The group is called the Caravana 43. Family members of the missing have joined together to promote civil rights and to better inform American citizens of the systematic violence happening in Mexico. There is currently a tour throughout the U.S. of the parents that have traveled everywhere from Portland to New York. The organization is divided into 3 “caravans” that make their tour across America: the Atlantic, Pacific, and Central regions. The Atlantic region of the Caravana 43 visited both Virginia Commonwealth University on April 3rd. The room was filled with students, professors, and cameras all eager to hear their stories. Spray-painted signs were placed in the front of the room, which are showcased around each campus they visit to promote the event. A spokesperson thanked the parents for their courage and their willingness to come to the university to talk and for having the courage to speak out.There were translators prepared to quickly relay the message back to the English speaking students and faculty. The first speaker was Anayeli Guerrero de la Cruz, the sister of Oshivani Guerrero de la Cruz, one of the 43 students abducted last fall.
“Maybe some of you don’t know why we’re here…the reason is because we want to share and re-frame the information that has been said from the media.” she began. “Three of them were killed and one of them was skinned alive by the police….And maybe some of you don’t know, but we notice you young people have here what the students back home [at their colleges] don’t have.”
Last September, 43 Mexican college students were abducted in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. Over a year later, there are still no answers. To the family of those still missing, this is unacceptable. As a result, some of those parents and siblings have traveled Central America and the United States to tell the students’ stories.
The students of Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa Guerrero believed that hiring practices in schools discriminated against rural teachers, and that those in urban communities are hired first. They were traveling around the area collecting money so that they could go to an anniversary march in early October in honor of the 1968 Massacre in Tlatelolco.On September 26th Maria de los Àngles Pineda Villa, the wife of Mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez , was hosting an event. It was reported the students were coming to interrupt the event and that the mayor and his wife gave police orders to detain them. 6 were killed, 25 were wounded, and the other 43 disappeared. Mexican authorities point towards the mayor and his wife for the attack, though the parents and many citizens do not believe this to be correct.
“The police body is supposed to protect the citizenship but it is the opposite.” she said. “It is very difficult for us to share this and we want people to understand and gain knowledge about what has happened and not be misinformed by the TV….That’s why we’re going to different cities to put pressure on the government to solve this case. It’s been six months. There is no evidence what the authorities are saying is the truth.”
The truth, according to de la Cruz, is far from what the Mexican government has reported.
“They were saying the young people were burned and their ashes were thrown into a landfill, the ones found by the river. The DNA tests of the ashes found these were not the bodies of the students.”
Argentinian scientists tested the ashes found in the landfill. Though they were claimed to have been the ashes of the students, the results determined the ashes are from a fire that happened in 2010. It also revealed that the fire never got hot enough to burn a human body, let alone dozens of bodies. Though bones and molars of a woman were also found, the woman was not identified as any of the students.
“The number one demand that we have is those 43 students to be brought back to us alive and those guilty and responsible to receive punishment….I want my brother to come back. We will not stop fighting until for find the truth. We want them to go back to the school and continue their education.” she concluded.
The next speaker, Clemente Rodríguez Moreno, is a father longing for his son to come home.
“Before the events in Guerrero, I had four children including my son. My son is 19 and disappeared because of the damn government. We’ve had a lot of worries. We’re living hand to foot. I’m selling jugs of water and my wife sells handmade tortillas.” He paused. “We know the municipal police, federal police, and army participated in this, and I’m going to continue fighting.”
He then told us about how his son wanted to teach the poor in rural communities and was on the dance team at school.
“I’m going to fulfill his dreams. We’ll find him. We’ll find the 43.”
He scanned the room, gesturing to the students. “I ask you and Mexico City please, do not be silent. Do not be in school just for scholarship and good grades. Fight against discrimination.”
Appearing heartbroken, his closing statement touched the audience. “If my son is hearing me, I am very proud and I’m waiting for him. His friends in the dance group are sad and shaken. Together we can achieve this. I have not stopped searching. We know they took them alive and want them alive. It’s difficult for us to be in lands far from our own, but I have I have been able to plant a seed and it will flourish and grow….The 43 have found family [in America].”
Professor Felipe De la Cruz Sandoval of the Rural Teachers College of Avotzinapa was the final speaker. He was proudly wearing a homemade Avotzinapa Faltan 43 shirt in honor of the missing students and his son that survived the attack.
“The Mexican government says the democracy of Mexico is flourishing….In 1968 there was a massacre, and they say that’s when the age of democracy began, but we say that’s when they killed it.” he declared. There were audible gasps and murmurs in the room, and plenty of nods in agreement. He asserted that the police were planning an attack on the students long before it happened. There were three buses. One was at the entrance, the middle, and the tollbooth that leads to the highway. Before they were able to get to the tollbooth, the police stopped them from asking for funds from the other passengers on the buses. Once they realized they could not go back and got a phone call from companions saying they had been detained. They were able to take two of the five buses.
“They did not know the area well. As they were leaving the city, the police cut them off. They detained the buses. That’s when the police attack began. One student received a shot to the head. The student that was hit is in a coma and is in brain death. The students hid behind the buses and shouted ‘We’re students, we don’t have any guns!’ But the police continued the assault until they were out of ammunition. After the munitions were over, they told the students to get lost. They cleaned the blood off the bus and the ground.
“But they don’t leave and another bus comes by with a group of soccer players. A woman and the bus driver are shot because the police believe those are the students. Some of the students when they realized the other bus wasn’t coming did a press conference and that was when the second attack happened. One student’s face was skinned and his eyes were pulled out. That is what makes us as parents so full of rage. At that moment that’s when more people who are there witnessing this attack. There were two dead on the floor, and the others are still missing.
“That has what has made us come here. To the people who are enraged by the corruption and violence in Mexico. There is no war against drugs. They were giving [drug cartels] guns to continue organized crime against us, set up by the government to terrify the community and to stop protests. The dogs, the helicopters are all there to stop protests. Guerrero is full of armed police, yet the deaths continue to appear. They will attack to keep people quiet. In Mexico, democracy does not exist. They are afraid of the youth because they are learning. We’re seeing that not just in Mexico. There are attacks against youth even here in the US against blacks and Latinos. They do this to take the rights of all Mexicans and because they are scared of us…
“We want you to listen. You are the future of this planet and whatever is left of our environment because things are getting bad. Do not send the Mexican government more financial support. They use it to buy guns and train officers. The US is giving money and weapons to the Mexican government. They give the guns to the drug cartels to use to kill us.”
At the end, all three parents stood up and chanted “Alive you took them, alive we want them back!”