Ever since September 26, Hilda Legideño Vargas has been looking for her son.
Twenty-year-old Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño was one of 43 students from the Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa teachers' college who disappeared on that date in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
At first, the parents of the students looked in the local hospitals and jails—in any location they thought their children might be. They soon widened their search, and began to organize protests, calling on the Mexican government to look for the students. Now, they have taken their quest international, urging Canadian politicians, organizations, and citizens for support.
“For the [Mexican] government, the case is closed, but for us as parents it isn’t closed, because we haven’t found our children,” Vargas told the Straight in an interview in Vancouver, where a delegation arrived from Guerrero this week. “We won’t rest until we find our children.”
The aim of the caravan from Ayotzinapa to Ottawa, where the delegation will present to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights on April 28, is to raise awareness of the September incident, and of human rights violations across Mexico.
According to the group, the Ayotzinapa students were attacked by police in Iguala, Guerrero on September 26, 2014, leaving six people dead, and leading to the disappearance of 43 others.
During the search for the students, 15 mass graves have been uncovered in other parts of the state. None of them contain the remains of the missing.
Jorge Luis Clemente Balbuena, a third-year education student in Ayotzinapa and a classmate of the missing students, said the group is seeking the help of Canadians in demanding justice.
“The reason that we’re here is to denounce all the human rights violations [in Mexico], and to see if politicians here can put pressure on our government to find the missing students,” said Balbuena. “We don’t want people to continue to go missing.”
Amnesty International has criticized the attorney general of Mexico’s investigation of the students’ disappearance as “faltering”.
“The past six months have been a period of heartbreak and torment for the family and friends of those who were forcibly disappeared last September,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director of Amnesty International, said in a March 26 news release.
“Despite worldwide attention on the issue, the Mexican authorities have failed to properly pursue all lines of investigation, especially the worrying allegations of complicity by armed forces. The Mexican authorities cannot wait even one day more, but must act now to bring those responsible to justice.”
The parents and relatives of the missing students have also criticized the auditor general's report on the investigation, which stated that the group had been killed and incinerated by a local drug gang.
Margena de la O, a reporter for the La Jornada Guerrero who has covered Ayotzinapa for the last eight years, said the families don't believe the report because they feel the government: "misled them from the start, by producing supposed statements from detained suspects that their children were in graves".
"The evidence contradicted it," she told the Straight. "Since then, they don't believe them."
According to official figures cited by Amnesty International, more than 25,000 people have disappeared in Mexico over recent years, with almost half going missing during the administration of current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto.
The Ayotzinapa delegation notes that under Canada’s refugee system, Mexico is on a list of "safe" countries. (The aim of the Designated Countries of Origin policy, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is to deter abuse of the system by people from countries that are generally considered safe.)
“Mexico isn’t safe,” Vargas said. “If international visitors come to our country, they will see the reality. People are being killed and assassinated all the time, especially in Guerrero. So Mexico should be removed from this list.”
Vancouver is the caravan’s first stop in Canada. On Friday (April 17) starting at 6 p.m., the group will host a fundraising event at the Royal Canadian Legion on Commercial Drive, which will include Latin American food and music.
After Vancouver, the delegation will travel to Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa.
Vargas noted another delegation of parents was in the United States, while others will travel to Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Some parents are also on a journey across different parts of Mexico to raise awareness of the issue.
“We haven’t stopped,” said Vargas. “We will continue searching for our children.”