Mexican President Felipe Calderon defended his strategy of confronting drug cartels during a televised meeting with family members of victims of violence related to organized crime.
“What we have to do is act and confront the criminals,” Calderon said in the forum held yesterday in Mexico City’s historic Chapultepec Palace. “And that’s what we’ve done, and what I think should be done.”
Calderon has faced growing criticism for his strategy of deploying the military and federal police to fight organized crime. More than 34,000 deaths since he took office in 2006 have been attributed to organized crime groups that traffic in narcotics, kidnap and extort from businesses.
Accompanied by Cabinet members, the president listened to testimony and took questions from Javier Sicilia, a poet whose son was killed by drug gang members earlier this year, and other activists that have demanded an end to rising violence.
“In your status as representative of the state, Mr. President, you are obliged to ask for forgiveness to the nation, and in particular, from the victims,” Sicilia said during yesterday’s meeting.
The U.S., as the world’s largest consumer of drugs and the source of most of the weapons used by Mexican gangs, shares responsibility for stamping out violence, Calderon has said.
“I demand, Mr. President, as a mother and a representative of families that have been destroyed, that you fulfill your duty and find the whereabouts of our children,” said a tearful Maria Elena Herrera, whose four sons are missing, according to Mexico City-based daily Excelsior.
Mexico is fighting increasingly violent cartels such as the Zetas, a group based in northeast Mexico that has been blamed for mass graves near the U.S. border where 193 bodies were recovered in April and the killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in February.
The Zetas and other cartels, including those based in the western state of Sinaloa and the border city of Ciudad Juarez, are fighting each other over lucrative narcotics smuggling routes into the U.S.
“Before this violence, the state can’t remain indifferent,” Calderon said. “And what comes next is for the state to act and not retreat, because Mexicans cannot remain immobile, passive, indolent, and quiet.”
Calderon wants to increase his focus on the victims of the conflict without changing his central strategy of confronting the armed groups, said Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City.
“There’s a human tragedy that’s sometimes lost from view, the victims of this war, the widows, the orphans that have first and last names,” Chabat said in a telephone interview from New York.
Violence is unlikely to diminish in the short term, Chabat said.
“I don’t see a radical change as feasible at this point,” he said. “I don’t see what else you can do facing a serious crisis. I can’t imagine how else they’d face the Zetas, for example, if it’s not with public force.”
Deaths related to drug trafficking increased almost 60 percent in Mexico last year. The government estimates the violence shaves 1.2 percentage points off economic output annually.