WASHINGTON — As Mexico continues to recover from three earthquakes in two weeks, mourners gathered at the Mexican embassy this week for a vigil commemorating the dead and missing – but also to call attention to 43 college students who mysteriously vanished three years ago.
“We want the Mexican government to take the same kind of responsibility for … the disappearance of these 43 students as they would for natural disasters like earthquakes,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The AFT and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement organized the observance, which doubled as a call to action. They want the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the disappearance of 43 students who attended a teacher training college in the southern Mexico state of Guerrero.
On a night in September 2014, the students were traveling on a bus to and from a demonstration to demand more funding for public schools. At some point, their bus was hijacked by local police who attacked them, according to an AFT release.
Although 130 people were arrested in connection with the incident, including the former mayor of the city where it occurred, local police officials and members of a drug cartel, the students have not been found.
The Mexican embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
The unions organized the commemoration because of the horror of the deaths and destruction from the earthquakes.
The latest temblor, which struck the southern portion of Mexico on Sept. 19, claimed 337 lives, according to the Associated Press. The successive earthquakes destroyed more than 210 schools and countless buildings across southern Mexico.
“The noise was overwhelming,” remembers Frida Gaytán Mertens, a resident of Cuernavaca, 50 miles south of Mexico City. “The moment after that, the seconds after that, it was like a silence, two minutes.”
In the aftermath of the latest earthquake, Mertens said everyone in her community came out to check on one another. There was no electricity and no water in many places, she said, but neighbors helped one another.
“We used to live in heaven and in paradise,” Mertens said, “And this earthquake changes that.
“Suddenly, we felt vulnerable.”