Carmelo Ramirez Morales lived th a night of violence that dominated international headlines in fall 2014. It was the last time he saw his cousin and 42 other s at a rural s in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
Now resettled in Minnesota, Morales is believed to be the per to apply for political asylum in the United States following the s’ disappearance. They were last seen boarding s after a standoff with authorities on their way to a protest. Since then, Morales and others have traveled across Mexico and beyond to call for hing those involved in the disappearance accountable.
Morales’ application is a test case ed closely by others in Guerrero who have criticized the Mexican government’s handling of the incident, says his Minneapolis attorney, eff Lar. Some families of the missing s see his asylum d as abandoning their cause. But with a of Minnesota supporters rallying around him, Morales argues he is just seeking a larger pulpit to continue speaking out.
“I don’t want people to forget what happened,” said Morales, 20. “We have to continue fighting and looking for justice.”
A chaotic night
Morales came to Minnesota in November to speak on the campus of St. ohn’s University in Collegeville.
There, a following the s’ disappearance closely were worried it was slipping out of the consciousness. One of them, graduate ose Velazquez, had stayed with Morales during a visit to Guerrero earlier last year to offer support to the families. He helped line up an invitation to the ’s Global Awareness Lecture series for Morales and a clmate.
“Bringing the s to campus was a good way to relight that ,” said ake Collins, a senior and fellow organizer.
In Collegeville, Morales and his clmate took p in a candlelight vigil and the screening of a doentary about the case. They t their to about 300 people.
On a rainy night in September 2014, Morales’ clmates left to commandeer es so they could get to a protest in Mexico City. The practice, popular with the ’s -year s, had long been tolerated by the companies and authorities in Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states. Morales, in his second year at the , had picipated many times. But that evening, he bowed out because his girl was visiting.
At about 8:30 he got a call from a distraught clmate saying had s at three es in the town of Iguala. When Morales and a of fellow s drove to the scene, they found bullet holes in the empty es and blood on the ground. A clmate t him his cousin was among a had taken away.
Around midnight, the s held an impromptu s conference at the es. As they spoke to reporters, several vehicles pulled up, including what Morales believes was a . Men opened fire.
“Don’t shoot,” Morales and the other men shouted. “We’re s.”
Later, Morales and other clmates took a s in the face to a nearby te medical clinic. Army members arrived, shouted insults at the s, took their names and held them for about two hours. When the s were finally free to go, Morales and several clmates spent the night in the of a who agreed to put them up.
The next morning, s spread the word that it was safe to come outside. State took Morales and other s to give statements in the Iguala attorney general’s . Morales says he helped identify rs who had picipated in the attacks from behind a one-way mirror, only to run into them on their way out of the station.
In all, that night’s spree of violence left six people dead, scores wounded and the e of 43 s a mystery.
A week after he returned to Mexico, Morales called Velazquez to replay a threatening voicemail. It seemed his activism was catching up to him.
Bid for asylum
Morales had talked to a TV reporter two weeks after the s’ disappearance, using an umed name, Francisco Sanchez Nava. He later spoke at a string of forums and rallies. He joined a a of relatives that traveled to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, criticizing the government for failing to uncover what had happened to the missing. Morales says he also met with members of the investigative panel in Mexico City, which challenged the government’s version of events.
The panel’s 605-page report released this month found state and federal authorities at the very least witnessed and failed to intervene in the events of that night. It disputes the government’s claim that local turned the s over to members of a drug , who killed them and burned their bodies in a trash dump. However, it stops short of explaining what happened to the missing s.
When Velazquez heard the voicemail, he offered to help. He approached Lar, who agreed to take the case pro bono.
“He has an ly strong case,” Lar said. “He is in the eye of the storm. It’s compelling and well-doented.”
Stephen Meili, an expert on asylum at the University of Minnesota, says the strongest cases for political asylum usually show evidence of physical harm applicants have suffered because of their views. But that is not a prerequisite for a successful application.
“He has made himself known to the authorities as someone who has a political opinion,” Meili said. “The government knows who he is.”
Lar is asking the U.S. government to expedite Morales’ application so he can side yearslong waits and resume traveling to speak about the case. Lar says Morales is torn about his decision to leave Mexico, especially after criticism from members of the disappeared that he is taking adtage of their cause.
But Morales, who has settled in St. Cloud, says he has not abandoned the movement. His dream is to become a lawyer and launch a nonprofit that supports victims of violence.
“That night is always present for me,” he said. “I still have hope that we will find them.”
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