WATCH: Relatives of Missing Mexican Students Say U.S.-Backed Drug War Is Fueling the Violence

April 28, 2015
Web Exclusive


María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello

mother of José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa.

Clemente Rodríguez Moreno

father of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre.

Cruz Bautista Salbador

uncle of Benjamín Ascencio Bautista.

Family members of some of the 43 students missing in the Mexican state of Guerrero have traveled across the United States in caravans, calling for President Obama to stop funding the Mexican drug war. After the caravans converged in New York City, the relatives marched to the United Nations Sunday to mark seven months since their loved ones disappeared. The Mexican government has said the students were attacked by municipal police operating under the orders of Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca, then turned over to drug gang members, who killed and incinerated them. But only one of the 43 students’ remains have been identified, and the parents continue to believe their children are alive. Last week, ahead of Sunday’s march, we were joined in our New York City studio by relatives of three of the missing students: María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, mother of José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa; Clemente Rodríguez Moreno, father of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre; and Cruz Bautista Salbador, uncle of Benjamín Ascencio Bautista. Special thanks to Alex Franco for translating.

You can find out more about the Caravan 43 campaign on their website and social media.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Parents and relatives of the 43 students missing in the Mexican state of Guerrero have marked seven months since their loved ones disappeared. Some of the parents and relatives converged on New York City after traveling across the United States in caravans. On Sunday, they marched to the United Nations, asking the U.N. to pressure Mexico to reopen the investigation into the students’ disappearance and calling for the U.S. to stop backing Mexico’s drug war under Plan Mérida. The Mexican government has said the students were attacked by municipal police acting under a corrupt mayor of Iguala, then turned over to drug gang members who killed and incinerated them. But Mexican news reports point to a role by federal authorities. María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, mother of one of the missing students, spoke at Sunday’s march.

MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] We are here today marching, April 26, in support of the Ayotzinapa Normal School. I’m a mother who has a disappeared son. His name is José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa. My name is María de Jesús Tlatempa. And we’re here asking the support of all the American people, asking for them to stand in solidarity with us, as parents, because it’s the only way to demand our government help us find our children, and to pressure our government, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and all of our leaders, because they are all involved in the forced disappearance of our children."

AMY GOODMAN: María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello joins us now in New York, along with two other relatives of missing students who have come here with the caravans. Cruz Bautista Salbador is a teacher and the uncle of Benjamín Ascencio Bautista. And Clemente Rodríguez Moreno is the father of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! María, let’s begin with you. What do you believe happened to your son?

MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] Well, what happened to my son, that is what we want to know. For this reason, we want that the occurrences that took place that day be clarified. And that is why we are here in the United States asking for support, because our government has just not wanted to help us, because if the government did want to help us, we would have already found our children. This Sunday, on the 26th, it will be seven months since their disappearance, and we don’t know any information about our children. We, as parents, are completely desperate. For that reason, we want to clarify things, and we are asking the entire American public to support us, and also indigenous organizations, also on the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from the United Nations, we are asking. We are opening doors, looking for strategies, so that they can help us find our children.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—the government keeps insisting that the students are dead, that they died, and there’s no evidence of their bodies anymore. You don’t believe that.

MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] Of course not, because we feel our children are alive, because it was police that took them. And they didn’t take any more, because no more fit in the police car. And the public feels our pain as parents. We need information for our children. And we have received information that we’ve passed to the government; however, they have not helped us, because they don’t want to help us find our children. And because of this, since that day, on the 26th and 27th of September, we have not stopped searching. We will continue to search for them until we find them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Cruz Bautista Salbador, I wanted to ask you why you have taken this trip, what you’re hoping to accomplish.

CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] Well, we’ve been doing diverse activities in our travels through the United States, and we’ve met a lot of people who are misinformed. That is the reason why we are here. That is the principal objective, because many people have confused the information of what really took place that day, and that is why we’re here, to inform the American public and also connect with the people who are supporting us.

AMY GOODMAN: Cruz, you’re a teacher yourself in another normal school, and your nephew is Benjamín, one of the missing students. Can you tell us about Benjamín, why he went to this school, and the role of these schools?

CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] It brings hope to students who are that age that want to study, because access to education in Mexico is very difficult, so people of scarce resources just don’t go to the university. So my nephew Benjamín is the exception, because he had worked as a community teacher for a year in a program in Mexico. He worked in the communities most marginalized, where there is no public transportation, where there is no basic services that everyone should have. So that’s what inspired him to become a teacher. And because our family is from scarce resources, that’s why the normal school is—one of the requirements for entering into the normal school is to be from scarce resources and also to be bilingual in Spanish as well as an indigenous language, such as Nahuatl.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Clemente Rodríguez Moreno, I wanted to ask you—the government claims that what happened here was the action of a corrupt mayor conspiring with a drug gang. You don’t believe that. Why not?

