His plea was timed on the eve of a four-day march for peace which will reach the capital’s streets this weekend. The march is one of many held over recent months by Mexicans who are tired of the violence which has afflicted the country. Since the military began its four-year crackdown on the drugs gangs, around 35,000 people have lost their lives (according to the latest government data). In the first three months of 2011 alone, more than 3,000 murders have been linked to drugs violence. In a nationwide survey, two-fifths of Mexicans said they did not feel safe to walk alone in their home streets in the early evening.
Over the last few months, Mexicans have been especially shocked by the brutality and random nature of some of the killings, as well as by mass graves which have been uncovered. Even more upsetting for a family-minded people, children are increasingly being targeted by drugs gangs. In some recent high-profile killings, children have been shot in their homes or family cars, dumped in fields or murdered in the arms of relatives. And in many of these cases, the children were intentionally shot, perhaps as a way to further terrorize local populations.
The Child Rights Network in Mexico estimates that 994 young people below the age of 18 have been killed in drug-related violence between 2006 and 2010. This figure is based on media reports and could be higher since some journalists have been intimidated by gangs not to report drug-related crimes. (Government data puts the number of children killed at over 1,100, though some of these murders may not be related to criminal gangs.) Experts worry about the psychological effects on children growing up with this level of violence. When schoolchildren in Michoacan state were asked to draw pictures depicting something from daily life to commemorate Mexico’s bicentennial, some of the drawings featured violent scenes, such as a man being shot in the stomach.
Last month, the award-winning poet and social commentator Javier Sicilia appealed directly to the drugs gangs not to hurt ordinary people and to “return to your codes....where civilians are sacred, where children are sacred”. Mr Sicilia’s own son was found dead in March along with some friends, the body of the 24-year old and the others bound in tape causing suffocation. This week’s peace march was called by Mr Sicilia, who questions the military action being taken by the Mexican government. But President Calderon says the campaign against the drug cartels must continue and has called on the nation for its “understanding” and “support”. With the drugs trade estimated to be worth the equivalent of 5 per cent of Central America’s gross domestic product, Mr Calderon sees his campaign as part of a much larger war. However, he promised Mexicans that it will eventually be “worth the effort....[as] the only solid and lasting basis for the future”.
In a televised speech, the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, has called on Mexicans to support his government’s continuing crackdown on the drugs cartels.