Three years ago from Tuesday, 43 male college students disappeared from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, in a still-unsolved case that has brought international scrutiny to the human rights crisis in Mexico.
Mexican authorities claimed that the students, from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal School, had been stopped by the municipal Iguala police on their way to a march in Mexico City, handed off to a drug cartel, incinerated and dumped into the San Juan River. The government’s investigation, which they supported only with internally collected evidence and confessions, was widely protested by the public, and a six-month external investigation later found evidence that refuted the government’s claims.
Immediately following the Ayotzinapa disappearances, the UC Berkeley community organized events to pay homage to the students and to put the Mexican government under increased international pressure for conducting a flawed investigation and for their alleged complicity in their disappearances.
Tuesday’s Ayotzinapa commemoration was split into three parts, beginning with a morning protest at the Mexican Consulate in downtown San Francisco followed by afternoon speeches by James Cavallaro, a Stanford University law professor and a commissioner of the external expert group that was involved in investigating the case, and Roxanna Altholz, a Berkeley law professor. The events concluded with remarks from Omar García, a survivor of the Ayotzinapa disappearances.
“Nobody believes what they are saying,” campus associate professor of colonial studies Ivonne del Valle said. “The whole country is waiting on them to act — to have a little bit of shame.”
According to Cavallaro, the Ayotzinapa case reveals the “ugly elements” of corruption in Mexico. Cavallaro also provided evidence countering the explanations that the Mexican government had provided.
“I was there when it happened,” said Valeria Hamel, a campus law student who attended the event. “In Mexico, we were in the streets fighting for truth and justice — and we have been ever since.”
During the question and answer session, Cavallaro criticized the notion that the United State could establish an international court that could “rain justice from above,” adding that enforcing international policy also requires community pressure and media attention.
George Lambeth, a campus law student from Chile who attended the event, said he was shocked to learn about the case. Lambeth said he attended the discussion in order to help form his own opinions on the issue and to bring a similar discussion back to Chile.
“It seems like we haven’t learned anything from (the Ayotzinapa incident),” he said.
Altholz also addressed questions regarding the international response as well as the internal handling of the case by Mexican authorities. She referenced the internal corruption not as the result of a “failed state,” but rather as a “powerful state that abdicated (its role of) protection.”
Garcia, who appeared during the third event, spoke at length about how Ayotzinapa was not an isolated incident for Mexico. Garcia’s mission now is to empower the families who were affected by Ayotzinapa and raise awareness about similar issues.
“The important thing is for families to continue fighting for their children. I only want to try and clarify so that Ayotzinapa can be understood,” Garcia said during the talk. “This three year process has been complicated to empower the families (who have been affected by the disappearances).”
The event was also partially planned by students, including Dulce Lopez, a campus media studies and art senior. She has been involved in a community project to bring Mexican human rights issues like Ayotzinapa to public attention since her freshman year.
Lopez emphasized that Ayotzinapa is not a distant problem, but one that also concerns the United States.
“We are trying to bring activists to spaces like this to talk about these issues like corruption,” Lopez said. “In the United States we don’t talk about things that happen on the other side of the border. … For me, it is sad to think that people think something that happens over there doesn’t concern the United States.”
Contact Alicia Kim and Ananya Sreekanth at [email protected].