By SOLEDAD AGUILAR-COLÓN, age 13

This young protestor holds a sign that reads "nos faltan 43." In English, that means, "43 are missing." PHOTO: sofíagonzález/Flickr
Showing international support, this young Uruguayan demonstrator protests the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students. Her sign reads, “nos faltan 43,” or in English, “43 are missing.” PHOTO: sofíagonzález/Flickr

Soledad Aguilar-Colón: What is a citizen truth tribunal and how did it help your case?

Ricardo Lezama: A citizen tribunal is a public tribunal by prominent and respected community and legal representatives who analyze an egregious act committed by a government. This kind of symbolic action occurs because the relevant government involved is unresponsive; citizens are forced to take legal matters into their own hands.

Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer from México, sketched out a chronology of the attack during the public tribunal at CUNY’s Graduate Center last month. Rosales was accompanied by other members of the Ayotzinapa community including the parents of the kidnapped students. One key detail that Rosales emphasized was how the Mexican government knew the location of the students prior to their disappearance. This is important since most of the blame is laid upon the local municipal police forces. If the Mexican government had operatives tracking the whereabouts of the students before the actual attack, then it follows that the Mexican government was very much aware of what transpired. Finally, the Mexican army had cordoned the area surrounding the attack. Therefore, the Mexican army was complicit in the attack too. This lead the tribunal to conclude that the attack was premeditated and coordinated by federal, state and municipal police, and the army.

Aguilar-Colón: After marching to the United Nations, did the international courts decide to hear your case?

Lezama: The march to the United Nations was impressive but this march was not to get the U.N. to hear our case. The U.N. has a Committee on Forced Disappearances which held a hearing on the Ayotzinapa case in a conference earlier this year in Geneva that the parents visited prior to arriving to the United States. At this hearing, the Mexican government admitted that the case was a clear instance of a forced disappearance. They were obviously reacting to the effect of the massive protests that were held in Europe, México and the United States.

A few weeks later, another set of parents presented their case to the Inter American Court of Human Rights in Washington D.C. In this hearing, the Mexican government simply reiterated that they were indeed investigating the case. However, their presence was quite imposing. No less than ten lawyers were present to represent the government of México. Even so, the court ruled that they would send a delegation to México to observe the investigation which has now been closed.

Art students demonstrate against the forced kidnapping of 43 students in Ayotzinapa with a cultural protest at the Palace of Fine Arts in México City. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
Art students demonstrate against the forced kidnapping of 43 students in Ayotzinapa with a cultural protest at the Palace of Fine Arts in México City. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

This is the reason for the caravan and the march: to build support and pressure México’s government to reopen the investigation and to cancel Plan Mérida. The parents intended to provide this information to a broader audience through these protests. They wanted to reach out to the Mexican community in the formerly Mexican southwestern United States and the newer Mexican communities in the eastern seaboard. There were many activities done in the name of the Ayotzinapa students throughout the United States and many people from throughout the country were present at the U.N. march. Thus, both in official forums like the U.N. and in public opinion, the case of the disappeared 43 students was heard.

Aguilar-Colón: How has the U.S. consumption of drugs contributed to problems in México?

Lezama: Generally speaking, the U.S. demand for illegal drugs fuels conflicts throughout the world. As a major consumer of cocaine, for example, the United States has caused a great deal of harm to Colombia. As a consumer of heroin, the U.S. consumer has caused a great deal of damage to Afghanistan. The United States is the number one consumer of Mexican heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. The huge amounts of money – estimated to be over $30 billion annually – made in narcotics would almost make one forget that drug trafficking is illegal. Many American institutions are involved in the process though. For example, Wachovia Bank was found guilty of laundering money for the Sinaloa drug cartel for years. The banks are likely the chief beneficiaries in narco-trafficking. Narco-traffickers put their money in banks. Then those funds are filtered back into the legal American economy through consumer and mortgage loans.

Aguilar-Colón: Is the disappearance of the 43 students related to the drug violence in México?

Lezama: The disappearance of the students is completely unrelated to drug trafficking. They were targets of political repression. The students believe in public education, equitable distribution of wealth and in political autonomy. Immediately before the attacks, the Mexican government was pushing for the privatization of their engineering school. The Ayotzinapa students represented an opposition to the government’s neoliberal policies of privatization of the country’s resources to corporations.

Demonstrators gather in Houston, Texas to protest against the Merida Initiative. PHOTO: Marixa Namir Andrade/Flickr
Demonstrators gather in Houston, Texas to protest against the Merida Initiative. PHOTO: Marixa Namir Andrade/Flickr

Aguilar-Colón: What is Plan Mérida and how does it affect México?

Lezama: The Mérida initiative has been active since 2008. It’s an American military aid program that allows training of Mexican military and police groups. They are trained in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. These officers then go on to lead units in México as if they were in a war zone in Iraq. Making the military enforce drug laws makes the drugs more valuable. Since the criminal groups find themselves under more pressure, they militarize too and México has entered a great cycle of violence thanks to this initiative. There is a border security component in Plan Mérida that makes it harder for people to arrive safely into the United States. This is entirely hypocritical since the United States knows that their economic and military policies lead people to flee México and Central America. For example, the 50,000 women and children who were detained at the border fleeing poverty and violence. The program needs to be canceled entirely.

Aguilar-Colón: What message do you have for our youth who are interested in this issue?

Lezama: People are never too young to have an informed opinion. Personally, I started doing this work when I was 15.

Young people should look carefully. Do what IndyKids does. Get the basic information, ignore the narrative. We know U.S. funding and training provided to México has led to huge spikes in poverty, violence and migration. Militarizing any issue makes social problems worse. Look at the violence, the police killings and all the people in prisons due to the “war on drugs.”

The bottom line is that youth have to educate themselves so that they can join us in making the world a better place.