In response to the case of the 43 disappeared students in the Mexican state of Iguala, the Panamanian singer Rubén Blades has published a letter, dated 24 November, on his personal website in which he highlights the state of impunity that has been allowed to develop in Mexican society and criticises the country’s ruling elite. Drawing parallels with the methods of totalitarian military dictatorships, Blades argues that it is time for all society, not just in Mexico but everywhere, to take part in a process of reform in order to put an end to endemic corruption and human rights abuses. Translated into English for LAB by Nick MacWilliam, here is the letter in full.

Rubén BladesI cannot remain quiet about Ayotzinapa.  Following what has happened, nothing can go back to what it was. Humanity cannot continue in a silence that contributes to overlooking and forgetting such tragedies. An invisible wall of silence so often constructed around the initial condemnation of an abhorrent act. A silence that lamentably replaces the truth. If we remain in silence, so does the fact that what happened in Ayotzinapa was an act of the Mexican state.

This local matter has grown into an issue of universal interest, ever since the shocking complicity between public servants and criminals became evident. Today, thanks to social media, the entire world knows about what happened at Ayotzinapa. Everywhere, people talk of what happened to the 43 students, and the world demands justice. Perhaps, however, we are still to understand the true scale of the event. The disappearance of people in Latin America is not unusual. The mention of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico evokes the hundreds of women whose whereabouts remain unknown. For several decades our stricken continent, from Central to South America, has suffered the disappearance of thousands of people abducted and never found, whether for political motives or criminal acts. But the recent disappearances in Ayotzinapa, although conditionally similar to those of other victims in Latin America, add a distinctive element to the tragedy.

The history of human rights abuses in Latin America has largely been due to the actions of military dictatorships. But in the case of Ayotzinapa, as confirmed by the media, the 43 citizens were abducted and disappeared under the Rule of Law. This difference is fundamentally important and obliges us to analyse this bitter lesson from the perspective of a wider context. In this case it is public servants who, as representatives of the government’s administrative programme and the dominant political system, are responsible for the illegal arrest of 43 Mexican citizens and for turning them over to alleged criminal groups. They did this with an authority granted by the Mexican state, while using official vehicles, and in absolute violation of the detainees’ rights, of the Constitution, and of the laws of the Republic of Mexico, betraying their obligation as public servants and transgressing universal human rights.

Worse still, this was not a random episode. It was a deliberately public act, in which a Mayor clearly used Mexican state power for personal and antidemocratic motives, with the full support of a police force that supposedly exists to protect and serve the population. They are emboldened by an expectation of governmental impunity that helps us understand why there was so little concern about their actions becoming public knowledge. Everything took place in plain sight, without qualms, just as it used to under totalitarian regimes.

A country that defines itself as sovereign and democratic cannot permit its official actions to be indistinguishable from the abuses produced under a military dictatorship. Ayotzinapa presents Mexico today as a country ungoverned by law. The impression is of a state at the mercy of a power superior to that of the legitimate government, while the Constitution is ineffective and the electorate is mocked for trying to implement its political will. It is a country where society and the government are fatally subordinate to the whims of this separate power, at the mercy of its violence and unable to respond to its actions.

President Peña Nieto has declared that all necessary measures will be taken to find the guilty. While this is to be expected and is necessary, it is insufficient. Due to the gravity and magnitude of the problem, it will not be resolved by the arrest, trial and possible conviction of the mayor and his accomplices, the police that detained the 43 students, and the criminal collaborators. Mexico is in one of the worst institutional crises any country has publicly experienced in recent decades.

Events in Ayotzinapa not only demonstrate a moral breakdown and the administrative incapacity of numerous officials, they represent absolute confirmation of a moral, institutional and civic corruption infecting the entire political system and which includes part of the civil population. The complexity of the problem must not be attributed solely to drugs trafficking and its damaging repercussions. The roots are deeper, connected to all sectors of the country.

Various questions arise in the face of this possibility. Regardless of political or ideological persuasion, does the Mexican public possess the will to confront the crisis and determine political, consensus-based strategies for genuine reform in order to end the present opportunistic climate of public and private corruption and the subsequent impunity, while objectively punishing those who profit from it? Is the private sector, which includes the Mexican people, ready to confront the political, social and economic consequences of genuine political reform? How will the long-suffering population respond if those who benefit from illicit power, and who fuel ongoing corruption and insecurity, decides to act to preserve their privileges?

Ayotzinapa is a battle cry which demands the attention of all peoples and societies. It provides evidence of what can happen if we do not confront the breakdown of our systems due to the political and civil corruption that affects all our countries, irrespective of place or nationality.

Ayotzinapa is not a Mexican problem. It is a human and, therefore, an international one. It is our problem. In the case of my country, Panama, events in recent years have brought us dangerously close to a similar reality, while we have also had to counter increased civil and political corruption, caused by a cynical greed that is becoming increasingly offensive. But this is something I will discuss in a separate article. It is up to all of us to confirm or reject the dictum that each country’s reality is determined by its actions, or lack of them. I hope that the sacrifice of these 43 martyrs, for that’s what they are, pushes us to tidy up democracy, to revive and rescue it from our civic mediocrity, from the tentacles of a corruption that grows ever more generalised, and which threatens to demolish all we once considered decent and possible.

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