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One Year After the Disappearance of 43 Mexican Students, Their Mothers Are Still Demanding Answers

Web ExclusiveOctober 05, 2015
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More than one year after the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college in Guerrero, Mexico, the case is still shrouded in mystery. On September 26, tens of thousands of people marched to mark the first anniversary and to demand answers in the case. New information in the case now suggests that not only were the local police involved in attacking the students in Iguala on September 26, 2014, but that the federal police and Mexican military may have been involved as well.

For more on the case, we’re joined by Hilda Legideño Vargas, the mother of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, and Hilda Hernández Rivera, the mother of César Manuel González Hernández. Both of their sons went missing during the attack by local police one year ago. The two women traveled to the United States from Mexico to attend Pope Francis’ World Meeting of Families. We spoke to them in New York about the Mexican government’s failure to fully investigate their sons’ disappearances, the secret government surveillance program that their sons were under, and where the women believe their sons are now.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa rural reachers’ college in the southern state of Guerrero. The students disappeared after coming under attack by local police in Iguala on September 26, 2014. The case has sparked massive protests in Mexico and across the world, as the parents continue to demand answers.

In August, an international group of experts working on the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights released a report rejecting the Mexican government’s claim that the students had been burned at a dump in the neighboring town of Cocula. The report said the government’s investigation was deeply flawed. It also pointed to the role the federal police and military played in the students’ disappearance. Last week, parents of the 43 missing students met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City to demand a new investigation in line with the experts’ recommendations.

Well, for more, we’re joined right now by two guests who have come from Mexico to New York. Hilda Legideño Vargas is the mother of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, one of the 43 missing students. And Hilda Hernández Rivera is the mother of César González Hernández whose son also went missing during the attack by local police one year ago. The two women have just returned from Philadelphia, where they attended Pope Francis’s World Meeting of Families.

Hilda Legideño, let us begin with you. Can you describe what you understand happened one year ago to your son?

HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] On September 26 of last year, the students of Ayotzinapa were traveling to Iguala to raise funds and get buses to be able to travel to Mexico City to commemorate October 2nd. We didn’t know what had happened. Some students had called their parents, and we were aware that they had been attacked by the police. Around 10:00 at night, the parents started going to the school to find out what was going on, and we learned that our sons and the students had been attacked by the municipal police and taken away. So we asked the students who had told us this to help us get to Iguala to find out what was going on, but there was no way to find out or get to the place of the event. And some students came back on Saturday, but some were missing, and we didn’t know what had happened. The students of the rural school told us that we should wait, because the students had run off to the hills when they were attacked. So we began to get more and more worried, because our children didn’t show up. On Sunday and Monday, we traveled to Iguala, and we searched for our children in the churches and the jails. And since that day, we have been searching for our children. We’ve asked the government to return our sons to us, because we know that the police and the military and federal police participated in this. And this is why we travel to other countries to let the world know what is happening in Ayotzinapa.

AMY GOODMAN: Hilda Hernández Rivera, where were you on that day, September 26, 2014? How did you hear about your son having gone missing?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] I am not from Guerrero. I am from the state of Tlaxcala and from a very little town that’s called Huamantla. So, my husband was informed on Saturday. We were home. And my husband said, “You know what? Something’s happened in Manuel’s school.” I said, “Well, what’s going on?” And he said, “Well, I don’t really know. They just told me that something terrible has happened and that there are people who were wounded.” We didn’t know yet that our son had been disappeared. So we consulted with some students that we could reach, but nobody could tell us what had transpired.

And we had never been to the rural school where our son was studying, but somebody close to us gave us a ride all the way to Guerrero to the rural school, and we arrived there. And that’s when we realized that our son wasn’t there. I began to look for him. There were a lot of people in the school, and I searched the crowd, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. So I kept asking the students, “Where is my son?” And my husband asked. And they explained to us that some of the young people had been detained, and they didn’t know exactly how many. And we waited for him to come back. We didn’t sleep at all. And that’s when they told us that about 50 students had been detained. And as my sister said, we searched different entities—churches, schools, hospitals. Even we went to the military barracks asking for our sons. And nobody could tell us where they were. And we began to learn that they were repressed and detained, and that the police had taken them away. And the police told us that they were detained, and so we thought maybe we needed to bail them out.

We didn’t know anything about our sons. We had no news. And that’s why we began to march and demand that the government give our sons back to us. And we have, in the course of the last year, discovered the truth and the history of what’s occurred. And that’s why we’re demanding, as mothers and as fathers, that our children be returned to us, that they return our sons, because we know that they’re alive. There is no proof to the contrary.

AMY GOODMAN: Hilda Legideño, what do you think happened? The government said they were taken by a local drug gang and burned at the local dump. Do you believe this?

HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] No. As parents, we don’t believe the government, because since the beginning they’ve lied to us. First, they said that they were in a grave, and that’s why we requested the expertise of forensics experts from Argentina. And the government tried to give us human remains that weren’t our children. The independent expert has shown, with the scientist, José Torero, that these are not our sons. So, as parents, we do not believe in the Mexican government, because they have lied to us again and again. We know that the government has clandestine jails and that it’s probable that our sons are being detained in these clandestine jails. And we are not going to rest until we find our sons. We will continue the search, and we have a lot of faith, but we don’t believe in the government. This is why we have to travel the world to let the world know what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Hilda Hernández, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, has released a new report on what happened to your sons, the 43 young men who were students at the Ayotzinapa school. Can you explain the results of this report?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] Yes. There’s a number of lines of the investigation that have been pointed to by that report and the experts. They have identified the irregularities in the process of the Public Ministry. They have clothing that belonged to our sons, and they never gave them to us. There are other proofs that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has indicated—DNA tests, which could serve to show us whether our sons were wounded. The report that you refer to names names who should be investigated to follow up on the case. Like I said, they’ve hidden so many things from us, but this report serves to bring them to light. And the report says very clearly what the Mexican government should do to advance the investigation. And the independent experts concluded definitively that our sons were not burned and dumped in the dump. So we have substantial evidence that our sons were not there.

So we have proof, and that is why we, as parents, are demanding that we want our sons back, and we want real investigation. And also we want to know what else is the government hiding and who else are they protecting, starting with the Iguala [former mayor], Mr. Abarca, who has been detained but who has not been duly questioned, and the same with the governor. The necessary investigation has not been carried out. And he was governor, and he also knew what occurred. And so, this report, as my colleague says, it completely debunks the lies of the Mexican government and provides substantial proof.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe the federal police or the military are involved with your sons’ disappearances?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] Yes, I affirm that that’s the case, and I am sure that it is the case. It was the military and the federal police that detained them and took them away. Just as they try to rewrite the history, they try and pretend that it was drug traffickers that took them away. But that’s not the case. The police and the army is involved in the case of our sons. And I was forgetting to mention that the report also says that there’s a video where a woman judge destroyed evidence or discarded evidence. So why is that video lost? What did it show? If they did in fact destroy it, was it to protect somebody of the government? Because the truth is that the government and the drug traffickers are one and the same. They’re not separate. They work together. Just as I’m saying it, it’s not because somebody has told me it. It’s because we’re living the consequences of that complicity.

AMY GOODMAN: The government has a surveillance program called C4. Do you believe your sons were under surveillance? They’re politically active. The school is known as a politically active teachers’ college, caring about inequality and social justice and literacy.

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] Of course. The experts also affirm that they were under surveillance. When our sons arrived in Chilpancingo on their way to Iguala, they were being monitored by the municipal police as well as the military, as my sister says. Our sons never, never attacked the police. They didn’t provoke a confrontation. They took the buses, but they have a contract with the bus company. And the drivers and the bus company know that the students are going to use the buses. But that was used as an excuse to block the roads.

And there’s something else that I would like to highlight. There was a fifth bus. And the Inter-American Human Rights Commission addresses the issue of the fifth bus. And that has been ignored in the investigation. This fifth bus may have been carrying drugs. And unfortunately, our sons may have taken a bus that was loaded with drugs, which they didn’t know about. And apparently that fifth bus was loaded with drugs and was headed to Chicago. And so, that has come to light in the course of our search for our sons and independent investigation. And where is that bus? That bus has been disappeared. And until now, we met with experts who were doing research, and it seems like the Earth swallowed up that bus. And the PGR showed another bus in a video that isn’t the bus that was taken. So, all three levels of government is involved in this; the federal, state and municipal government are involved.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Hilda Legideño and Hilda Hernández, you have come to the United States. You are not stopping in your demand for this investigation. While you’ve been here, a group of the parents, of your sons, met with the president, Peña Nieto. Hilda Hernández, can you tell us what came of that meeting? Were you satisfied with what the Mexican president said to them?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] On the 24th, some of the parents of the disappeared sons met with President Peña Nieto. This is the second time parents have met with the president, but he never fulfills what he promises. And I’m going to tell you why. The parents that met with him told me that they’re going to request other expert opinion, and he didn’t commit to follow the independent experts’ lines of investigations. The parents who met with him were really disappointed. He’s very stubborn and says that our sons were burned and are dead. And the parents who met with him were really annoyed. The president did not want to assume responsibility, which he should assume. He just keeps lying. And they keep lying, and we’re not going to accept that.

AMY GOODMAN: The president spoke this week, the Mexican president, Peña Nieto, at the U.N. General Assembly, along with all the other presidents. He was supposed to hold a news conference afterwards, but that was canceled. Do either of you know why? Hilda Hernández?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] Because we were going to go to that press conference, that’s why he canceled it. And one of the security of the president in the hotel told us that the president had canceled the press conference because we were going to go. Maybe he’s not afraid of us, but he is afraid of the truth that we speak, because we debunk his lies. Maybe we’re humble people, but we love our sons, and that gives us the strength to keep going. And the only weapon we have is speaking the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: One quote of the president: He has said, “The case is still open. The investigation continues.” Hilda Legideño, does that satisfy you?

HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] No, we don’t believe in the president anymore. On January 27th of this year, Mr. Murillo Karam said that the case was closed. We, as parents, don’t accept that the case is closed. And the government said, oh, they’re not going to close the case, and the investigation is going to continue. But, unfortunately, the government, time and time again, has told us the same thing. They don’t give us an answer. That’s why we believe in the independent group of experts and the experts from Argentina. But the government doesn’t give us any answers.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re in the United States. You went to Philadelphia to hear the pope. Did you hope to get support from the pope, Hilda Hernández?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] Yes, our purpose as Catholics and believers was that, well, maybe we couldn’t have a private meeting with the pope, but we did hope to be able to give him a copy of the report, and that he could find out about the injustice that was occurring this year. But unfortunately we couldn’t do that. But he did see us. But it pains me to say it, and I am a Catholic, but I felt that he was indifferent. He saw us, but he turned his back on us. He saw us pretty close up. We weren’t far away. We shouted, and we told him that we were the mothers of the disappeared from Ayotzinapa. But he turned away. He didn’t heed our call. I know that there are a lot of people who have a lot of need and are requesting his support. But we are looking for our sons alive. We’re looking for live people. We’re not asking for any sort of material support. Imagine as a parent the sort of anguish that we feel, wondering what’s happening to our sons, whether they’ve eaten, whether they’re sick. You know your children. Well, unfortunately, we couldn’t meet with the pope, but we know that God sees all. And God knows we’re looking for our sons, and we hope that there will be a miracle and that soon we will have them home.

AMY GOODMAN: Hilda Hernández, can you tell me about your son, about César González Hernández? How old was he? Where was he born? Why did he go to Ayotzinapa?

HILDA HERNÁNDEZ RIVERA: [translated] My son, César Manuel González Hernández. My son wanted to go to the rural school of Ayotzinapa because there’s a program called CONAFE to support rural communities from different parts of the country, especially the most remote areas, to study. So, my son participated in that program. And my son was moved by humble families and children who had a lot of needs. He told me that he was touched by them. He was studying law in the university, but he decided he wanted to be a teacher. He wasn’t enjoying studying law. He said, “No, this isn’t really for me.” So I told my husband that we need to support him to be a teacher. “If this is what he’s really interested in, really cares about, let’s support him.” He said to us, “Please support me to study to become a teacher. I won’t let you down.” And I said—he’s my only son. I said, “Of course! Of course I’ll support you to study to become a teacher.” And so we figured out how to enroll him, and he was really happy once he was enrolled, because it’s like a dream come true. And they gave him an exam to see, you know, how prepared he was to study to be a teacher. And he passed the exam.

We were always in touch by phone. And we always asked him, “How are you doing?” And he was really thrilled to be studying to be a teacher, to be in the rural school. When he was enrolled and got all his paperwork together, he was thrilled. And I took him to the bus station. I had never went to the rural school. I’ve only been there now. And I haven’t seen him since the 20th or 23rd, when school started in 2014. I just talked to him on the phone on September 26 around 5:00 in the afternoon. He gave us a call. He was always in touch. But I never imagined that this was going to happen.

I’m not just saying this because he’s my son, but he’s really a lovely person, and he’s very smart, too, and very—he has a good heart. So, we are not going to rest until we find our sons. All of the parents now feel we’re one family. They are now all our sons, and we are determined to find them. What else can I tell you about my son? I love him, wholeheartedly. And we’re going to find him. Of course my husband and I are consternated, but we also know we will find him.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Hilda Hernández. She is the mother of César González, César Manuel González Hernández. Hilda Legideño Vargas is the mother of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, also a student at Ayotzinapa who disappeared on the night of September 26, 2014, a year ago. Tell us about Jorge.

HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] My son is named Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño. He’s a happy young man and cares about children, which is why he wanted to study to be a teacher. And he has a daughter who’s named Naomi Tizapa. And he had to work to support her, but I said, “You know, it’s more important for you to study to be a teacher, and I’ll support you to do that.” So that’s why he was at the rural school. He was thinking of studying in Mexico City but decided to study closer by so he could be near his daughter.

AMY GOODMAN: How old is she?

HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] Naomi is a two-year-old. She just had a birthday on June 30th. So I told my son, “Please, go ahead and study, so that you have a profession and you can provide for your daughter.” And so, he started studying, and he was very enthusiastic about his studies. He was also working and studying at the same time. So, all of young people have dreams. All of the parents will tell you that the sons were happy and easygoing. And we’re going to continue to look for them, because we love them. His daughter doesn’t really understand what’s going on. She’s very little. But we are going to continue to look for our sons. We know they’re alive, and we are determined to find them.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Hilda Legideño Vargas, thank you so much. We’ll continue to cover what has happened to your son Jorge. And I want to thank Hilda Hernández for joining us, as well. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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