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Who is a victim in Mexico's drug war violence?

A new, controversial memorial to victims of Mexico's drug war may prompt deeper wrestling with what has become a controversial topic.

By Correspondent / December 13, 2012

A man holds Mexico's flag during a protest against violence in Mexico City, in Nov. The writing on the flag reads in Spanish '100,000 lives: assassinated, disappeared and displaced. Have you not been touched in the last six years? What are you made of?'

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

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Mexico City

The rusted steel slabs of a new memorial to victims of Mexico’s drug war bear no mark, not a single engraved name, of anyone among the estimated 60,000 killed in the past six years.

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As part of the concept, it will be up to the survivors to write in loved ones’ names.

After all, there is no way to know exactly who the dead are, since the official death toll of the fight against organized crime was suspended last year. Nor is it possible to know the reason why many were killed given that more than 96 percent of crimes go unsolved and unpunished in Mexico. Mexican society is wrestling with exactly who is a victim and who isn’t, and the memorial could serve as a touchstone to bring victimhood to the forefront of the national conversation.

As if reflecting that uncertainty, the slabs serve as a blank slate: Names scrawled on can also later be erased.

“We truly need a dose of transparency,” says Daniel Gershenson, an activist for victims’ rights. “We don’t know how many victims there are.”

'Opportunity to name the victims'

The memorial – yet to be opened to the public and shadowed by controversy arising from a rift among victims' groups over the monument – rises like a forest of dark panels on a corner of the capital’s heavily trafficked Reforma Avenue. Former President Felipe Calderón announced in November he would inaugurate the monument, but did not do so before leaving office Dec. 1. The slabs – erected next to military field known as Campo Marte, a tribute to the Roman god of war – tower above the white tarps, half collapsed, that currently enclose the memorial grounds covered with fallen leaves. 

A spokesman for President Enrique Peña Nieto said the new president will inaugurate the memorial, but no date is set.

An increasingly vocal victims’ movement, although not always unified, has grown more demanding as the number of homicides continues to rise since Mr. Calderón launched the fight on organized crime six years ago. Victims and their advocates want the broken justice system reformed and a law passed to recognize and protect them.

They also wanted a memorial.

But the monument currently awaiting its debut divided Mexico’s victims’ groups, the most prominent of which are led by parents who have lost children to violent crime. Mexico S.O.S., founded by the gym and sportswear magnate Alejandro Martí, and Stop the Kidnapping, founded by Isabel Miranda de Wallace, who ran unsuccessfully for Mexico City mayor in the recent election as part of Calderón’s National Action Party, support the memorial. Each founder lost a son to brutal kidnappings by crime syndicates. But the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, founded by the poet Javier Sicilia, opposes it.

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