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The violent world of student politics in Mexico

January 24, 2012

Here’s two rather lengthy pieces I wrote on a bizarre and shocking local murder story. According to witnesses, the head of a student union personally killed a father and son over a relatively small amount of money, and then had three teenage witnesses murdered to cover it up. A bit different from university politics in England to say the least.

December 2011 – Student union embroiled in metro-area murder scandal

The murky world of student politics in Guadalajara was exposed last week as five bodies were found on the premises of an unofficial university union with a history of violence.

Reported missing the previous weekend, the bodies of three teenage students were discovered on Wednesday, December 14, on the grounds of the Federation of Guadalajara Students (FEG) headquarters. The following day police recovered the corpses of a fourth student and his father at the same property.

The five had disappeared after they allegedly complained to the FEG that the organization was demanding too much protection money from the father, who sold churros outside the Normal high school and the campus for Humanities and Social Sciences (CUCSH) run by the University of Guadalajara (UdeG).

Although no longer officially tied to the UdeG, the FEG still operates at schools affiliated with the university, specializing in charging food and soft drink vendors to operate in the vicinity.

The vendor in question was Armando Gomez Gallardo, 56. According to Spanish-language daily Milenio, other local traders said Gomez had been assaulted on several occasions by alleged members of the FEG for refusing to pay “fees” for his four churro stands.

Gomez and his 21-year-old son Ismael Gomez Saucedo had both been shot in the head.

The other victims were Fransisco Carillo Garcia and Gabriel Moran Cervantes, both 16; and Juan Pablo Valentin Guerrero, 17. They had been stabbed to death.

The State Prosecutor’s Office has not ruled out that members of the FEG might have been involved in the murders. FEG President Israel Mariscal Quezada has been subpoenaed to testify, along with David Castorena, the leading candidate to succeed him, as well as the caretaker of the FEG property known as Jorge N., “George” or “el Tatuado” (“the tattooed man”).  As of press time, neither of the three had presented themselves to testify.

Mariscal has denied any responsibility for the killings on behalf of his organization. He lamented the controversy but insisted the allegations that the FEG was engaged in extortion were “absolutely untrue.”

Local traders, however, told Milenio that members of the FEG go every Monday to collect 80 to 100 pesos from vendors for allowing them to work in the area. They also accused the staff of the Municipal Inspections Department of being in cahoots with the FEG, for when one of them refused to pay the fee they were immediately fined 2,500 pesos and had their goods confiscated by the city authorities.

Following the murder of their classmates, around 5,000 UdeG students marched in silence through the city center on Friday afternoon in a protest against violence and impunity. Many were dressed in white, carrying placards with slogans saying “Justice!” and “Don’t let them kill us!”

Accompanied by faculty staff and led by university rector Marco Antonio Cortes Guardado and Marco Antonio Nuñez, president of official union the Federation of University Students (FEU), the students marched from the rectory building down Avenida Juarez to the Plaza de Armas.

Addressing the crowd in the Plaza, Guardado said: “the disappearance of the FEG is an imperative for student life in Jalisco to recover the peace and freedom that education requires. The headquarters building of that organization must be returned to the University of Guadalajara to be beneficial for young people in Jalisco.”

Guadalajara Mayor Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval Diaz said his government will not allow the FEG’s informal trading arrangements to continue, while Secretary General Victor Manuel Gonzalez Romero said on Saturday that the FEG would be evicted from its headquarters.

Jalisco Governor Emilio Gonzalez said the FEG has been characterized by violence and vowed to “work to prevent the criminal activities of student associations.” While the state government cannot close the FEG down without court authorization, he said they will regain control of the building where the bodies were found.

Founded in 1949, the FEG has a dark and controversial past. The union’s website describes it as “a student political organization … teaching the promotion of democracy and tolerance,” but the FEG has long been linked to the disappearances of opponents and grew notorious for dishing out violence with impunity.

Violent unions were common at Mexican universities in the 1950s and especially the 1960s, when student politics grew increasingly radical. In the early 1970s the FEG was involved in gun battles with the right-wing “Tecos” of the Autonomous University of Guadalajara (UAG), as well as its own internal rivals within the university, culminating in the assassination of FEG founder and leader Carlos Ramirez Ladewig in 1975.

