MEXICO CITY, (Reuters) – President Felipe Calderon apologized to victims of Mexico’s war on drugs in an emotional meeting with bereaved families yesterday that sought to try and quell rising anger over violence sweeping the nation.
In a live television broadcast lasting several hours, Calderon sat in silence listening to accusations from grieving parents that his government was killing Mexico’s youth and allowing criminals to run rampant across the country.
Some 40,000 lives have been lost since his army-led crackdown on drug cartels began at the end of 2006, and Calderon said he regretted the loss of life the violence had caused.
“As a father, as a Mexican and as president, I am deeply aggrieved by Mexico’s pain,” he said in a hall inside Chapultepec Castle in central Mexico City. “We must ask forgiveness for the people who died at the hands of these criminals, for not having acted against these criminals.”
The drug war has hit support for Calderon’s ruling National Action Party and polls suggest the centre-right grouping will be ousted in a presidential election due in July, 2012.
Thousands of people have joined peace marches organized by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son was killed by gunmen in March and who urged Calderon at the meeting to renounce his strategy.
But the president refused to apologize for taking on the heavily-armed cartels with the armed forces.
“If there’s anything I regret, it’s not having sent them sooner,” he said as the interior minister, attorney general, public security minister and other top officials looked on.
However, he conceded that the war was no longer only about drug cartels in Latin America’s second biggest economy.
“It all started with drug trafficking, but the problem for me isn’t about drug trafficking, it’s about organized crime and violence,” Calderon said in an often impassioned address.
Members of the bereaved families were not won over, and one by one they took turns to attack Calderon for failing to address rampant corruption and impunity afflicting Mexico.