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“There is a systematic attack on the rural teachers college of Ayotzinapa”
Carmen Herrera
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Interview with human rights lawyer Maribel González Pedro

Maribel González Pedro is a lawyer and activist of the Human Rights Center of La Montaña Tlachinollan of the southwest state of Guerrero. Her organization assists the families of the 43 students who were disappeared in September of 2014 in their legal battle for clarification of this case which has shaken not only Mexico but the international community.

Carmen Herrera, Latinamerica Press collaborator, spoke with González Pedro about the origin of the “Escuelas Normales Rurales”, as these pedagogical institutes are known in Mexico, the politics of education for the most marginalized people of Guerrero and the systematic repression against the educational community and students of the Ayotzinapa’s Rural Teachers College Raúl Isidro Burgos.

Why do you believe that the 43 Ayotzinapa students were disappeared?
The high degree of impunity in Mexico, the widespread violence, and the corruption rooted in the various levels of government have allowed such grave abuses such as those of Ayotzinapa to occur. This situation has allowed that to date any serious investigation on the part of the State has taken place.

 This case has transcended international public opinion. Why haven’t similar cases had this impact?
The disappearance of the 43 students touched the conscience of Mexican society because they were young people getting an education, young people from the most marginalized areas of Guerrero, indigenous youth, and also for the visible participation of government entities, State agents, that was very obvious in this situation both by omission and commission. Even before this unfortunate deed occurred, we have made denouncements.

It was common knowledge that the authorities were involved in illicit activities for long time, including having been the object of investigations, and the government did nothing, even allowed these people to assume positions of power and representation. For all this, this case has touched the Mexican society; these were young students being trained and Mexico has a history of attacks against youth, and this touches us deeply because we have brothers, sisters, we are mothers.

This case has evoked the memory of the Tlatelolco massacre [occurred on Oct. 2, 1968, in which hundreds of students in Mexico City were killed]. The history of Mexico has been a history of attacking youth, of criminalizing young people, and for this reason this case has touched the society, has promoted demonstrations, awareness, indignation and anger.

Some analysts and academics consider this case as a message of extermination against the indigenous populations. What does your organization say about this?
The Ayotzinapa case is very broad. It is possible to analyze it from different points of view and many have analyzed it in that way. Most students in the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College Raúl Isidro Burgos are children of campesinos and also from very poor indigenous families that live in regions with the highest levels of marginalization, poverty, and without access to education, and in this sense, the fact that the Ayotzinapa college is a boarding school, its policy to give preference to children of campesino and indigenous families, has made it the only option for training and study for the young people of the region.

We see that there is a systematic attack, not just limited to the present. The last one is very serious but such attacks on the Ayotzinapa college are not new. The school has suffered various attacks since its founding [in 1926]. The most recent has been the disappearance of the 43 students and the attack on Dec. 12, 2011, when the students protested demanding tuition, scholarships, which every year the state refuses to comply, and was not a favor what they were asking, but a constitutional right. Given the government’s negative response, the students protested in the highway that connects Chilpancingo [the capital of Guerrero] with Acapulco after having exhausted all the dialogue process with the governor.

That day, the governor’s unfortunate response was a police action, and in this violent eviction two students, Jorge Alexis Herrera Piño and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, were killed. Until now the only two prosecutorial police agents [dependent on the Attorney General’s Office (PGR)] that have been prosecuted were freed. This demonstrates that there is a systematic attack on the teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

Why is the government against the teachers college of Ayotzinapa?
In order to understand why this teachers college is attacked, we would have to discuss the education that the school offers and understand the history of rural teachers colleges in Mexico.

The rural teachers colleges in Mexico are a product of the Mexican revolution [of 1910]; secular and free education was a right won by the revolution. Due to the revolution, the third article of the constitution was adopted [guaranteeing the right to education], and was developed a process on how to recognize the right to land to indigenous peoples, to campesinos, and also the need to have education was seen. In southern Mexico, in Guerrero, most of the population is indigenous. There are communities that do not speak Spanish or are bilingual.

The Ayotzinapa teachers college is under attack for its ideology under which rural teachers are educated, youngsters who will teach in indigenous communities where other teachers will never arrive. They will spread the teachings they received in the teachers college. In Mexico when the rural teachers colleges were created in 1920, 36 colleges were established; in 2015 we only have 16 left. The government has undertaken a policy against this kind of pedagogy. In Guerrero the average educational level attained is 2.3 grades.

Ayotzinapa is not an isolated case. The teachers college instructs the student community to be critical thinkers that seek social transformation, and Ayotzinapa has always confronted the government’s welfare policies and its repressive policies. Has criticized the neoliberal system and the political party system, has confronted this government policies, and the authorities does not like this because the students are active and not submissive. They are not educated into a system in which the teacher talks and gives orders and the students listen and are passive. The student of the Ayotzinapa teachers college is an active student.

Students listen to their teachers, but they put forth their own proposals. The capacity for analysis and ideas that these students possess is very high in comparison to other students and the government does not like this. A student that is active is going to revolutionize ideas and the way of doing things. This student is a threat to the system dominating the world.

Could you say that they receive a comprehensive training that integrates technical training with ideas on how to solve the problems of their communities?
The framework in which the students of Ayotzinapa are trained takes into account the wider social structures in which their communities are embedded, the communities they will return to when they are professionals. Also, their training includes field work in their communities in which they develop empathy with the people of the regions of Guerrero because they not only do their field work, they also help plant and harvest crops when needed. In 2013, when a storm devastated the state of Guerrero, the students of Ayotzinapa went to assist the nearby communities to eliminate the water and rescue people; they got there before the state.

What is happening now, what is the plan of action for the Ayotzinapa Teachers College to find their disappeared?
There still is no suspected location of the bodies; the remains have not been identified. The investigations continue but there is no serious investigation by the state; there is no clarity about what happened. This is the process that continues by the legal channels and the reason why the intervention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IHRC) was requested, through its Group of Experts that is contributing in the investigation. Precautionary measures were requested to the IHRC and now the case is under criminal investigation by the PGR.

The parents of the disappeared, the students and the Ayotinapa teachers college are decided to establish strong links with the different organizations, with the different struggles nationwide. They are coordinating with the diverse peace processes to pressure the government for an in-depth investigation. The teachers college continues to function normally. The graduating class was dedicated to the disappeared. Continue studying is the way of continuing the fight, is an act of resistance. For the municipalities of the state of Guerrero and for the indigenous and campesino youth, this is the only option to receive a secular, free, scientific and popular education.
—Latinamerica Press.


Maribel Gonzáles Pedro (Photo: Carmen Herrera)
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