Renee Lewis/Al Jazeera

Protests rage over missing students in Mexico ahead of national strike

Strike and massive marches called for Nov. 20 in capital and abroad demanding end to government corruption

Protests over the disappearance of 43 missing students raged across Mexico and the United States over the weekend. Activists blamed a government they say has ties to organized crime and called for people in Mexico and the U.S. to support a Mexico-wide strike on Thursday.

Coinciding with the Nov. 20 strike, protest marches will be held in Mexico City, as well as dozens of cities across the U.S. including New York City and Los Angeles.

“We want to warn that these acts of protest will not be silenced while the civil and human rights of our Mexican brothers continue to be violated and trampled on by a government that has colluded with organized crime and to those who blamed the crimes committed by the state on [cartels] — thereby evading their own responsibility in the state sponsored genocide that has been committed with total impunity,” #YoSoy123NY, the New York chapter of a Mexican social movement that opposes Mexico’s current government, said in a statement handed out at a protest in New York City on Sunday.

“Alive they were taken. Alive we want them back,” protesters said as they marched in Union Square.

Thousands took to the streets in Mexico City on Sunday, the latest in a series of mass protests and university strikes in the capital meant to condemn the state violence that led to the disappearance of the students, local media reported. They also denounced Saturday’s police attack at a university in the capital that left two students wounded.

Protesters in Guerrero state, where the missing students are from, took over highway tollbooths between Mexico City and Acapulco on Sunday — demanding the students’ safe return.

The national strike and other protests planned for Nov. 20 will call for the safe return of the missing students from Ayotzinapa Normal School, which trains the rural poor to become teachers.

Before their disappearance, the students had been protesting government education reforms in Iguala in Guerrero state, when police fired on them at the apparent request of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca's wife. The attack left six dead, including three bystanders. The state governor, Angel Aguirre, stepped down last month following accusations that he was complicit in the crime.

On Nov. 20, three caravans with relatives and classmates of the missing Aytozinapa students will converge on Mexico City to join the mass protests after having traveled across Mexico raising awareness of state corruption. 

“We are sending caravans to Chiapas, to Morelos and also to states in the north. Then we will all congregate in Mexico City on the 20th,” Ayotzinapa students told Fox News Latino.

As Mexico strikes, supporters in New York City will march from the Mexican consulate to the United Nations. They will call for justice for the Ayotzinapa students, according to members of #YoSoy123NY.

The disappearance of the 43 students has shocked a nation already desensitized after decades of violence perpetrated by the state and drug cartels. The crime has torn away at the credibility of President Enrique Pena Nieto, whom protesters accuse of being complicit in the crime either by action or inaction.

For his part, Pena Nieto has promised to bring the perpetrators to justice in a country where 98 percent of crimes go unsolved. A series of mass graves discovered in the so-far fruitless search for the missing students has undercut the president’s assertion that Mexico has become safer and less corrupt under his watch.

Demonstrators in Guerrero, including classmates of the disappeared students, have torched government buildings in the state capital, Chilpancingo, and Iguala, the city where the 43 students were attacked. Activists have also set the doors of the National Palace in Mexico City on fire and occupied the Acapulco airport in condemnation of the crime. More action has been promised if the students are not returned safely.

Pena Nieto, who just returned to Mexico after a trip to China and Australia, warned protesters against the use of violence in their quest for justice, saying on Saturday that government security personnel would have to use force if violent protests continued, Telesur, a Latin American news agency, reported.

But the students’ disappearance has already galvanized nationwide frustration with rampant violence and has renewed criticism of state corruption at all levels of government.

“It’s a national movement that’s launching. People are really upset in Mexico,” a student leader from Ayotzinapa told Fox News Latino.

The former mayor of the northern city of Torreon, who purged all but one of its 1,000 strong police force in 2010 when it was found to be infiltrated by the Zetas drug gang, said the current state of corruption in Mexico should not be surprising.

“What we’re seeing are the results of many years of deterioration, complacency and denial by successive governments,” Eduardo Olmos told Reuters. Cases like Torreon's police force mean most Mexicans perceive police as being massively corrupt and better known for perpetrating crimes than solving them.

Officials have said, based on confessions from police officers and cartel members arrested in the aftermath of the students’ disappearance, that local Iguala police handed the students over to organized crime and ordered their execution. A more recent confession by a gang member claimed that the students had all be killed and their bodies burned to such an extent that identification was no longer possible.

Protesters in New York City on Sunday called that a lie by the “narco-government” that rules Mexico.

“So inform the Mexican government and the international community that Mexicans completely reject the statements from the state and the lack of ability to punish the truly guilty ones in all three levels of government that, for their action or inaction, were complicit in the crimes,” #YoSoy123NY said in statement on Sunday.

Activists are demanding that Pena Nieto, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam and Secretary of Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong be held accountable for their participation in or inaction in the face of the state “genocide” against those who oppose government policies. 

These officials have demonstrated “to the Mexican people their incapacity to govern our nation,” #YoSoy123NY said. "We require also the United States government halt the military aid to the Mexican government, who uses it to help in the training and strengthening of the repressive defense agencies against the citizens."

With wire services

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