In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we speak with the father and cousin of two of the 43 students missing from the Mexican state of Guerrero since late September. The Mexican authorities have declared the students dead, saying members of a local drug gang killed them and incinerated their bodies. But only one student’s remains have been identified, and journalists have pointed to the possible involvement of federal authorities.
As parents who have traveled from Mexico cross the United States in three protest caravans, we speak with two relatives of the missing students who live here in New York City: Antonio Tizapa is the father of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño; and Amado Tlatempa is the cousin of Jesús Jovany Rodríguez Tlatempa. Tizapa, who believes his son is still alive, calls on the Obama administration to stop the Mérida Initiative, the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program used to fund the war on drugs in Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York, relatives of two of the 43 students missing from the Mexican state of Guerrero for over six months participated in a 10-kilometer run Saturday to protest the ongoing disappearance of their loved ones. The Mexican government says the students were killed by gang members, but the families questioned that account and believe they’re alive. Antonio Tizapa, the father of the missing student, wore a T-shirt which read, "My son is your son, and your son is my son."
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] That way, we can show our government, the Mexican government, that wherever there’s a Mexican, there is a lot of support. As you can see, there are several fellow Mexicans here expressing their support for the cause of the Ayotzinapa 43 and making it clear to the government that it is not a closed case, as they would like it to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Late last week, unknown protesters wrote the names of the missing 43 students and, on the facade of the Mexican Consulate in New York City, with the phrase "consulate accomplice."
Well, two relatives of the missing students, who live right here in New York, are joining us now in our Democracy Now! studio in this radio-television broadcast exclusive. Antonio Tizapa is the father of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, one of the 43 missing students. We’re also joined by Amado Tlatempa, cousin of another missing student, Jesús Jovany Rodríguez Tlatempa.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Antonio, what do you think has happened to your son?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] What has happened, well, he has disappeared, together with his other companions. And what we don’t understand is why they did it. They are young. They are students from a rural normal school for teachers. They are young people from poor means. And the majority, 90 percent of the students, that are disappeared are first-year students. They only had two months of being integrated into the school. The reason for why they don’t appear, we don’t know. And that is why we are here, so that they can give us an explanation, through this medium, and other mediums, that can pressure the government. And I thank this medium, I thank Democracy Now!, because it’s the first that has given me the opportunity to speak to the American audience. And thank you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, the government says that the youths are dead, but you still believe that your son may be alive?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Absolutely, 100 percent. Like the rest of the parents, we are sure that they are alive. Independently, that what others say, that is completely false. We know that they are alive. We know that they are holding them alive, because they are being detained. We don’t know the reason. We do not know the reason.
AMY GOODMAN: What has the Mexican government told the families? Why don’t you believe it?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Because the government says that this is a case that is a closed case. However, there is no evidence. There is no evidence that show us, that prove what the government says happened to them. And while there is no proof, we maintain that they are alive 100 percent.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tell us something about your son, what were his hopes and dreams, and a little bit about his life.
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Well, yes, his dream was to continue studying. He had various options. One option was to go to Mexico City also to study in a normal school or to stay in Ayotzinapa, which is where we are from. He went to do the exam at the school for entrance, but he said, "If I have a choice, I want to stay in Ayotzinapa, because I want to stay close to my mother and my family." I, as a father, and his mother said, "It’s your decision, son. We are here to support you." And he decided to go to Ayotzinapa. He loved the relationship to children. That’s why he wanted to—made the decision to become a teacher.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Amado Tlatempa into this conversation. You are the cousin of one, perhaps two, of the young men who went to the school, who were abducted? And you grew up together with them in Tixtla? Amado, why would the government target the students?
AMADO TLATEMPA: [translated] This is an old problem, that has decades, of the school and the government, because the students fight for their rights to gain a better life, to gain better housing, better food, better education. What they do is they take to the streets to be heard. And the government treats them like delinquents. So this is a problem that’s been going on for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your cousin Jesús? And tell us about growing up in Tixtla, since that’s where you grew up. You’re both roughly the same age.
