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Mexico marks its bicentennial, but not everyone celebrates

Mexico celebrated its 200 years of independence from Spain with light shows, fireworks and concerts. The President, Felipe Calderon, led the festivities which ended in cries of “Viva Mexico”. But some Mexicans were not convinced the country should be celebrating, when its citizens have been suffering from an upsurge in drug-related violence and the cost of the festivities was 230 million dollars, money which could have been spent on improving security or addressing poverty. A newspaper survey in Mexico City found that eight of ten residents thought too much was being spent, at a time where there was not much to celebrate.

Since 2006, 28,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence and amid concern organised gangs might attack the celebrations, more than 14,000 police officers were drafted in to guard the festivities in Mexico City. All party-goers attending the main square had to walk through metal detectors and similar measures were taken for festivities in other towns and cities.

Waves of killings continue to sweep Mexico and levels of violence have increased in 21 of Mexico’s 32 states during the first half of 2010. The surges are often driven by the deaths or arrests of key cartel figures, leading to fresh violence as gangs fight for territory. The government continues to wage war against the drug cartels, but there has been no let-up in the killings, or in the numbers of kidnappings, extortion and human trafficking cases involving ordinary people. The recent discovery of a group of seventy-two migrants who were murdered by a drugs gang near the border shocked people across Mexico and Latin America.

In one valley along the Rio Bravo near Texas, whole villages and towns have emptied as the drugs gangs fight over routes to the USA. More than 500 people have died in this area over the past four years, a death toll per head far worse than Iraq or Afghanistan. In the cemetery outside Guadalupe, whole families are buried and the gravedigger was unsurprised when he recently found the battered body of a 16-year old boy dumped on top of one of the graves. Locals will not talk about what is happening or who is responsible, but they have a saying here: ‘Hasta que el viento tiene miedo’ – ‘Even the wind is afraid’.

There are also signs of exodus in certain cities, as people move away from the violence. In Juárez city, around a dozen people are killed every day, including those caught in the gangs’ crossfire, such as a child who was shot on his family porch. A study conducted by the university found that 116,000 houses have been abandoned in the city and 230,000 people have left.

Ordinary people see little chance of any improvement to the violence, citing official corruption as the reason why the criminal gangs will never be stopped. So as millions of Mexicans celebrate 200 years of independence from Spain, many are also wondering when they will be free of the drugs cartels who now take advantage of their land.

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