OTTAWA (CCN) — A Mexican group that includes the mother of one of 43 students who disappeared from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, is asking Canada to take Mexico off its list of safe countries.
Hilda Legideno Vargas joined a “caravan” that included a student leader who survived the attack by gunmen on the college last September and an indigenous human rights lawyer who represents the parents. The caravan made several stops in Canada to raise awareness of human rights abuses. It had the support of Amnesty International, an array of NGOs and labour unions in Canada. The parents’ plight also has the attention and concern of the Holy See.
Vargas’ son Jorge Antonio and 42 others vanished following an attack by gunmen on the college Sept. 26. She told the Foreign Affairs and International Development international human rights subcommittee the parents believe their children are alive and the Mexican government is lying to them when it says the students are dead.
“As parents we request that there be solidarity with us, and that you ask the Mexican government to really carry out a search for our children,” Vargas told the committee. “Unfortunately the government has only attacked us with respect to the search for our children. They have struck students, they have beaten them.”
She told the committee the Guerrero region where they live is ruled by organized crime that is linked to the government.
Jorge Louis Clemente Balbuena, a student at the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college, told the committee that of the 100 students attending the school at the time of the attack, fewer than 50 survived. He testified Mexican police and army members were involved.
“There was a shootout and they shot at them in the school buses, in the buses where we were,” said Balbuena. “Those that they were able to arrest or catch were the ones that they were able to detain.”
Sixteen students were killed. Only those able to flee survived.
Human rights lawyer Isidoro Vicario Aguilar told the committee the Ayotzinapa case is “of great importance” because “it is not an isolated case.”
“There are thousands of cases of this type and unfortunately an awful lot of the families have not been able to make this information public because the conditions do not exist security-wise in order to go with some authority and to be able to say ‘my family member was taken, was executed at the hands of public servants,’ ” Aguilar said.
Clandestine grave sites have been found in the area, where 57 bodies have been found but none of them belong to the “disappeared” students, he said. He noted it took great bravery on the part of the families to denounce the disappearances and the mass graves.
Aguilar urged Canada to remove Mexico from the safe country list that is used to determine refugee status.
“Every day there are people who have been executed, who are kidnapped,” he said, noting during the holiday season in Acapulco, 47 people were executed in the Guerrero region.
In a phone interview April 29, Aguilar, speaking through interpreter Raul Gatica, said he believed the caravan members received a sympathetic hearing from MPs on the committee as well as from Foreign Affairs and International Development officials they met that day.
The common people have been supporting the struggle of the parents of those 43 students, said the lawyer. The parents come from the same social conditions as the poor, marginalized people who support them. Many are indigenous, and Catholic, he said. They understand the suffering of the parents and identify with them, he said.
The plight of the students and the growing movement supporting the parents has the attention of the Holy See. On Dec. 12, 2014, the papal nuncio to Mexico Archbishop Christophe Pierre celebrated mass at the college in Ayotzinapa and brought a message from Pope Francis that “the Holy Father is with you in your pain and in the search for your missing sons.”