Family members and activists representing more than 50,000 victims of drug-related violence in Mexico in recent years held a testy meeting with the four presidential hopefuls and called for a "national unity" pact to restore peace.
During Monday's gathering, organized by prominent poet Javier Sicilia's Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, or MPJD, the activists demanded the candidates move away from President Felipe Calderón's military-based approach to combating powerful drug cartels so that Mexico's domestic policy will not "remain subjugated to U.S. interests," the MPJD said in a statement.
Frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto, of the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI; Josefina Vázquez Mota, of the governing conservative National Action Party, or PAN; Andres Manuel López Obrador, of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD; and Gabriel Quadri, of the small New Alliance Party, or Panal, took part in the meeting at the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City.
The basic national unity pact should be ready before June 10, the date of the candidates' second debate, and is aimed at introducing the "emergency" of drug-fueled violence in Mexico into the campaign, the MPJD said.
The movement says it wants the next Mexican administration (Calderón is constitutionally barred from seeking a second six-year term) to change course and treat the battle against drug trafficking as "a health problem, not a national security" matter, a shift in strategy that would imply "demilitarizing the country as soon as possible."
The victims' representatives also stressed the "essential" need for legislation on missing persons in a country where 20,000 forced disappearances have occurred, according to the MPJD, which Sicilia founded in May 2011 after his son was murdered by suspected drug-gang assailants.
The poet said the activists did not attend Monday's meeting to support any candidate in particular but rather to build "that national unity that will allow the nation to achieve the dream" of living in peace.
He said it is regrettable that the election campaigns, in which nearly 25 billion pesos (almost $1.8 billion) will be spent, appear to offer a "continuation of the violence by other means."
The politicians then took the podium to defend their plans for battling the cartels and bringing down the high levels of drug-related violence, but Sicilia later blasted each of them on behalf of the MPJD.
Among other criticisms, he accused the PAN of persisting with a failed strategy and the PRI and PRD of tolerating corruption within their ranks.
The #Yosoy 132 movement, meanwhile, called Monday on elections officials who authorized it to participate as an observer in the July 1 presidential balloting to guarantee "democratic transparency."
The head of the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, Leonardo Valdes, received members of the student movement and told them he is "open to citizens and citizen organizations who so desire to register as electoral observers," the institute said in a statement.
The protest movement started on May 11, when Peña Nieto visited the Universidad Iberoamericana and was jeered by students.
Those in Peña Nieto's inner circle and some members of the media downplayed the incident, accusing the students of being agitators and prompting them to counterattack by making a video that was posted on YouTube.
The criticism led to the birth of the "Somos mas de 131" (We Are More Than 131) movement, which took its name from the number of students who appeared in the video and later evolved into the "Yo soy 132" (I Am 132) movement when students from other universities joined the protests.
The young people also created the Twitter hash tag #LaMarchaYoSoy132 to get their message out to supporters and the public.
"If you're also concerned about having fair elections, it's very easy to help. Remember that we're going to register as xYoSoy132x with the IFE to be electoral observers. You can do so before Wednesday, (May) 30," the students said in a video posted Monday on YouTube.
López Obrador lost the bitter 2006 presidential contest to Calderón by a margin of less than 0.6 percent and he continues to maintain that the election was stolen.
After his inauguration in December 2006, Calderón deployed tens of thousands of federal police and army soldiers to drug war flashpoints in a bid to pacify those regions.
The strategy has succeeded in slaying or capturing more than a score of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords, but the number of people killed annually in drug-related violence has risen steadily and totals more than 50,000 during Calderón's administration.
In addition to Sicilia's movement and other civic organizations in Mexico, international human rights groups also have blasted the military deployment.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, for example, said in a report last year that Calderon's war on drugs has led to a "dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country."
It also has raised serious doubts about Calderón's claims that "90 percent of the victims of drug-related deaths were criminals."