Initially a leftist organization, the FEG switched decades ago to supporting the then-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Having formed closer links with Mexico’s political elite, such unions have gradually become less ideological over the years.

In 1990, UdeG rector Raul Padilla Lopez called a plebiscite to decide which of the FEG and the FEU should be the official student union. The FEU won with over 70 percent of the vote but the FEG was still not disbanded.

Ironically, Padilla served as FEG president from 1977-79 and has since amassed great power running the business ventures of the UdeG. As kingmaker of university politics, he is regarded as one of the most influential men in the city.

Padilla’s authority was recently challenged by rector Carlos Jorge Briseño Torres, who wanted to scale back the business side of his role and strip him of his power. Instead, Briseño lost a crucial vote and was removed from his position. His campaign for reinstatement was in vain and he died in an apparent suicide in 2009.

The recent murders could provide the impetus for the FEG to finally be closed down, but to date most talk has focused on simply evicting the organization from its headquarters. It would require a brave and determined adversary to completely dismantle this local political mafia.

January 2012 – Union president incriminated in murder of students

The president of the Federation of Guadalajara Students (FEG) has been implicated in the killing of four students and one parent by four teenagers who were forced to dig the victims’ graves on the union premises.

Testifying before the State Attorney General’s office (PGJEJ) on Tuesday, 19-year-old Gerardo Godoy alleged that FEG President David Castorena Peña was responsible for the killing of Armando Gomez, 56, his son, Francisco Ismael Gomez Salcedo, 21, and three other teenage students. Godoy’s testimony was supported on Wednesday by three teenage students who helped bury the five corpses.

The bodies were found on the grounds of the FEG headquarters on December 14 and 15. The killings followed a dispute between Armando Gomez and the unofficial student union over fees for his churros (snack) stand outside the school grounds at La Normal.

It is believed that either Gomez did not want to pay increased fees being charged by the FEG, or that he had been helping them collect payment from others but had pocketed the money himself.

A coordinator for the FEG, Godoy said he saw Gomez arguing with caretaker Gerardo Flores Gomez, alias “El Tatuadao,” outside the union headquarters. The pair then entered the building and were taken to the office of Castorena, who recently became president of the student body.

According to Godoy, the only people in the room were Castorena, the caretaker, Gomez and his son.

The only others present in the building were Castorena’s staff, who were trusted not to divulge what happened. This included the unnamed trio, aged 13, 15 and 17, who testified on Wednesday.

The witnesses heard two shots fired, before Castorena emerged to make several phone calls. The bloodstained carpet from Castorena’s office was removed immediately, they said. Castorena then forced them to dispose of the bodies on the union grounds.

Having been tied up and gagged in an office adjacent to Castorena’s, three students who had accompanied Gomez and son to the FEG headquarters were also killed to ensure there were no witnesses to the crime. They were stabbed to death at the foot of the rudimentary graves that had been dug for them.

The four witnesses are among 18 members of the FEG who have been ordered to present themselves before the PGJEJ. Also wanted are former President Israel Mariscal, the caretaker and Castorena, whose current whereabouts are unknown.

“In the coming days we will present reliable results with arrests and presentations of those who have refused to come before the authorities, some of whom are student leaders, as well as people living in the building occupied by the FEG,” said Thomas Coronado Olmos, the head of the prosecution.

With the murder investigation now said to be 90 percent complete, the state government and the University of Guadalajara (UdeG) are at odds over ownership of the property where the bodies were discovered.

UdeG rector Marco Antonio Cortes Guardado said a new preparatory school should be opened on the property “to expand the supply of high school education.” He also claimed rights to the property because part of the building was built using university funds, but said they will wait to see what the state government does before deciding whether to take legal action.

Governor Emilio Gonzalez had said the state government would take ownership of the FEG building, located in the Miraflores neighborhood. Gonzalez stated it would not be handed over to the university, but will instead be used to benefit young graduates through the Ciudad Creativa Digital project. Yet it is now thought this project will be based in Parque Morelos.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rafael Valdivia permalink
    July 9, 2013 00:23

    Not all is the way it appears to be…sometimes time takes situation out of context, not that I am justifying murder, that is wrong, but I have been reading a lot of bashing of the FEG, and not all was that bad…at the beginning….anyhow, shoot me an email….akakema@live.com

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  1. Caretaker dies after admitting role in student murders « The Tequila Files

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