Parents of 43 students missing in Mexico mark anniversary with 43-day hunger strike

Days before the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 Mexican students from a rural teacher’s college, the parents of the missing began a hunger strike Wednesday, on the eve of a planned meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Gathering under a white tarp outside of Mexico City's main cathedral at the historic Zocalo square in the early evening, the parents held signs with photos and the names of their children as a doctor examined them to make sure they were healthy enough to take part in the hunger strike.

"For 43 hours, we will only drink water and we'll be fasting when we meet with the president," Nardo Flores, whose son Bernardo is among the missing, told AFP.

The meeting between the parents and Peña Nieto, only the second since the disappearance on the night of Sept. 26, 2014, took place in a Mexico City museum in the early afternoon. The parents handed the president a list of eight petitions, including the launch of an "specialized investigation unit" supervised by international authorities, El Universal reported.

The crisis of the missing students has become one of the major issues affecting Peña Nieto’s administration.

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Vidulfo Rosales, the parents' attorney, said they will call on Peña Nieto to order a new investigation and for authorities to present the 43 young men alive. The previous investigations have been heavily criticized by the parents and outside observers for how Mexican authorities handled the case.

In a statement released Wednesday, Amnesty International’s Americas director, Erika Guevara-Rosas, said the case had "exposed how anyone can be forcibly disappeared into thin air in the country with those in power focused on covering up the traces."

The disappearance of the students enrolled at the Ayotzinapa Normal School, a teacher-training institution in the southern state of Guerrero, "is one of the worst human rights tragedies in Mexico's recent history," she said. "Unless President (Enrique) Peña Nieto takes real action now, he will continue to be seen around the world as an enabler of horrors.

Police attacked the students as they traveled through the city on buses as part of a protest against education reforms, according to the official version, which says six people - including three students - were killed and 43 other students abducted.

Federal authorities say the incident was the work of corrupt municipal cops acting on the orders of a corrupt mayor with connections to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel who wanted to prevent the students from interfering with an official event.

The cops handed over the students to cartel gunmen, who killed the young people and burned their bodies to ashes at a garbage dump in the nearby town of Cocula, according to the official story.

But the parents of the missing students and their supporters reject that account, which has also been criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other international organizations.
IACHR experts said in a report earlier this month that "no evidence exists to support the theory based on the statements that the 43 bodies were incinerated" at the dump on Sept. 27, 2014, the day after the students disappeared.

Along with the hunger strike, a handful of the students’ parents will be in Philadelphia for the Pope Francis’ visit to the city in the hopes of securing an audience with the pontiff.

"Our sons are innocent victims," Emiliano Navarrete, who son is one of the missing, told the Catholic Herald. "Perhaps (the Pope) could do something for us … could help us pressure the Mexican government."

Efe contributed to this report.

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