Mexico in shock over holiday killings

Other News Materials 18 September 2008 02:05 (UTC +04:00)

Those were the questions plaguing Mexicans after a violent attack on a holiday celebration on a public square that took seven lives late Monday night, reported dpa.

The two grenades thrown into the crowd in Morelia, the hometown of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, left the country dumbstruck as it commemorated the Cry of Independence - the midnight start of Tuesday's Independence Day celebrations and one of the most festive holidays in Mexico.

No one could recall such a bold, horrific attack on civilians during a major public holiday in Mexico's 198 years of independence from Spain.

The office of the Attorney General was cautious about laying blame. But Mexican society shivered at the possibility that drug cartels or guerrillas had escalated an already high level of violence against innocent bystanders.

Immediately after the attack in Morelia, the capital of the western state of Michoacan, reports said eight people had been killed, but the number was adjusted downwards on Wednesday. More than 100 people were injured, some of them severely mutilated.

At the time of the attack, Calderon was 300 kilometres to the east, celebrating the country's independence on the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City.

But the significance of the attack in his hometown was not lost on many. Since taking office in late 2006, Calderon has launched an all- out war against the illegal drug trade that has seen dozens of huge clashes with armed gangs and the deaths of scores of police officers.

"In this day that is a national holiday there are cowards hiding in the crowd of the homeland's celebrations that have turned enjoyment into sadness and the joy of Mexican families into mourning," Calderon said Tuesday.

Mexico has already counted more than 3,000 violent deaths this year, most of them at the hands of drug traffickers.

The pathos and fear comes through in the words of popular songwriter Jose Alfredo Jiminez, whose newest ranchera, or folk song, Camino de Guanajuato, laments that "life is worth nothing, it always begins with tears, and it ends the same way, crying."

In the past, the gang wars seemed to be self-contained. But in recent years, babies, children, teenagers and adults have gotten caught in the crossfire of the vendettas of the drug cartels, which have also claimed the lives of scores of police officers.

The invisible enemy arrives, kills and leaves. Local police do not know how to deal with such violence, and they often don't want to know either. Some of them are corrupt, others are scared.

Army and federal police forces, deployed by Calderon countrywide to back up the police, have failed to help stem the rise in killings.

In mid-August, in the mountainous town of Creel in the northern state of Chihuahua, a group of gunmen apparently looking for two rivals killed 12 adults and a one-and-a-half-year-old child, held in the arms of his father, at a party in the town's celebration hall.

It took four hours for police to show up. The local Roman Catholic priest Javier Avila was left by himself with the immediate aftermath. He wiped off his tears and took photographs of the massacre for prosecutors. A truckload of sand was needed to cover an estimated 70 litres of spilt blood.

A bloodbath took the lives of 24 young men whose bodies were found last Friday in a wooded area close to Mexico City. Yet while initial reports said the killings were drug-linked, it appears the dead men may have been simple workers who lived in crowded rented lodgings with no running water in eastern Mexico City.

Such seemingly pointless kidnappings are increasingly common in Mexico's organized crime scene, where people are nabbed, no ransom is demanded, and the victims are often found dead just days later.

Such recent incidents have led many Mexicans to believe that the government's plan is not working. Not only opposition members, but also people within Calderon's camp are calling for a review of the strategy.

"Such terrible events as the finding of the 24 bodies in the neighbourhood of La Marquesa last Friday and the attack in Morelia during the Cry of Independence celebration force us to re-think, to re-shape ... the strategy in the fight against crime," said former Interior minister Santiago Creel, a supporter of the government.

"Crime is progressing to a higher level of violence, where actions resemble those used by subversive groups, and this requires, without doubt, taking new measures and conscientiously evaluating what has been done so far," Creel stressed.