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A group of around 50 demonstrators gathered outside the Mexican consulate in New York on Wednesday morning to demand justice for the 43 Mexican college students who disappeared last September and to call for the end of a security initiative between the United States and Mexico that they claim is partially responsible for widespread violence and corruption in the country.
Among the demonstrators was Felipe de la Cruz, a teacher from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa in the Mexican state of Guerrero, which is the school the students attended before their disappearance. De la Cruz's visit to New York is part of a caravan of the missing students' parents and friends currently making their way through the U.S. to raise awareness.
"We're in the U.S. because there are many Mexicans here in this country and we want to get their support and the support of the international community for these human rights abuses," de la Cruz said during a press conference.
The 43 students disappeared after a clash with police in the town of Iguala, about 100 miles southwest of Mexico City, and were turned them over to a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, who later burned the bodies, according to the federal government's version of events.
The crime has shaken the country and drawn international criticism and protests over the involvement of municipal officials and police in the disappearance of the students.
Demonstrators in New York blamed much of the pervasive violence in Mexico on the U.S. weapons and funding given to that country under the Mérida Initiative, a security strategy signed in 2008 that among other things has provided $2.1 billion to Mexico to combat drug trafficking in the country.
It is dismissively referred to as Plan Mexico, after Plan Colombia, a similar U.S. drug war initiative in that South American nation. Many critics– citing widespread corruption throughout Mexico's civil police forces and a soaring murder rate since its implementation – claim that the Mérida Initiative is doing more harm than good.
"We're targeting both the Mexican government and the United States," Ekiwah Sanchez, one of the organizers of the demonstration, told Fox News Latino. "This is a global thing because the repression and the tactics used by the Mexican government were taught here in the U.S."
The violence related to the drug trade in Mexico escalated in 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón declared an offensive against the drug cartels. More than 60,000 people were killed in the fighting that followed.
While many people hoped that President Enrique Peña Nieto would help lower the body count, the opposite has in fact happened with almost 13,000 people being slain in drug-related violence from December 2012, when he took office, through the end of July.
The caravan of parents and friends entered the U.S. on Monday in El Paso, Texas, where family members held a rally, then split into three groups, one heading to the West Coast, East Coast and central states.
"We want to wake up the consciousness of the people in the U.S. on what is happening in Mexico," Josimar de la Cruz Ayala, brother of survivor Angel Neri de la Cruz Ayala said, according to the El Paso Times. "We need their support to demand that Mexico find the students and other people who have disappeared and bring to justice the perpetrators."
The three caravans plan on converging in Washington, D.C. where parents of the missing students will present their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
While in New York, de la Cruz is will attend Amnesty International USA's general meeting in Brooklyn this weekend. He is also hopeful that the group will be able to meet with United Nations officials