September 26 marks one year since the forcible disappearance of 43 student-teachers from the Escuela Normal Rural (rural teachers’ college) Raúl Isidro Burgos de Ayotzinapa, and the murder of six community members. The normalistas’ case has come to symbolize all of Mexico’s disappeared, the corruption of Mexico’s political institutions, and the carnage wrought by the war on drugs.
From the beginning, no one believed the official story: that the students were abducted by a drug cartel and incinerated at a nearby trash dump under orders from the local mayor. Now, a new independent expert report commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights proves that story was engineered to mask the fact that local, state and federal security forces were responsible. The report found that the attacks were sustained and coordinated among multiple agencies, including federal police and military intelligence. The report’s findings confirm an earlier UC Berkeley investigation showing that the Army and federal police knew about the attacks in real time but did nothing…or worse. The report also concluded that it was scientifically impossible for the students to have been burned at the trash dump, confirming the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team’s earlier skepticism of the Mexican authorities.
The report contained another bombshell: a possible motive, fueled by drug prohibition. The students may have unknowingly interfered with a heroin shipment likely destined for Chicago when they peacefully commandeered buses to attend a demonstration.
The people of Guerrero have not rested since the students’ disappearance. In their search, dozens of mass graves have been uncovered – none of which held the students’ remains.
In November, when then-Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam was questioned about the dubious official story, he responded dismissively that “I’m tired” (ya me cansé). His words outraged the nation. Under the hashtag “ya me cansé”, Mexican society rose up in dignified rage. The whole country was tired. Of the violence, corruption, impunity, and fear. Of the countless innocents disappeared, murdered, tortured, raped, displaced.
Ayotzinapa showed that the state and the cartels are virtually indistinguishable. What waning legitimacy President Enrique Peña Nieto enjoyed at home quickly evaporated, while abroad the image he had been successfully selling – of an investment-friendly, peaceful Mexico – was obliterated. The curtain was pulled aside and the world saw a Mexico devastated by the drug war. The case sparked a national mass mobilization that nearly brought the government of Peña Nieto to its knees. Last fall, protesters across the country demanded the president’s resignation and even set the National Palace ablaze.
This spark caught fire in the U.S., too – inspiring Latinos to stand up and say, “We’re tired too.” A national day of action was held under the banner #USTired2, with marches and vigils in 43 U.S. cities – one for each of the abducted normalistas. The campaign called for the cessation of U.S. military aid to Mexico used to sustain the drug war, which since 2007 has resulted in well over 100,000 murdered, 25,000 disappeared and one million displaced.
The students’ families have taken their fight to other countries, leading caravans across the United States. They also traveled to South America and Europe, sharing their stories, calling on the world to join their struggle and continuing to pressure the Mexican state from within and without.
Their community continues to be attacked, threatened and criminalized. For example, in August, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, an activist in Guerrero who uncovered several mass graves in the process of searching for the 43, was found murdered.
One year later, the students’ families are still in struggle, never ceasing to demand their sons’ safe return, to push for the truth, to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to end the drug war. Massive demonstrations are planned to mark the anniversary in Mexico, where the movement to end the drug war and bring justice to its victims keeps growing.
We stand with Ayotzinapa. We honor the courage and resilience of the students’ families and community, and we join them in demanding justice.
Daniel Robelo is the research coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.
This is part of a series dedicated to Hispanic Heritage Month commemorating the impact made by Latino drug policy reformers.