Feb 9, 2012

Rule of Law and the Guerrero Students: Classes resume at the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.2

We have been closely following developments in the conflict between students of the Rural Normal School in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero and the state and federal governments, which has continued over the past two months. We see the playing out of this conflict as a critical example of whether or not Mexican governmental leaders and citizens can develop truly democratic processes that function according to the rule of law.

The rule of law means appropriate operation by local, state and federal police that respects human safety and rights, and proper functioning of state and federal prosecutors (attorneys general), courts, governors and other holders of government positions. It also means the development by citizens of means to protest and attain redress of grievances by peaceful means, and meaningful, productive negotiation between government powers and those citizens. The conflict in Guerrero contains all of these elements.

MexicoBlog summary of the story:

On December 12, two students, Gabriel Echeverria and Alexis Jorge Herrera, were shot and killed by police forces breaking up a student blockade of the federal Highway of the Sun in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, in the mountainous center of the state. The highway connects Acapulco with Mexico City. A gasoline station attendant subsequently died from burns he suffered when he stopped a fire that could have led to an explosion. Both state and federal police were present at the demonstration and armed.

The student blockade was one of a series of actions by the students of the normal school to demand a number of changes at the school, including improvements of the faciltities and changes in admissions standards. The governor of the state, Angel Aguirre Heladio, had met some of their demands for improvements. However, a central demand was their rejection of a newly appointed director of the school on the grounds that--as an engineer and not an educator--he was unqualified. At this point, the story is not clear. Apparently, the teachers at the school wanted one of their own to be appointed, and it may be that the students objected to this. In any case, a stalemate developed between the teachers and students.

This led to the teachers walking out of the school in early November 2011. The teachers claimed that the students threatened them and prevented their safe return. They continued to receive their salaries, as well as the traditional Christmas bonus of one-month's salary. The students claimed the teachers had abandoned them and the school. They began their demonstrations. Up until the December 12 highway blockade, apparently nothing was done by the state government to resolve the issue of the school director or to enable the return of the teachers to the school. The students remained without classes.

Immediately after the slaying of the two students, state officials claimed some of the students were armed, but counter charges were immediately made that police had tortured a student to get him to confess this. The governor fired his chief of police and attorney general, who oversees a second, invesitgative police force who were present at the demonstration. Accusations flew between state and federal authorities as to which police had fired the shots. Every national political figure called for investigations. The federal Attorney General's Office began one. The National Human Rights Commission began another. The Congress created a committee to monitor the investigations. The students began demanding the impeachment of the governor for being responsible for the state police shooting their comrades.

In Guerrero, the fired state attorney general held press conferences at which he presented ostensible evidence that it was federal police who fired. Business and political groups in Guerrero supporting the governor held a large demonstration, but the governor told them, in so many words, to "cool it." A national dissident teachers group organized demonstrations in support of the students. (The national teachers union is a huge power and source of politcal conflict). The students commandeered busses--a standard tactic of the normal students--and held a caravan to Mexico City, where they met with members of Congress and the Interior Ministry.

On January 9, the National Human Rights Commission issued a preliminary report in which they stated that it was clear that both federal and state police had fired "indiscriminately" at the students, not followed protocols for breaking up demonstrations and had altered the scene afterward to remove evidence. A week later, two state ministerial police, the investigative police under the attorney general's command, were charged by the new state attorney general with the murder of the students. They protested that they were "scapegoats," as no federal police were charged. The federal Attorney General issued a report that its review of the evidence indicated that it was state police who shot the students and it turned the case over to the state.

Meanwhile, the students continued without classes. Both they and state officials spoke of the possibililty that they could lose their entire year of studies and that the school would be closed. A professor at the Autonomous University of Guerrero then organized a group of professors from that college and others to voluntarily provide the students with instruction and thus stave off such outcomes.

After much back and forth with the state and the students, the state Department of Education announced that the school's own teachers would return at the beginning of the new semester, Tuesday, Feb. 7. Also, the director whose appointment had been so contentious was being replaced by an acting director who was a well-known and respected professor at another university. The students and their parents announced that they would clean the school and be prepared to have the teachers return that day.

On Tuesday, the teachers came, not at 8 AM but at 10, accompanied by the deputy director of the state education department. The professor from the Autonomous University was also present to mediate if need be. The students were evidently in their classrooms, waiting. The teachers went to the auditorium instead, saying that they feared for their safety. They told the professor from the Autonomous University to leave, saying that he was intruding on their authority.

A long consultation then occurred between the student leaders and the teachers as to how the time lost in education would be made up and whether each side would respect the rights and safety of the other. The day ended without agreement but saying the discussion would continue on Wednesday.

Yesterday, Wednesday, agreement was reached on making up lost time by extending classes into July. Today, the teachers and students returned to class for the first time in three months.

Classes Resume at Rural Normal School
Milenio: "Beginning at 08:00 A.M. today, Thursday, Feb. 9, classes resumed in the Normal Rural School in Ayotzinapa. Marcial Rodriguez Saldaña, Assistant Secretary of Education of Guerrero, went himself to the school to verify  the resumption of work in the classroom. "Today is a very important day," the official said after touring the school and confirming that teachers and students had begun classes. Meanwhile the governor, Angel Aguirre Rivero, expressed his willingness to talk with the students at the time and place that the students indicate." Spanish original

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