Almost nine months after 43 Mexican students were abducted last September, three parents and a classmate of the 43 normalistas visited Rio de Janeiro last week to conclude the Caravana 43 journey through South America.
The Caravana was made up of parents Mario César González, Hilda Hernández Rivera and Hilda Legideño Vargas, along with Francisco Sánchez Nava, a student survivor of the attack. The group, which also visited Argentina and Uruguay, met with Brazilian victims of violence, civilian activist organizations, indigenous groups and education activists in diverse areas of Rio.
According to Sánchez Nava, the Caravana intends to form a strong network with other Latin American movements and unite strengths against “state terrorism” in Latin America.
“We want the presence, we want the union, we want to see that we all really have a heart on our chests, and that we are all brothers,” Sánchez Nava said. “The governments have globalized [violence]. We must globalize brotherhood, globalize resistance and strength and show the governments, the system, the state, that we are tired of that. Every day there will be more of us. Every day there will be a stronger force.”
“Vivos los queremos!”
The Caravana inaugurated its week of activities in Rio on June 9 with a press conference downtown to an audience of nearly 60 activists and journalists. The four guests told impassioned stories of the night of September 26, as news of their disappeared sons and classmates unraveled. They asked for support from the Brazilian people and demanded the 43 students be returned to their families alive.
González said parents of the 43 students still believed their sons to be alive because none of the evidence presented by the Mexican government was reliable. In fact, he said, independent Argentine investigators had questioned the scientific credibility of the evidence.
“If we have to go to the edge of the world to find these kids, we will,” González said.
The event ended with a loud, “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!” (“They were taken alive, and we want them back alive!”) a chant that would be repeated throughout the week.
On June 10, the Caravana spoke at the Museu da Maré (Maré Museum,) located inside one of the largest favela complexes in Rio. Favela residents from all over the city attended the event to show solidarity and share their experiences as victims of police violence in their communities.
“We ask for your support and solidarity so that in Mexico they realize that there are people all over the continent who support us,” Legideño Vargas said to the audience.
The Caravana first met with activist groups and community leaders privately, before participating in a public panel that included residents of four favelas: Ana Paula de Oliveira from Manguinhos, Vitor Lira from Santa Marta, Monica Cunha from the organization Movimento Moleque, and Irone Maria Santiago from Maré.
“For me it’s very important to be here with the family of the 43 students and with a survivor of the attack in Mexico because our stories are ultimately related, due to the fact that we are all victims of state violence,” de Oliveira said.
Sánchez Nava directed his message to the Brazilian government and asked for justice for the many victims the Caravana had met during the visit to Brazil. He listed more than a dozen names of victims from São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Rio.
On the morining of June 11, the Caravana visited the Centro Etno-conhecimento Sócio-cultural e Ambiental Cauieré (CESAC), in the North Zone of Rio, for a private meeting with indigenous Guaraní representatives. The event was followed by a visit to a community in the Maracanã neighborhood, where the Caravana representatives demanded the return of the 43 Normalistas and justice for Rio’s indigenous populations, who suffer from state oppression.
“The same America”
The next morning, about 15 people joined the Caravana to hold a demonstration outside the Mexican Consulate in Rio. Brazilian organizers of the Caravana delivered a letter signed by several organizations and activists to the Consul General.
Tensions rose during the event when the Consul General quickly passed out fliers with the official government response to the Ayotzinapa incident and rushed back inside. Disagreeing with some of the statements, Sánchez Nava ripped the flier in half and threw it at the Mexican Consulate door.
The second event, a debate called “I Think, and Then They Make Me Disappear,” took place at Rio’s state university, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), later that day. The debate aimed to share the experiences and struggle for public education in Rio and Mexico.
Márcia Curi Vaz Galvão, leader of the organization Filhos e Netos por Memoria, Verdade, e Justiça, an organization that raises awareness about the consequences of the Brazilian dictatorship and provides psychological help for family members of victims of the state during the dictatorship, said she saw many similarities between the experiences of the Caravana and members of her organization.
“When I got there and heard Francisco [Sánchez Nava] speak, I thought, ‘But he is saying what I would say,’” she said. “It is the same cause, the same America.”
The Caravana concluded its journey through South America with a large event on the steps of Rio’s City Hall. The event gathered about 200 spectators to enjoy Latin American music and speeches by local activist groups.
Galvão’s group spoke during the event, and each member of the group symbolically changed his/her name during the gathering to represent one of the 43 Mexican students.
“We are here in support because we understand that the 43 students who disappeared or were murdered, those 43 boys are exactly the same as the ones who disappeared during the dictatorship in Brazil,” said Galvão. “They are the same ones who have disappeared in the disguised dictatorship we live today in Rio de Janeiro’s state violence, they are the same ones who disappeared in Argentina … in Uruguay. Just change the name of the country, the name of the person and the address.”