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The Justice Brigades of Ayotzinapa

Months after the savage police attack that left six unarmed people dead and 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Mexico, the movement for justice shows no signs of letting up. Getting a second wind, parents of the disappeared students and their classmates from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college launched a whirlwind tour of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero this week to build support for their cause.

Fanning out across the the big state, several brigades of students and relatives held community meetings, gave presentations in schools and conducted press conferences.  Late on the evening of February 3, a commerical bus carrying parents and students rolled into the city of Zihuatanejo on the Costa Grande of the Pacific coast state, where the weary but determined sojourners were greeted by hosts from the Popular Azuetense Movement (MPA).

“Ayotzi vive! La Lucha sigue! Ayotzinapa Lives! The struggle continues!” the MPA activists shouted while the parents and students filed down the bus steps. The purpose of the trip, Ayotzinapa student Jose Rodolfo told FNS, was to show the government that “as parents and students we remain in struggle.”

A survivor of the tragic events of September 26 and 27, 2014 when scores of Ayotzinapa students were attacked by municipal policemen in Iguala, Guerrero while they were ironically in the city to gather buses and monetary donations for a trip to Mexico City to commemorate the 1968 student massacre, the young man corroborated other testimonies of military involvement or gross neglect in the the Iguala atrocities.

Jose Rodolfo recalled soldiers hitting and “psychologically abusing” students who were in an Iguala hospital seeking help for their injured colleagues.

“Instead of helping us, they arrived harassing us,” he said. “You looked for it, thinking you were big men’,” he recalled the soldiers telling the besieged students.

The men in uniform also confiscated students’ cellphones and billfolds, Jose Rodolfo charged. While the soldiers did not directly participate in the initial police attacks against the students, many military patrols appeared on the streets right after confrontations between municipal police and students, punctuated by police gunfire, subsided hours later, as if the troops were securing the perimeter after the dirty work was done, the student teacher said.

Jose Rodolfo called attention to other aspects of the Ayotzinapa saga that have been largely forgotten, including the previous police killings of two students during a December 2011 protest in the state capital of Chilpancingo and the January 2014 deaths of two other students, who were run over by a driver while they were collecting money on the main Costa Grande highway.

In addition to the killings and disappearances in Iguala, one student had his mouth destroyed, another lost fingers and a third, Aldo Gutierrez, remains in a coma; fifty people have been arrested in subsequent protests across Mexico, he added.

An analytical young man, Jose Rodolfo described how the atrocities  devastated his school, essentially resulting in the loss of an academic year. “How can we have classes when 43 students are missing?” the student asked. “Practically every classroom has 15 students missing. It’s more important to find the 43 than to finish the academic year.”

Speaking in emotionally-laced language, two mothers of disappeared students, who asked that their full names not be used because of security concerns, contended that the missing students are in official hands. Parents of the disappeared youth are making individual decisions whether or not to go public.

Maria and a friend challenged Mexican Attorney General Jose Murillo Karam’s declaration of the “historic truth” last month, which many analysts assessed as an official closure of the Ayotizinapa case despite government denials.

Mexico’s senior law enforcement official insisted that the students were detained by local cops from Iguala and the neighboring municipality of Cocula, turned over to the Guerreros Unidos criminal gang, subsequently murdered and then incinerated in the town dump of Cocula, with their ashes then tossed into a river.

Murillo maintains that no evidence exists pointing to the involvement of either the army or federal police officers. Of the 43 missing male students, the remains of one of the students were earlier identified by Austria’s Innsbruck University, which later stated it was unable to identify the others.

Maria and the second mother took issue with Murrillo’s statements that detained Guerreros Unidos members said they had detected infiltrators from a rival group, Los Rojos, in the contingent of Ayotizinapa students and were ordered to slaughter the entire group by crime bosses. “We don’t believe it. It is a lie,” Maria stated flat out.

