At the end of a recent march in Mexico City demonstrating against the forced disappearance of 43 student teachers last year, some of the parents and classmates of the victims addressed the crowd that had walked with them from the Angel of Independence monument. The parents, speaking from a pavilion placed outside the country's Supreme Court of Justice, said they were sick of the government's stance — it hasn't fulfilled its commitments and has tried to divide and demob them.
On September 26, 2014, a convoy of buses carrying the students, who were on their way back from protests for rural teachers in the city of Iguala, was shot at by local police and members of an organized crime group. Six people were killed at the scene, and many of the students were seen being loaded into police vehicles and driven away.
The 43 student teachers have been missing ever since.
At the march, Emiliano Navarrete, father of missing student teacher José Ángel Navarrete González, said Secretary of Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong promised them on August 15 that he would give more time and access to the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to continue their review of the official investigation even after submitting their final report — but only depending on their findings. The expert group’s involvement was the result of an agreement between the Mexican government and the representatives of the missing students.
He also added that a commission of family members of the 43 missing will meet in Philadelphia with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States next month.
In these last 11 months, the parents of the missing students have gone from pain to anger, as the mother of Jorge Álvarez explained:
“Aquí estoy recordándole a este Gobierno corrupto que queremos que nos entregue a nuestros hijos, que ya basta de mentira, porque el dolor que traemos no nos lo merecemos nosotros”, espetó. “Cómo madre yo le exijo que nos diga la verdad […] Si pensaba que nos íbamos a quedar callados, pues se equivocó porque jamás lo vamos a hacer. Siempre lucharemos con todo el corazón, porque no andamos luchando por quincenas, ni por aguinaldos, andamos luchando por vidas, vidas de nuestros hijos”.
Here I am to remind this corrupt government that we want it to give us back our sons; that we've had enough of so many lies because we don't deserve the pain that we're bearing,” she said. “As a mother, I demand the truth […] If officials thought that we wouldn't speak up, they are mistaken because we're never going to keep silent. We will always fight with our hearts because we are not fighting neither for biweekly payment, nor a bonus, we're fighting for lives, the lives of our children.
Melitón Ortega is also the father of one of the missing students. He said that in these 11 months, the relatives of the disappeared students have been harassed and intimidated in an effort to silence them. Nevertheless, the movement will continue, he said:
“Aún con esa amenaza del Gobierno vamos a seguir porque nuestro movimiento es digno, es pacifico, lo hemos demostrado que este movimiento va por la vida de los 43 jóvenes y no nos cansaremos […] mientras no regresan a esos jóvenes de la Normal de Ayotzinapa seguiremos recorriendo en las calles, en todo el país”, expresó.
“Even with the government's threat, we will carry on because our movement is honorable, peaceful, and we have demonstrated that this movement intends to get those 43 young people back alive, and we shall not rest until then […] as long as those young people from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College remain missing, we'll keep taking to the streets throughout the country,” he said.
‘More determined than ever’
Vidulfo Rosales, attorney for the Tlachinollan Mountain Center for Human Rights who is working on the case, called on all those present at the march, which was part of the 15th Global Action for Ayotzinapa, to join the large demonstration planned for September 26, the anniversary of the forced disappearance.
Rosales also said on August 31 and September 1, they will perform a “counter-report” at the Revolution Monument to contrast with the government annual report describing the government's activities and operations during the year that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will present on the first day of September. In addition, he also invited on participants to attend the popular national assembly at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College on September 12, when the actions to be taken on the anniversary will be decided.
In his message, the attorney and advocate for human rights talked about other social movements in the country that the parents of the 43 missing have supported, such as that of the Yaqui Tribe; shareholders of communal lands from San Salvador Atenco who reject the new Mexico city airport; the dissident teachers of the National Coordination of Education Workers; and the San Francisco Xochicuautla comuneros (people who share the ownership of lands) who reject the construction of a highway.
Before the march began, spokesman for the students teachers’ families Felipe de la Cruz said, “Here, we are more determined than ever in the center of the capital only to remind you that in Guerrero and in Mexico there are 43 missing.”
“Hoy los padres de familia ya no lloran, tampoco piden que el gobierno les cumpla. Hoy le exigen a Enrique Peña Nieto una respuesta pronta porque así se comprometió él en esa ocasión que nos reunimos en la residencia oficial de Los Pinos. Diez puntos que para él quedaron en el olvidó pero que para nosotros están en la memoria porque nos faltan 43″, expresó.
“Today, the parents are no longer crying nor asking the government for a response, but are demanding that [President] Enrique Peña Nieto give them a quick answer because that's what he promised that day when we had the meeting at the Los Pinos official residence. Ten points [of a security plan that Peña Nieto announced in 2014 in response to the Ayotzinapa kidnappings] that he's already forgotten, but for us, they're still in our minds because we're missing 43,” he said.
