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Hundreds of Thousands March in Mexico Against Violent Crimes

A rise in lawlessness, especially deadly kidnappings, leads to an outpouring of rage.

June 28, 2004|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Fed up with kidnappings and other violent crimes, more than 250,000 Mexicans marched in silent mass protest here Sunday, a grass-roots outpouring of rage that in the preceding days took on deeply political overtones.

Protesting the surge of violent crimes, especially kidnappings, that dominates Mexico's news and political debate, the sea of marchers dressed in white walked two miles from the independence monument on the Paseo de la Reforma before emptying into the historic city center's square, the Zocalo.

Many marchers held signs that commemorated family members or friends who were abducted and killed. Others demanded the death penalty for kidnappers, expressing the disgust many Mexicans have over the seeming powerlessness of government officials and police against the tide of violence.

"People are sick of it. We want the authorities to do their jobs," said marcher Daniel Rodriguez, a hotel administrator. He held a sign with a picture of family friend Lizbeth Salinas, a 26-year-old graduate student who was kidnapped, raped and killed May 19, one of a litany of such cases in recent months.

Jaime Otero Janeiro, 53, marched in memory of his cousin Pedro Ferro Janeiro, who was fatally shot at a Mexico City intersection in May after resisting a carjacking.

"We can't continue like this," Otero said. "I am afraid not for me, but for my children, the kind of world they are inheriting."

Kidnappings have been a problem in Mexico for decades. But the recent spate of brutal crimes, many of them ending in the deaths of captives after ransoms had been paid, has brought public outrage to a boiling point.

"There is a culture of fear in Mexico now. Thousands of these crimes happen, and the government doesn't do anything about it. I learned about it the hard way," said Carlos Albert Moreno, one of the march's organizers. His two cousins, brothers Vicente, 29, and Sebastian Gutierrez Morena, 28, were killed May 24 after a week in captivity, even though their family had paid a reported $600,000 ransom.

Marchers came from as far away as Ensenada, Acapulco and Tampico. In interviews, their complaints were strikingly similar: that violent crime was increasingly touching Mexico's middle class, that police were ineffective and that penalties for the relatively few criminals caught were too weak. Many are fearful of leaving their homes.

"The judge let the wife of my son's kidnapper go six months after he was rescued in her house. She should have spent the rest of her life in jail," said Sergio Garcia Montano, an Ensenada welding supply owner. The woman's husband, the gang leader, was never caught. Garcia Montano marched with a sign calling for the judge to be fired.

Also feeding public outrage is the fact that targets increasingly are middle-class women, abducted from parking garages or lots at malls, banks and schools. Grabbed as they go about their daily business, such women are the fastest-growing category of kidnapping victims, said Max Morales, a Mexico City attorney and hostage negotiator.

Consider the case of 35-year-old homemaker Carolina. Two gunmen abducted the mother of three at a Mexico City parking lot as she was about to drive home from a movie.

She was held for 11 hours and released after her family paid $7,000 ransom, but only after she was severely beaten and sexually abused.

Carolina, who refused to give her last name for fear of reprisal, was one of several people seized this year at the popular Perisur mall, a plague that resulted in a brief boycott last week.

Her case reflects how kidnappers have become more brazen and less discriminating, opting for more abductions and smaller ransoms.

"We're marching not for or against any political party but simply to let our government know we are tired of being prisoners in our own houses," Carolina said in a phone interview before the march.

Reliable statistics on violent crime in Mexico are hard to come by, mainly because only a fraction of crimes -- as few as one in five -- are reported. Nonetheless, some cases are well-known. Hundreds of women have been killed in the last decade in Ciudad Juarez, which sent a delegation to the march, and Tijuana continues to witness drug-related violence.

Mexico, with an estimated 3,000 kidnappings annually, is second only to Colombia among Latin American nations. Although statistics are debatable, most security officials agree that abductions are increasing here.

Kidnapping is attracting criminals from other endeavors who see easy money and little chance of being caught or jailed, said Frank Holder, vice president of Kroll Inc., a global security consulting firm.

"Kidnappings are on the rise and are more violent because their nature is different than before. Instead of professionals, more are being done by opportunists who grab the person based on the car he or she drives, the clothes or watch they wear or the neighborhood they live in," Holder said.

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