Almost eight months since the forced disappearance and probable massacre of 43 students in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, survivors and family members of the missing continue to campaign for justice.
Having already traveled across Mexico and the United States in a bid to raise awareness of the human rights crisis in their country, a group of activists are now traversing Europe and are due to end their tour in the United Kingdom next week.
The case of the missing students has ignited waves of demonstrations and drawn international attention to the twin problems of corruption and violence that plague Mexican society.
The abductions took place on September 26 after police officers from the town of Iguala started shooting at busloads of student protesters from Guerrero’s Ayotzinapa teachers’ training college.
Three students and three bystanders were killed, while another 43 students were last seen being driven away by police officers, allegedly under the orders of a corrupt local mayor.
The Mexican government, which has arrested more than 100 suspects, claims the police handed the students over to a local drug gang who murdered them and incinerated their bodies.
However, independent forensics experts have questioned this version of events, and the parents of the missing students have refused to accept that their children are dead. They have spent the interim months searching for them and are also leading a campaign to boycott next month’s elections in Guerrero.
The Euro caravan
The contingent traveling through Europe comprises Omar García, a student from Ayotzinapa who survived the night of the attack; Eleucadio Ortega, whose son Mauricio Ortega Valerio is among the missing students; and Román Hernández, a member of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center in Guerrero.
The caravan will have visited a dozen countries across Europe by the time it reaches the U.K. next week. The activists hope to persuade European governments to pressure Mexico into improving its human rights record and preventing similar tragedies from occurring.
“There is a general climate of insecurity in Mexico,” the 24-year-old García said in a press release issued ahead of the U.K. visit. “It is us, the people of Mexico, who pay with our blood.”
Even before the delegation arrived in the old continent, there were already signs of growing pressure on European governments to rethink their relationships with Mexico.
After visiting Mexico in late February, Germany’s human rights commissioner, Christoph Strässer, recommended that bilateral security negotiations be suspended until Mexico introduces a national strategy against impunity and enforced disappearances.
Upon leaving Mexico, Strässer warned: “There is a structural absence of the rule of law throughout the country. It begins with poor access to justice and continues with torture in prisons, disappearances and corruption.”
He also apologized to the families of the dead and missing students because the weapons illegally used by the Iguala police force were manufactured in Germany.
“The Year of Mexico” in British-Mexican relations
Earlier this year the British government and the Royal Family welcomed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and First Lady Angélica Rivera to Buckingham Palace during a state visit intended to enhance bilateral relations.
The visit, which provoked demonstrations by Amnesty International and several U.K.-based Mexican solidarity groups, was timed to coincide with “The Year of Mexico in the U.K.” and vice-versa, a twelve-month celebration aimed at promoting cultural and commercial exchange between the two countries.
The “dual year,” as it has become known, has seen British oil giants sign agreements with the Mexican government “to stimulate Mexico’s oil and gas supply chain,” while the British treasury will offer $1 billion in credit to allow Mexico’s state-owned oil giant Pemex to procure goods and services from the U.K..
The Euro caravan reaches London next Tuesday, where participants will meet with human rights organizations, grassroots collectives and the media before leading a demonstration at University College London.
“Among the objectives of the caravan is to highlight the responsibility of European governments in the grave human rights violations committed against the 43 students,” the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center stated ahead of the caravan’s arrival.
“They have signed cooperation agreements with Mexico on security and trade, which has involved the sale of arms and providing training to the police and Mexican military, although Mexico continues violating human rights,” it added.