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WE WERE transported in a taxi to the planton, a camp set up and occupied by parents of the 43 students who were disappeared in September 2014 from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College.
It has been a thorn in the side of Mexican attorney general’s office for more than three years, having been established soon after the trainee teachers, aged between 19 and 24, vanished from police custody.
Three of their fellow students were shot dead the same night after the group had set off to attend an event hosted by a local politician’s wife.
They all attended a rural college in the state of Guerrero, famous throughout Mexico for producing generations of educators who spend their lives working in the most remote and under resourced communities in the country.
For tourists driving along Reforma Avenue, Mexico City’s longest street, which runs through a number of boroughs, including one of the capital’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, it can be quite an eye-opener.
The centre of the city has seen a massive amount of building in recent years. Once famous buildings have been replaced with skyscrapers.
Even more striking is the density of traffic. Mexico City’s air pollution is so bad that the city introduced a system of driving on alternate days.
The transformation has been so absolute that tourists would be forgiven for assuming that Mexico is a rich, modern and well-organised country, where the rule of law is respected.
On the way to the planton, we found an unofficial memorial marking the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa. On the bottom a phrase reads: “Because they were taken alive, we want them back alive.”
Apparently the Mexican government isn’t very comfortable with such a public reminder of state brutality and corruption and would rather it be removed.
Clearly, it is deluding itself if it thinks removing the mural amounts to removing the memory of the 43 missing students.
Arriving at the planton, one senses the atmosphere is completely different from the gleaming skyscrapers we’ve just passed.
Here, it is a different reality from the, no less valid, beautiful Mexico of holiday posters. Immediately one feels loneliness, frustration, pain, fear and a very deep sadness.
A small street separates the camp from the PGR federal government office, heavily defended by armed guards.
The camp is made up of old and broken shelters, cobbled together from bits of wood and tarpaulin. Blown up photographs of the missing students adorn the site.
Some of these include portraits of missing students by the Scottish artist Jan Nimmo, who made them once she learned that some of the parents, many of whom do not speak Spanish as a first language and live in extreme poverty, did not own a picture of their children.
Next to the entrance was a Christmas tree decorated with photos of students and some improvised gift boxes labelled “justice,” “truth,” “comprehensive reparation,” “memory,” “we are missing 43,” and the number of days since the boys vanished from police custody, possibly after being handed over to a local organised crime gang.
Inside one of the tents are plastic chairs and some tables scattered with cups and papers. In the back there is an area where a kitchen has been improvised. There is a table, a small stove and many plastic bags where, in the absence of any sort of fridge, it would seem that they keep the food donated to parents and volunteers.
The conditions in which the parents are barely surviving are unacceptable and unjust. They have no official economic, psychological or legal support. The government continues to ignore them. It says the case is closed and busies itself with promoting Mexico to tourists.
In spite of this lamentable lack of compassion, the mothers, fathers and extended families of the Ayotzinapa 43 have not given up.
They maintain their faith and say that they fervently hope to see their children back home and that there will be justice for them some day. With the support of Mexican and international human rights organisations, they say they will not rest until they have the truth.
Talking with a volunteer accompanying the parents, we learn that most of them are suffering health problems. The toll of camping in the street, far from their families is taking its toll.
They don’t sleep well, they don’t rest and above all they don’t eat properly. Most of them suffer from diabetes. One of the parents was about to lose his leg as a result of not resting properly. Another one is seriously ill in hospital.
On the 26th day of every month, they take turns to travel to some far-flung corner of Mexico to join one of the many public events held to remember the disappeared.
Who knows if they will be able to continue to stare across the street at the PGR and say: “We want them back alive.”
On January 17, more than 40 mothers from all over Mexico went on hunger strike. These mothers stood outside the secretary of government office, with the aim of suing the government and the institutions which are supposed to guarantee their rights.
They demanded that the attorney general address their demands for justice and for the the Executive Commission of Attention to Victims give them the support and legal advice that they require.
Mexican society is deeply concerned about the high level of insecurity, crime and human rights abuse. There have been increasing concerns following approval of the Internal Security Reform that violates democracy in terms of freedom of expression and the rights of citizens.
Mexican society is asking the international community for its support so that their struggle will not be in vain and to ensure that future governments respect the rule of law and protect the rights of the Mexicans.
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