November 30, 1997 in Nation/World

Silent March A Drumbeat For Change Thousands In Mexico City Protest Crime, Corruption

James F. Smith Los Angeles Times

Thousands of Mexico City residents from every social class and political persuasion marched in silence through the capital Saturday to protest the soaring crime and corruption that have generated a climate of helplessness and impunity.

In a country where demonstrations have normally been the tools of political parties, the march studiously avoided any political message - except to send a warning to all the parties through the march slogan: “Ya Basta!” (“Enough’s Enough!”).

The organizers, explaining the marchers’ silence, said they wanted to avoid any political rhetoric and rather let the sheer presence of so many citizens send the message.

The throng of marchers, estimated by organizers at between 10,000 and 20,000, streamed along a 3-mile-long route that ended at the Zocalo, Mexico City’s vast central square. The protest had a disproportionately high turnout of well-dressed middle- and upper-class marchers, and some chatted on cellular phones as they walked.

Once at the Zocalo, the marchers dispersed without hearing a single speech. The only public presentation was a taped version of a letter to President Ernesto Zedillo from the 100 civic groups that had organized the march demanding better policing, enforcement of existing laws and harsher punishment of criminals.

Crime levels have risen steadily over the past decade, particularly since the economic crisis of 1994-95. Reported crimes jumped 36 percent in 1995 and an additional 14 percent in 1996. Despite recent public statements that crime figures in Mexico City have stopped increasing, public fears of violent crime remain at a fever pitch.

The march came just a week before the inauguration of Mexico City’s first elected mayor, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who has declared that reducing crime will be his top priority.

Jose Antonio Rodriguez, 68, came on his own Saturday and walked haltingly with a cane. He said he wanted to take part because “last week they killed a friend of mine who was a bus driver. To take from him a few pesos, they shot him four times. We buried him last Sunday.

“All of Mexico is totally fed up with the corrupt authorities who, instead of protecting the people, protect the criminals,” he said.

“It is not only the popular classes but also the middle and upper classes who have been so ravaged by crime,” said Maria Eugenia Lopez Brun, marching with the Women for Democracy organization. “Each day there are more people who have had a child kidnapped or a child killed, a truck assaulted, a woman raped, a house robbed. This has permeated the whole society.”

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