2014.

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1 Response

  1. Poo says:

    It is preferable to think that the 43 ran away en masse to join or form a commune somewhere than to imagine the horrible fate that no doubt befell them. The truth my be “out there” but sadly there can never be closure to a tragedy, no, a crime such as this.

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