Friends and family of 43 missing university students, “normalistas,” spoke at UC Berkeley last Friday, part of a tour throughout the United States to spread word about the mass kidnapping that has been rocking Mexico for months.
The “normalistas” were studying education at a small school in the state of Guerrero in southern Mexico. Coming from poor backgrounds, students and teachers at this school have a long history of protest and fighting for their rights.
On September 26, 2014, students from the Raúl Isidro Burgo rural teaching college in Ayotzinapa went to protest in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.
The students hoped to disrupt an event that was held by the local mayor’s wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa.
Facts about that night remain contested. However, it is clear that local police opened fire on vehicles in the area, and that 43 students disappeared.
Confirmed deaths vary depending on the source.
Since then, Ayotzinapa has become more than just a place, it has become a cause. Mass protests have taken place in Mexico City and in towns and cities throughout the country.
Edwin Ackerman, master of ceremonies at the UC Berkeley event, criticized those who are opposed to those who are backing the 43 disappeared students.
“In the discourse of the [Mexican] state, those fighting back are violent, parasitical groups with irrational demands. It’s sort of an intense version of the anti-union, anti-teacher sentiment that exists in the US,” he said.
“In Mexico,” Ackerman continued, “these accusations often have a range of undertones, the image [the government] presents is this unruly, backward mob of indigenous people. It was this climate of stigmatization that allowed for Ayotzinapa to be attacked before in a less circulated case in 2011 – while blocking a major highway in demand of guaranteed tenure positions, and better living conditions in their school, federal police opened fire, killing two students.”
Another panelist was Steve Fisher, a student in the graduate program of journalism at UC Berkeley. He said government responses to the mass kidnapping contradict the thousands of official documents that he has reviewed.
“According to the government, the police along with cartel members, took the students from Iguala, and took them to a landfill in Cocula. There, according to officials, the students were burned. The student’s remains were then put in large bags, thrown into a river, and later supposedly found by the Mexican government,” Fisher said.
Fisher went on to explain that the Mexican military and the federal police adamantly deny that they knew about the attack until two hours after it ended.
But from evidence, it is clear that they knew about Ayotzinapa activities at least three hours prior to the event.
“The [official] story that the government has created has come entirely from depositions from people who had been tortured,” Fisher added.
Blanca Luz Nava Vélez, mother of missing student Jorge Alvarez Nava, said, “We don’t believe anything that the government has been saying. They’ve been trying to deceive us, time and time again, trying to make us believe our children are dead, that they were burned in Cocula, and they are lies.”
“What we’ve always said is that we’re poor, but we’re not idiots. And as long as there’s no proof, we are going to search for our children as if they were alive. I know in my heart that my child is alive,” Nava Vélez said passionately.
Panelist and Ayotzinapa student Josimar De la Cruz Ayala called for public support via donations, letters, protests and boycotts of arms dealers that ship weapons to Mexico.
De la Cruz Ayala said Ayotzinapa does not accept donations from political parties that would like to claim sponsorship. Ayotzinapa is a non-partisan organization.