Relatives of 43 Missing Students: U.S.-Backed Drug War Fights Organized People, Not Organized Crime
As protesters in Baltimore set fire to buildings and vehicles last Monday to protest the death of Freddie Gray, protesters in the Mexican state of Guerrero drove a burning truck into the congressional building in the capital Chilpancingo. The protesters were marking seven months since the disappearance of 43 students. Relatives have continued to question the Mexican government’s claim the students were attacked by local police and turned over to members of a drug gang, who killed and incinerated them. We speak with three relatives of the missing students: María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, mother of José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa; Clemente Rodríguez Moreno, father of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre; and Cruz Bautista Salbador, uncle of Benjamín Ascencio Bautista. The relatives have criticized U.S. support for the drug war, saying Mexico is using the aid to kill innocent people. "If they were really fighting organized crime, as the United States government says, then the crime rates would have gone down," Bautista Salbador says. "Apparently they are not fighting organized crime; they are fighting organized people."
Click here to see our extended interview with the three relatives of the missing students.
AMY GOODMAN: As protesters in Baltimore set fire to buildings and vehicles last Monday to protest the death of Freddie Gray, protesters in the Mexican state of Guerrero drove a burning truck into the congressional building in the capital Chilpancingo. The protesters were marking seven months since the disappearance of 43 students. It was the night of September 26, 2014, when the Mexican government says municipal police, acting on the orders of the corrupt mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, attacked the students from Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, then turned them over to drug gang members, who killed and incinerated them. Six people were killed in the initial attack. Mexican news reports have pointed to involvement by federal police and found federal authorities likely tortured key witnesses.
Relatives of the missing students have continued to question the Mexican government’s account, particularly since only one of the 43 missing students’ remains have been identified. They recently brought their struggle to the United States, launching a series of caravans which traveled across the country and converged here in New York. One of the mothers, María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, spoke at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues here in New York City.
MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] I am María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, mother to José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa, one of the disappeared students. I’ve come here to testify and represent the 43 families. We are indigenous people, farmers, humble, and from various communities. We taught our children to work and, at the same time, to study. It was a privilege that our students could enter the normal school of Ayotzinapa, for many of them would have otherwise been left without an opportunity to study. And to be left without an opportunity to study means that they immigrate to other countries in search of a better life and other opportunities. In our communities, it’s an honor to be a normal school student. Our children actualize their right to education, and to disappear them is to violate their right of a full life. We are worried by the lack of guarantee in the matters of security, education and healthcare in Mexico, especially for indigenous youth.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!'s Juan González and I spoke to María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello and two other relatives of missing students who were in New York with the caravans. Cruz Bautista Salbador is a teacher and the uncle of Benjamín Ascencio Bautista; and Clemente Rodríguez Moreno is the father of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre. We started by asking María why she doesn't believe the Mexican government’s conclusion that her son and the other students are dead.
MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] Of course not, because we feel our children are alive, because it was police that took them. And they didn’t take any more, because no more fit in the police car. And the public feels our pain as parents. We need information for our children. And we have received information that we’ve passed to the government; however, they have not helped us, because they don’t want to help us find our children. And because of this, since that day, on the 26th and 27th of September, we have not stopped searching. We will continue to search for them until we find them.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Cruz Bautista Salbador, I wanted to ask you why you have taken this trip, what you’re hoping to accomplish.
CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] Well, we’ve been doing diverse activities in our travels through the United States, and we’ve met a lot of people who are misinformed. That is the reason why we are here. That is the principal objective, because many people have confused the information of what really took place that day, and that is why we’re here, to inform the American public and also connect with the people who are supporting us.
AMY GOODMAN: Cruz, you’re a teacher yourself in another normal school, and your nephew is Benjamín, one of the missing students. Can you tell us about Benjamín, why he went to this school, and the role of these schools?
CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] It brings hope to students who are that age that want to study, because access to education in Mexico is very difficult, so people of scarce resources just don’t go to the university. So my nephew Benjamín is the exception, because he had worked as a community teacher for a year in a program in Mexico. He worked in the communities most marginalized, where there is no public transportation, where there is no basic services that everyone should have. So that’s what inspired him to become a teacher. And because our family is from scarce resources, that’s why the normal school is—one of the requirements for entering into the normal school is to be from scarce resources and also to be bilingual in Spanish as well as an indigenous language, such as Nahuatl.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Clemente Rodríguez Moreno, I wanted to ask you—the government claims that what happened here was the action of a corrupt mayor conspiring with a drug gang. You don’t believe that. Why not?
