By Alexandra Olson
Sunday, August 31, 2008
MEXICO CITY, Aug. 30 -- Hundreds of thousands of frustrated Mexicans, many carrying pictures of kidnapped loved ones, marched nationwide Saturday to demand that authorities act to stop a relentless tide of killings, abductions and shootouts.
The mass protests were a challenge to the government of President Felipe Calderón, who has made fighting crime a priority. He has deployed more than 25,000 soldiers and federal police to wrest territory from powerful drug cartels.
Cries of "enough" and "long live Mexico" rose up from a sea of white-clad demonstrators filling Mexico City's enormous Zocalo square. The protesters held candles twinkling in the darkness as they sang the national anthem before dispersing.
"I've had enough. Kidnapping, corrupt police, a rotten judicial system," said Ricardo Robledo, a 43-year-old music producer who said he had been robbed numerous times. "This may begin a change."
City officials declined to give a crowd estimate, but the square can hold nearly 100,000 people. Tens of thousands filled surrounding streets, unable to squeeze into the square. Thousands more protested in cities across the country.
In the capital, Romana Quintera, 72, wore a photograph of her infant grandson, who was kidnapped for ransom five years ago when gunmen burst into her home and killed her niece. Two people have been imprisoned for the attack, but they have refused to reveal the boy's fate, and Quintera said investigators have given up.
"We're desperate. We've been fighting for five years. We want an answer," she said, holding back tears. "We ask authorities with all our heart to be more sensitive. Maybe nothing like this has happened to them, or they would be more sensitive."
Despite the arrest of drug kingpins, little has improved on the ground since Calderón began his crackdown. Homicides have surged as cartels battle one another for control of trafficking routes and stage vicious attacks against police nearly every day. In the gang-plagued border state of Chihuahua, there have been more than 800 killings this year, double the number during the same period last year.
Although impoverished Mexicans stage strikes and protests almost daily, Saturday's marches brought out thousands of middle-class citizens who are often the targets of kidnappings. Saturday's protests were inspired by the abduction and murder of the 14-year-old son of a wealthy businessman.