A Day of Justice in Tepatepec

Revolutionary Worker #1049, April 9, 2000

It was a picture that gave heart to anyone who's ever been beaten or harassed by the police, anyone with relatives or friends who were brutalized or killed by the official enforcers, anyone with a sense of justice. The photo was taken in Tepatepec, in a rural area in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. It showed dozens of cops tied together, stripped of most of their clothes, forced to their knees and with their hands behind their heads. Humiliated and defeated, the cops were being punished by the people for their brutality against students at a local college. The picture was on the front pages of the Mexican newspapers on February 20--and it was seen by many around the world.

The RW reported briefly on the events in Tepatepec in issue #1045. We now have more information and photos.


Tepatepec is in a semi-desert area in the Mezquital Valley, about 50 miles north of Mexico City. The people here are mainly poor peasants who have little respect for the authorities--and little fear of the police.

The Luis Villarreal teachers college in El Mexe, near Tepatepec, is one of 16 rural teachers colleges in Mexico. Originally, there were 29 of these schools which have a tradition of radical activism among the students. But in 1968, the government shut down about half of the schools. Since then, the government has constantly tried to close the remaining rural teachers colleges. The government's argument is that there are enough teachers. But one and a half million children of primary school age in Mexico have no access to schools. Meanwhile, the number of new primary school teachers graduating from colleges has dropped from almost 110,000 in 1983 to less than 35,000 in 1994.

In recent years, the Mexican government has been moving against free, public education in general--as part of the "neo-liberal" program of the imperialists and their key instruments, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City started a strike in April 1999 against the government's attempts to impose tuition, and they occupied the campus until this February.

Less well known are the struggles going on in the rural schools. At Amilcingo in the state of Morelos, the authorities closed the rural teaching college because of student activism. In San Marcos, Zacatecas, students at the teachers college burned buses and blocked highways in January to demand the firing of the principal and four professors. The state governor ordered the school closed, but he was forced to back down and agree to the demands. At the Lázaro Cárdenas People's High School in Tlaxiaco, Oxaca, the police threatened to arrest students, teachers and administrators for defending free education. The people in this region are Mixtec Indians and poor peasants.

The struggle in El Mexe began in January of this year when students decided to expel the principal and vice principal--because they ripped off the school budget for their personal use. The Hidalgo state government--controlled by the PRI, the ruling bourgeois party in Mexico--quickly began to retaliate. The state education officials cut off the food supply to the school. In contrast to most colleges in Mexico, students at the El Mexe campus live in dorms. The government also removed 20 professors from the school. The students seized buses and other vehicles to demand the return of the professors.

On January 21, the police arrested 100 students as they were returning to El Mexe from a cultural program. Several days later, the head of the state's public education system declared the temporary closing of the school and expulsion of 36 members of the student committee. He said that any student who wanted to continue their education must register at the National Pedagogic University in Pachuca, the capital of Hidalgo.

In February, the situation escalated toward a showdown. On the first of the month, the Hidalgo police arrested over 260 students--the majority from other rural teaching colleges who had come to support their comrades at Luis Villarreal. Most were deported back to the states they came from, while 14 were jailed in Pachuca. On February 11, 100 students from El Mexe protested at the offices of the Secretary of the Interior in Mexico City.

On February 17, some students and teachers from El Mexe went to Pachuca to protest. Joined by hundreds of students from other schools, they set up a tent city in the main plaza. At 3 a.m. on February 19, 400 state granaderos (SWAT or riot police) arrived at the main square. The police smashed a glass door at the city hall--and used this as a pretext to attack the students. More than 35 El Mexe students were arrested, and hundreds of other students were shipped off to the states they came from. The police grilled the arrested students in an attempt to squeeze out information about the leaders and organization of the movement.

A few hours later, at 6 a.m., the same granaderos forced their way into the El Mexe campus and arrested more than 375 students, as well as parents and supporters. The police beat people, including children and the elderly. Some women students were reportedly raped and abused by the cops.

By 8 in the morning, everybody in Tepatepec knew about the attack on the Luis Villarreal college. With the women taking the initiative and leadership, the people began to organize for action. The father of one student said that everyone felt the police aggression was not just directed against the school but against all the poor of the area.

To trap the police inside the campus, the people blockaded the school entrances and the nearby roads with rocks and bonfires. Many police cars were set on fire or smashed. A few cops managed to escape by jumping into a nearby canal which is filled with raw sewage used for the farm fields. But 68 cops were captured by the masses.

The people proceeded to strip the cops down to their trousers or underwear. The cops were then tied together with rope and paraded through Tepatepec. One cop had a sign around his neck: "I'm a fink for the governor."

At the town's main plaza, the cops were forced to get on their knees as the people surrounded them. The people piled up the cops' uniforms, boots and bullet-proof vests and made a bonfire. They also displayed a cache of weapons, including several rifles and a grenade launcher, captured from the cops. The authorities had at first claimed that the granaderos were unarmed, but they had to retract this claim in the face of the evidence.

Faced with the fierce and daring action of the masses, the authorities were forced to back down and release almost all those the granaderos had arrested in the raid on the school. In return, the people released the police at the end of the day. The town's mayor, who belongs to the PRD (one of the bourgeois opposition parties) reportedly had to work hard to convince the people to let the cops go.

This was a day of justice for the people of Tepatepec. And for many others in Mexico and elsewhere, the image of the cops--stripped of their uniforms of brutality and disarmed of their guns, clubs and arrogance--was a great joy to see.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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