March 20, 2015

FNS Feature
Ayotzinapa has come to the United States. Three groups of relatives of the Mexican university students who were attacked and forcibly disappeared last September by police in the state of Guerrero are currently crisscrossing El Norte as part of a campaign to raise public awareness of their ongoing struggle.

Estanislao Mendoza, father of disappeared Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college student Miguel Angel Mendoza, judged the response on this side of the border to the parents’ cause as impressive so far.

“We’re surprised at the reception we’ve received here and on the border. It gives us a lot of pleasure to have people hearing and supporting us,” Mendoza said during a stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Mendoza and other members of the western leg of the Ayotzinapa U.S. tour spent most of this past week in Las Cruces and neighboring El Paso, Texas. While in the borderland, the Mexican delegation gave press interviews, addressed university audiences, participated in public meetings, and attended masses held in honor of the students.

In interviews with FNS, the relatives reiterated their positions that the investigation into the forced disappearances of their loved ones must be expanded to encompass the military and federal police, and that the Mexican government’s story about the missing 43 male students is simply not credible since it lacks physical evidence at this point.

As Mexico’s attorney general, Jesus Murillo insisted on the official version that the kidnapped students were murdered and then incinerated at a dump near the town of Cocula, Guerrero.  Murillo was recently replaced by Arely Gomez.

Blanca Luz Nava, mother of missing Ayotzinapa student Jorge Alvarez, rated Gomez as “worse than the previous one.”  Nava told FNS that Gomez, the second woman to be appointed as Mexico’s top cop in recent years, had not contacted the parents and no meetings with her with scheduled at the present.

On Thursday, March 19, the Ayotzinapa-Las Cruces Support Committee and other campus organizations at New Mexico State University (NMSU) held an outdoor forum at the university that was attended by more than 100 people.  NMSU students and community members held pictures of the Ayotzinapa 43 while a large bilingual banner read “Justicia para Ayotzinapa. End US Support for State Terror in Mexico.” Placards read, “Corruption is a Di$ea$e and” “End NAFTA, End Merida ”

As rain threatened overhead and the sun peeked in and out of billowing crowds in a tug between a New Mexican winter and spring, Nava and Mendoza  delivered emotional testimonies in Spanish that were translated into English. They recalled their sons’ aspirations and the nearly six-month long struggle of the parents to get their children back alive.

“We didn’t have Christmas or New Year. We spent it in front of Los Pinos,” Nava said, in reference to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s residence. “Instead of opening the doors to us, the president deployed a bunch of police.”

Nava would soon learn that police deployments related to Ayotzinapa aren’t confined to the Mexican side of the border.

Looking exhausted and speaking with audible pain, Nava told how her son Jorge Alvarez had missed one year of school because he did not pass a test. During the year off the young man passed the time mastering the guitar, teaching children the instrument and playing songs for his mom while she prepared tortillas.

Jorge celebrated his 19th birthday only three days before he and his fellow Ayotzinapa students were attacked in the city of Iguala, and his mom publicly regretted not being able to hug her son on his birthday.

“My son wasn’t a delinquent, even though the government says the opposite in order to blame him,” Nava said. “I have many things to tell you, but I can’t because tears overcome me.”

Like Nava, Mendoza appeared battle fatigued but still firm in his stance that his son is alive until evidence demonstrates otherwise. Brought up in a family of small farmers with little money, at 33 years of age Miguel Angel Mendoza was older than most of the first year Ayotzinapa students.

But according to his father, the young man had a driving ambition to get ahead. He first studied to be a doctor, but was forced to drop out because of a lack of money to pay tuition. Geared for low-income students, Ayotzinapa and a teaching career were a second option, the older Mendoza explained.

Miguel Angel had many friends, liked to play soccer and basketball, and worked parttime as a barber to help pay living expenses, Mendoza continued.  The last time he saw his son was at the barbershop on September 18, about a week before the fateful turn of events in Iguala, the father recalled. “He left and I haven’t seen him until now,” Mendoza said.

Jhosimar de la Cruz, brother of a student who survived the police attack, urged support for the justice movement, warning that what happened in Mexico could happen anywhere.  “If it happened to us, it can happen to you next,” he said.

