Over a thousand people took to the streets of Ciudad Juarez on Sunday to protest the city’s record-setting crime wave, which civil rights groups say is made worse by the presence of some 6,000 Mexican soldiers.
“The army’s presence is anti-constitutional and violates citizens’ rights. That’s why we’re asking them to withdraw,” National Front Against Repression leader Javier Contreras bellowed at some 1,300 people taking part in the “March of Anger” in the center of the city.
Across the border from the US city of El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez is a battleground for rival drug cartels seeking control of lucrative drug smuggling routes into the United States.
Among the cartels many sources of profit, illegal sales of cannabis account for the majority of their funds at roughly 60 percent, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
While debate over how best to fight the increasingly powerful criminal groups continues to wage within the U.S., many Mexican officials have arrived to the conclusion that legalizing cannabis — essentially taking control of the cartel’s most lucrative income source — would be an effective opening volley.
However, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda argued during a February interview with CNN host Christiane Amanpour, it would do the nation little good to legalize cannabis without similar action in the U.S.
Mexicans protest military’s drug war tactics in Ciudad Juarez. -AFP
“We can’t do everything overnight, and we can’t do it in Mexico if the U.S. doesn’t do it at the same time,” he said.
Former Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo, along with Mexico’s U.S. ambassador Arturo Sarukhan and the former presidents of Colombia and Brazil, have all called for at least a debate of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana as a way to curb escalating drug war violence.
Despite 6,000 troops sent in to reinforce local police in fighting crime, last year 2,660 people were murdered in the city, making it the murder capital of Mexico.
When 15 innocent youths were gunned down at a party on January 31, civil rights groups staged a demonstration to vent the local population’s anger at the seemingly endless bloodshed.
The National Front and other civil right groups maintain innocent civilians are sometimes harassed or tortured by law enforcement officials in their zealous crackdown on organized crime.
“You can’t fight violence with more violence and breaking the laws,” Contreras said, speaking to the protesters.
President Felipe Calderon visited Ciudad Juarez last week and apologized to the bereaving families of the young party goers for initially blaming last month’s massacre on gang warfare.
The president admitted that his three-year crackdown on crime with more than 50,000 troops spread across the country “is not enough,” and vowed to redesign a new strategy against crime and violence with community cooperation.
Drug-related crime has left more than 15,000 dead in the past three years in Mexico.
This video was broadcast by CNN on Feb. 2, 2010.
A prior version of this article said that Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican ambassador to the United States, supports legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. Sarukhan called for a debate on such reforms.