While bloody death tolls and ubiquitous violence are nothing new in a country that has seen an estimated 106,000 people killed in drug violence since 2006, the disappearance of 43 college students has shaken the country and spurred widespread protests across Mexico.
Friends and relatives of the 43 students who went missing last September in the city of Iguala, in southwestern Mexico, plan to cross the U.S.-Mexico border later this month in an effort to protest the Mexican government's handling of the case.
Three caravans – carrying family and classmates of the missing students – will cross the U.S.-Mexico border on March 16 in El Paso, Texas. The group will travel to 45 cities throughout the U.S. as it fans out across the country, a coalition of Latino human rights groups said at a San Diego City College press conference earlier this week, local media in California reported.
"We are so close to the border, and we need to pay attention," said Enrique Davalos, a professor of Chicano Studies at San Diego City College.
For safety reasons, the names of the visitors, who will arrive on a collective humanitarian visa, are not being made public, but it is known that a father of one of the disappeared and two students who survived a police shooting the night their classmates went missing will be in California.
The 43 Mexican students who disappeared in late September, were from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. They disappeared after a clash with police in Iguala, about 100 miles southwest of Mexico City.
A four-month long investigation into the disappearances led to the arrest of more than 70 individuals, including police officers, cartel members and the mayor of Iguala and his wife – both suspected to be the masterminds of the kidnapping.
According to the official version, the students had been arrested by local police forces from Iguala and the neighboring town of Cocula and handed over to an organized crime group – affiliated to the mayor's wife – called the Guerreros Unidos.
The cartel members then took the students to a dump, killed them using fire arms, burnt them overnight and finally dumped their charred remains in plastic bags in the nearby river, according to a report released by Mexico’s Attorney General’s office.
The inquiry was officially closed in January by Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, who said he was able to declare, with "legal certainty," that the 43 students were dead, but the parents never endorsed the official story and took the case to the UN's Committee on Enforced Disappearances, in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The official version is full of holes and contradictions," Davalos said. "It has provoked a lot of mistrust."
The crime has shaken the country and drawn international criticism and protests over the involvement of Mexican officials and police in the disappearance of the students and for the U.S. anti-drug funding in the country.
The visit from the families of the missing students comes three months after protestors gathered across the U.S. in solidarity with the families to demand justice for the missing and a revision of the Mérida Initiative, a security strategy between the two countries signed in 2008 that, among other things, has provided $2.1 billion to Mexico to combat drug trafficking in the country.
"I want our government to stop Plan Mexico," Roberto Lovato, a writer and activist who helped organize the #USTired2 social media campaign that put together the nationwide demonstrations, told Fox News Latino. "Let's end the dirty drug war that is killing tens of thousands of Mexicans and disappearing others."