CLEMENTE RODRÍGUEZ MORENO: [translated] On September 26, what happened in Iguala, the ex-president, the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife—the mexican government knew that this mayor was involved in organized crime. And it was them who took our 43 students, our children, the 43 normalists. Well, they disappeared them. It was the police. It was the federal police and the Mexican military that knew all about it, and the Mexican government wants to close the case and tell us to get over our pain. We—as a parent, I am not going to accept the government’s version. We are more focused on the Argentine forensics team, who have given us DNA tests, and they have demonstrated scientifically that our children are alive. And now the government is saying as fact that we should not be looking for them further. And that is why we came to the United States, to let the American public know and understand, to not let yourself be fooled by television. Some people are more focused on television, and the television says that the 43 students are dead. And that is just not true.

Also we are here to remind the United States government of agreements with Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, who has not complied with these agreements. The agreements entailed that all the resources sent to the Mexican government, that was to—well, to combat delinquency, crime, but the Mexican government has done everything backwards. They’ve sent military equipment. They’ve sent intelligence apparatus, trucks, dogs, cavalry. And they have not used these resources as they should have. They’ve disappeared people, killed people, raped people. And so, we want to tell the United States government that they should not send these resources to the Mexican government. And we came here to the United States, because we want you to know that the 43 are alive, because alive they took them, and alive we want them back.

AMY GOODMAN: In January, Democracy Now! spoke to investigative journalist Anabel Hernández. She described the findings of her report, published in the Mexican magazine Proceso, which pointed to the role of federal authorities in the disappearance of the 43 students.

ANABEL HERNÁNDEZ: As you know, the official story is that the attack against the students and the disappearance of the 43 students just were involved the local government—the mayor, Abarca, and his local police. But what we found, in documents, testimonies and also in a video, is that the federal police and the federal government was also involved, not just in the attack, but also the federal government was monitoring the students since they left to Ayotzinapa. That shows that the attack was planned, wasn’t an accident, wasn’t something casual, was very, very planned.

AMY GOODMAN: Cruz Bautista Salbador, can you respond?

CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] Well, according to the information of various media outlets in Mexico, which present a more clear picture, the Mexican government is involved in organized crime. It has ties to the delinquency. That is very clear. We saw it in the case of Abarca. The attorney general knew the history of what this guy had done, this ex-mayor. His friends in the government were covering for him. How is it possible to come into power with this kind of history? And also, the municipal police that were in Iguala at the time, they had illegal weapons, weapons that a municipal police force should never have, special weapons that were imported illegally from Germany and the United States. So you see how the Abarca government was involved in organized crime, and the Mexican government knew. The attorney general, who is in charge of the investigations before a candidate takes public office, has to verify his background. Abarca had a very bad record, but he was always covered, protected by the Mexican laws, and he was in power.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama hosted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the White House in January, amid the political crisis caused by the disappearance of your loved ones, of the 43 students. Peña Nieto praised Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, while President Obama said he backs Mexico’s drug war. Cruz, your response to this?

CRUZ BAUTISTA SALBADOR: [translated] We know that the American government has always supported the effort to fight organized crime; however, we have seen, as Mexicans, that they are not fighting it. On the contrary, they are encouraging organized crime. They are killing innocent people. There has been more extortion in the last 10 years. There have been more than 30,000 people disappeared in Mexico at this point. The NGOs have shown this. And as for the Mexican government, they say there’s 23,600 disappeared people. It’s a wide range, no? The nongovernmental organizations say there are 30,000 disappeared people. And that’s troubling, what is happening in Mexico. If they were really fighting organized crime, as the United States government says, then the crime rates would have gone down—disappearances, extortions, etc. On top of that, there have been more than 150,000 people extrajudicially executed also in the last 10 years. And they keep disappearing our young people to this day. After the 26th and 27th of September, there have continued to be extrajudicial executions. We just saw it happen on the 6th of January in Apatzingán in Michoacán, Mexico. Apparently they are not fighting organized crime; they are fighting organized people, community people who defend their people. There have been citizens in various regions of Guerrero, in various states in Mexico, who have been very concerned about the insecurity in Mexico. And what do they do? What do they do then? Then they send in the Mexican military or the federal police to disarm the citizenry. So we ask: What kind of game is this? The Mexican government, the Mexican military, whose side are you on? On the side of the citizenry or on the side of organized crime? Because what we have seen is that instead of reducing organized crime, they’re making it worse.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: María de Jesús, what has been the impact of this tragedy in the rest of Mexico among the people in terms of how they view the work of the government?

MARÍA DE JESÚS TLATEMPA BELLO: [translated] In Mexico, all the people are very sad because they are in solidarity. As parents, they understand the pain, the suffering. How is it possible that our own government is doing this to us? How is it possible that this still happens to this day, that the government blames organized crime, but they are themselves part of the organized crime? How is this all possible? We know where you work. We know who is your husband. We spend all our time working, and we still don’t have money. They say that our children are throwing stones. How can you compare stones to weapons? How is it possible for the government to be doing this? People tell me, "I’m a mother (or I’m a father), and I feel your pain. I don’t know what I would do if my children disappeared." And I want to tell you that we’ve had a lot of faith, a lot inner strength to continue, because it is very sad to remember the 26th and 27th. We don’t know anything about our children. We don’t know anything. And why did they do this to them? And that is why we’re here, asking for support, urging America to help us find our children.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to thank all of you for being with us, and we’re going to continue to follow on Democracy Now! the story of María de Jesús Tlatempa Bello, Cruz Bautista Salbador and Clemente Rodríguez Moreno. Thank you for being with us.

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