Review: John Gibler – “I Couldn’t Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us”

Precisely at a time when the United States is misgoverned by a belligerent bully who would like to make millions of Mexicans (not to mention other inhabitants of Latin American heritage) disappear from his country, precisely at a moment in history in which he and his followers dream of a gigantic wall separating these two bordering nations, this book propels us in another direction, jumping across those barriers with words that bring to the American public a tragedy that, if they are not careful, might someday violently touch their own lives. Ayotzinapa is closer than you think. —Ariel Dorfman, May 1, 2017 (Día de los trabajadores)

This book is a collection of interviews, mainly with survivors of the so-called “2014 Iguala mass kidnapping“, where Mexican police, army, and possible other murderous factions collated to slay and kidnapp children who were en route to protest the Tlatelolco massacre, which ironically is a mass murder as committed by Mexican police and army.

EDGAR YAIR, 18, FRESHMAN. At first the police were shooting in the air. We weren’t scared because never. . . . Well, we knew that they couldn’t shoot at us because we’re students and they can’t do that to people like us. We kept going and at every street corner we passed, police squad trucks pulled out, and the bullets were coming more and more directly at us each time.

The tempo of the book is masterfully spliced together, as the author allows for the reader to see what the (surviving) youths have reported. First, the police and army were merely threatening, but very soon debasing horrors unraveled.

IVÁN CISNEROS, 19, SOPHOMORE. We were coming to the intersection of Juan N. Álvarez and Periférico to head out toward Chilpo when police truck 002 came out of nowhere and cut us off. We got off the bus and went to move the truck. The police officers all got out of the truck and ran. When we tried to move the truck we heard the police shooting at us. That was when they hit Aldo, who was beside me. I ducked down and grabbed the truck to push it from the bottom and start to move it, lift it, push it and that was when they hit the compañero Aldo. He went down. When we saw that he fell we all froze, as they say, and we got scared for real then. We saw that this had gotten real serious. When we had heard the gunshots we said, “Those are shots in the air,” but who knew?

We shouted out to the police that they had already killed one of us, that what more did they want, that they had already fulfilled their mission. We shouted out to them, sarcastically: “You should act so tough with the narcos!” We didn’t know that they were also the narcos.

Also, this is indicative of how planned the entire mass murder was:

ERNESTO GUERRERO, 23, FRESHMAN. After a while a Red Cross ambulance came for Aldo. We saw that he had been moving and called the ambulance. It came, took Aldo, and the police kept aiming their guns at us. If you moved, they shot at you. If you spoke, they shot at you. In other words, you couldn’t do anything without them shooting at you. The municipal police were firing whole clips at us. And then after shooting they’d take the time to pick up the shells. I shouted: “Why are you picking up the bullet shells?” Well, because they knew the bullshit they were doing. And they mocked us, they laughed, they aimed at my compañeros being arrested and at us.

This is a horrifying tome, akin to reading Laurence Rees‘s interviews with survivors of Auschwitz and other concentration/death camps, but much, much faster.

And remember, all of the reports given are by youths who still live in Mexico, a country which is torn apart by rampant corruption, fed by the drug wars, as delivered by the USA. They still face immediate retaliation for their witness reports, and still do it.

ERICK SANTIAGO LÓPEZ, 22, SOPHOMORE. I was riding in the third bus, the Estrella de Oro. The police were shooting at us. I got off three times with a fire extinguisher to throw at them. At that point they didn’t shoot me. I was incredibly lucky. And that was when we saw police with different uniforms. Because in all the testimonies it just says that the municipal police participated. They never talked about the federal police and the state police. I was standing up in the front of the bus, next to the driver. The driver, who is taller than me, was the one who shook up the fire extinguisher and gave it to me. He shook it up and said: “Dude, throw this at them. It will explode, and then you all can get out of here, and that way I’ll be able to get out of here too.” I was able to throw it at the police, but in the instant that I threw the extinguisher, that was when they shot me.

I stood next to the driver, in the door. I was able to stick my hand out, like this. Just when I threw the extinguisher like this, that’s when I took the bullet. I threw the extinguisher at the police and in the same instant the police shot me in my right arm. They shot me and that was when we realized we were done. Since I was one of the organizers that night and was riding with the compañero Cochiloco, that’s when I said: “You know what, call the secretary.” At that time the secretary was La Parca, The Reaper. We called La Parca. We waited about ten minutes on board the bus, then Cochiloco told the driver: “Open the door, we’re going to give ourselves up. We can’t keep fighting, they’ve already shot my friend.” The compas were terrified. They didn’t know what to do.

