Ciudad Juarez – The Caravan for Peace, led by a prominent poet whose son died at the hands of gangsters, arrived in Mexico's deadliest city after a cross-country journey to rally support for an alternative to the government's war on drugs.
The 600 activists traveling aboard 13 buses and other vehicles were met by around 1,500 people on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, scene of nearly 9,000 murders since the start of 2008.
Caravan organizer Javier Sicilia, whose son Juan Francisco was murdered in late March, kissed the hand of Maria de la Luz Davila, mother of two of the 15 teenagers gunned down in the border city early last year by cartel enforcers who mistakenly attacked a party.
Davila thanked the poet and journalist for leading protests against the rampant drug-war violence.
"There is much pain, but also much dignity. Juarez has more dignity than all the burden of its pain," Sicilia said.
The Caravan then moved on to the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood, site of the massacre that claimed the lives of Davila's sons, where more than a thousand residents were holding up signs reading "No more blood" and "No more violence."
Other placards demanded an end to the use of the military for law enforcement tasks.
On Friday, the Caravan for Peace is to lead a procession from city hall to the Benito Juarez monument, where representatives of various civic organizations will sign a pact for the reconstruction of Mexico.
The document will call for improvements in the administration of justice, a shift from the militarized war on drugs to a focus on public safety and the dismissal of corrupt and abusive officials.
Conflict among rival cartels and between criminals and the security forces has produced some 40,000 deaths in Mexico since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug traffickers.
Ciudad Juarez, located just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, is a major battlefield in that war.