‘Missing 43’ protesters demand answers
More than six months after 43 male students disappeared after a clash in Guerrero, Mexico, family members of the missing men gathered outside the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco with survivors of the attack and local supporters to demand answers about the disappearances.
A large group of protesters rallied outside the consulate demanding that the Mexican government disprove allegations that armed forces were complicit with the disappearances of the 43 men and to demand that the government continue to investigate the disappearances and search for the missing men.
Today’s protest was part of a national effort, known as Caravan 43, arranged by the missing men’s families as well as survivors of the attack to raise international awareness about the disappearances.
The 43 male students who were kidnapped and disappeared on the night of Sept. 26, 2014 were enrolled in the Teachers’ School of Ayotzinapa.
Family members of the missing who were in San Francisco today said that investigators have not located or identified the remains of their loved ones.
According to a statement released today by the Mexican Embassy, the federal government investigation has found that during the night of Sept.
26 and the early morning of Sept. 27, the police force of the city of Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero, opened fire on three buses transporting students from the Teachers’ School of Ayotzinapa, as well as on a fourth bus transporting the Chilpancingo Hornets soccer team.
The Mexican government maintains that seven people were killed and 17 wounded, while 43 were captured during the attack.
Since the attack, the Mexican government said it came to light that former Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, had ties to the organized crime group Guerreros Unidos, which permeated the local police force.
The family members of the missing men and survivors of the attack, however, say that all levels of the Mexican government were involved in the attack, not just on the local level.
The Mexican government, under President Enrique Peña Nieto, contends that only the organized crime group, Guerrero Unidos, and the Iguala government were responsible.
While the Mexican government maintains that Guerrero Unidos infiltrated the local government and conducted the attack, they deny that any other group, has infiltrated the federal government.
The parents of the missing men and the survivors of the attack, however, disagree.
They believe that high-ranking federal government officials continue to receive money from the narco-traffickers, such as Guerrero United, and become rich while in public office.
They believe the narco-traffickers targeted their sons for attending a school with revolutionary and progressive values.
The Iguala police believed the students were going to disrupt a political speech that Abarca’s wife, Pineda, planned to give on family services, in Iguala.
According to the Mexican government, the students were also raising funds to go to Mexico City where they were planning to join protests commemorating the student killings of Oct. 2, 1968.
Those killings are known as the Tlatelolco massacre, in which the Mexican army and local police allegedly killed hundreds of protesters.
According to the Mexican government, Abarca ordered the Iguala police to intercept the students. The police force of the bordering town of Cocula, which is also allegedly infiltrated by organized crime, was alerted to the situation as well.
An Iguala police officer shot and killed one of the students and then Iguala and Cocula police officers tried to capture fleeing students, resulting in the death of six civilians and 17 wounded civilians, according to the Mexican government.
Cocula officers took 43 students in an unmarked truck and then handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos, according to the Mexican government. The government reported that one of the 43 is confirmed dead, but protesters outside the consulate did not believe any of the 43 were dead.
“What happened in Iguala was not a crime of State, nor does it constitute evidence of a systematic policy or practice on the part of the government,” according to a statement released by the Mexican Embassy.
Angel Neri De La Cruz Ayala, a 19-year-old man who is in his second year at Teachers’ School of Ayotzinapa and who was at the attack last year, came to the consulate today to raise awareness about what happened to his classmates and to urge the U.S. government to stop sending resources that support the Mexican military and police forces.
He said that on the day of the attack, three military jeeps full of army soldiers confronted him and his classmates. He said was afraid and angry when they were confronted and when they became aggressive, he knew the students were being retaliated against because of their political views.
He said he was lucky not to be killed or kidnapped. He said six months later he still doesn’t know what had happened to his classmates, but he said that despite what Mexican government officials say, the local, state and federal government participated in the attack.
In addition, he said the Mexican media has distorted what happened that day and that the truth must be heard.
De La Cruz Ayala said that the government is painting a false picture of what happened, a picture in which the teachers were part of a rival organized crime group, but that in fact they are from rural families that depend on agriculture farming to survive.
According to the Mexican government, the leader of Guerreros Unidos had been informed via text message, that the conflict in Iguala was instigated by a rival group, Los Rojos, in an attempt to enter the city to dispute control of the territory.
De La Cruz Ayala said that has been said in an effort “to denigrate our movement.”
He said he knows what he saw, and he saw Mexican Army officials take away his friends.
De La Cruz Ayala said he is traveling with Caravan 43, comprised of the families of the kidnapped men and other survivors of the attack, in hopes of gathering international support, but said that when he is done with the tour he plans to return to his school despite all that has happened.
Blanca Luz Nava Vellez, the mother of Jorge Alvarez Nava, who was also a student at the school, said she has felt incredibly upset since the night of the attack and she too blames all three levels of government for being involved.
She said the federal government has assured her that her son was found dead, but she said that until she sees proof, she wouldn’t give up believing that he is alive.
Nava Vellez said her son is a happy young man who loves to play the guitar and listen to music.
She said her son was studying to be a professor, but that the school has a reputation for raising awareness about political issues, and that the government targeted it for that reason.
Nava Vellez said the school teaches “that one should not stay quiet in front of injustice” and that individuals should always struggle for freedom.
Estanislao Mendoza, the father of Miquel Angel Mendoza Zacarias, who also disappeared in the clash that September night, spoke to the group of protesters outside the consulate this afternoon and asked for their continued support as he and his family seek justice for his son and all the men who have forcibly disappeared.
He said just because his family is poor doesn’t mean they deserve to be oppressed and echoed the sentiments of many who gathered at the consulate, when he said he was tired of the government’s lies.
According to the Mexican government, the federal investigation into the kidnappings and disappearances, which is being handled by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, “is without precedent in terms of its scope and transparency.”
The Mexican government maintains the investigation utilized foreign assistance in intelligence gathering and interpretation.
According to the Mexican government, Iguala’s mayor was arrested and convicted of murder, while his wife has been convicted of organized crime. Federal authorities allegedly arrested more than 100 people presumed to be the intellectual authors of the crimes, as well as local police officials.
Norma Garcia, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen and an activist with the ANSWER Coalition, said today that the organized crime groups, or narco-traffickers, are known to pay off public officials in Mexico to allow them to conduct illegal business and transfer of drugs without disturbance.
She said these groups use the federal government as a pawn.
Protesters at the consulate today urged the U.S. to stop handing over money to the Mexican government under Plan Merida, also called Plan Mexico by critics.
The plan gives the Mexican government U.S. funds to stop drug trafficking, but critics say it just funds a corrupted government and drug traffickers.
Dozens of protesters formed a picket line outside the consulate today, chanting in Spanish, “Peña Nieto is a criminal” and “We want justice now.”