In Michoacán, they run over the dream of being a normal school student

Violations, imprisonment, arrests and repression of protests are just some of the conflicts faced by hundreds of normal school students in Michoacán.

By Heriberto Paredes and Rodrigo Caballero

Education. Morelia.- Being a rural teacher in Michoacán today can cost your freedom or your life, depending on the repression carried out by the various security forces of the state government. This formula can be applied to the entire country, where thousands of young people are still being trained in teaching to meet the educational needs of indigenous, mestizo and in some states Afro-Mexican communities.

On September 10, at least 23 students from the Michoacán Indigenous Normal School took a bus to go to the ‘Benito Juárez’ Rural Normal School, located in the municipality of Panotla, Tlaxcala. Student exchanges between the different normal schools that still survive in the country are common, however, the Parhíkuni bus company decided to report this trip as theft, causing a police mobilization.

There are many positions regarding what it means when normal school students board a bus. It may be impossible to reach an agreement on whether or not this action is permissible, however what is a fact is that these young people, many of them freshmen, were arrested, taken to the State Attorney General’s Office (FGEM) and after 24 hours without being allowed to communicate with their relatives they were transferred to the ‘David Franco Rodríguez’ Social Reintegration Center (CERESO), known as Mil Cumbres Jail.

According to the Report ‘Compulsory Education in Mexico 2019’ of the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE), one of the main guidelines for strengthening education in Michoacán is to “promote participation in the continuous training of indigenous teachers.” Although in reality the concern of the government headed by Silvano Aureoles is expressed in the systematic repression and detention of these students.

The use of force by the Michoacán Police to stop demonstrations is a custom that occurs almost daily; It is even regular that a truck full of riot police spends the day parked on the Morelia-Pátzcuaro highway, at the height of the town of Tiripetío, to try to discourage the activities of the Normal Rural School ‘Vasco de Quiroga’.

Entre los funcionarios estrella del sexenio del perredista Aureoles, estaba el anterior subsecretario de Seguridad Pública estatal (SSP), Carlos Gómez Arrieta, quien tras aparecer en un video difundido por el medio español El País, donde participaba en la tortura de un presunto miembro de Guerreros Unidos, renunció a su cargo en 2019 y tras la emisión de una orden de aprehensión, decidió entregarse este 11 de septiembre de 2020.

Among the main officials of the six-year term of Governor Aureoles, was the former Undersecretary of State Public Security (SSP), Carlos Gómez Arrieta, who after appearing in a video broadcast by the Spanish media El País, where he could be seen participating in the torture of an alleged member of Guerreros Unidos, resigned his position in 2019 and after the issuance of an arrest warrant, decided to surrender to justice on September 11, 2020.

Gómez Arrieta was very popular in Michoacán, not for strengthening security or arresting criminals, but for arresting students, shooting at teachers, dissolving teacher protests with excessive use of force, and now, for being a key character in the development of the investigations of the Ayotzinapa case.

Repression made custom

The arrests of students, the repression of demonstrations with the use of firearms and, now, the new blow to the normal school students are policies that the Silvano Aureoles Conejo administration has strengthened since he took office as governor of Michoacán in 2015.

One of the most violent episodes of aggression by the Michoacán Police against normalistas occurred on June 21, 2017, when the officers fired at the protesters, leaving a student wounded by a bullet in the head and another by a rubber bullet on the chest.

After the gunshot wound to the head, the young Gael Solorio Cruz remained in an induced coma for several days due to the severity of his injuries, so his colleagues immediately demanded the resignation of Silvano Aureoles Conejo, the then Secretary of Public Security, Juan Bernardo Corona Martínez and that of the then undersecretary, Carlos Gómez Arrieta, but their complaints were not taken into account.

After the gunshot wound to the head, the young Gael Solorio Cruz remained in an induced coma for several days due to the severity of his injuries, so his colleagues immediately demanded the resignation of Silvano Aureoles Conejo, the then Secretary of Public Security, Juan Bernardo Corona Martínez and that of the then undersecretary, Carlos Gómez Arrieta, but their complaints were not taken into account.

Instead, the deputy director of Public Security, Antonio Paniagua Arce and the director of Public Security, Fidel Ortiz Barragán, were dismissed, however, this has not stopped the acts of aggression of the Michoacán Police against the demonstrations that are carried out by normal school students of the state.

An example of the above is what happened on May 27, 2020, when nine students from the ‘Vasco de Quiroga’ Normal School, located in Tiripetío, were detained by elements of the Michoacán Police while trying to board a bus; after the arrests, 8 of them were tried and are currently in preventive detention. Regardless of the date, the aspirants to form the indigenous teaching magisterium live in a situation of precariousness and constant fear, since being a normalist school student in Mexico nowdays can also mean the worst.

Magisterial inheritance

Manuel Zambrano Santos, one of the freshmen who were arrested a week before these events, sent me some messages on WhatsApp, telling me that he wanted to say hello and that he was having a hard time learning everything that being a normal school student entails. Among his fears was that the authorities might do something to him or end up like the Ayotzinapa students, kidnaped and disappeared. “Suggest something to read about the lives of those kids, I want to know their lives,” he told me in an audio message.

A native of the Michoacan coast, from the indigenous community of Santa María Ostula, he has just turned 18, he is good at singing and he likes music, he is very quiet and he likes to play soccer with his friends at the beach. We have known each other for a long time, without having planned it, we have shared the struggle that his community has sustained for many decades in defense of the territory.

