On 26th September, 2014, 43 students from a rural teaching college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico were brutally attacked and abducted as they made their way to commemorate the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City.
What followed has been recognised by many as a cover-up by the Mexican government who have endeavoured to exclude themselves from all levels of accountability. The results of an official investigation declared that local police had intercepted the 43 students 200km South of Mexico City and after arresting them, police handed the students over to a local drugs cartel, Guerreros Unidos who went on to murder and set fire to the remains. In an instant, culpability was minimised; expertly transferred from the state into the hands of a group notorious for their kidnappings and use of extreme violence. In a country where disappearances are a daily occurrence – over 35,000 since 2006 - the Mexican government sought to conceal crime with crime. What has since been uncovered through the efforts of various international human rights platforms, forensic teams and investigators is a set of events that not only challenges the government’s narrative, but also demonstrates the involvement of high-level state officials during the 26th September events. Evidence produced by the multi-disciplinary group Forensic Architecture shows that the attacks against the students were coordinated and that multiple state security agencies colluded together. However, what remains to be uncovered is the fate of these missing students. Justice continues to be fought after by the families and by the wider Mexican and international community who have come to understand this event as symbolic of the corruption and impunity that characterises the governmental infrastructure of Mexico.
A few weeks ago, students at the University of Glasgow signalled their support for this enduring fight against the Mexican state by laying out pictures of the 43 disappeared students to mark 43 months since the events in 2014. It was a small but significant gesture of solidarity and a reminder to the families that their struggles have not been forgotten. I spoke to Andres; from Mexico, he is currently studying at Glasgow University and helped organise this act of solidarity. With friends back in Mexico who have direct contact with some of the disappeared students families, he has been able to relay the reactions of this show of unity and underline just how important it is for the world to continue supporting their fight.
‘When you are fighting against the Mexican state and it’s this huge monster that is totally reluctant to acknowledge your rights, then the fight is going to be a long one. It is therefore important for the families of the 43 missing students to know that they are not alone in this fight. The state has ultimately failed them and they have been abandoned, so when these acts of solidarity happen they really make a difference to the groups directly impacted, it strengthens the hope within themselves to keep going. One of the most horrible realities about the 43 disappearances is that there is no ending. When someone dies, there comes resignation, and with resignation there comes mourning and closure and another kind of struggle happens afterwards. But when someone has disappeared, it’s awful because what now exists is a lingering between resignation and hope. For the families these emotions are particularly cruel, they have no closure all they have is a relentless struggle against a state that disappears its own people. The public support for these families follows a trajectory with peaks and troughs; in the beginning there were hundreds upon thousands of people who came out to march and demonstrate against the state but as times passes the momentum slows. This is why acts of solidarity, such as the one we have just carried out in Glasgow should not be underestimated. The message was very clear, there was nothing technical about it, nor were we setting forth demands for the Mexican government. It was just a way of telling these families that they have not been forgotten and that makes a huge difference to them. A friend of mine let me know that she had informed some of the families of our actions whilst another contacted me to say that a social messenger group with more than 200 family members of the victims were talking about it. I think it tells you how a very small action can mean so much for people that are in another part of the world who are dealing with so much stress and pain.’
By taking place in Glasgow, the universality of this solidarity movement begins to makes itself clear; as Andres points out, ‘Support has largely been shown in places such as Buenos Aires, Madrid and New york – cities that have a large Mexican population who are very familiar with the political situation back in Mexico. There is in some ways, an expectation that the Mexicans living there are going to show support. Glasgow is slightly different because there aren’t nearly as many Mexicans and the expectation for support isn’t quite as strong, so when a group of predominantly non-Mexican individuals gathered to show their support, it felt like a particularly special moment.’
The families of the 43 disappeared students will persist in their fight for answers, whether or not the Mexican state plans on giving these answers up remains to be seen. What stands true is the support that communities from around the world will continue to show; one hopes that the actions that took place in Glasgow are only just the beginning of this city’s unity with the Mexican people.