In what is becoming a familiar ritual, people in several cities demonstrated Wednesday to call for an end to violence in Mexico — this time after the son of poet Javier Sicilia was found dead along with six other people.
Juan Francisco Sicilia, 24, and five other men and a woman were found dead March 28 in a car in Cuernavaca, 60 miles south of Mexico City. They had been missing for a day.
The bodies, which bore signs of torture, were accompanied by a note signed by the Gulf cartel, authorities said. Media reports said the message accused the victims of having called in tips about drug activity to a government hot line.
Like many killings in Mexico's 4-year-old drug war, the case remains unsolved. But the slayings are capturing wider notice because of the prominence and outspokenness of the elder Sicilia, who has blasted the government's anti-drug campaign as "poorly conceived, poorly done, poorly directed."
Sicilia, a poet and novelist who also writes for left-leaning publications, stirred controversy this week by proposing that Mexican authorities should make deals with drug gangs to dampen the tide of violence.
More than 35,000 people have been killed since late 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared an all-out fight against drug traffickers. Sicilia met with Calderon hours before Wednesday's marches.
"If criminals want to kill themselves, let them, but let innocent people live in peace," said Carlos Romero, 21, a law student who joined several thousand demonstrators in Mexico City's historic downtown. "How else do we say, 'Enough already'?"
Marches were planned Wednesday afternoon and evening in more than two dozen cities, akin to demonstrations held nationwide in 2008 after the teenage son of sporting-goods magnate Alejandro Marti was kidnapped and killed. The Marti case is mired in confusion because federal police and Mexico City authorities have charged separate groups of suspects in the crime.
The latest demonstrations came as Mexico's public-security secretary, Genaro Garcia Luna, warned that it could take several years for violence to abate under the government's crackdown on organized crime.
Garcia Luna said in a television interview that the number of drug killings has fallen in some cities, such as Tijuana. He said it took seven or eight years for anti-organized crime campaigns to gain an upper hand in the United States, Italy and Colombia. "Mexico is carrying out a much more rapid process, much more effective," he said.
Polls show substantial support for the crackdown but wide belief that the cartels are winning. Calderon has staked much on the effort, which may be a key issue in next year's presidential election.
Various hypotheses have swirled around the Cuernavaca case. The prosecutor in Morelos state, Pedro Luis Benitez, hinted that police officers may have been involved in the slayings, and said "some" of the victims, though not Sicilia, had criminal ties.
Then relatives reported that two of the victims had earlier been robbed by men who identified themselves as police and threatened to kill them if they reported the crime. One news report said Benitez told local lawmakers that army deserters on active duty had carried out the killings. Benitez denied having said so.
In an "open letter to politicians and criminals" published last weekend, the elder Sicilia took angry aim at both groups.
"We have had it up to here with you politicians… because in your fights for power you have torn apart the social fabric," he wrote. "As for you, criminals, we have had it up to here with your violence, with your loss of honor, with your cruelty."
Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau.