Two Mexican students were killed by police gunfire around noon on Dec. 12 as police agents and soldiers attempted to disperse protesters blocking the Mexico City-Acapulco highway near Chilpancingo, the capital of the southwestern state of Guerrero. The victims, Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, were students at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the nearby village of Ayotzinapa, and they had joined about 500 other students and their indigenous supporters to demonstrate for improvements at the school.
Some 300 security agents were sent to remove the protesters, who were blocking a well-traveled highway on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a popular holiday for Mexican Catholics. The agents—including state troopers, members of the state Attorney General’s Office, federal police and some soldiers from the Mexican army—used tear gas on the protesters, who responded by throwing rocks and some molotov cocktails. The shooting began after one of the firebombs landed at a filling station near the protest and set a gas pump on fire. In addition to the two students killed, one other protester was hospitalized with serious injuries, and more than 20 were arrested. The buses that the students came in were hit in the shooting, along with a truck.
Gen. Ramón Arreola Ibarría, who headed the contingent of state troopers at the scene, denied that any agents were armed, and Guerrero attorney general Alberto López Rosas immediately charged that the students were responsible for the shooting. One student, Gerardo Torres Pérez, was arrested for allegedly firing an AK-47 automatic rifle.
By the end of the day more than 200 Mexican human rights organizations and other nonprofit groups had placed the blame on the security forces, which have a long record of abuses in Guerrero. The federal government’s Public Security Secretariat (SSP) announced on Dec. 13 that according to its analysts at least some of the gunfire came from a state Attorney General’s Office agent dressed as a civilian. Most of the detainees were released on Dec. 13. Gerardo Torres was freed in the evening; he said that after he had been arrested, federal agents and agents from the state Attorney General’s Office beat him and took him to a vacant lot, where they forced him to fire an AK-47 five times.
Guerrero officials announced on Dec. 13 that Gov. Ángel Aguirre Rivero had removed Attorney General López, Public Security Secretary Ramón Almonte Borja and Gen. Arreola from office. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/13/11, ___, 12/14/11; AFP 12/13/11 via Univision)
The students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college had been demanding a meeting with Gov. Aguirre, who they said had failed to keep four appointments. They were seeking resumption of classes, which had been suspended since Nov. 2 because of a dispute, and an increase in the student body from 140 to 170 for the 2011-2012 school year. Mexico’s 16 rural teachers’ colleges, which were mostly established by the center-left government of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940), have suffered from neglect and budget cuts. The problems at Ayotzinapa have been ongoing for decades, according to alumni who joined current students and other activists at a protest march in Chilpancingo on Dec. 16. The marchers insisted that they weren’t satisfied with the dismissal of the attorney general and the public security secretary. “There’s no one more guilty than Gov. Aguirre, who gave the order for the removal of the protesters,” said Daniel Gómez Ruiz, a student leader at Ayotzinapa. (LJ 12/13/11, 12/17/11)
Aguirre was elected governor last January as the candidate of a coalition that included the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the small leftist Workers Party (PT) and the social democratic Convergence party. Previously he had been a leader in the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominated Guerrero politics for decades, often through violent repression. Aguirre was interim governor from 1996 to 1999 as the handpicked successor of the PRI’s Rubén Figueroa Alcocer, who was forced to leave office in the aftermath of a June 1995 massacre by state police of 17 unarmed members of the leftist South Sierra Campesino Organization (OCSS) at Aguas Blancas near Acapulco [see Updates #320, 381].