Monday, January 5, 2015

Whose impunity?

About nine o’clock in the morning last December 16, some 70 masked assailants took over two toll booths on the Mexico City-Acapulco highway and forced motorists to hand over the 50-peso toll to them. They reportedly made off with 30,000 pesos.
    There was no law enforcement response. The police had plenty of time to move in, since the masked robbers held the booths for six hours. And nobody was caught by surprise; the perpetrators had announced their plans in advance. The non-response was by choice.
    The press reported the event as an action rather than a crime. There was also a ho-hum tone to the coverage, as though organized attacks on innocents were a common occurrence.
    They are. Highway robbery, commandeering of passenger buses, arranged traffic chaos and other aggressions against everyday people predate the Iguala tragedy and are by no means confined to the state of Guerrero. But there are a lot more of them these days.
    Last Saturday, for example, 60 masked hijackers appropriated at least five trucks transporting snack food near the state capital of Chilpancingo. They then blocked the highway and demanded “cooperation” from the passing drivers in exchange for letting them through. The extortion victims were treated to bags of the stolen junk food. Nice touch.
    There are variations on the theme. Three weeks ago, a hundred masked men, armed with clubs and sticks, broke into an awards dinner for the Journalists Club of Guerrero, and held the gathered reporters, editors, photographers and other news types hostage for five hours. Journalists’ calls to the 066 emergency number went unanswered.
    These events and countless others like them over the last four months share much in common, but one characteristic stands out  — none has resulted in a single arrest. In fact, not one has prompted any reaction at all from law enforcement personnel at any level.
    The cops know when, where and by whom these crimes are going to be committed. But they remain bystanders, if they venture into the vicinity at all.
    The answers that come to mind stem directly from another common characteristic — the aggressions described above were all carried out by activists on the front lines of the protest mobilization arising from the September 26-27 tragedy in Iguala.
    That is, they are for the most part teachers affiliated with the militant Guerrero educators’ organization Ceteg, students from the same Ayotzinapa rural teachers college where the slain young people studied, and parents and other members of the victims’ families.
    Much of the general pubic is understandably prepared to cut a great deal of slack for the relatives and compañeros of the slain students. What, after all, are a few inconvenient traffic delays and petty thefts compared to what the families have gone through?
    Also, absurdly, criticism of the militants’ actions, as indefensible as they are, is seen as abetting the forces of reaction. Only slowly are people coming to the realization that thuggish abuse of innocent people is condemnable across the board, regardless of its scope or its source.
    The authorities, meanwhile, know a lose-lose situation when they see one. Any action against the militants will be seen as repression. Plus, if scores of cops go after scores of perpetrators caught in flagrante delicto, things are likely to turn out badly, and on national television to boot. Given their well-deserved wretched reputation at all levels, the police know they’ll get the blame for whatever happens, deservedly or not.
    Which is why the sidelines look like the best play to be.
    The Ceteg activists know all this, and have zero qualms about pushing their advantage as far as it will take them. Thus the rest of us are treated to the sorry spectacle of a gang of aggressors exploiting their own impunity in the cause of putting an end to impunity.
    This can’t last, but it could get worse before it gets better. The Guerrero teachers, parents and students aren’t fighting so much for a cleansing of government institutions as they are for their version of justice in the Iguala case. They’ve committed themselves to the conviction that the 42 disappeared students are being held alive by federal authorities. It defies logic that any of them actually believe such a thing, but the stance justifies in their minds any action to rescue their sons and compañeros.
    This may be effective as a local mobilization, but it doth not a movement make. If we’re honest, we’ll recognize that there is no movement.
    To be sure, there’s a national consensus that the time has come to take bold steps to put an end to official corruption, violence and impunity that make horrors like Iguala possible. But that’s a mood, not a movement. Movements move. This one’s going nowhere as long as its face wears a mask.

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