Left: Elva Reyes, member of the Action of Greater Lansing’s Civil Rights for Immigrants Task Force (shown right) supporting the mother of one of the students missing in Mexico at Cristo Rey Community Center.
By Deborah M. Walker
It is happening all over Mexico. Tens of thousands of people are disappearing without a trace and the Mexican government has done little if nothing to stop it. Speaking out against the atrocities can mean persecution and even death, but not everyone is afraid, said Cruz Bautista, whose nephew was taken along with 42 other students.
“I want to know where my nephew is,” said Bautista. This has not just affected me, it has affected all the family and all the relatives, parents, uncles, aunties, everybody.”
On September 26, 2014, 43 male students from the Rau’l Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers college of Ayotzinapa, Mexico went missing in Iguala, Guerreo, Mexico and their families will stop at nothing to get them back.
To raise awareness and support for the missing 43 students, their parents and family members set out on a national caravana. The purpose of the caravana is to get people listening and informed so they can help said Aida Cuadrado, lead organizer for the Action of Greater Lansing.
“The more people you have listening [and] the more people that know, the more power their movement has and the chances of them getting their children back become greater,” said Cuadrado.
Cuadrado said lack of information concerning the matter and a complacent attitude regarding Mexico has left many turning the other cheek.
“Sometimes we look at our brothers and sisters in Mexico as the same old same old, when they are actually living human beings that are missing family members. Their children are gone and they definitely need some support around that,” said Cuadrado.
It is not so much that people do not care said Mayor Virg Bernero, of Lansing, MI. The problem is the fact that people do not understand the complexity of the issues in Mexico. The Mexican government is complicated and plagued with corruption and often times the situation in Mexico is masked to the public.
“I didn’t understand that there was a cover up,” said Bernero. “I’ve heard about these missing kids. I remember seeing it on the news. I assumed it was being properly investigated until right now tonight. I had no idea. So to hear from these relatives directly is heart wrenching and powerful.”
To combat this issue the caravana has been making stops all across the United States and on Friday, April 10, 2015, the family members came to Lansing, MI. Maria de Jesus, mother of a missing student, and Bautista spoke at the event giving a voice to the atrocities in Mexico and sending hope that their loved ones are still alive.
Bautista said that the disappearance of his nephew has affected him morally and psychologically. Not knowing what happened to his nephew on the night he disappeared has sent the family into a terrifying waiting game.
The situation in Ayotzinapa is not uncommon. Countless kidnappings and murders are rampant all across Mexico said Esmeralda Perez de Lopez, who attended the event. Her cousin, Jose Perez, went missing in Mexico without a trace.
“Mexico is dealing with a lot of narco violence, corruption, and kidnappings,” said Perez de Lopez. “Whenever we would hear about such things we think of Columbia, which, you know had a lot of issues with narco violence and things like that… But now we’re looking at Mexico and it has the same problem.”
Even though Perez de Lopez is an American she still has ties to Mexico. According to her, there is a lot of narcotic violence in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico; the town where her family is from. She said her cousin was taken by the Zetas, a narcotics group that torments citizens and extorts them for all they have.
“A lot of these groups are just people that you grew up with,” said Perez de Lopez. “They’re your neighbors or people who work in a store. But there are some people who are always watching and reporting to someone. It’s not uncommon, in the neighborhood my parents grew up in, for the Zetas to come through and shut down all the electricity on the block, kill someone or steal from people.”
Perez de Lopez said at this point the Zetas no longer have to steal because citizens of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, are so afraid that they just pay the group.
“People live in fear. People have had their homes taken away from them, their cars, and their children. Various things have happened. That’s why standing up for Ayotzinapa is very important,” said Perez-de Lopez.
Plan Merida was approved in 2008. The plan has appropriated 2.3 billion dollars since it began. The plan will implement justice reform, police capacity building courses, which will include training for law enforcement, and anti-corruption programs to name a few.
Although there has been improvement within the Mexican government, many believe that it is the government that is causing the problem. It is rumored that the Mexican government took the missing students, although that allegation has yet to be proven.
Politically, the United States can get involved and put pressure on the Mexican government to take action said Bernero. Additionally he said, Mexico should be more than an exotic getaway for tourists. The problems in Mexico should be taken seriously and government intervention by the United States may be just what Mexico needs to get its act together.
Bernero said, “I know people that are going on a vacation in Mexico. It’s great that there’s so many places to vacation there, but these people are hurting, and they’re in Mexico too. So it shouldn’t just be our playground, these our are brothers and sisters in Mexico, and so if you can link it somehow to the dollars, I’m not suggesting a boycott right now, but raising awareness will help. There has to be political pressure for the government to do the right thing.”
Cuadrado said the United States in concerned about what goes on overseas and should be just as interested about what is happening in our own region.
“If we can react to what’s happening in other countries, we should definitely react to what’s happening down the street,” said Cuadrado. “We are a great nation and I think we can help these families get justice.”
There is still hope for the missing 43 students. Conflicting reports that the students have been found has surfaced, however, DNA tests proved that they were not the students. Another report from the Mexican government said the students were incinerated; however, there is no proof of this. There a many stories floating around about the students.
The key for bringing the missing students home will be to keep raising awareness and to continue to ask for a response from the Mexican government. Cuadrado said that people should talk to their local legislators about Plan Merida.
“This is the plight that all people of color, minorities, and communities around the world are feeling. The fact that we need to pay more attention to what is happening to our brothers…They are human beings just like us, and care and love their children just like us,” said Cuadrado.
Bautista had some advice for other parents who are going through the same thing.
“Do not remain silent at the injustices you have been victims of,” said Bautista. “Do not be afraid and raise your voice. Many, many other families have come to us to tell us that their children are missing too. We’re not here just for the 43; we’re here for all the missing people in Mexico. All the killings in different locations, especially the femicides; the mass killing of women. We’re asking for justice for everyone.”
Perez de Lopez said she is proud of the families of the missing 43 students for speaking out and fighting for justice that is often times so hard to get.
“If they are coming all this way to Michigan then why can’t I just get up off my couch and come out and listen to what they’re saying,” said Perez de Lopez.
There is an online petition that can be signed to help bring justice for the missing 43 students. To learn more about how you can help go to www.caravana43.com.
This article was printed in the May 17, 2015 – May 30, 2015 edition.