Mexico City – More than 600 people, led by prominent poet and activist Javier Sicilia, left this capital Friday bound for southern Mexico and neighboring Guatemala to raise awareness of the plight of undocumented migrants and other victims of violence and government neglect in that region.
"We're going to try to figure out the road to peace together," Sicilia, who heads the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, or MPJD, told reporters.
Before departing from the Templo Mayor, part of Mexico City's historic center, the participants traveling in 14 buses observed "a minute of silence" for the more than 40,000 victims of drug-war-related violence in Mexico since current President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.
This latest "March for Peace" will make its first stop in the state of Morelos before heading on to Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas and then crossing the border and visiting the Guatemalan town of Ciudad Tecun Uman.
The caravan is scheduled to return to Mexico City - via a route that takes it through the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz and Puebla - on Sept. 19.
Four days later, Calderon will receive the poet and other MPJD members for a second time.
The president had earlier met with Sicilia, who launched his movement after his son was murdered in late March by suspected drug-gang members, on June 23 to hear his criticisms of his government's military-based approach to battling the violent drug cartels.
Southern Mexico is home to communities that have been excluded by "the modern economic model" and have been "wronged throughout the country's history," said Sicilia, who especially noted the marginalization of areas with a mostly indigenous population.
"The south is different," a part of the country with a great tradition of "grassroots and civic movements that doesn't exist in the north."
In June, Sicilia and his supporters traveled northward from central Mexico and spoke with hundreds of victims of organized crime-related violence and of abuse and neglect by Mexican authorities and the security forces.
Mexico's northern border states have borne the brunt of drug cartels' battles over smuggling routes and their clashes with security forces seeking to crack down on their operations.
Activists say the use of army soldiers and federal police - tens of thousands of whom have been deployed by Calderon to drug-war hotspots to battle the well-funded cartels - is only exacerbating the drug-related violence and has led to numerous human rights violations.
Another key goal of the caravan is to bring attention to the problems of Mexico's "brother migrants, to whom we also must go to embrace," the poet said.
"Between the criminals and institutional corruption, they've been treated worse than animals. I think we have a debt with our Central American brothers," he said.
An estimated 300,000 Central Americans undertake the dangerous journey across Mexico each year on their way to the United States.
Sicilia has led numerous marches and demonstrations since his son's murder to demand not only a change in Calderon's drug-war strategy but also an end to impunity for violent crimes.
While several suspects have been arrested in his son's killing, Sicilia says it is shameful that thorough investigations are only seen in high-profile cases.