Mexico, a country suffering the turmoil of a brutal drug war, cannot agree on how to honor the victims of a six-year assault on organized crime that has taken as many as 70,000 lives.
The Mexican government’s official monument was dedicated on Friday, four months after its completion, in a public event where relatives of the missing chased after the dignitaries in tears, pleading for help in finding their loved ones.
Only some victims’ rights groups recognize the monument, while others picked a different monument to place handkerchiefs painted with names and messages in protest of the official site, which does not bear a single victim’s name.
“Other organizations asked us for other space because they’re against this one,” Mexican Secretary of the Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said at the official dedication of the government monument, which consists of steel panels bearing quotes from famous writers and thinkers. “What took us so long was trying to get agreement among the groups, and we failed.”
The memorial dispute arises from the fact that the Mexican government has yet to fully document cases of drug war dead and missing, despite constant pleas from rights groups, the public and orders from its own transparency agency.
The government of former Mexican president Felipe Calderon stopped counting drug war dead in September 2011 and the new government of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has only provided monthly statistics for December last year, and January and February of this year. The estimates of the dead range from 60,000 to more than 100,000, and the missing from 5,000 to 27,000.
Jose Merino, a political science professor at Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, said that only when the government documents every victim and acknowledges that the violence continues will people accept a memorial.
“We haven’t reached the point where we can agree on what is hurting us and why,” Merino said. “The job of the government is to study all these cases and not pile up stones for memorials.”
Calderon, who at first dismissed most of the drug-war dead as criminals, proposed the memorial last year after taking heat for his earlier remarks.
Javier Sicilia, a well-known poet whose son’s death sparked a nationwide movement for peace, immediately opposed the idea because it is built on a military installation and many Mexicans consider the military complicit in drug-war abuses and disappearances. Instead, Sicilia has organized the group that has taken over the recently built Pillar of Light, a tower designed to commemorate the country’s independence, but that became a symbol of corruption because of its high costs and construction delays.
The memorial is supported by two of Mexico’s largest victims’ rights groups. Sports magnate Alejandro Marti founded Mexico SOS after his teenage son was kidnapped and killed despite reportedly paying a ransom. He acknowledged at the ceremony that government still owes an official list of the victims.
It is also supported by Isabel Miranda de Wallace, who founded Stop the Kidnapping after her son disappeared, never to be heard from again. She ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Mexico City last year as a candidate for Calderon’s conservative National Action Party.
The land for the memorial belonged to the Defense Department but was given to a governmental body that helps victims and relatives. Over four reflective pools, a group of builders and architects working with three anti-crime groups erected 64 panels of steel that appear to be rusty. Quotes from Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Martin Luther King Jr are cut into some of the steel plates.
Most panels are blank so people can write in the names of their relatives, said Ricardo Lopez Martin, one of the architects who designed the memorial. Lopez Martin said it is not simple to make Mexico’s monument like the Vietnam or Holocaust memorials, because some relatives are still scared or feel they could be stigmatized by having family among the dead.