Parents of the 43 Mexican students who disappeared after they were attacked by police are to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto today, two days before the first anniversary of the atrocity that turned them into the figureheads of a national protest movement.
"The president is responsible, he is obliged to receive us and hear us," Meliton Ortega, the father of one of the missing students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a rural teachers' college, told reporters. "It's not possible that almost a year after the events he still hasn't taken responsibility."
President Peña Nieto met the relatives of the students once before, last October. That tense five-hour encounter ended with parents still unconvinced of his commitment to addressing their deep misgivings about the government's investigation.
The attacks took place as the students sought to leave the city of Iguala aboard five passenger busses heading back to the Ayotzinapa campus, about 90 miles away. Three students and three bystanders were killed that night. Another student shot in the head, Aldo Gutierrez, remains in a coma.
Today's meeting, scheduled to begin at 1 PM, will also include members of a special team of experts assembled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to pick over the official investigation into the attacks. The experts released a 560-page report earlier this month rejecting its central conclusions.
Roberto Campa, deputy interior minister for human rights, told Radio Fórmula that today's meeting will begin with the experts explaining their report's findings to the president. He said that Peña Nieto would then listen to relatives of all the students one by one.
"We have to recognize that this event has had very bad consequences for the country," Campa said, referring both to the pain of the parents, the anger among citizens, and damage done to Mexico's international image.
Campa added that the government hoped "to come out of the meeting with commitments defining where to go from here in this very complex situation."
The government has promoted its public acceptance of the expert team's report as proof of the transparency and rigor of its own probe, but has yet to fully address the report's rejection of much of the official version that was fixed in November by then Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, who called it the "historical truth."
According Murillo Karam, who has since resigned, municipal police working with a local drug gang called Guerreros Unidos mistook the students for members of a rival gang known as Los Rojos. He said that the police handed a large group of arrested students over to the Guerreros Unidos, who massacred the young men in a rubbish dump, and burned their bodies to little more than ashes on a pyre.
The experts report, however, concluded that the students could not have been mistaken for criminals because their movements were closely monitored from the moment they left their college traveling in two busses, and their intention to commandeer more busses to use in a later protest was well known. The report also said there was no physical evidence in the dump of a fire large enough to cremate their bodies.
The parents greeted the report as vindication of their long-standing rejection of the official version. Filled with renewed hope that their children might still be alive, they demanded a second meeting with President Peña Nieto in an effort to pressure the government to do more to try and find them.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International released a statement this week urging the government to redirect its investigation.
"The Ayotzinapa tragedy… exposed how anyone can be forcibly disappeared into thin air in the country with those in power focused on covering up the traces," Erika Guevara-Rosas, the group's Americas director, said in the statement. "Unless President Peña Nieto takes real action now he will continue to be seen around the world as an enabler of horrors."
Meanwhile, the approaching anniversary has seen a renewal of tension in the state of Guerrero, where both Iguala and the Ayotzinapa college are located. Students from the college and federal police clashed on Tuesday, leaving several injured on both sides.
Guerrero authorities said the clashes began after students responded to a routine check on a highway by throwing Molotov cocktails and stones. The students denounced an effort to prevent them from exercising their right to protest, as well as excessive use of force by the police.
Parents of the missing students arrived in Mexico City on Wednesday and began a 43-hour fast to honor their children. They are due to lead a demonstration in Mexico City on the anniversary itself this Saturday.
Previous protest marches have ended in confrontations sparked by smaller groups of protesters, as well as incidents of serious police abuse. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera announced on Wednesday that he he will not be deploying riot police during Saturday's march, in order to prevent any possible clashes with authorities.
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