Ayotzinapa: Necropolitics and the Media Become Judge and Jury

“In a tragic incident in Egypt, Mexican tourists were attacked. I deeply regret that people have lost their lives,” tweeted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on September 13, shortly after the news was released that a caravan of Mexican tourists was violently attacked by Egyptian security forces. Over the next week Peña Nieto went on to tweet over a dozen more times about these tragic events in Egypt, sending his condolences to families and promises to assist the victims.

Each of these tweets represents 140 characters more than those which Peña Nieto was willing to extend to the Ayotzinapa rural teaching college students. These students known as Normalistas were forcibly disappeared by state security forces on September 26, 2014, in Iguala, Guerrero and to date, their whereabouts are unknown. The same night three of these students were killed, one of whom was found with his face torn off, and three bystanders. Two days after this attack, the president cancelled a trip he had planned to Guerrero and remained silent on the issue for over a week.

The news quickly spread about the attack and thousands took to the streets and social networks to denounce what they called “Narco Politics” where the thin line that separated organized crime and the government was blurred long ago. Peña Nieto found himself on the defensive and officially addressed the nation, promising to investigate what happened, although the resources he dedicated didn’t reflect this compromise.

“We still remember your indifference during the first weeks of our tragedy,” read a statement by the families of the 43, released three days before the year anniversary as they prepared for a meeting with Peña Nieto.

Last fall, recognizing the government’s unwillingness to search for the students, citizen self-defense groups found themselves scourging Guerrero’s lush green hilltops to find them. They didn’t find the 43 education students, but they did unearth over 100 other clandestine graves. Each one revealed the horror of decaying bodies and bones that did not actually belong to the students. The question then remained who did they belong to? When did Mexico’s rural hillsides turn into mass graves? Most likely these bodies belonged to local families who had spent years anguishing over their unexplained absence. Following the unearthing of these graves, hundreds of people in Iguala and other parts of Guerrero found the strength to come forward and speak out about their missing loved ones.

A new phrase then entered the popular vernacular, that of the “Necropolitica,” or in English, Necro Politics. African scholar, Achille Mbembe wrote about these politics where the state has the “power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.” On November 7, 2014, a month and a half after the students forced disappearance, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam declared in his “historical truth” that the students were all burned in a garbage dump and that all that was left of them are bags of ashes. Students responded to the government’s claim by lighting the government palace on fire and the parents turned to the independent Argentine forensics to see if this twisted horror was actually true.

In Necropolitics, Chembe writes about state violence where, “In the case of massacres in particular, lifeless bodies are quickly reduced to the status of simple skeletons. Their morphology henceforth inscribes them in the register of undifferentiated generality: simple relics of an unburied pain, empty, meaningless corporealities, strange deposits plunged into cruel stupor.”

For me the Necro Politics are reflected in the sheer cynicism of a government that kidnaps students, fails to thoroughly investigate their whereabouts and then claims that they were executed and burned to ashes. This is a politics where the very act of living is an act of resistance. A politics where the government not only buries the victims of its failing and poorly named “war on drugs,” but also closes their investigations and buries their stories.

This is definitely not the first time that a tragedy of this scale has happened in Mexico but it may be the first time that the victims have had the unity and strength to not let their stories be buried and have refused to be bought off by the government. They have traversed not only all of Mexico in their dignified search for their children but also the world, allowing the international community to understand the grave human rights situation that Mexico is living.

“You have tortured us by privileging a political timeline instead of the rights of the victims,” write the parents in their communique toward the president demanding that his government continues to search for the students and stops criminalizing and delegitimizing their struggle.

Last year just as the federal government was ready to close the case, a group of independent experts commissioned by the Inter American commission on Human Rights were called in to thoroughly investigate the case. Six months later they called the government’s bluff, saying that the students were not actually burned in the Cocula garbage dump as the government claimed. They also highlighted the role that the various levels of government played in the coordination of the attack, including the military and federal police. In their report they also write about the prevalence of a fifth bus that the government conveniently forgot to include in their investigation and there is a possibility that this bus may have been packed full of heroin ready to be transported to Chicago.

As the government’s version of the Iguala case started to crumble, they found themselves on the defensive, cocked their guns and fought back full force. The countries’ media outlets helped them fire their weapons. First the government did everything within their power to discredit the independent forensic scientist who said that the fire in Cocula never happened. When that didn’t seem to do enough to discredit the report they whipped out their next weapon on September 16, a federal holiday when the majority of the country is too exhausted from the previous night’s independence festivities to pay attention to the news. The new Attorney General Arely Gomez delivered her sinister message announcing that Innsbruck, the Austrian forensics lab, had positively identified the remains of yet another Normalista student, Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz.

The press immediately repeated the message with their headlines claiming “Another Normalista identified” instead of saying “Government says another Normalista identified.” This difference is essential, considering all the lives that the government has put forth in this case and in fact the following day the EEAF, the Independent Argentine Forensic team released a statement saying that they did not consider the identification as a positive one, that instead it represented a positive genetic correlation. Also, the Argentines maintained that they were not present during the excavation of the bags of ashes and therefore could not confirm that it had come from the Cocula garbage dump as the government had claimed.

And then, somehow the next day, state security forces were able to “peacefully” capture Public Enemy #1 “El Gil,” Gildardo López Astudillo, who according to the government is the head capo of Los Guerreros Unidos, the regional drug cartel responsible for the attack. This is not the first time, and surely won’t be the last that the government magically captures a wanted drug trafficker when their credibility is on the line. In this case, the media was once again quick to act as judge and jury running headlines like “Head of Guerreros Unidos Captured” before his trial could even start.

The media has also played a powerful role in holding the government accountable and reporting on the numerous massacres in which the government has played a key role, including Tlatlaya and Apatzingan. On this tragic anniversary of a day that will never be forgotten in Mexican history, the media will have the opportunity to just repeat the lies the government has been propagating since day one or amplify the voices of the families clamoring for justice for their missing sons.

This article was also reprinted at ZNet.