This part two of the Ayotzinapa: living infiltrated special comprises five testimonies from graduates of different generations from the decade of the seventies. Although, all ten generations are not covered in this special, we were able to salvage valuable information of how students lived in those convoluted years.
Text: Marlén Castro
Fotography: Franyeli García
Traslation: Al Xulemo
There is a history of government harassment against the rural normal* schools.
Before the rule of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, there were 29 rural normal schools in México. After his administration, there were 15 schools left. According to documents from the National Security Office (Dirección Federal de Seguridad--DFS), this ex-president closed fourteen schools between 1964 and 1969. The magazine Contralínea solicited this data in 2014.
In the following six-year presidential period (1970-1076), Luis Echeverría opened the Rural Normal in Amilcingo, Morelos.
Currently, 16 schools survive in México. One of those schools is Normal Rural Ayotzinapa located in the state of Guerrero, where the 43 disappeared normalistas students were studying. The reason this school is alive today is because the students mobilize every year to maintain their resources, tuition, and the convocation for new incoming students.
The attack on the students marked its sixth anniversary in September 2020 and was in a series of damages, grievances, and attacks that date from yesteryear.
For this occasion, to commemorate the attack on the Ayotzinapa Normal, Amapola Periodismo Transgresor presents testimonials from students who studied there during the 70s decade. Their word tells the history of how the government focusing to undermine the political-military groups set its target on the rural normal schools, which the government considered to be guerrillero seedbeds.
Against the Normales
Carlos Montemayor’s novel Las Armas del Alba narrates the history of the assault on the Madera army garrison in Chihuahua on September 23, 1965, by the People’s Guerrilla Group (Grupo Popular Guerrillero—PPG). Those who attacked the military installation thought there were only 30 or so soldiers on that dawn; however, there were more than 100. Of the 13 members of the PPG, 8 died in the assault. The surviving members began a clandestine life phase giving birth to the 23 of September League (Liga 23 de Septiembre).
Those who realized the assault, which marked the resurgence of guerrillas in México’s most recent history, were students from the normales in San Marcos, Zacatecas and Salaices, Chihuahua.
Ever since the assault on Madera, the federal government became obsessed with shutting down the rural normal schools. It was during the government of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, president from 1964 to 1970, the years of the so-called communist threat, of the normales’ stigma as guerrilla seedbeds whose only objective was to topple the government.
To Break the Organization
In Guerrero, in 1974, the Poor People’s Party (Partido de los Pobres) created by Lucio Cabañas Barrientos, a graduate from the Ayotzinapa Normal, kidnapped Rubén Figueroa Figueroa when he was in campaign for governor of Guerrero.
Rubén Figueroa won the governorship and the victory meant persecution, disappearance, and death to the leftist youth from Guerrero.
According to student testimonials from the Ayotzinapa Normal who attended during the seventies, the government implemented several strategies to disactivate the movements that were being created inside the school. These strategies included transferring students to other schools, infiltrating the organization, and creating a rupture by allowing women in the school.
This Amapola Periodismo Transgresor special report voices the story of those government strategies.
“I believe the federal government and the education authorities took those administrative measures of transferring students to different normales because there surely were students who had critical pushbacks against the different manifestations of institutional authoritarianism. I believe they saw the rural normal schools as a subversive problem,” shares Jorge Alberto Cabañas Cienfuegos who graduated in 1971.
From the 1979-1983 generation, Roberto Gante Palacios, who studied between 1979 and 1983 coincides that the method of transferring students continued active until the advanced years of the 70s decade.
“That was a very common strategy during that decade: students who were leading some movement or had a wider political formation were sent to different normales, the farther the better. They were dispersed so in that way the government and the education authorities would suppress the movements or any organizing intentions,” Gante Palacios recalls.
Threats and Harrassment
Victor Maldonado Gómez also studied in the 1979-1983 generation. Years later, he became a famous sculptor and painter. He switched the classrooms for the galleries.
Maldonado remembers an episode that happened in 1980 caused by a movement organized by the Student Committee (Comité Estudiantil) that had started to spiral. The Army and the state judicial police broke into the school, pulled all the students out of their dormitories, concentrated them in the school’s central plaza to frighten them, and held them half naked lying on the floor. Days later, Figueroa summoned the students to Chilpancingo, the state capitol, to admonish and threaten to take away their financial aid.
“If you continue with those idiocies, I will raise the basket then you will have reasons to organize as you are doing now.” Maldonado remembers the governor yelling.
Gante Palacios recollects that the outbreak happened because the students were re-organizing the Comité Estudiantil that was dismantled by the authorities in 1978 by transferring the leadership who was trying to organize a failed student’s strike. The students did not have any representation in 1979.
Surveillance and Espionage
Rogelio Meza Aguilera, another alumnus from the same generation, shared that the state government and the Federal Ministry of the Interior held permanent surveillance, and did not discount the presence of government infiltrators and informants from the same school.
He believes so because in one occasion there was a students and parents meeting that was called together by the Comité Estudiantil. He tells that by the time the meeting ended, the governor had already called to tell them he already knew what their demands were.
From that day on, the students believe it was one of the student’s mother who was the governor’s informant.
In 1972, the government opened a one-year pilot program in Ayotzinapa allowing women to enroll at the school. Put into perspective, Santa Cabañas, one of the women who enrolled, considers that “the government’s intention to establish the pilot program was to generate an internal conflict in Ayotzinapa and have a pretext to shut down the school.”
She believes this because internal student life turned difficult when the government decided to enroll women. The student population was divided; some agreed with the program while others discriminated against the women normalistas.
Jorge Alberto Cabañas and Santa Cabañas are siblings. They enrolled in Ayotzinapa as “externals” meaning they were children of a worker at the school. In her testimony, teacher Santa Cabañas shares that because of her father’s working relationship with the institution she met and knew Professor Raul Isidro Burgos.
“He was an intelligent and kind man. He would visit my father at home.” He also knew Cabañas Barrientos. Her father used to invite teachers and students for dinner since he lived in Tixtla. One of those invited students sometimes was the rural normalista who saw armed struggle as the only possibility to change the living conditions of the campesinos.
In 1972, the government disappeared normalista Rafael Castro, a generation classmate of teacher Santa Cabañas.
“We used to call him (Rafael Castro) El Cubano, even though he was born in Atoyac. I believe he was 17 years old when he was disappeared. He was a very happy and participative young man. He was one of the activist cadres of the Normal, he was always involved in those type of activities,” she remembers.
Rafael Castro continues to be disappeared. The following Ayotzinapan generations consider him a victim of the government’s clash against the rural nomal schools.
This narrative is added to one that Amapola Periodismo Transgresor published a year ago: a series of interviews with Ayotzinapa alumni covering 17 generations 59 years of academic, student and political activism. From the revealing testimonials, one could see a string of facts: infiltration as a government strategy to divide the social movement and disappear the rural normal schools, one of the few higher education options that the poor young have.