How U.S. Media Misses the Mark on Ayotzinapa Story
By Ricardo Lezama
At the Zócalo book fair in Mexico City, autodefensa lawyer, Talía Vázquez, recalled notifying Dr. José Manuel Mireles about the mass graves found in Iguala, Guerrero, and said that Dr. Mireles cried upon receiving the news. Vasquez notes that a frequent task for the auto-defensas in Michoacan was to unearth the remains of missing youth. The judicial system is so broken in Michoacan that these families never reported the homicides. Instead, only vigils were held in their honor.
All of this is to say that the rage with which many Guerrero students have reacted to these shooting deaths and disappearances is echoed throughout Mexico and abroad. Normalista organizing tactics are often criticized in the Mexican and US media, but these observations tend to require an omission of grievances in order for the criticism to appear valid. The murder and kidnapping of Normalista college students has occurred before, but on those occasions there was no international solidarity or national day of action. In fact, during the month of December 2012, there was a skirmish between police and Normalista students, and the few U.S. outlets that covered the news did so in a manner that seemed to justify the violent repression so widely condemned today.
Even in the aftermath of the Ayotzinapa deaths, media outlets in the United States fail to provide the level of depth in their coverage necessary to understand why Guerrero students are out in protest, why they need special rural colleges or why their lives have become the target of state repression. Answers to these questions are instead replaced with superficial terms that supposedly provide insight into the identity of the Normalistas.
For instance, in an October 6 story, Vice News used the term “ ardently leftist politics” to characterize the stances of Normalistas. Additionally, they mentioned that “Visiting the Ayotzinapa Normal School is like entering a time warp, or landing in Communist Cuba. Portraits of Che, Marx, Lenin, and Engels adorn the interior walls, accompanied by images of the 1970s Mexican guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas”. However, many, including Cabañas himself were ardent teachers first, guerilla tactic practicioners second. In the 1960′s, Cabañas also made calls for a halt in kidnappings and extrajudicial killings, and once said that he was not necessarily aligned with the notion of ‘leftist.’
As the reporter herself notes: “the school had been swarmed by national and foreign reporters, many of them pressing parents insensitively about their missing children.” The irony is that coverage of the type she provides would necessarily classify her as insensitive. In a most insensitive tone, with a headline reading “Smells of Burnt Flesh,” she notes how her news outlet received “access to several of the six grave sites where the missing normalistas were likely buried” and somehow weaves the official position of the Mexican government into the discourse.
Vice somehow took a story about popular education and political repression in Mexico, and turned it into a high-level discussion of the Drug War from the Mexican (and US) government’s perspective, highlighting the discovery of Meth Labs in the area. While narco-traffickers were signaled as the people who attacked the students, the conflict has always been between the government and the Normalistas.
For this reason, Mexican activist pressure remains on the government. They demand the removal of Guerrero’s governor, and a thorough investigation leading to the arrest of government officials and police. There are witness reports indicating the presence of military personnnel during the actual shooting deaths. This implies a need to examine the U.S. role in providing training to various military and police personnel.
An important detail is the international response to the Iguala massacre. While the Vice article notes the presence of Argentine forensic experts, it fails to note calls for an independent investigation in parallel with the official state investigation. Amnesty International has raised its own concerns about the investigation, none of which factor into Vice’s coverage.
Humanizing the Normalistas, not just presenting a play-by-play of the gory events that took place in Iguala (recall the note about “flesh”), is what responsible journalists covering the event must do today. Shifting the focus to grievances is key. Noting the constructive actions demanded throughout Mexico and internationally is essential to contextualizing these events. Otherwise, Vice simply adds to the dissonance and confusion they presumably aim to dissipate through their coverage.
Ricardo Lezama is a linguist from Santa Ana, California. He also works as a software engineer at a tech company, and is the founder of LaCartita.com. Follow him at Twitter at @ricardoblezama.
This article was originally posted at LaCartita.com