Mexicans Protest Drug Violence Amid Brutal Killings

BY Larisa Epatko  April 22, 2011 at 10:00 AM EST


Demonstrators marched against violence in Cuernavaca, Morelos state in Mexico on April 6. (Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images)

After five years of a government war on the drug cartels and the deaths of more than 30,000 people, some Mexicans are organizing a movement called “ya basta” — enough — to bring an end to the killing.

More examples of how vicious the drug war has become have surfaced in the past two weeks. Authorities discovered 145 bodies in mass graves in Tamaulipas state near the U.S. border.

Dozens of people have been detained for the brutal killings, including 16 police officers and 22 Zetas drug gang members.

Families made the bleak trek to morgues to identify loved ones that had been missing.

“It appears that many of the victims had no immediate relation to drug violence,” Ioan Grillo, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Mexico City, told us by phone. “They were migrants heading to the United States, or people coming back from the U.S. on business, or people going to buy used cars.” They were snatched from buses or cars and executed in violent ways.

“The horror of this crime on innocent people is something that has really stunned Mexico, even though it’s quite numb to violence,” he said.

The Zetas, believed to be behind the killings, are not just a drug cartel anymore, but more like a criminal army of sorts that operates different kinds of crimes, including the mass kidnapping of migrants, extortion, and even robbery of the oil industry, said Grillo.

President Felipe Calderon called for a war against the cartels when he came into office in 2006, and mobilized the military and federal police. But the cartels have fought back.

A growing protest movement is showing that the public is fed up with the drug-related violence. Mexicans are gathering for marches and vigils around the country, led by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son was killed in March.

And although their messages are mixed — some participants say the government should legalize drugs, others say the military and police have to protect them, and still others think the government should make peace with the gangsters — their underlying theme is expressed in the banners they hold, which say “ya basta”, or enough, said Grillo.

And another consequence of the fighting between rival drug gangs, which has spread to retribution on regular civilians, is the departure of many Mexicans from small towns ill-equipped to protect themselves against the violence.

In December, hundreds of people left Tamaulipas state “like refugees” fleeing the new level of violence there, said Grillo. “A lot of these small towns are very vulnerable because it’s hard to have a big army presence” everywhere, he said.

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