Thirty-two cities in Mexico and more than 10 abroad will hold demonstrations this afternoon to condemn the violence that has claimed the lives of some 36,000 people. Many predict today’s marches will be the largest organized public outcry to date against the militarized Drug War President Felipe Calderon launched in late 2006.
The marches come at the behest of well-known writer, Javier Sicilia, whose son and close friends were found dead last week. In a press conference in the city of Cuernavaca, Sicilia slammed the government for its Drug War polices and criticized the drug cartels for abandoning the codes that, in the past, made civilians off-limits to attacks. Sicilia called on people to attend in large numbers to overcome fear and create a safe space for dissent against the Drug War. Marches will take place in some of the hardest-hit cities in the north – including Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa, and Monterrey.
Deaths and disappearances in the spotlight
A day of quickly-planned marches in dozens of cities would have been hard to predict even just a couple of weeks ago, but the death of Sicilia’s son sparked discontent that has been brewing for years. The human cost of the Drug War has also been receiving the attention of national and international organizations recently.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has documented nearly 5,400 cases of people who are “missing or absent” since 2006. The governmental body’s new data marks a sharp increase from its prior figure of less than 300. It also comes on the heels of a 2 week fact-finding mission by a United Nations working group on forced disappearances.
The UN working group made headlines on Friday for its recommendation that the Mexican government consider withdrawing the military from police work, which is a line that has been blurred by the current administration’s Drug War strategy.
Independent human rights organizations have performed the bulk of the documentation of forced disappearances in recent years, as victims’ families often distrust the authorities. Families who do come forward sometimes face the stigma of allegations that their missing loved ones were involved in criminal activity.
There have also been cases in which homicides have been linked to organized crime under suspicious circumstances. When three members of the outspoken Reyes Salazar family were kidnapped in February, surviving relatives immediately began carrying out non-violent actions to pressure the authorities to act. When the missing people’s bodies were dumped on a road in the Juarez Valley, security forces said a note was found at the scene linking the activist family to organized crime. Supporters of the family called the note a cover-up. Since then, there’s been no apparent investigation into the triple homicide and most of the family has fled the state of Chihuahua.
Initial reports indicated a message from the Gulf Cartel was found at the scene. where the bodies of Juan Francisco Sicilia and his friends discovered. While murders accompanied by such notes are rarely investigated, the Sicilia case had grabbed national attention. On Tuesday, the Morelos State Attorney General reportedly told sources close to the case that active duty soldiers may be linked to the multi-homicide.
Impunity has become the norm for the cases of murders and massacres linked to the ongoing Drug War. Statements from an international summit taking place currently in Cancun indicate the US government sees success in the militarized strategy. Others, however, see the war as unwinnable.