AYOTZINAPA, Mexico — Omar Garcia can’t help but think of his missing friends everytime he walks past the flower fields that the students planted behind this college’s dining hall.
“What you can see here is their work,” Garcia says, pointing to fields teeming with purple flowers and orange cempasuchiles that Mexicans use to decorate altars on the day of the dead.
“We miss our comrades,” Garcia says of his disappeared friends, nicknamed Kinder and Komander. “We hope they come back here, so that they can see the fruits of their labor.”
Officials still don’t know the whereabouts of Kinder, Kommander or the 41 other college students who went missing on Sept. 26 — the day their group was allegedly abducted by police and handed over to a local drug gang. Authorities believe a mass grave found Monday near a landfill in the city of Cocula may contain their remains, but forensic experts have yet to identify any bodies.
Fusion this week obtained exclusive footage of the missing Ayotzinapa students joking among themselves as they ploughed the flower fields that have since blossomed.
Students provided the video of life at Ayotzinapa in an effort to change perceptions about their school and student body, which has been depicted in the local media with images of violent and disorderly protests in the wake of last month’s disappearances.
“People here think that we are always protesting or on strike, but we do other things here too,” said Gabriel Garcia Sanchez, who’s also a second year student at Ayotzinapa. “Our education here has five thematic areas as everyone here knows, one of them is learning about agriculture.”
The Ayotzinapa school, known for its leftist professors and politics, is plastered with marxist murals. Student protests — complete with roadblocks and marches — regularly erupt in December to protest funding for the school.
But Garcia argues that main purpose of this college is to train young men from the countryside to become teachers in rural communities.
Most of the all-male students come from poor families, and this is their only chance at a higher education, Garcia says. Tuition and housing is free, and school administrators try to reserve all spots for the sons of poor campesino families.
To ensure that only the sons of farmers study here, applicants are put through a grueling series of trials in July, including long hours of work in the fields on campus.
“Most people from the city couldn’t survive that,” said Uriel Ruiz, a student leader.
The entering freshman class at Ayotzinapa must tend to cornfields and flower fields, whose crops are sold to raise funds for the school.
Freshmen must also conduct fundraising activities in nearby cities. That’s what a group of 80 first-year students was doing on the night of Sept. 26 when they were attacked in Iguala.
“The funds those kids went to raise in Iguala, were partly for this type of job they were doing here,” Garcia said, looking out at the campus’ flower fields. “It was for these crops which you see right here to prosper.”
See Fusion’s full coverage of the Ayotzinapa case.