Attired in sandals and faded clothes that resembled the used threads frequently sold on Mexican streets, the pair of 40-something-old  women ridiculed notions that their teenage sons had plunged into the world of fast money.

“If we had been in organized crime, we’d be decked out in better shoes,” cracked Maria’s friend. Both mothers described their sons as hard-working, variously athletic or artistic, and willing to help their younger siblings with homework. After months on the road demanding the safe return of their children, the ongoing disappearances are taking a toll on family life and personal health, they said.

“We are thinking about (our children) 24 hours a day. We can’t sleep..,” added Macedonia Torres Romero, mother of another disappeared student.

“We don’t know if they are okay, if they are healthy, if they are eating.” According to Maria, she and several other parents have dreams that their children are alive, working and finally coming home.

Sporting a San Francisco Giants cap, Nardo Flores Vazquez keeps searching for his son, Bernardo Flores Alcaraz. The husky man seconded the statements of Maria and her friend, intimating that Attorney General Murillo’s legal case lacks logic.

“If our sons were involved in a cartel, they wouldn’t have been collecting money with cans on the streets,” Flores told a group of reporters. “Narcos don’t collect money with cans in the streets.”

Added Torres: “Why do the students go out and collect money? It’s because the government doesn’t provide them with resources. Our students wanted to study, and have a better future, but the government doesn’t want this.”

The Ayotizinapa students and parents distributed a communique that blasted the alleged shortcomings and cover-ups in the federal investigation, including a statement by former policeman Salvador Bravo Barcenas that the Mexican army knew in 2013 that Cocula was controlled by Guerreros Unidos.  Denouncing the upcoming June 7 elections, the statement urged the organization of popular councils to govern from below. The authors placed the Iguala events in a larger polticial and economic context.

“It’s not only the disappeared of Ayotzinapa, but thousands and thousands across the country,” they wrote. “The attacks are against the entire people, including the sacking of petroleum resources, increasingly expensive electric energy, unemployment, the devaluation of the peso, and all the reforms that affect the most poor.”

But the justice caravan was heartened by the outpouring of global support and attention, which included their movement’s participation this week in the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances’ examination of Iguala/Ayotzinapa in Geneva, Switzerland, as well the February 2 bipartisan passage of a resolution by the California state Senate condemning the Iguala/Ayotzinapa atrocities and calling for human rights in Mexico.

“..I urge the Mexican government to support further dialogue between the international community and human rights organizations to implement human rights reforms that protect free speech and eliminate retribution of any sort for individuals expressing their opinions,” said state Senator Richard Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the resolution’s sponsor, after the measure’s passage.

“This is an international case,” welcomed Ayotzinapa student Victor Gonzalez.

After the Costa Grande and other Guerrero tours wrapped up February 4, the activists headed to the state capital of Chilpancingo where a large march for justice was underway on Thursday, February 5.

In the weeks prior to the protest, the Mexican government deployed thousands of soldiers and federal police officers in the Guerrero city. The Chilpancingo demonstration was also the kickoff for a February 5-6 national convention set for nearby Ayotzinapa that activists say will lay the groundwork for a new national constitution. Looking ahead, the parents and students are mulling plans to tour the United States, France, Italy, Bolivia, and other countries.

Yet for parents like Maria, it’s all a road tour none want but all must undertake. Maria and company come from rural indigenous and low-income backgrounds, and their journeys have been sustained by the grassroots solidarity of the people, who donate food and money and find places for the tired travelers to lay their heads, even if it is just a mere cot or a slab of concrete under a shaded roof.

An engaging woman on the cusp of middle age, Maria asked the U.S. public to consider the parents’ predicament. “If you had a missing child, just put yourself in our shoes,” she offered. “The only energy we have left is the hope and faith that they are alive. That’s the only thing that keeps us going… they took them alive, and we want them back alive.”

Kent Paterson writes for Frontera NorteSur

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Kent Paterson writes for Frontera NorteSur

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