Forty-three empty chairs line the city square of Chihuahua, Mexico, as family members and friends protest the third anniversary of the kidnapping of 43 students at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College in Iguala, Guerrero.
"I never imagined that we would spend so much time like this," said Blanca Luz Nava, mother of Jorge Alvarez, one of the students who vanished on Sept. 26, 2014.
“I wake up thinking about my son … there is not a second when I don’t think about him, how he is, where he is and whether he will be alive.”
Town members organized a range of activities to commemorate the date, including marches, forums, exhibitions and performances. Events like these are being held across Mexico.
The problem of enforced disappearances and kidnappings is widespread across the country, with tens of thousands of victims having disappeared over the years in addition to the 43.
“The government, after they disappeared the 43, they tried to say it was an isolated case, and we screamed ‘no!’ It isn’t an isolated case, it is systematic. It happens many times a day in different parts of the country,” said Mario Vergara the group Los Otros Desaparecidos de Iguala. “What we are finding is reality, the truth about what is happening in our country, so many people are being disappeared.”
The parents of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, along with social organizations, have marched from Mexico City’s Angel of Independence to the capital’s center, demanding the safe and immediate return of the students.
"We do not forget, we do not forgive, we demand punishment for the guilty,” said Felipe de la Cruz, spokesperson for the Ayotzinapa Mothers and Fathers Committee.
“Three years of anxiety, fear, rage, psychological torture but with dignity, we remain firm and convinced that we are going to find them.”
At 4 p.m. the parents led a march from the Angel of Independence monument to the so-called "antimonument" at Paseo de la Reforma and Avenida Bucareli, Center Hill.
Although they were scheduled to march to the city's Zocalo due to the earthquake that struck the country's capital, they agreed to carry out deliver aid to the heavily-impacted Xochimilco borough.
They called for a mass in homage to the families affected by the earthquake of Sept. 19, after which they will begin a silent walk while wearing a black bow.
Yesterday, the parents of the normalistas arrived in Mexico City in two buses packed with aid for earthquake victims.
A series of seminars were also held over the weekend to discuss the effects the tragedy has had on relatives of the disappeared, their teachers and Mexico’s social justice movement in general.
The families of the 43 disappeared students have denounced the official police report due to a number of discrepancies and have called for renewed efforts into the investigation of the case, chanting the motto, “They were taken alive; we want them alive.”
The government claims rogue police officers apprehended the 43 students on the night of Sept. 26, 2014 and early hours of Sept. 27, 2014, handing them over to a gang known as Guerreros Unidos. According to the report, the students were then killed and cremated in a garbage dump, incinerating every trace.
However, experts have contested this version, stating that it would be impossible to completely cremate so many people in a landfill. As of Monday, the Attorney General’s Office has continued to deny information about the investigation.
"The lack of progress in a case that the Mexican government has called 'the most exhaustive investigation in the history of Mexico,' along with mounting evidence that public officials obstructed justice and impeded the investigation, has come to symbolize the widespread impunity found within Mexico's troubled criminal justice system and the government’s lack of political will to credibly investigate and sanction human rights violations," Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America said in a press release.
Families responded by bringing their fight to the official’s front door, traveling to Mexico City and plastering images of the missing students on homes surrounding the Attorney General’s Office.
Since 2014, over 800 searches have been organized, scrounging the land’s numerous rivers, caves and garbage dumps for some trace of the students.
Investigators state there are three viable avenues left to investigate: military involvement by the federal and municipal police, cell phone tracers and an investigation into a drug trafficking route between Iguala (the site of the disappearance) and Chicago.