Mexicans rally behind poet to end drug-war violence

MEXICO CITY — Tens of thousands of Mexicans on Sunday flocked into Mexico City's main square to deplore President Felipe Calderon for failing to halt rampant bloodshed in his four-year-old campaign against organized crime groups.

Throngs listened to a grieving poet and writer, Javier Sicilia, decry "Calderon's absurd war" and lament tens of thousands of homicides, including that of his own son in late March.

Protesters carried signs saying "No more bloodshed" and "We have had it up to here."

Wearing a broad-brimmed felt hat and looking sunburned after a four-day march to the capital, Sicilia demanded that the government end its strategy of deploying the army against crime groups, apprehend and prosecute criminals and increase public security.

Sicilia lashed out at Mexico's major political parties, accusing them of profiting from Mexico's troubles and maintaining links to organized crime.

"We citizens will have to ask ourselves at the next elections for which cartel and which de facto power we will vote," Sicilia said.

The peace campaign of the poet has needled Calderon, who repeatedly said last week that there was no alternative to his policy of confronting criminal groups.

Pulling troops back to the barracks is "not an option," Calderon told his countrymen in a televised message last Wednesday: "Retreating would mean allowing things to grow worse."

The government has acknowledged that at least 35,000 people have died since Calderon came to office in late 2006, saying the vast majority were foot soldiers in rival criminal gangs fighting over turf across vast swaths of Mexico.

Under Calderon's watch, some 50,000 soldiers and marines have joined the fight, and many drug cartels now engage in extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking and other criminal activity in addition to narcotics trafficking.

Some 100 civil society groups supported Sicilia's four-day silent march that began Thursday in Cuernavaca, a resort city 55 miles south of Mexico City, and wended its way toward the capital. It was near Cuernavaca where Sicilia's 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco, was among six young people killed by criminal gangs March 28.

Sicilia, a growly voiced writer, has extensive contacts within the national media, and he succeeded in galvanizing numerous people for his campaign.

Smaller acts were held in 38 cities around Mexico.

"We have to rethink the strategy of public security," Sicilia said earlier in the day, adding that he would urge Mexicans to engage in civil disobedience campaigns if Calderon does not alter his policies.

On Saturday, more than 10,000 mostly indigenous followers of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, a now dormant guerrilla group, marched through the streets of the southern city of San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas state in support of Sicilia. It was the first large public march by Zapatistas in more than a decade.


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Check out this McClatchy blog: Mexico Unmasked