The lives of Clemente Rodríguez Moreno and his family changed forever in 2014 when their son became one of 43 students at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College who suddenly disappeared. Clemente had been making a living selling water on the streets of Iguala, a small city in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. Over the eight years since, he’s been seeking to get to the bottom of his son’s disappearance.
Your son Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre had a life, not just a death. How would you describe him?
Clemente Rodríguez: Christian loved danza folklórica — folk dancing — from the time he was small. Unlike me, with my clumsy feet, he could perform the zapateado, a sort of tap dancing with a lot of foot stamping. Because of his interest in animals and plants, he studied agronomy. Ayotzinapa had classes that experimented with different models of farming, and that excited Christian. But he thought that if he couldn’t get a job in agronomy, maybe he could start a dance school!
The students at Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College come from poorer local families. The college has a history of political activism. Was your son involved in politics?
Christian was only 19, and his views were just beginning to form. So he wasn’t involved. But he, like other students and their families, learned at the school that they have rights: the right to a free education, the right to be provided with the basic “food basket” for a survival standard of living, the right to free health care.
The school at that time had a bilingual track for students who spoke many different indigenous languages. The students were speaking to their communities in their own languages and letting people know their rights. The government didn’t like that.
How did you find out Christian had gone missing?
Students in the Comité, the student union, called the parents. I live five minutes from the school. We wanted to go with clubs and machetes to defend our children. We went to the police, to the hospitals, to government offices. People we met said to us, “Ask the police and the military, they know!” But we couldn’t get any information, and we couldn’t find our sons. After a week, we went out into the countryside to search, but still nothing.
We found out that the students had commandeered some buses to go to México City for the annual October 2 march in remembrance of the students shot and killed in 1968 demonstrating against the government. Ayotzinapa students who survived told us that they accidentally took a wrong bus. They found cocaine, German guns, and $10 million dollars on it. But when they told the police, the police did nothing.
Illustration: Dante Aguilera
That’s when we all realized that criminal organizations worked together with the police.
Do you see a difference between how Peña-Nieto, México’s past president, and Lopez-Obrador, the current president, have gone about trying to solve this horrific case?
A lot of difference! Peña-Nieto shut the door in our faces. At first he gave permission for an independent international team to investigate, but then he threw those investigators out after a year when they got too close to the truth!
On December 4, 2018, his third day in office, AMLO established a commission to find the truth and seek justice for our families. That commission’s investigation has gone from the municipal police in Iguala to the governor of Guerrero to the military all the way to Chicago, the destination for the cocaine on the bus. A person from Chicago has been extradited to México, and he’s now sitting in jail. Also, a warrant went out for the arrest of the local police chief, Tomás Zerón, but he fled to Israel, and officials there have refused México’s request that he be extradited.
AMLO brought back the international investigators and forced the military to show them classified videos taken from the air on the day the students were said to have been killed by drug gangs and their bodies burned up at the Cocula dump. That “official story" was an invention. The video, just made public this past April, shows clearly that the Mexican Navy played a role in the cover-up.
You continue to march and protest. You have another protest upcoming in México City later this month, on June 26. On June 27, you’ll be laying flowers for the missing students back home in Iguala. What do you see as the goals of the Ayotzinapa movement right now?
We parents have four demands. Investigate the former governor of Guerrero. Get Tomás Zerón, the fugitive police chief, extradited from Israel. Bring to justice then-Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, the official who led the Navy in the cover-up. Stop the trafficking of illegal drugs from Iguala in Guerrero to Chicago.
We want to know what happened to our sons. Are they alive? Where are their bodies? We want those who did this to be brought to justice. We parents can’t sleep without the truth. We will continue to suffer. And we will continue to fight for a better México, a better life for our country’s children.