Following the disappearance of 43 Mexican students in the Mexican city of Iguala last month, University graduate students have organized a series of demonstrations calling for the safe return of the students and for an immediate investigation into the case.
In coordination with a global day of solidarity, Luis Vargas Santiago, art history graduate student, along with various U.S. academics, asked Mexican faculty members around the world to sign an open letter to the Mexican government condemning the State’s role in the disappearance of the students.
“We realized we needed to do something,” Vargas Santiago said. “We needed to express our support within the global days of action, so we thought of a letter that summoned the voices of different academics throughout the U.S.”
According to National Public Radio, students from a teachers’ college for low-income and indigenous youths in Ayotzinapa commandeered several buses on Sept. 26 on their way to Iguala, where they planned to fundraise money to attend an annual march in Mexico City. The annual march commemorated the Tlatelolco Massacre in 1968, in which the military and police killed hundreds of student protestors. Local police fired at the students in Iguala, killing six students and bystanders. Witnesses said the students were last seen being forced into police cars.
Mexico Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca, who fled after the police attack, called for the police to fire on the students.
One week after Vargas Santiago’s call for signatures, the petition garnered more than 1,200 signatures in total and about 200 signatures from the Austin community.
Erica Saenz, the University’s associate vice president for community and external relations, said she signed the petition to show support for the students.
“We must live by our motto of ‘what starts here changes the world,’ and support our student body as they dedicate time and energy to a variety of issues, locally and around the globe,” Saenz said in an email.
At a protest at the Consulate General of Mexico in Austin last week, about 20 students called the names of the 43 missing students and later presented the petition to Consul General Rosalba Ojeda.
“We are all outraged,” Ojeda said. “We’ll make sure these signatures reach the government.”
Yoalli Rodriguez, Latin American studies graduate student and an organizer of the protest, said the authorities targeted the students because of their leftist leanings.
“It’s not a coincidence that the killed are dissidents,” Rodriguez said. “This is a national problem of institutions. This is a problem of corruption, of violence and of impunity on behalf of the State.”
Since the disappearance of the students, mass graves have been found in the outskirts of Iguala. So far, DNA tests have shown that the bodies are not those of the missing students.
“The mass graves are one of the most terrifying aspects of the Ayotzinapa case,” Vargas Santiago said. “The 43 students are still missing, but other hundreds of bodies have been found in the mass graves.”