Home Social Justice Featured Blog: Pope Francis failed to properly address disappearances in trip to Mexico

Featured Blog: Pope Francis failed to properly address disappearances in trip to Mexico

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In late 2014, 43 students at a Mexican teacher’s college disappeared. Since then, their families have been fighting for justice in this case, which has become a symbol of the larger issue of disappearances across Mexico. With the pope’s visit to the nation between Feb. 12 and 17, many were hoping he would shine a light on the injustices occurring in Mexico, especially in regards to this symbolic case.

Pope Francis has been a particularly outspoken pope on many occasions. Just think about his recent statements on birth control for Catholic women in Zika-stricken countries and Donald Trump’s immigration policies. He is political and poignant in his choices, and his recent trip to Mexico was no different.

Democratic and fair elections in 2000 didn’t solve the ongoing issues with bureaucracy that Mexico had been fighting during the previous one-party rule by the PRI. Over 20,000 people have gone missing in Mexico, and according to Amnesty International almost half of that number has disappeared since 2012 when Enrique Peña Nieto became president. The disappearances have coincided with an increased crackdown on journalists’ rights to free speech. Narco-trafficking (narcotics trafficking), immigration and human rights violations are real issues for the Mexican government, and Pope Francis’ trip to the country brought light to this. He discussed immigration, where he said building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. was not Christian, and narco-trafficking’s effects on the society.

The pope’s recognition of Mexico’s human rights issues could be seen in his choice to visit some of the poorest regions of the country, which have also had the largest struggle with violence. His speeches pointed out these problems as well, but here it was far less overtly critical of the Mexican government or their responses to the disappearances than some Mexicans had been hoping for.

The 43 students from a teacher’s college who disappeared from their town after a protest have not been seen again. The government concluded its investigation claiming that a drug cartel or paramilitary group in the area had kidnapped, murdered and burned the bodies of the 43 in a trash dump nearby. This was recently determined false after an Argentine forensic anthropology team gave a second opinion on the bone fragments and stated that they could not have belonged to the student victims. The case is still open, and significant questions have arisen about what really happened to the students and how much the government is hiding.

The families have been suggesting that the  government troops in the area at the time of the abduction must be questioned by impartial investigators, but so far these soldiers have only been questioned by the government investigator from the original investigation. It is unlikely that the government will allow another party to interview these soldiers or view any of the other relevant material that is being discovered.

Although the Argentine report that discredited the government findings was released only days before Pope Francis visited Mexico, his speeches and meetings noticeably missed any direct discussion of these disappearances. He met with parents of other missing people, but none of the 43 students’ families. As consolation, the families were offered three seats at one of the pope’s masses, which they refused. The pope, much to the dismay of these families, met with government officials including Peña Nieto instead of meeting with those campaigning against them.

The choices Pope Francis made to visit and speak with whom, when and where he did have been highly critiqued, but they have also been supported as an attempt to point out the problems of the Mexican government.  The Bishop of Saltillo said, “There are some political situations that the Vatican and he, as the Head of State, have to be careful of: He didn’t say disappearances, but he did say they take your loved ones. He did talk about it, but he didn’t use the certain terms he couldn’t use.”

The disappearances in Mexico are rarely discussed in American media. A few years ago, there was a spike in news stories covering the violence in Mexico, but that has since dropped off to almost nothing. The contrast to Mexican news sources is incredible; most of them prominently feature the violence in their stories and on their pages. Leaving out any discussion of this violence also has an impact on the American immigration debate. Economics are not the only reason someone would leave Mexico; the search for a better life is not always about a better job. It can be about simply feeling safe in your own country and your own home.

This makes you think. If more people knew about the impunity, corruption and violence going on in Mexico today, would they be willing to pressure the Mexican government and the innumerable others that have forcibly disappeared over 20,000 people in Mexico?

Junior Annie Chester and Junior Alena Klimas also contribute to this featured blog, “Critical International Media Perspectives.”

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