MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay —Forty-three Uruguayans stood outside the Mexican Embassy in Montevideo on Monday afternoon, each holding a photograph of one of the students who went missing two months ago in a horrific crime that has rocked Mexico and put the country's struggle with crime and corruption back in the international spotlight.
The protesters were among thousands of Uruguayans who marched from Montevideo’s Plaza Independencia to the Mexican Embassy demanding justice with chants of “Vivos se los llevaron, Vivos los queremos” (they were taken alive, we want them back alive). Demonstrators transformed the front of the shuttered embassy into a memorial for the missing Mexican students.
Across Latin America, solidarity with the families of the 43 missing students is reaching across ideological boundaries in this diverse and fragmented region. While government officials from Latin America have been careful not to weigh in on the matter or violate the policy of “non-interference” in neighbors’ affairs, the protests are intended to put public pressure on the Mexican government.
“In Latin America there have been some expressions of solidarity and support for the Mexican protesters,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C. “A presumed massacre like this touches a nerve in a region that has seen its share of such horrors.”
The scene in Montevideo was tame compared to the violent protests in Mexico in recent weeks. But the fact that there even was a protest 7,500 kilometers away from Mexico City in the normally quiet capital of one of the smallest nations in South America shows the extent to which the case has resonated across the region. Similar demonstrations have occurred from Guatemala City to Buenos Aires, with more scheduled across the region on Nov. 20.
The protests could further embolden Mexican activists, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas. “It could prove to be a watershed for Mexico,” he said, “the moment where Mexicans finally show that they’ve had enough of violence and lack of rule of law.”
The Montevideo march included demonstrators of all political stripes and ages, from anarchist students to white-haired senior citizens. In an Uruguayan twist, many also held a clay cup of the ubiquitous herbal tea mate, and a smell of marijuana wafted over the crowd as might be expected in this pot-legal nation.
“We’re all here together to protest against this massacre,” said Gonzalo Iglesias, 25, a law student. ”It’s something that’s beyond our differences here in Uruguay.”
Participants waved Mexican flags and held signs reading “Fue el Estado” (It was the state) and “Todos somos Ayotzinapa” (We are all Ayotzinapa). Uruguayans said they have an idea of what the Mexican families are going through because of the hundreds who disappeared here during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. Those still-missing include the aunt of 20-year-old Carolina Carredero, who marched Monday with the local rights group “Madres y Familiares de Uruguayanos Detenidos-Desaparecidos” (“Uruguayan Mothers and Relatives of Disappeared and Detainees).
Mexicans who now live in Uruguay were moved by the outpouring of support. Liz Millan, 28, who marched with her two-month-old son strapped to her chest, grew up in Mexico City and said her own family was abducted for four days when she was a child, during which time a gang forced her father to withdraw money from numerous bank ATMs while police looked on and asked no questions.
“In the past this could happen without anyone caring,” said Mrs. Millan. “But we’re all connected now. You can’t hide the sun with one finger.”
Here's a look at other expressions of solidarity from around the region:
From Nicaragua and Brazil:
Stephen Kurczy, a Brazil correspondent, has reported from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the jungles of the Amazon. Somewhere along the way he became addicted to açaí, a purple slushy made from the powerfruit.