CLEMENTE RODRÍGUEZ MORENO: [translated] On September 26, what happened in Iguala, the ex-president, the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife—the mexican government knew that this mayor was involved in organized crime. And it was them who took our 43 students, our children, the 43 normalists. Well, they disappeared them. It was the police. It was the federal police and the Mexican military that knew all about it, and the Mexican government wants to close the case and tell us to get over our pain. We—as a parent, I am not going to accept the government’s version. We are more focused on the Argentine forensics team, who have given us DNA tests, and they have demonstrated scientifically that our children are alive. And now the government is saying as fact that we should not be looking for them further. And that is why we came to the United States, to let the American public know and understand, to not let yourself be fooled by television. Some people are more focused on television, and the television says that the 43 students are dead. And that is just not true.
Also we are here to remind the United States government of agreements with Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, who has not complied with these agreements. The agreements entailed that all the resources sent to the Mexican government, that was to—well, to combat delinquency, crime, but the Mexican government has done everything backwards. They’ve sent military equipment. They’ve sent intelligence apparatus, trucks, dogs, cavalry. And they have not used these resources as they should have. They’ve disappeared people, killed people, raped people. And so, we want to tell the United States government that they should not send these resources to the Mexican government. And we came here to the United States, because we want you to know that the 43 are alive, because alive they took them, and alive we want them back.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama hosted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the White House in January, amid the political crisis caused by the disappearance of your loved ones, of the 43 students. Peña Nieto praised Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, while President Obama said he backs Mexico’s drug war. Cruz, your response to this?
CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] We know that the American government has always supported the effort to fight organized crime; however, we have seen, as Mexicans, that they are not fighting it. On the contrary, they are encouraging organized crime. They are killing innocent people. There has been more extortion in the last 10 years. There have been more than 30,000 people disappeared in Mexico at this point. The NGOs have shown this. And as for the Mexican government, they say there’s 23,600 disappeared people. It’s a wide range, no? The nongovernmental organizations say there are 30,000 disappeared people. And that’s troubling, what is happening in Mexico. If they were really fighting organized crime, as the United States government says, then the crime rates would have gone down—disappearances, extortions, etc. On top of that, there have been more than 150,000 people extrajudicially executed also in the last 10 years. And they keep disappearing our young people to this day. After the 26th and 27th of September, there have continued to be extrajudicial executions. We just saw it happen on the 6th of January in Apatzingán in Michoacán, Mexico. Apparently they are not fighting organized crime; they are fighting organized people, community people who defend their people. There have been citizens in various regions of Guerrero, in various states in Mexico, who have been very concerned about the insecurity in Mexico. And what do they do? What do they do then? Then they send in the Mexican military or the federal police to disarm the citizenry. So we ask: What kind of game is this? The Mexican government, the Mexican military, whose side are you on? On the side of the citizenry or on the side of organized crime? Because what we have seen is that instead of reducing organized crime, they’re making it worse.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: María de Jesús, what has been the impact of this tragedy in the rest of Mexico among the people in terms of how they view the work of the government?
MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] In Mexico, all the people are very sad because they are in solidarity. As parents, they understand the pain, the suffering. How is it possible that our own government is doing this to us? How is it possible that this still happens to this day, that the government blames organized crime, but they are themselves part of the organized crime? How is this all possible? We know where you work. We know who is your husband. We spend all our time working, and we still don’t have money. They say that our children are throwing stones. How can you compare stones to weapons? How is it possible for the government to be doing this? People tell me, "I’m a mother (or I’m a father), and I feel your pain. I don’t know what I would do if my children disappeared." And I want to tell you that we’ve had a lot of faith, a lot inner strength to continue, because it is very sad to remember the 26th and 27th. We don’t know anything about our children. We don’t know anything. And why did they do this to them? And that is why we’re here, asking for support, urging America to help us find our children.
AMY GOODMAN: María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, mother of José Eduardo; before that, Cruz Bautista Salbador, uncle of Benjamín; and Clemente Rodríguez Moreno, father of Christian Alfonso—three of the 43 students missing in Mexico since September. To watch the extended interview, you can go to democracynow.org. We also have it in Spanish at our Spanish website. When we come back, The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux on his explosive two-part investigation, "Ghosts of Iguala," which tells the untold story of how 43 students disappeared in the night in Mexico. Stay with us.