In Mexico, 43 Abducted Students One Of Many Missing Persons Cases

By Jorge Valencia
Published: Monday, September 30, 2019 - 6:05am
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2019 - 8:18am

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Thousands marched on Mexico City’s central square on September 26, demanding answers into the investigation of 43 college students who vanished from the southern state of Guerrero
Jorge Valencia/KJZZ
Thousands marched on Mexico City’s central square on September 26, demanding answers into the investigation of 43 college students who vanished from the southern state of Guerrero five years earlier.

As thousands marched on downtown Mexico City last week, groups of students and activists shouted many chants: “Who’s in charge?!” “The people are fighting!” and one making reference to the disappeared college students they were commemorating — a count to 43 ending with a demand for “Justice!”

Five years after 43 students were kidnapped by police and turned over to organized crime as they were traveling by bus, authorities say they still have more questions than answers. So on Thursday, the anniversary of their disappearance, thousands marched on the Mexico City’s central square, wanting to know what happened.

The 43 students, enrolled in a teachers’ college in the town of Ayotzinapa, were detained by local police as they made their way in hijacked bus from the town of Iguala toward a march in Mexico City, federal investigators have said. They were turned over to gang members who killed them and burned them, investigators have said. But no one has been held responsible and the students haven’t been found.

At a press conference on Thursday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pulled over his white button-down a gray T-shirt saying, “Five years. I’m for the truth.” Lopez Obrador, who took office last year, promised during his campaign that he would do what the previous government didn’t: find the students and their assailants.

At the press conference, Omar Gomez Trejo, the special prosecutor heading the investigation, said he was summoning former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, who has already been acquitted of any wrongdoing, and Angel Aguirre Guerrero, the former governor of the state where the students disappeared.

Lopez Obrador gave a message welcome among to many who believe former government officials interfered with the investigation — even though new investigators have offered few promising new leads.

“The investigation has no limits,” Lopez Obrador said. “There will be no impunity.” 

Thursday’s march ended with a handful of parents of the disappeared speaking to the crowd. Parents including Emiliano Navarrete, father of José Angel Navarrete, had met with Lopez Obrador earlier in the month, and said they wanted to see whether the president would keep his word. 

Another parent, Maria de Jesus Tlatempa, who wore around her neck a large picture of her son, Jose Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa, said he was 18 when he was abducted and is now 23. She’s sure he’s alive, she said, and it worries her every day whether he has shelter and food. She and other parents commonly repeat a slogan: alive they took them, and alive we want them. 

“I have faith in this new president,” she said. 

This case resonated across Mexico not only because of how egregious it is, but because it’s a symptom of broader issues: the prevalence of organized crime and widespread impunity. Government figures show there are more than 40,000 missing persons in the country. 

Parents and relatives of 43 college students who were abducted five years this month leave a downtown Mexico City rally commemorating the case.
Jorge Valencia/KJZZ
Parents and relatives of 43 college students who were abducted five years this month leave a downtown Mexico City rally commemorating the case. Their bus is painted with desks corresponding to each of the students.

“This an iconic and emblematic case,” said Tania Reneaum, executive director of Amnesty International in Mexico “Not only because they got disappeared by drug cartels plus authorities, but also because it showed us in a certain way how badly criminal prosecutors act."

Many international observers have looked into the case of the 43 missing students. So the only way the investigation could change is if the president, and his surrogates, keep his campaign promise.

“We are going to hold him accountable for his promises,” Reneaum said. 

In the meantime, Thursday’s march and rally ended with the crowd counting to 43 and concluding with one cry: “Justice.”

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