Gathered outside the Corbett Center, the crowd also heard statements from community members and faculty. Dr. Cornell H. Menking, associate provost for international and border programs, congratulated the attendees for turning out “to try to do something about this travesty.” Menking couched the Ayotzinapa issue in the larger matter of disappearances in Mexico. “I learned at the symposium yesterday it’s not 43 people, it’s 80,000-and that breaks the heart”, he said.

Menking read a statement issued this week by NMSU President Garrey Carruthers, who served as a Republican governor of New Mexico from 1987 to 1991.

“As president of New Mexico State University, a land-grant and Hispanic-Serving Institution, I know many of our students have family ties to Mexico. We welcome the delegation from the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa and on behalf of the faculty, staff and students of NMSU express my sympathy for the parents of these students,” Carruther’s message to the NMSU community read in part.

Immediately after the Corbett Center forum, members of the Ayotzinapa-Las Cruces Support Committee and other activists attempted to stage a noon time demonstration on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Las Cruces.  The group of about 30 people demanded a cut-off in U.S. assistance to Mexican military and police forces, especially under the anti-drug Merida Initiative.

Peacefully assembled outside the courthouse, the group was quickly informed by a security guard from the privately-owned Diamond Group that it was on federal property and would have to get off the sidewalk.

“Ma’am, don’t take photos of me!” the guard wearing sunglasses ordered a woman protester snapping away her camera.

“I’m allowed to take photos,” she retorted.

A second guard in a Diamond Group uniform emerged and repeated the order to  the protesters, who did not have a permit as the security personnel insisted they needed.

“It seems to me if it’s federal property, it belongs to the people-last time I looked,” said Jesus Ochoa, an 80-year-old retired lawyer from El Paso who was participating in the picket.  Insistent, the guards hemmed the protesters into a shoestring-like strip of the sidewalk’s curb in front of the concrete posts that block off the federal building.

In their new spot, the group had practically no space to move and was almost tip-toeing into the street. FNS asked the second Diamond Group guard under what statute he was asking the protesters to relocate from their original place.

“US Federal Code, Title 18,” he shot back.

A cursory glance at Title 18 of the United States Code reveals a lengthy, almost catch-all law of more than 400 chapters that covers everything from arson and racketeering to terrorism and gambling.

“I guess I didn’t realize federal property wasn’t public property,” one man said, as at least four Las Cruces Police Department (LCPD) patrols pulled up and the officers got out of their cars. An unmarked, blue Suburban carrying a uniformed LCPD officer with a SWAT team insignia cruised by, with the officer telling demonstrators to stay out of the street.

Eyeballing the scene, one of the Mexican visitors said it all looked too familiar. “This is a form of controlling and repressing the people,” he pronounced.

However, no confrontation ensued and most of the demonstrators moved to a more comfortable vantage point across the street from the courthouse. Dr. Neil Harvey, chair of NMSU’s government department, said the demonstration grew out of a lack of accountability in the expenditure of U.S. tax dollars on training and equipping Mexican police forces, ostensibly to improve security conditions which, conversely, are “having the opposite effect.” Harvey urged Washington to take a second look at Ayotzinapa.

“I think the U.S. government should reflect on the fact that the case hasn’t been closed and more needs to be investigated,” he said.

NMSU student Karina Rocha, who plans to graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice and government, roundly endorsed the First Amendment. “I think they should allow us to protest here,” Rocha said. “You know, freedom of speech.” As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, the senior said she identified with the life trajectories of the Ayotzinapa students.

“Personally, I think it’s a tragedy. I have family in Mexico,” Rocha added. “I understand these students are trying to get an education and out of poverty.”

Alan Dicker, member of the Ayotzinapa-Las Cruces Support Committee, linked the ejection of protesters from the courthouse sidewalk to issues at play in both Mexico and the United States. “For me, it’s very illustrative of the disregard for civil rights in the U.S. as well,” Dicker said. “In my mind, there is a civil rights violation…they’re issues that cross borders, of state power crossing borders.”

Dicker said New Mexico activists will keep pressing the issue of the 43 students and an end to U.S. support for Mexican military and police forces via the Merida Initiative. Activities on the agenda include a letter-writing campaign to members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation as well as support for an Ayotzinapa-themed resolution expected to be presented to the Las Cruces City Council, he said.

As the week drew to a close, members of the western Ayotzinapa tour prepared to head to California. According to Estanislao Mendoza, all three contingents will meet up next month in New York where they will present the case of Ayotzinapa to the United Nations.

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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