Almost four years ago, 43 young men studying to become teachers at a college in rural Guerrero were forcibly disappeared and never seen again.
Yesterday, they should have graduated.
Instead, 43 chairs at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College were left vacant during the ceremony at which the missing men’s classmates received their degrees in education in front of their families, friends and professors.
It wasn’t the only homage paid to the disappeared students, who were attacked and kidnapped in Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26, 2014 allegedly by corrupt police who, according to the official version of events, subsequently turned them over to a local criminal gang.
Before the students filed into the venue for yesterday’s graduation ceremony, the names of their 43 missing peers were read one by one over the school’s PA system during a final roll call for the graduating class of 2018.
The students demanded justice for their absent former classmates and chanted a plea that has been heard far and wide across Mexico since their disappearance:
“¡Porque vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos!” — “They were taken alive, we want them back alive!”
The emotion in their voices was palpable.
As Enrique Peña Nieto nears the end of his six-year term as president, the truth about what really happened to the students on that fateful night remains unclear but something of which there is little doubt is that the events of September 26, 2014 will forever leave a dark stain on his presidential record.
According to the government’s “historic truth,” the Guerreros Unidos gang killed the students whom they allegedly mistook for rivals and later burned their bodies in a municipal dump.
But the investigation into the case has been widely criticized by international experts, human rights organizations, Mexican journalists and the students’ families. Many suspect that the army may have played a role in the students’ disappearance.
Last month, a federal court ordered the creation of a truth and justice commission to undertake a new investigation, ruling that the one carried out by the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) “was not prompt, effective, independent or impartial.”
Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report that said that 34 people were tortured in connection with the investigation and that suspects had been arbitrarily detained.
Yesterday, as 74 students dressed in crisp blue suits were recognized for their hard work over the past four years, the empty chairs served as a stark reminder that 43 young men — the sons of farming families in one of Mexico’s poorest and most violent states — were deprived of their liberty in the prime of their lives and never had the chance to achieve their dreams.
But as a graduating student emphasized yesterday in a valedictory speech, it is clear that they will never be forgotten.
“They are present here, here in our hearts. And that’s the way it will be until they can be by our side and by the side of their families.”
Source: El País (sp)