Classmates of the 43 students who went missing one month ago in Iguala, in Mexico’s Guerrero state, said Friday that the state governor’s announcement that he is stepping down is not enough — they want to see him “behind bars.”
“We do not care that Governor Ángel Aguirre resigned,” Uriel, a classmate of the missing students who declined to provide his last name for fear reprisals from local police, said during a rally in Guerrero's capital, Chilpancingo. “Our actions will not stop there. We want to see him behind bars.”
Before the rally, thousands marched from the missing students' school, Ayotzinapa Normal School, to Chilpancingo for a Catholic mass. During the march, some students took control of tollbooths along the state's main highway, which leads to the resort town of Acapulco. In previous weeks, student have occupied and burned municipal buildings while protesting the students' disappearance and a perceived lack of action by President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The missing students were protesting government education reforms when local police opened fire on demonstrations, killing three students and three bystanders. After the shootings, local police vehicles drove off with some of the missing students, according to witnesses.
“Police opened fire on us, and it lasted about eight minutes. Those who were able to fled the scene and we were allowed into a nearby home,” Carlos Pérez, a 20-year-old Ayotzinapa student who survived the incident, told Al Jazeera. “Some of us tried to go back. We were completely surrounded and could only escape when the police reloaded.”
“I saw a classmate who wanted to flee, but as he left a bullet hit him and he is now in a vegetative state,” he added.
The Guerrero violence has jolted Mexico, where kidnappings and mass graves have become commonplace since former President Felipe Calderón launched an assault on the country’s warring criminal organizations in 2007. Thousands have marched in Guerrero and other Mexican cities since the students disappeared.
Following the Sept. 26 protests, dozens of police officers were arrested after the leader of a local criminal group, Guerreros Unidos, revealed that the police had handed over some of the students to the group and ordered their executions. Further confessions, including from police officers, reiterated the collaboration between police and the gang.
Days later, Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca — who was fired earlier this month — and his wife Maria Pineda Villa went into hiding. On Wednesday, the two were pinned as the “masterminds” behind the violence by Mexico’s attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam.
The crowd in Chilpancingo on Thursday night shouted a slogan that has echoed throughout Mexico since the students went missing: “They were taken alive, we want them back alive!”
“Our patience is running out and we were clear from the beginning when we said if our classmates did not appear in one month we would have to take action,” said Uriel.
A series of mass graves were discovered in the days following the students’ disappearance, but so far, Mexican authorities have said the remains do not belong to the students — though independent investigators have cast doubts on those claims.
The Ayotzinapa students, who take pride in a long history of activism, have been characterized by authorities as radical. But the students counter that local and federal authorities are corrupt and ultimately responsible for the student disappearances. They say that Aguirre had for years ignored the Iguala mayor’s corruption and gang ties. And they blame what they call the federal government’s neo-liberal reforms for starting the protest movement in the first place.
Pérez, from the Ayotzinapa teachers college, said authorities target students for “rejecting this policy within the country, the capitalist system … and organizing people."
“In our state we are seen as a source of social awareness, and they want to close the Normal school so that they [federal authorities] can impose the neoliberal, capitalist politics they have,” he said.