Hope Against Oblivion – The Ayotzinapa to Ottawa Caravan
On September 26, 2014, Mexican security forces killed 6 people and forcibly disappeared 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Teachers’ College from Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero. Almost a year after the tragic incident took place, the machinery of the Mexican government (including the judicial system, the mass media, and the diplomatic corps) has tried in vain to bury the case. That Ayotzinapa remains in the spotlight is an achievement of the tens of thousands of protesters in Mexico and across the world. They have demanded the accountability of the Mexican government, as well as of the bold involvement of international groups, such as the Argentine Forensic Team and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
The families of the missing students have been at the forefront of these protests. Many parents have not rested even for a day, knowing full well that denouncing the government’s lies and building international pressure is essential in their struggle to find their children. This was the message of three delegates from Ayotzinapa who told their story to the Canadian public during the “Ayotzinapa to Ottawa Caravan,” April 12 to May 2, 2015. This tour through British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario was organized by CIPO-Vancouver (Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca-VAN), Co-Development Canada (CODEV), Fuerza-Puwersa, the Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL), Common Frontiers, the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN) and Amnesty International Canada. It was supported by at least 50 other organizations, including unions, student groups, faith-based organizations, university departments, indigenous peoples and members of the public.
The delegation consisted of Hilda Legideño Vargas, a single mother and crafts seller whose son, Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, was disappeared in the September 26th attack, Jorge Luis Clemente Balbuena, a member of the student committee of the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college. They were joined during the last week of the tour by Isidoro Vicario Aguilar, a lawyer from the human-rights center Tlachinollan that represents the families of the 43 disappeared students. They held at least 20 public events, 50 media interviews, a great number of meetings with union representatives, indigenous leaders, and Members of Parliament. On April 26, their testimony before the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights made a strong request for the Canadian government to put pressure on its Mexican counterpart to resume the investigation into the disappearances. They also asked that Mexico be removed from the list of so-called “safe countries” whose citizens have reduced possibilities of applying for political asylum in Canada. “We are demanding that Mexico be removed from the [Canadian government’s] list of safe countries,” said Mrs. Legideño Vargas. “Mexico is not safe for anyone. The government says that it was organized crime that took our sons away, but in the state of Guerrero organized crime is running the government.” She added, “we hope you will do everything you can to support our struggle, and to make sure that the case of Ayotzinapa and of Mexico will not be forgotten.”
Ayotzinapa is not the worst case of violence in Mexico (other high-profile cases include the massacre of 193 Central American migrants who were found murdered in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in 2011, and the 45 indigenous people, including children and pregnant women, who were murdered by paramilitaries in Acteal, Chiapas in 1997). But Ayotzinapa has risen to prominence because it shows the overwhelming collusion of the Mexican state with organized crime. While the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly tried to close the case, none of the official explanations have stood up to the scrutiny of an Argentinian team of forensic experts (which has accompanied the investigation at the behest of the families of the missing students) and of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The movement that has grown out of this tragedy is practicing bold ways of organizing, such as establishing their own independent investigation into the case, calling for a national boycott of the recent federal legislative elections, and launching a series of national and international caravans in order to build the international profile of the case. The perspective of this movement is to look beyond making demands of the State, focusing instead in a process of collective organizing that bypasses the crippled and decaying system that has caused tragedies like these in the first place.
The visit of the delegation from Ayotzinapa to Canada, then, should not be simply seen as a call to support the families of the missing students. It is a unique chance for us to reflect on our own movements and to transcend the dynamics of supporting struggles only while they are the fashion of the moment. “Fight not just for our loved ones who are disappeared, you also have people missing here, many indigenous women,” said Mr. Clemente Balbuena in one of his presentations.
We can keep the defiant hope of their struggle alive by honouring the unwavering courage of the families and friends of the missing students from Ayotzinapa, through incorporating their struggle into our own, and by establishing mechanisms to coordinate our collective actions in the spirit of solidarity that the delegates expressed. “When we return we do not know what will be waiting for us,” Mrs. Leguideño Vargas said at a public forum in Vancouver. “Already the police and army have attacked us and put us parents in the hospital. But we will not stop. We cannot stop until we find our sons, no matter what.”