Conflict & Justice

Mexicans fed up of violence

By Shannon Young

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The expansion of Mexico's drug war has many Mexicans worried about their country, and their personal safety.

And increasingly, they're speaking out against the violence. A demonstration took place recently in Oaxaca City. Isabel Nivon was one of the marchers.

"I attended the march because the news each day outrages me," Nivon said. "Conflicts that used to be between drug traffickers and the military have expanded to the point that ordinary civilians in supermarkets, stores or private parties can become targets. I normally don't like to go to demonstrations, but now I feel the need to exchange ideas with others about how to tackle the situation as a society."

That's a discussion people in Chihuahua have already started. The state has seen more drug-war-related deaths than any other in Mexico and is home to Ciudad Juarez, a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

In making recommendations to revitalize Ciudad Juarez, researchers from the Northern Border College generated a series of maps of the city. They show the most violent neighborhoods also lack high schools and public green spaces.

Julian Contreras lives in Villas De Salvarcar, a Juarez neighborhood that grabbed international headlines last year when an armed group massacred 16 people – mostly teenage students – at a birthday party.
Meeting point

"The massacre forced neighbors to get to know each other and – ultimately – organize to create common spaces for their children," Contreras said. "They decided to create a library. Neighbors donated books, held small fund raising events, and renovated an abandoned house. The library has become a de-facto meeting point whenever a major security concern arises in the area."

Before Ciudad Juarez gained the reputation as a drug war murder capital, it was infamous for a string of disappearances and brutal killings of young women – known as the femicides. When teenage girls disappeared, authorities often failed to act and sometimes questioned the character of the missing person.

Mothers of murdered and missing girls organized themselves to demand justice, carry out private investigations, and pressure the authorities to act.

Marcela Turati, author of a recent book on the hidden victims of Mexico's drug war, said these same mothers are now helping parents of missing young men.

"They teach them how to document and build their cases, and they also help them to cope with the pain," she said.

On a national scale, the number of cases of missing or "disappeared" persons in Mexico has increased since President Calderon launched his crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006.

The Mexican government has been slow to investigate or even document this. But just this month, the National Human Rights Commission said that nearly 5,400 people have been reported as "missing or absent" in the past five years.

Antonio Cerezo is a member of a human rights group that has been documenting cases of forced disappearances.

He said that fear can sometimes prevent people from going public with their cases or attending a demonstration against the government's militarization policy.

"While I respect an individual's personal decisions, I tell anyone who's hesitant to speak that in Mexico's current militarized climate, the violence touches everybody, even the silent," Cerezo said.

And that may be why more and more ordinary Mexicans are starting to look for ways, however small, to speak out against it.