The Missing 43: A New York Protest Aimed at Mexico

Antonio Tizapa, the father of one of the missing students, at a protest outside the Mexican consulate in New York. (Kyra Gurney)

Antonio Tizapa, the father of one of the missing students, at a protest outside the Mexican consulate in New York. (Kyra Gurney)

Two hours after his son disappeared with 42 classmates in southwestern Mexico, Antonio Tizapa got a text message from his daughter. “There are problems in Ayotzinapa,” the message read, referring to the town where Tizapa’s son was studying to be a teacher. Some students on their way to a protest seemed to have run into trouble with the local authorities.

Tizapa, who lives in New York, called his son, Jorge Antonio, then sent him a text message. There was no answer.

As the hours went by, Tizapa’s heart started to race. He felt certain that something terrible had happened, but he held on to the hope that his son and his classmates had gone into hiding in the countryside to escape a government crackdown on their protests. “They’re going to ask for help and they’re going to return,” he said to himself.

That was September 2014. It has now been 19 months since Tizapa has heard from Jorge Antonio. On Sunday, April 24, a panel appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an international authority that protects human rights in the Americas, released a 600-page report detailing the results of their investigation into the disappearance of the 43 students. At a protest in front of the Mexican Consulate in New York on Tuesday evening, April 26, human rights activists and family members of the victims called on the Mexican government to allow the panel to continue its unfinished work.

“We’re going to do everything possible, we’re going to look for any way to have the experts return,” said Tizapa, whose son was 19 when he disappeared. “Thanks to them our hope stays alive. The government has simply gone in circles and not done anything. We trust [the panel]. We don’t trust the government.”

The Mexican government has its own version of what happened. It says the students were detained by local police and killed by a criminal group acting on orders from a local mayor. Their bodies were then burned in a nearby trash dump, according to the government. But the families and a group of independent investigators do not believe this version of events. Forensic investigations have determined that a fire that took place at the trash dump would not have been able to incinerate the bodies, and the commission has uncovered evidence that the only bone fragment found near the site may have been planted by Mexico’s attorney general’s office.

The commission’s investigators determined that federal police and military stationed in the area knew what was happening to the students and may have either participated in or observed the attacks. The investigators also found evidence that the testimony supporting the government’s version of events was obtained through torture.

The panel criticized the Mexican government for attempting to block its investigation. Its report cited the government’s refusal to allow investigators to interview military personnel and other potential witnesses and view key documents.

The report released on Sunday is the second of two reports the panel has published since the group began its investigation in March 2015. Although the whereabouts of the students remains unknown, the Mexican government has not given the panel permission to continue the investigation. The group will have to leave the country by April 30. The investigators reported that police stopped and fired on the buses the students had commandeered to travel to protests, killing six people, and that the police detained 43 students. They still do not know exactly what happened afterwards.

“The government is obviously involved, we all know that,” said Francisco, an activist at the protest who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal. “Obviously it isn’t convenient for them that the truth comes to light because many of them have their hands dirty in this case.”

The protesters lined the sidewalk in front of the consulate with photos of the disappeared students and chanted in Spanish and English. How many were there? one of the activists called out. Forty-three, responded the others in unison. Alive they took them. Alive we want them back.

Tizapa said the students’ families and their supporters will continue to protest until the students are returned to them. “Maybe the government thought that we were going to stay silent because we are poor and we are indigenous,” he said. “But in this case they were wrong. We, as parents, have come out to spread the news. We’re not one or two parents. We’re 43 parents. And we’re not alone.”