My arm was hurting me. All the tendons were destroyed. The five tendons connecting my fingers were destroyed. All this part of my skin was destroyed. When we got off the bus the police stood to the side of the door and started to pull us out and to put our hands behind our heads. Since the driver was the first one off, they pulled him aside, off to a corner away from the rest of us. I’d been shot, but they treated me just like all the others; they put my hands behind my head. And they started to throw us down on the ground. “Shut up, you son of a bitch,” they said, “you are beyond fucked.” And after a bit they said: “If you are all such bad-asses, then let’s see it now, fucking ayotzinapos.”

Just imagine, there they were with their guns and all of us with nothing at all. That’s when one loses hope, because they are all armed and if you move they shoot you. We stayed like that. I remember all my compañeros were down on the ground. My compañero Cochiloco tried to stand up to them and they beat him. He was tough, in that he wasn’t going to just surrender. So they grabbed him and beat him in the stomach with the butt of a rifle. When they knocked him to the ground, then they started beating him in the face. “Kill the one you shot in the arm,” one cop said to another, “put a bullet in him.” The cop came up to me and stuck his weapon, an AR-15, right to my head. He put the gun against my head, and maybe he thought about it and said: “And if I kill him?” I thought to myself: “Well, I guess this is it.” And then, just seconds later, he moved his rifle away from my forehead, right here next to my temple, and then he himself called an ambulance. When he called the ambulance I was aware of everything that was going on.

The guy who was next to me had wrapped a bandanna around my arm when we were still on the bus. We called him Botas, Boots. When I was thrown on the ground, that guy was crying. He saw it when they put the gun to my head. He saw it when they hit me in the ribs because I had tried to lift myself up. He knew that if I tried to act tough, the cop would kill me. During this time I saw a federal police uniform, on the back it said FEDERAL POLICE. And there was a state police officer next to him.

When they tried to make me lie back down, I just lay on my side. I was looking out toward the Periférico. Two civilians arrived and got out of their car. I don’t know if they were the leaders. They weren’t wearing masks. One of them had a pistol. They were giving orders and the others were obeying them. The cops grabbed me and put me in an ambulance. They went through all my things. They took a small black cell phone that I had with me. And when they put me in the ambulance, that was when they started to put my compañeros in the different squad trucks. I could see it. None of the kids said a word. They were crying. I couldn’t see all the others, but they were all lying in the street. Not one of them spoke. Not one of them said: “Why are you doing this to us?” If they hadn’t shot me I would also be disappeared. The bullet saved me. Everyone who was riding in the bus where I was is now disappeared. I was the only one who was saved. All the blood that was in the bus. . . . In fact, I have some photos here. This is the photo of my arm where they shot me. All that blood is mine.

The book is about more than the actual deaths. The survivors, the families of the victims…they all did what they could afterwards, which should be remembered by all.

MARIO CÉSAR GONZÁLEZ CONTRERAS, FATHER OF CÉSAR MANUEL GONZÁLEZ HERNÁNDEZ, 19, FRESHMAN, IN FRONT OF THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, CHILPANCINGO, 4 OCTOBER 2014. A million pesos are what our sons’ lives are worth? That’s what he spends on a drinking binge. That fucking pig. That wretch. We have an incompetent as governor. “I can’t answer you,” Governor Ángel Aguirre said, and got up to leave. “Are you at a loss for words, to answer me?” We are exhausted. We are parents. We are already exhausted. We don’t know what to do or whom to ask for help. And they send us that. . . . Well, I don’t know how they could bring us all together to come here, and we are still idiotic enough to come for an audience with the governor. I don’t know. Supposedly Peña Nieto wanted to change this country and who knows what else. . . . Why isn’t he here now? Why is he not here?

They are forty-three. They are students. And, unfortunately, like I said to the governor, lucky it’s not his son, because in half an hour they would have found him. And without a scratch. Our only crime is being poor and looking for a school where we can support our children. It’s horrible, but that’s how things are. My son is César Manuel González Hernández. But I’m not here just for him. I’m here for all of them, because they were his compañeros. I don’t know why people talk so badly about Ayotzinapa. I’ve been living at the school for a week and they are some beautiful boys, people who take the bread from their mouths to give it to the parents, kids who go without eating so that the parents can have a meal. I am from Tlaxcala. I am from Tlaxcala, señores. I’ve come to find out about all the filth they have here. They let us into the meeting, señores, and they make us, the parents, go through a metal detector. How is it possible that they make us go through a metal detector? Make your system, your police, your killers go through the metal detector. What can we do to him? No, I didn’t just take it, señores, not this time, I didn’t take it.

