Almost a year on from the disappearance of 43 students in southwest Mexico, an activist who helped lead efforts to find them has been brutally murdered.
Police in the troubled state of Guerrero found Miguel Angel Jimenez Blanco’s bullet-ridden body in the taxi he owned near his hometown of Xaltianguis on Saturday night.
Jimenez, 45, was a prominent activist who organised community search parties to find missing people, including the 43 students who disappeared and are believed to have been massacred near the town of Iguala last September. He was a vocal critic of the local authorities, whom he accused of hiding evidence related to the case.
A community leader
Jimenez also led one of many community police groups that have sprung up in rural Mexican towns in recent years in response to the threat of violent drug cartel and the lack of protection provided by the government. In a Youtube video posted online after his death, he confirmed that he had been receiving death threats as a result of his work.
“We’re still confronting impunity, despite the presence of so many police and journalists here,” he said in one eerily prophetic interview. “As you’ll witness, they keep killing us in broad daylight.”
Following the disappearance of the 43 students, whom government says were murdered by a local drug gang, Jimenez began to organize searches for them and other missing people in Guerrero late last year.
The video tribute to Jimenez shows him as an energetic figure unearthing fragments of bone and teaching volunteers how to dig for mass graves in the hills around Iguala, a notorious dumping ground for the criminal gangs that operate in the region.
Known as “The Other Disappeared”, the search parties were mostly comprised of mothers searching for their missing children. Equipped with shovels and picks, they met every Sunday and helped to uncover 60 clandestine graves that housed 129 bodies: none of them corresponding to the missing students.
Another murdered activist
Jimenez is not the first member of The Other Disappeared to have been murdered. In February, 26-year-old Norma Angelica Bruno Roman was shot dead in front of her three children at a cemetery in Iguala. A semi-regular participant in the search parties, she had been trying to locate a missing cousin who was abducted from her home in October 2012.
The case of the missing students has drawn international attention to the major crisis of disappearances in Mexico. There are currently over 26,000 missing people nationwide, according to government registers, although many human rights groups believe the actual number of disappearances may be considerably higher.
The 43 student activists, who were training to become teachers at the rural Ayotzinapa training college in Guerrero, were last seen being abducted by local police officers. The government says corrupt officers handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos (Warriors United) drug gang, who murdered them and incinerated their bodies over a rudimentary funeral pyre.
Students’ parents won’t give up
Over 100 suspects have been arrested but only one fragment of bone has been found identifying one of the students, fueling widespread scepticism about the plausibility of the official account in Mexico.
Hilda Legideño, a native of Tixtla, Guerrero, has taken part in many fruitless searches across the state in a bid to find her 20-year-old son, Jorge Antonio Tizapa, among the missing students.
“The government is responsible. They say it was organised crime but the criminal gangs in Guerrero leave the bodies lying around. They’re don’t make them disappear,” Legideño told Latin Correspondent.
“We’ve been searching for them in mass graves but we haven’t found them. It’s exhausting but we’re going to keep looking for them,” Legideño added.
“The government has offered us money, houses and cars to stop searching for them, but as any parent will understand, our children are priceless. They’re not for sale.”