Ayotzinapa: Names to Faces—Tim MacGabhann

2015-09-07 17.12.49

In light of the 6th September report by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) which contradicts the Mexican government’s “findings” on the Ayotzinapa case, we present an excerpt from an essay by poet and journalist Tim MacGabhann. This essay was originally published by Mexico City Lit as an introduction to their recently published bilingual anthology Poets for Ayotzinapa, a Bogman’s Cannon recommended read. 


Row after row, 43 stares aim out from behind the till at fruit shops, from newspaper pages, from thousands of placards, from every second post on every second Facebook feed.

Kids who slept on cardboard mattresses on cold floors. Kids whose shared extension leads tangled like vines out of the walls. PSP addicts. Novice heavy metal guitarists.

Kids who fuelled study binges with Fritos and Pinguinos from the small grocery stores. Kids who grew crops from dry fields. The killed grass like so much raw wool.

Kids from the poorest states of a brutally unequal country. Kids who sometimes didn’t even speak Spanish before they enrolled at the Escuela Normal Raul Isidro Burgos, Ayotzinapa.

The Normal is more than just a teacher training college. For its scholarship students, the school a bridge out of generations of subsistence farming. For budding activists, the school is a revolutionary hotbed: Mexico’s Che Guevara, Lucio Cabañas, is the school’s most famous alumnus.

Until September 26, 2014, the normalistas were best known for stealing buses to drive to protests. The practice was so widespread that bus companies turned a blind eye.

As of last September 26, though, Ayotzinapa has joined the grim atlas that maps Mexico’s recent past. Tlatelolco. Acteal. Aguas Blancas. Atenco. Juárez. The ABC fire. El Halconazo. Tlatlaya. San Fernando.

That night, normalista students hijacked a bus with the apparent aim of driving to Mexico City to attend that year’s Tlatelolco commemoration. A focal point on Mexico’s protest calendar, the annual gathering marks the night in 1968 when the Mexican army opened fire on protesting students.

The students’ route was to take them through Iguala. María de los Angeles Pineda, wife of then-mayor José Luís Abarca, was due to give a speech in Iguala that night. The speech was widely looked on as being her bid to succeed her husband in office.

Iguala is a narcomunicipio. Three of Pineda’s brothers – two are dead – are known leaders of the Guerreros Unidos cartel, which has taken over many of the duties of the local police. Bélicos, they call them. They wear uniforms. They carry guns. They look like police. They act like police. They aren’t police. The whole protect and serve thing doesn’t really happen.

Iguala is a medieval fiefdom, except in 2014. The ruling couple’s acquisitions in the town included a mall built on land donated by the Mexican army. Pineda has in the past threatened to cut journalists’ ears off. Abarca himself is accused of shooting local activist Arturo Hernández Cardona in the face.

You don’t interrupt these people lightly.

You don’t even do it by accident.

Tipped off by a bus driver, a blockade of uniformed men was waiting for the students to pass through Iguala. They opened fire. And not in the air like before.

When the students and other bus passengers fled, the men in uniforms followed them. 90 minutes later, six people lay dead – one with his face cut off – and 20 were wounded.

Another 43 have not been seen since.


Photograph courtesy of Liliana Pérez-Brennan 

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