In his message, de la Cruz said that the movement hasn't lost its path or become divided, despite the government's attempts to demobilize them. Even though it's been already 11 months, to the families of the 43, today feels just like the day of the disappearances. “We won't rest until we get justice,” he said.
Hundreds of people of all ages and organizations joined the march. Participants included the Community Front in Defense of Land from San Salvador Atenco, as well as various universities groups like the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, the Autonomous University of Chapingo, the Autonomous University of Mexico City, and personnel from the Mexican Social Security Institute.
The march passed in front of an “anti-monument” (erected by the parents, not the authorities) on Reforma Street at the intersection of Juárez Avenue dedicated to the missing that says, “Because they took them alive we want them back alive.” The protesters read a roll call of the missing student teachers.
Traffic officers of the Distrito Federal Public Security took up positions throughout the demonstration, something that hasn't happened during previous mobilizations.
Some hours earlier, two groups of families and classmates of the 43 protested outside the embassies of several countries in Mexico City to ask for their support to the cause. “We're going through the embassies to deliver a request of diplomatic support,” Felipe de la Cruz told news agency dpa.
The groups went to the embassies of Vietnam, Hungary and Portugal, amongst others, at the start of their march.
Authorities lost evidence
The main pieces of evidence that could clear up the case have been lost, and the attorney general's office, the state prosecutor's office of Guerrero and the supreme court are the ones to blame, according to Rosales, the attorney from the Tlachinollan Mountain Center for Human Rights.
Rosales mentioned the loss of videos taken from the security cameras at the Iguala courthouse, which is located at the exit of the city towards Chilpancingo and therefore must have recorded the exact moment when half of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College were kidnapped from their bus.
“The police of Iguala and Guerreros Unidos stopped the students, and the cameras recorded everything because it was almost in front of the courthouse where everything happened. All the events,” he said.
Rosales said the videos were sent to the chairmanship of the supreme court, and there they disappeared.
“The state prosecutor's office should have requested those videos from the court, and the court should have made the evidence officially available,” he said.
To Rosales, if the videos are not returned, then irreparable evidence will be lost — along with the opportunity to solve the case.
The last Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts report on the matter revealed the existence of the videos:
El GIEI ve con preocupación la pérdida de pruebas en el caso. Específicamente ha informado a las autoridades competentes de la PGR, la existencia en su momento de una videograbación de la escena de la intervención policial que dio lugar a la desaparición de un grupo de normalistas en el escenario de la salida de Iguala cerca del Palacio de Justicia. Según testimonios proporcionados al Grupo, dichos videos existieron y fueron enviados a la presidencia del tribunal. Sin embargo, parece que tales registros videográficos fueron destruidos. Si esto se confirma se habrían perdido para la investigación de los hechos. Esta cuestión debe ser investigada de inmediato por la PGR”
The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts is concerned about the loss of pieces of evidence. It has specifically informed the proper authorities of the attorney general's office about the existence of a video of the scene showing the police intervention that led to the disappearance of a group of students teachers at the exit of Iguala, near the courthouse. According to testimonies that were provided to the group, such videos existed and were sent to the court's chairmanship. Nevertheless, it seems that the videos were destroyed. If this is confirmed, then they would be lost for the investigation of the facts. This matter must be immediately investigated by the attorney general's office.
In its report, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts also stated that the attorney general's office did not inform the families and their lawyers about the discovery of the 43 students’ clothes on September 27, 2014. Claudia Paz, of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, reported that in June, the group noticed that the finding of 19 pieces of garments was not processed:
Dicha situación no era conocida por los familiares ni sus representantes, y tampoco existía un registro específico ni procesamiento de la misma. En opinión del Grupo, este hecho es grave, tanto desde el punto de vista de la investigación como de la importancia que tiene para los familiares. El Grupo pidió ese mismo día a la PGR que se identificara el lugar donde se encontró la ropa y fuese examinada por peritos de la PGR y del EAFF para procesarla, fotografiarla y tomar las muestras genéticas correspondientes, y resguardarla de forma adecuada. Dicha diligencia se realizó los días 29 y 30 julio, y las muestras tomadas de forma conjunta por los peritos de ambas partes serán enviadas al laboratorio de Innsbruck para su análisis genético
The families and their representatives did not know about the situation and there wasn't any specific record or process of it either. In the opinion of the group, this matter is very serious, from the point of view of both the investigation and the families. The group asked the attorney general's office that very same day that the place where the garments were found be identified and examined by the attorney general's office experts and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team in order to process it, take photographs and the corresponding genetic samples and keep them properly. Such a procedure took place on July 29 and 30, and the samples were taken by the experts of both parties and will be sent to the laboratory in Innsbruck for their genetic analysis.
Rosales stated that the clothing was not only hidden from the investigation, but it wasn't properly attached to the file either.
“This is a serious matter because those garments had stains, and we don't know what kind they are. If they had been attached from the start of the investigation, it would have been easier to perform the genetic tests to identify whose garments they were,” he said.