AMADO TLATEMPA: [translated] We were born, and we were raised. There are not many opportunities for progress, and that is why the majority of the youth look for that type of school, where school is almost free. But lately, the Mexican government has privatized education, so only the people with more resources have access to education. This is the repression, not against the middle class, but against the poor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Antonio, I wanted to turn to a clip of your wife, Hilda Legideño, speaking about your son in a video that was produced by TeleSUR.
HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] I’m the mother of a missing student. His name is Jorge Antonio Tizapa. He’s 20 years old. We are originally from here, Tixtla, a small town, apparently tranquil, but now corrupted, like many cities, by the delinquency of the government. My son worked driving a van. At three in the morning, he had to go to work. Sometimes I’d go with him so he wasn’t alone, and if not, I’d tell him, "Be careful." We had a time when a lot of youths were kidnapped here in Tixtla. I told him to study so you can offer something to your family, your daughter, because he has a young daughter. She’s one-and-a-half years old. We didn’t expect this was going to happen. What we’re waiting for is the return of our children. We’re going to keep looking. We’re not going to stop.
AMY GOODMAN: Your wife, Hilda Legideño, is one of the leading organizers for the students. What message do you have, living in the United States, to President Obama in our relationship with Mexico?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Well, what I would tell to President Obama is to stop supporting Plan Mérida, because the weapons, the arms, with those weapons that are supposedly supporting the war against drugs, those arms are being used to annihilate our students. I ask him to stop that aid. That is what we ask of him, the parents and all the citizens of Mexico, because we are going through a very difficult situation. It is not possible that just because one is a student, they assassinate you. So, please, no more aid to Mexico in the weapons system.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about the history of Ayotzinapa, the school, and its significance in Mexico?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Yes, of course, with pleasure. Well, like I had commented, I am from here, as well as Amado. What I can say about the normal rural school is that it’s a school that was created for—specifically to help the children of campesinos, fieldworkers, and that way integrate the most marginalized people. The students that attend these schools are sent from regions where there is no water, there’s no electricity and no way to get to school—they have to walk four to five hours to be able to get to school—and also to educate people, because there are some places where there is no—people can’t read, practically, and in that way, to instruct the people and also to understand the laws that we have.
The story of Ayotzinapa was that it was founded many years ago with that goal in mind. It’s an all-male school that has many resources, such as dormitories and—but it is not what you would think of a private school here in the United States. There is no hot water in bathrooms. There is no—it’s very rustic, where the youngsters do their sports, but also they have workshops on carpentry, metallurgy—metal working—and they also conduct husbandry and several areas of cultivation. In that way, they are helping each other. They sell what they produce, and at the same time, the husbandry of pigs, for instance, also helps them, and also to provide food for them at the school.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What are you hoping now that the United States government—or could do to be able to assist you in finding a solution to what has happened to your son and to the other youths?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] I am hoping that the government will open its heart, the government of the United States will open its heart and put some pressure on the Mexican government. And at the same time, there are parents here in the United States that are doing some conferences in schools to bring to light this case, so that there is more pressure on the Mexican government, so there’s a solution. At the same time, we have also—the mother of my child was one of the people who went to Geneva, the United Nations, to build international pressure. That is really the only way that we can attain a resolution. So this is the invitation we make to our American friends so they know the problem that’s happening in our country, Mexico. And we appreciate. We are so thankful. Other mass media, other communications have not reported on this, and this is exactly why we are going to universities. At the same time, in Mexico, there are places where the information is completely different from what is actually being experienced, and they tell them we didn’t know any of this was happening, but it’s good that this is being disseminated. And thank you so much, to you, for telling people exactly what’s happening in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: And your final message here, Antonio?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Well, I have my message. Well, as a father, I thank everyone. I thank everyone here. And please don’t forget to support us. Believe me, it is very difficult, the situation. I would not wish it upon anyone. Thank you for your support.
AMY GOODMAN: Antonio Tizapa is the father of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, one of the 43 missing Mexico students. And thank you so much to Amado Tlatempa, cousin of Jesús Jovany Rodríguez Tlatempa, another of those missing students. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.