Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who has led a national protest movement against the militarization of the “drug war” since losing his son to narco-violence earlier this year, met at the Federal District’s Chapultepec Castle with President Felipe Calderón June 23, accompanied by some 20 other survivors of violence. After more than three hours of dialogue with Sicilia and his delegation, Calderón said he was open to “reviewing” his security strategy. He also said he accepted their proposal to create a commission to “work on behalf of the victims.” The president agreed to meet again in three months with the poet.
“I’m willing to make changes,” Calderón said after meeting with Sicilia—but would not apologize for having sent the military into the streets to combat the cartels. “The irresponsible thing would have been not to act,” he said. “Who will confront those bands? I prefer to take the criticism, even though it may be unfair, than the burden of conscience of having not acted while seeing that a problem existed.”
While saying he felt “terribly hurt” for the victims, he also sought to absolve the government “Yes, we admit that it is the criminals, the violent” who are responsible for the bloodshed, he said. “It is an error to suppose that all evil comes from the state.”
“Where are the benefits of this strategy?” Sicilia reportedly challenged Calderón, after confronting him with a litany of cases violence that have gone unpunished. “You don’t have anything to show us, and we are not politicians, we are citizens.” Sicilia charged that Calderón is “obligated to apologize to the nation and in particular to the victims.”
Presumably not present at the meeting was Public Safety Secretary Genaro García Luna, who has been a target of the protest movement since it first demanded his resignation during its initial mobilization in May. (EFE, June 24; LAT, AP, CNN, June 23; InSight Crime, June 22)
The meeting with Calderón follows a June 10 national activist conference in violence-torn Ciudad Juárez, which opened as Sicilia’s cross-country Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity arrived in the border city. This conference saw approval of a six-point program for the movement, calling for: 1.) justice for the victims of violence; 2.) demilitarization and an end to the strategy of war; 3.) combatting corruption and impunity; 4.) combating the economic motives for organized crime; 5.) emergency attention to the problems of youth and the fraying of the social fabric.; and 6) efforts to create participatory democracy, and democratization of the mass media. (Escrutinio, June 16; Excelsior, June 11)
Meanwhile, nightmarish violence continues daily across Mexico. In the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, several were killed June 18 in a shoot-out between soldiers and gunmen. Authorities would not specify how many gunmen were killed, or which cartel faction they were affiliated with. (AP, June 18)
World War 4 Report sources in Matamoros say that much violence there goes unreported, with the local press too intimidated by death threats to cover it. Some 200 navy and army troops are patrolling the streets, backed up by federal police—and only token numbers of city police, who have been disarmed by federal order. Earlier this week, a gun-battle in the city involved a military helicopter firing from the air, while snipers shot it out on the ground. Some 2,000 military troops are deployed statewide in Tamaulipas.
On June 17, a shoot-out on the Xalapa-Veracruz highway in Veracruz state between military troops and a convoy of gunmen left 11 dead. (Periodico Digital, June 18) Naval troops in Veracruz rescued 66 people being held against their will in crowded and squalid conditions at an unlicensed drug rehabilitation center in Boca del Rio town, and arrested eight people, the Navy Secretariat said June 20. Rival cartels have established control over treatment centers, grooming the patients as “mules” (low-level couriers), leading to deadly attacks on the centers. On June 7, gunmen attacked a rehab center in Torreon, Coahuila, killing 13 people. (EFE, June 20)
See our last posts on the conflict in Mexico.