Tens of thousands of Mexicans made history on May 8 in a march through the nation’s capital, protesting the war on drugs. Behind a black banner reading “We are fed up. Stop the War. Peace With Justice and Dignity,” they demanded an immediate halt to the drug war, reforms to Mexico’s political and justice systems and a change in US regional security policy.
Protesters filed through the streets of Mexico City in silence, holding hand-lettered signs that expressed their anger at the war that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since it was declared by President Felipe Calderón in December 2006. Many wore T-shirts featuring the national slogan of the new movement: "No More Blood."
The strategy to deploy the army and police to attack drug lords and intercept illegal shipments has led to the militarization of the country and triggered bloody turf wars between cartels. Public opposition to the US-supported war has been growing since the assassination of fifteen teenagers in Ciudad Juárez on January 30, 2010. Since then, the bodies have been piling up in nameless statistics, reaching a record 15,273 in 2010, according to government figures.
But it took a high-profile tragedy to draw tens of thousands into the streets. On March 28 the son of well-known poet Javier Sicilia was brutally murdered along with six friends near the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City.
Sicilia lashed out at the Calderón administration and its standard practice of chalking up victims as either “collateral damage” or criminals: “The majority of the dead are dead who have their own history, who were innocent and were sacrificed stupidly and uselessly.”
His message struck a chord. Nearly 1,000 people set off from Cuernavaca on May 5 in silent memory of the fallen. Under a burning sun, they climbed the long hill that separates the resort city from Mexico City.
Olga Reyes walked with the relatives of victims. In January 2010 her sister Josefina, a prominent anti-militarization activist, was abducted and murdered. Since then her two brothers, sister and sister-in-law have been assassinated outside Ciudad Juárez. No one has been arrested for any of these crimes.
As the march entered Mexico City, Reyes recounted the anonymous calls she received from her dead brother’s cellphone after his murder last February. “They told me we had to get out of the state or they’d finish off the entire Reyes family.” Olga did leave, but continued to lead the growing antiwar movement.
Many of the 50,000 troops deployed across the country are concentrated in the Juárez region. Reyes explained how her family members were kidnapped and their bodies dumped as security forces stood by. “When they took my brother, there were two military checkpoints right nearby on the same highway. If they aren’t accomplices, they should show it by arresting the murderers,” she said.