Manuel’s mother, Yolanda, has a restaurant in La Ticla, a town in Ostula, that’s where surfers have breakfast, where they eat ceviches and fried fish, where they can have a beer in the late afternoon. The family is a quiet family, in total there are 4 children and all of them attend the restaurant, “El Amparo del Surf”, there I have seen people as diverse as Mrs. Marichuy, the spokeswoman for the Indigenous Government Council (CIG ) or photographers and journalists from all over the world, even the professor and philosopher Alberto Híjar has stopped in this beautiful space.

Manuel is also the nephew of one of the most important fighters in Ostula, an indigenous teacher named Teódulo Santos, who was assassinated on May 15, 2012 by young members of the Knights Templar. The pain that this loss has caused to the family and the community has only been mitigated by commitment and the struggle for a better education.

Santa María Ostula, in addition to being an agricultural community, is also a place from which teachers emerge, as if the educational vocation drew from the rivers and the sea of the community. The agrarian authorities and social leaders who were disappeared or murdered during the period of siege by organized violence (2008-2015) were all teachers, including the current commander of the Communal Guard, Germán Ramírez, who tried to continue teaching and patrolling every day until the security workload absorbed him.

This young man, heir to the Michoacan teaching profession, was arrested along with Juan Felipe Serrano Buelvas, Aldo de Jesús Nazario and Sergio Arceo Guzmán, countrymen from Ostula, and along with them, 19 other normal school students, who, at the end of this text, were released thanks to the legal work and the protest of his community.

They took their entrance exams between July 29 and 31 of this year, with pleasure they received the news that they were accepted and in a short time, they had the misfortune to follow the classic training guidelines, which marks a first step in the Compulsory training in the various forms of protest and mobilization of normal school students in Mexico.

A police bus running over the students

After the arrests on September 10, the following day, a contingent from the Tiripetío Normal School demonstrated on the Morelia-Páztcuaro highway to demand the release of their companions and, as on other occasions, the Michoacán Police appeared almost immediately.

The police presence caused the protesters to retreat to the gates of the town of Tiripetío, where the crossing of the old road to Acuitzio del Canje is located. The students remained there until after noon, however, the confrontation with the police continued until it escalated with the use of sticks, stones and firecrackers to force the riot police to leave the place.

After a confrontation, the retreating officers moved from the scene, however, the event that closed this episode was the moment when a police bus rushed over the student contingent, running over nine young people, who fortunately did not suffer serious injuries.

The response of the Government of Michoacán was immediate. Minutes after what happened, the current Secretary of Public Security, Israel Patron Reyes published a video explaining that the images that show a police bus running over the normal school students were actually the result of the struggle between the driver and a couple of students who apparently jumped in to try to take the bus.

Patron assures that all citizens have the right to demonstrate but that the students resorted to “violence, chaos and destruction” for which he said that such conduct was reprehensible and was what unleashed the operation of the Michoacán Police. The secretary ends the video by asking that false information not be spread.

In response to this, some members of the Tiripetío Normal School commented on the Noventa Grados program (a television program from Michoacán) that none of the students could have gotten on the police bus because the doors were closed. By carefully analyzing the video of the demonstration, the normal school students argue, it can be seen that the bus is deliberately thrown against the demonstration.

“What we want is to be listened to, for the government to receive us and listen to our problems, that we can find a solution, but every time we demonstrate they receive us with repression” says one of the three students on the panel. They want dialogue, to free their friends, but also to discuss other problems in education that only continue to worsen, such as the lack of budget and the need to improve the quality of teacher training.

First and last Hearing

Since the Nahua community of Santa María Ostula learned of these arrests, they began to organize to demand the release of all the imprisoned students, as they said in a statement issued through their Facebook page Comunicación Ostula: “In case of not releasing immediately to the detained students, the indigenous community of Santa María Ostula, will take the necessary measures to achieve this objective, in support of critical and popular education in Michoacán”.

From an early hour, this September 12, thousands of women and men gathered at the Xayacalan entrance, and completely closed federal highway 200 in protest. The closing had as its first limit the result of the first hearing of the 23 normal school students, scheduled for that same day at 4:30 p.m.

A large mosaic of colored signs expressed their support for the normal school students as slogans were shouted demanding their release. The person in charge of communication of the community said in a telephone call, that “this is a first act to protest this arrest and to demand the release of all the students, not just the boys of our community. If this is prolonged, we will continue to support to the extent necessary, we are ready.

Thanks to the work of the lawyers assigned by Section XVIII of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), the families of the detained normal school students learned where the hearing to determine their legal situation would take place. This way they would be able to formulate the possible defense procedure.

Upon arriving at the court section of CERESO (The jail), Yolanda was able to observe about 100 normal school students, women and men, who were already launching slogans. However, despite the hearings being public, the bars in this section were closed and guarded by the Michoacán Police. Without further information, 5 hours later, news came that the students would be acquitted. It would take another two hours for them to be released. At no time were the families nor any of the attendees allowed to wait inside the building, have a coffee or go to the bathroom.

At around 11 p.m. on September 12, with slogans such as “Freedom for political prisoners!”, The 23 normal school students began to go out to meet their families.

In a brief final statement, the community of Santa María Ostula expressed its gratitude: «The community wants to thank all the support received from solidarity friends, organizations and groups, from the lawyers of Section XVIII of the National Coordinator of Workers of Education (CNTE), thanks to the other Normal Schools throughout the country, who fight and resist firm and dignified, to the supportive lawyers who gave us advice and above all we want to thank the community members who organized to carry out the protest of today on federal highway 200: the community is all of us who organize. A special thanks to the families of Manuel, Felipe, Aldo and Sergio, who were on the lookout at all times, watching for the freedom of their children.

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