Above photo: Parents of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students demonstrated in front of the Military Camp No. 1 in the capital Mexico City on September 21. Alfredo Domínguez/La Jornada.
The parents are demanding that the Mexican Armed Forces hand over all the information they have in their possession about the mass kidnapping and disappearance of their loved ones.
On Thursday, September 21, parents of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, who disappeared in September 2014, demonstrated in front of the Military Camp No. 1 in the capital Mexico City.
Carrying large banners that read “Where are our children?”, “We are missing 43”, and “Because they were taken alive, we want them back alive,” among others, the parents demanded that the Mexican Armed Forces hand over all available information about the mass kidnapping and disappearance of their loved ones.
The parents and relatives of the students, with the help of students from different rural colleges, set up a camp outside the camp and began an indefinite sit-in protest. They announced that they wouldn’t move until they received the information withheld by the army. Human rights and social organizations announced that they would support the parents and provide them with food and other essentials in solidarity with their struggle.
Melitón Ortega, spokesperson of the families of the disappeared students, said, “We do not come here to confront the military, we come to tell them that they have a responsibility and a commitment that they have been denying.”
“We are here to demand that the army give us those documents that we need. Although the president has told us that everything has already been delivered, we see that some reports of the Regional Intelligence Fusion Center (CRFI), which the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) also pointed out that the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) had refused to hand over, are missing from the documents given to us…All we want is to know the truth about their whereabouts,” he added.
Ortega also alleged that the armed forces were not only concealing information and reports, but had also been hiding photo and video evidence related to the case.
Despite protesters’ clear demands, soldiers placed a barricade with barbed wire, sandbags, tires, and sticks inside the military facilities to prevent protesters from entering. In addition, military personnel equipped with shields and helmets guarded the perimeter.
The demonstration and the sit-in protest were organized as part of the struggle for justice for the families of the disappeared Ayotzinapa students nine years after one of Mexico’s worst state crimes, which involved the federal and state governments as well as the police and the military.
What happened nine years ago?
What exactly happened nine years ago still remains unclear. What is known, through information gathered from the survivors, witnesses and independent human rights investigations, is that students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the town of Ayotzinapa, had commandeered buses to travel to Mexico City for the commemoration of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. On their way, in the city of Iguala, in the state of Guerrero, they were attacked by law enforcement officials, who shot at the buses, killed 6 people (3 of them were students) and detained 43 students who were never seen again.
The then-government of far-right president Enrique Peña Nieto claimed that the corrupt local policemen, who had attacked and arrested the students, handed them over to a group of drug-trafficking assassins, Guerreros Unidos Cartel, who supposedly killed them, incinerated their bodies in a landfill in the mountains and disposed of their remains in the nearby San Juan river.
However, the family members of the students and human rights organizations never believed this narrative and alleged that the federal government and the army were directly involved in disappearing the students. They believed that the drug cartel story was a cover-up to hide a malicious state crime and protect high-ranking officials and institutions.
Students and human rights organizations alleged that the students from Rural Teachers’ College, known for its left-wing activism, were selectively targeted for opposing a neoliberal education bill proposed by the Nieto government in 2013.
Investigation under the AMLO administration
After taking office in December 2018, as promised during his election campaign, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) reopened the case and created a truth and justice commission to investigate what happened to the students. However, only a little progress has been made towards the road to justice due to the tampering of evidence and manipulation of truth by former attorney generals and investigating officers.
In the past five years, the new authorities have made some significant developments in the investigation, such as the discovery of the remains of at least three disappeared students in places different from the ones indicated in the former government’s version. The authorities have also arrested over 120 people, including police officers, army generals and senior government officials. However, the majority of those arrested have been released by judges loyal to the former regime.
On September 20, President AMLO met with the parents and presented them with a report of the investigation carried out jointly by the Mexican State and the United States authorities. He assured that the Mexican army had provided all the information related to the case.
On September 21, after the families insisted that the army had important hidden information about the students, President AMLO stressed that “we are not done yet, the investigation continues…The army is not the only way to get to the truth.”
President AMLO invited the parents to meet him at the National Palace on Monday “so that there is no misinformation, no manipulation and no differences between the families and the federal government.” He reported that the interior ministry would give to the parents on September 25 “a collection of everything gathered” by the truth commission.
The meeting will take place a day before the ninth anniversary of the forced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students. A massive march from different parts of the capital to Zocalo has been called for September 26 to demand justice for the hideous state sponsored crime.