A group of classmates and family members of 43 students who have been missing since they were taken at gunpoint last September in southern Mexico is traveling across the United States to get its message out to people here.
The “Caravana 43” hopes to raise awareness and get more press coverage in the United States as well as Mexico. It also wants to see an end to the Merida Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. and Mexico that was supposed to help Mexico fight drug crime. Instead, it has equipped and trained the country's police and military to be even more deadly toward its own citizens, the group says. There are three contingents, each covering a different part of the United States.
Angel Neri de la Cruz Ayala, 19, is a second-year student at the Escuela Rural Normal “Raul Isidro Burgos” de Ayotzinapa.
“I'm here to invite the people of the United States to help us to pressure the Mexican government so they don't forget about our missing classmates,” said de la Cruz.
A normal school, whose students are known as normalistas, is one of 16 teacher-training schools that were built by the Mexican government nearly a century ago in areas stricken by persistent poverty and racism.
De la Cruz was part of student demonstrations the night of last Sept. 26, when police opened fire on their buses, killing three of their classmates, as well as a bus driver, a pregnant woman riding in a nearby taxi and a young soccer player riding nearby.
Forty-three of his classmates were detained and forced into vans at gunpoint, and have been missing since. Many believe they are dead, and this has been the official position of the Mexican government since late January. But members of the Caravana 43 believe the missing 43 are still alive. Ayotzinapa is now shorthand for police and state violence within Mexico.
De la Cruz said there is every reason to hope his missing classmates are alive, and no proof that they are dead.
Marco Amaral is part of the volunteer group helping the caravan while it's in San Diego. He said Mexico's police and government are killing people there with impunity, helped by money from the United States.
“Those are the people that are governing Mexico, right?” said Amaral. “And we're supporting those people. The regime that's in Mexico is backed by the United States, not just morally backed by the United States, but financially and politically backed by the United States."
Amaral said that he volunteered to help with the caravan in San Diego because -- as for many other Americans -- the case of Ayotzinapa touched a nerve.
“When Sept. 26 happened, it was really honestly felt -- not just for me but for millions and millions of other people -- it was the straw that broke the camel's back,” Amaral said.
The three delegations from the Caravana 43 will travel through the United States until they converge in New York City in late April.