Families Of 43 Missing Mexican Students Look For U.S. Support
Thursday members of the Texas Senate offered their official condolences to the families of 43 missing, Mexican students. The families are touring the United States, hoping to find supporters who will pressure the Mexican government into reopening the investigation into what happened.
They've been told their children were murdered, but the relatives continue to believe the students are alive.
Omar Garcia, 24, believes survival carries responsibility. Which is why he tells and retells the story of what happened to him and his classmates last fall
“On Sept 26 , 90 of my friends and I went to Iguala for a fundraiser, “ says Garcia through an interpreter as he addresses an audience of about 80 at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
Garcia recalls the day he and other male students from a rural teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, about an hour from Acapulco, decided to go to the nearby city of Iguala. They planned to raise money for a bigger trip to Mexico City where they would participate in a commemoration of the 1968 deaths of student protesters who died following a police confrontation.
To reach their destination the students decided to hijack a bus.
“We do that (commandeer buses) because we don’t have buses in our locality. We don’t have transportation,” he explains.
The trouble began when the bus driver alerted authorities and the students took off in the buses with the police in pursuit.
“One police car stopped us, blocked our way. Police started shooting at random at our buses, shooting at random at our students,” he says.
Several students were wounded and 43 others were forced into police vehicles. Their families haven’t seen them since.
“The following day we showed up at the police department. The parents (were) asking for their children. We’re asking for our companeros and they’re not around, says Garcia.”
Now Garcia is among the student survivors and parents who are traveling to 50 U.S. cities, hoping to generate support for a more thorough investigation.
In January, Mexico’s attorney general said the government investigation concluded the local mayor had turned the students over to a drug gang because some of the students were suspected of being members of a rival gang. He said the 43 had been tortured, killed and their bodies burned. Garcia and relatives of the students don’t believe that.
“Of course I still believe they are alive,” says Garcia adding that the student bodies have not been identified.
Julio Cesar Guerrero, of San Antonio, helped organize the Caravana 43 tour, as it’s called. He says he, like many of those involved on this side of the border, have friends and family in Mexico and want the Mexican government to be held accountable.
“We cannot shame our government in Mexico anymore because they have no shame. They do feel shame when we say those things outside Mexico, when we come to the (United) States and say those things. They don’t like that. So that’s a way of putting pressure on the Mexican government,” says Guerrero.
Our Lady of the Lake student Jennifer Garza says she feels a connection with the suffering relatives. Her family is of indigenous, Mexican heritage. She believes a chorus of U.S. voices could push the Mexican government into doing more.
“What we can do is connect with the Mexican Consul,” says Garza. “We can spread the word. That’s what we can do. The word of mouth moves mountains.”
At the Texas Capitol, with relatives of the 43 watching, state senators unanimously passed a resolution extending their condolences. Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, addressed the visitors and lawmakers
“I can only think about of the outrage we would have in this country if 43 students went missing from their school. I don’t think any of us would stop until every stone was turned, until we found what happened or where those students were,”Menendez tells senators.
Garcia and the Caravana 43 relatives plan to meet with other U.S. lawmakers, Amnesty International and an international human rights commission.
They believe if they tell their story often enough, in the right places, the full story of the 43 missing students will eventually be known.