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Heckled during speech, Mexico's president defends drug war

January 31, 2012 |  3:14 pm
Felipe calderon presidencia guadalajara mexico

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon has once again clashed with a citizen angry about the effects of the country's drug war, this time during a speech in which a man in the audience shouted, "How many more dead?"

The president, at a luncheon Monday in Guadalajara presenting a creative-industry development project for Mexico's second-largest city, was interrupted as he was making a point about how such developments benefit the country's security interests (links in Spanish).

A man identified by local news outlets as animator Tonatiuh Moreno reportedly went on: "When will this war be over? Where will you live when your term is finished?"

Calderon appeared to take the shouts gamely, and took the opportunity to defend his policies. He responded quickly to the last question, "Maybe here in Guadalajara, mi estimado," a phrase meaning "my dear" or "my esteemed."

Memorable interruptions have dotted Calderon's presidency, offering glimpses into the frustrations with the drug-war strategy among some Mexicans or the distrust Calderon faced after he barely eked out a victory over rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the disputed 2006 election.

In 2008, a teenage science whiz named Andres Gomez Emilsson stood up at an awards presentation at the National Palace, arms raised straight up into the air, and interrupted the president with shouts of "espurio," a word meaning "spurious" or "false" and alluding to his election victory.

In 2010, the grieving mother of two teenage victims of a gruesome massacre in Ciudad Juarez stood up and berated Calderon and first lady Margarita Zavala during an event there. "For me you are not welcome here," the woman, Luz Maria Davila, said through tears. "Put yourself in my shoes and try to feel what I feel."

On Monday, Calderon used Moreno's interruption to defend his military-led campaign against Mexico's powerful drug cartels, an effort that has left at least 50,000 people dead, according to news media tallies and the peace movement in Mexico.

"The deaths in the country are because of the criminal organizations, criminal organizations that are recruiting young people like you, for addictions, for criminal gangs, to kill other young people," Calderon responded.

"If you or others presume that the Mexican government -- my government -- would cross its arms and watch as they attack the young people of Mexico, as they kidnap them, as they extort them, you are very mistaken."

The audience, mostly men and women in business suits, applauded enthusiastically. Many gave him a standing ovation.

Subsequent reports said Moreno had announced his plans to challenge Calderon on his Facebook account. After the event in Guadalajara, the man was surrounded by audience members who scolded him, one report said.

The question of where Calderon might settle after his term finishes in December is becoming a political topic as the government faces mounting charges of human rights abuses on the part of members of the military. Past presidents of Mexico have moved to Europe or the United States, sometimes fleeing accusations of corruption. And personal safety is also an issue.

Calderon has not indicated what his post-presidential plans might be.

If Calderon were to move to Guadalajara after December, he'd be taking his family to a city that has seen a recent spike in drug violence, including a massacre of more than 20 people in November. Another option, theoretically, would be returning to his home state of Michoacan, where he launched his anti-crime initiative in 2006.

Michoacan is now considered one of the more violent states in the country and home to various warring organized-crime groups.

ALSO:

Mexico government sought to withhold drug war statistics

Mexico violence claims another member of peace movement

Mexico's military takes over police duties in Veracruz

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: President Felipe Calderon speaks at the Ciudad Creativa Digital presentation in Guadalajara on Monday. Credit: Presidency of Mexico

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