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  Number 437 | Diciembre 2017
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The moral authority of the families of the 43

Parents and other relatives of the 43 students from the teacher training school of Ayotzinapa have led their determined struggle against the State for three years. They’ve been actors, spokespeople and articulators of a national movement that has challenged the “historical truth” imposed by the government. These families’ moral authority has moved Amnesty International to declare that the Ayotzinapa crime will be known as the “historical lie” that marks Peña Nieto’s government.

Miguel Álvarez Gándara

After first believing it would be enough to struggle tenaciously and together to make the 43 students from the teacher training school in Ayotzinapa—their children—reappear. After demanding that the State claim its responsibility, dialoguing with state institutions and walking for kilometers seeking justice, the families of those young people and all of Mexico are still continuing their struggle, now with so much accumulated pain, distrust and anger. Three years later, this crime is still causing repercussions and remains a national and international challenge.

They wanted the students out of their face

The search for the Ayotzinapa 43 has been a living process, one that quickly turned into an emblematic event for countless reasons.

In the first place, the criminal act emphasizes the historical importance of rural teacher training schools for social struggle in Mexico. This is especially true for the “Raúl Isidro Burgos” School of Ayotzinapa, the soul of the formative will of peasant and indigenous youth committed to grassroots education and the transformation of their communities. For years this educational process has generated mobilizations in solidarity with regional struggles.

Amidst the political and social unrest in the state of Guerrero, it was evident that the activities of the teacher training school students made the regional powers uncomfortable and affected their interests. After previous aggressions, what happened the night of September 26, 2014, represented the climax of a silent and prolonged desire to forcibly “disappear” them.

A significant act of many dimensions

Different dimensions came together to make the forced disappearance of the 43 so significant. The political dimension is what the brutal blow of such massive disappearances and alleged murder meant to the teacher training school itself. Then there is the dimension of the human rights violation these young people suffered, which immediately triggered the leadership role of their families in demanding their return alive and the truth about what took place, to serve as the foundation of an objective claim for justice. We saw the legal dimension in the reactions by institutions and authorities at every level, which showed that Mexico’s judicial system is unable to respond. The international dimension is the solidarity the crime sparked from peoples and organizations worldwide, including governments and multilateral organizations that saw this case as an opportunity to demand Mexico’s respect for human rights and an authentic rule of law.

And finally, the crime had a significant historical and structural dimension because it blatantly demonstrated the profound involvement and participation of municipal, state and federal police and other authorities, combined with dark acts and omissions by the Mexican Army and by economic groups and organized crime. All these dimensions translate into an act of violence whose explanation is still in dispute.

Two conflicting narratives

Due to the complexity of everything involved in this crime, it quickly evolved into a conflict of broad dimensions, which explains the big battle still being fought both to find the correct path and to then undertake the journey to the truth.

Two different narratives quickly faced off against each other to achieve this. One claims it was a local act, mainly attributed to organized crime. The other says the crime has a federal dimension, imputing it mainly to the Mexican State as a whole. The consequences of one narrative or the other are diametrically different with respect to responsibility and any possibility of concrete transformations and what they should look like.

The 43 families are taking on the State

Fundamentally, what best explains the significance of this crime is the persistent and intense dynamics of struggle, mobilization and bonding undertaken during these three years by the parents and other relatives of the 43 missing students, who along with the other teacher training school students have become an authentic social subject. They have become actors, spokespeople and articulators of a national movement that has given new impetus to the search for life and truth in this case as well as in others, pushing the nation to fight for justice.

Those 43 admirable and moving families are the hopeful novelty in the Ayotzinapa case. They are poor and marginalized workers and rural people who took the national stage as victims of state violence, leaving their homes and farmlands to form the Ayotzinapa commune, a trench from which they were determined to undertake a struggle that has succeeded in having a national and international impact.

A mere 43 families have championed and even led a struggle against the State and created links with Mexican and international social and civil organizations. They achieved the excellent intervention of experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF); the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), created over a year after the crime via an agreement between the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Mexican State; and follow-up on the case by the IACHR itself.

With moral authority

These outstanding achievements are the results of an unprecedented phenomenon: the union and joint daily actions of the 43 families. They demonstrate a new model of movement, articulation and struggle for victims and families demanding justice and truth.

The novelty is in the families’ origins—they come from remote indigenous and peasant corners. It’s also in their economic precariousness, in the dream they cherished their whole lives of having a child who would study and become a teacher. And it’s also in their culture of efforts and resistance. From there, the united daily dimension of their struggle has granted them the indestructible moral authority that contrasts with the absence of authority of those they face: a pseudo-legal, corrupt and lying State.

With their unflagging effort and with the integrity of their demand, the movement of the 43 has matured in its discourse, proposals and political activity. It is achieving agreements and procedures that are contributing to institutional and legal changes in the face of the generalized human rights crisis Mexico is experiencing, with more than 30,000 people forcibly disappeared.

Along with the movement of the 43, more than 50 other collectives of families and relatives searching for their missing loved ones have taken ownership of the deep and loving mystique of “They were taken alive, we want them back alive...and alive we will find them.” It is a resounding valuing of the lives of the disappeared, whatever the final results of their search.

This slogan captures the profound cries raised throughout so many years by those from all corners of Latin America who are still seeking the appearance of their disappeared relatives and loved ones and clamoring for justice.

The questioned “historical truth”

The intense political dimension of the conflict created by the criminal act committed three years ago in Mexico has a specific focus on which all efforts are concentrated today: one through which the investigation and procuring of justice must pass.

Thousands and thousands of pages and proceedings explain the happenings via the fatal narrative that attributes it to a local act of organized crime. Those who hold that it’s a crime involving the entire State are fighting this version.

Hundreds of initiatives, petitions and proposals from the Miguel Agustín Pro Júarez Human Rights Center, the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, GIEI experts, the IACHR follow-up mechanism and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) itself are trying to keep the inquiry going and to open other investigation routes and hypothesis closer to the national and state narrative. All of them together are dedicated to the crucial task of derailing the political as well as legal logic of the “historical truth,” as the conclusion of the investigation initially conducted by then-Attorney General Jesús Murillo is called. He insisted that the 43 students had been murdered, their bodies burned in a big fire in the Cocula, Guerrero, dump and their ashes thrown into the San Juan river.

He said his office came up with this version based on the declarations of individuals arrested. Months later the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the GIEI refuted it, assuring that the students had been detained and tortured and explaining technical impossibilities that rendered the official version highly improbable.

The four strategic leads

All those dedicated to the task of derailing the “historical truth” continue insisting on the four strategic leads established by the GIEI experts for an investigation based on reality.

These four leads point to looking for the motive behind the crime in the Army, the Huitzuco police, the evidence in the cellphone messages and the transfer of drugs from Iguala to Chicago. These leads are now the frame for the time-line that both the Attorney General’s Office and the federal government promised the IACHR they would meet.

A lack of political will and an inability to investigate and administer justice in Mexico are precisely what provided the conditions for these contributions from international actors. Because the government is engaged in continual efforts to reduce those actors’ space, time and weight, national social support to maintain their full participation is crucial to be able to get to the truth, although the families of the 43 are the ones who have contributed more than anybody to that search for truth and justice.

Miguel Álvarez Gándara, director of the independent civil society organization Serapaz (Services and Advice for Peace), is the envío correspondent in Mexico

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