Crusading poet embodies Mexico's drug war pain

Thu Jun 16, 2011 11:56am EDT
 
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CHIHUAHUA, Mexico (Reuters) - It was well past midnight when Mexicans usually too afraid to venture out after dark streamed into Chihuahua's central square to hear a poet's call for an end to the country's destructive drug war.

Waving Mexican flags and holding photos of missing loved ones, residents who have seen their region ravaged by drug killings flocked to receive Javier Sicilia, who has become a symbol of national protest, as he led a peace caravan of some 500 people across northern Mexico last week.

"No more blood! We have had enough," they shouted. "This is a country of the dead and the disappeared."

Sicilia, an award-winning but little-known poet until gunmen killed his 24-year-old son in March, has given a voice to thousands of Mexicans suffering the chaos of the drugs war.

The death of Juan Francisco Sicilia with six of his friends in the city of Cuernavaca near Mexico City inspired the poet to start the most significant protest movement against a war that has exploded since President Felipe Calderon sent army troops into the fight when he took office in late 2006.

The groundswell has increased pressure on the government ahead of next year's elections at a time when Calderon wants to convince voters and investors that his strategy is working.

"We have to unite for our country. We have to give the violence a face because 40,000 victims is terrible," Sicilia said of the drug war death toll after being mobbed by supporters on arriving in Ciudad Juarez, the conflict's worst flashpoint, during his peace march.

While previous anti-violence movements in Mexico quickly lost steam, Sicilia now plans a second protest across southern Mexico, according to organizers of the last caravan across the north.

In his signature fishing vest and a sun hat, Sicilia, 56, led a procession that grew to 17 buses and 35 private vehicles after he left his home of Cuernavaca on June 4 to denounce the violence and the impunity and corruption that fuels it.   Continued...

 
<p>Demonstrators from El Paso, Texas cast their shadows during a march in support of the peace caravan led by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, in Ciudad Juarez June 10, 2011. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo</p>