I don’t know if that dog will have me killed. Let him do it. Here I am. But give me back my son. Nothing else. And the other forty-two students. That is all I ask. I don’t know why they kicked me out of the meeting. I am from Huamantla, Tlaxcala. We are good people. People who won’t just sit and take it. People with enough balls . . . those sons of bitches. I told him that to his face, that son of a bitch, and I shut him up. He couldn’t say a word to answer me, the idiot. What wretched people, truly. What fucking cowards, using guns. I wish one of those pimp sons of fucking bitches would say to me: “You know what, let’s go at it, you and me, son of a bitch, with our bare hands.” I don’t give a fuck. And still with his little smirk and “good evening.”

I just looked at him. He looked back at me. “Yes? Tell me.” “What do you want me to tell you? Good evening? For you. For us with our guts tied in knots, with our guts a fucking wreck. . . . Our only fucking crime is being too poor to send our kids to a private school. Lucky it’s not your son. They’d find your son in less than half an hour, you asshole, and without a fucking scratch. Or your car. Let’s not talk about your son, let’s talk about your goddamned car. If someone were to steal it, in less than half an hour they’d bring it right back to you. And these sons of bitches, asslicking sons of dogs, standing there protecting you with their earphones, sons of fucking bitches, ball-licking motherfuckers. They do that because they don’t know how to work, the assholes.” Does he want to kill me? Let him do it. He wants to kill me? Let him do it. I don’t care. I care more about my son’s life.

This book is, just frankly, a brilliant presentation of something so horrid that it lacks for words. Still, this is one of the finest reports that I have ever read when it comes to such a deeply disturbing, unjust, and tragic state of affairs that could have been avoided if justice could have existed; capitalism and deep levels of corruption does this.

Though it was neither an isolated event nor the largest killing or mass disappearance in recent years, something about the horror unleashed that night in Iguala removed the government’s mask of repose. The scale of the violence: that police killed six, wounded more than 40, and disappeared 43 people. The theatrical cruelty: that they cut off a student’s face. And then that those who suffered the attacks were mostly freshmen college students from one of the most combative colleges in the country. That the attackers were mostly uniformed police officers. That within days the mayor of Iguala, his wife, and the police chief—all suspects in the attacks—went into hiding. That when the state and federal governments finally started to search for the missing students they did so by looking in the ground. That the government so quickly then found mass graves, and that the remains found there were not those of the students. That the government treated the mothers and fathers searching for their sons with ineptitude and disregard.

[…]

Every year 140 students come to the all-male the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa from some of the most economically battered places in the hemisphere. They live on campus but pay no tuition or board. (While Ayotzinapa is an all-male college, other rural teachers colleges are all female, and others are coed.) The state government provides a meal budget that amounts to $3.70 per student per day (increased after the police killings in 2011), and hence a diet that seldom strays from eggs, rice, and beans. The first-year dorm rooms are windowless concrete boxes with no furniture, where students sleep as many as eight to a room, laying out cardboard and blankets for bedding. Some fasten empty plastic milk crates to the walls to use as dressers.

[…]

Though the buildings are in need of repair or reconstruction (a 2012 National Human Rights Commission report stated that many of the dwellings “violated the students’ human rights” and “were not fit for habitation”), the most visually striking things at Ayotzinapa are the murals and stencil art. Buildings feature portraits of revolutionaries such as Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez, Subcomandante Marcos, and Che Guevara, and murals depicting mass mobilizations, indigenous resistance, and the 2011 police murder of Jorge Alexis Herrera and Gabriel Echeverría.

[…]

The school grounds, which include fields of corn, beans, a few vegetables, and flowers are well kept without employees paid to do so. The students do all the farming, cleaning, tending, fixing, and painting, and a large part of the cooking. And like college students across the world, they are absorbed in the purpose and routines of their particular lives. Class time and homework make up the least of it. I rarely heard a student speak about their classes. (Students said that the state government intentionally hires teachers opposed to their social organizing.) Instead, the subjects of enthusiasm are most often student-organizing activities; sports, music, and dance clubs; classroom observations conducted in rural schools throughout the state; and just the place itself, Ayotzinapa. These are youth whom the political system tells they have no place. They are the ones apparently destined to enter the lowest ranks of the drug-warring armies or scramble across the Arizona desert and pick bell peppers in California or wash dishes in Chicago. Ayotzinapa offers them a different route, a profession: to become rural elementary school teachers. Ayotzinapa says to them, “You belong here.”

Read this book.

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