Pubdate: Thu, 18 Sep 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: A-5
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood

Mexico Under Siege


In the Wake of the Deadly Explosions in the Capital of Michoacan
State, Mexicans Are Forced to Confront a New Kind of Victim in the
Drug Wars: Anyone.

Gloria Alvarez never got to shout "Viva Mexico!"

The 32-year-old homemaker, cradling her infant son, jostled with the
rest of her family and thousands of other people who packed the center
of this colonial-era city Monday night to celebrate Mexican
Independence Day.

Then came the blasts. Alvarez's husband and 7-year-old daughter were
seriously injured. The 3-month-old baby, Uriel, somehow escaped
unharmed, but Alvarez, gravely wounded, died later in a public hospital.

The devastated family was among many people in Mexico reeling
Wednesday from what many considered an escalation in the vicious
violence that has been racking the nation for months.

Twin grenade attacks on the dense, celebrating crowd, on a major
holiday and in the Mexican president's hometown, killed at least seven
people, wounded scores and sowed panic among a population already unnerved.

Mexican authorities on Tuesday blamed organized crime for the blasts
in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, a western state with a long
history of drug trafficking. In the 21 months since Mexican President
Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico's powerful drug-smuggling
networks, this was the first time civilians had been directly and
indiscriminately targeted. And Mexicans were forced to confront a new
kind of victim amid rising fears that, now, anyone is fair game.

People like Alvarez.

Her husband, Rafael Bucio, lay in his hospital bed Wednesday, the
bones of a shattered arm and leg held in place by pins, and sought to
understand what was happening to his country.

A parking attendant, Bucio, 30, said he recalled seeing an object fly
past and strike a police car. It bounced off and rolled to within 6
feet of his family. Bucio had but a moment to identify the rolling

"When it stopped, I realized it was a grenade," he

He tried to gather up his family, but it was too late. All were
knocked to the ground. His daughter, Jannyfer, screamed, "Papa, help
me!" Her face was covered with blood. His wife lay motionless.

Five of the seven people killed were women. Most of the victims were
from humble families for whom open-air town square celebrations are
major social events.

Mexican troops Wednesday roped off the quaint central plaza and stood
guard under Mexican flags and leftover holiday red-green-and-white
bunting. Bloody shoes, ripped clothing and broken glass littered the
paving stones where the injured had writhed in pain. Stunned citizens
brought flowers and arranged candles in the shape of a cross, as hasty

"We are reaching a very extreme level of violence that we've never
seen before," said Ordulia Castro, a 39-year-old nurse. "They are
killing innocents. This isn't going to stop here. It's going to
continue until we are in a guerrilla war, just like Colombia."

Some people compared Monday night's violence to a Mexican version of
the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.   smaller, surely, but the kind of
event that has the potential to change Mexico. Several of the
survivors suffered horrific wounds and underwent multiple

"Mexicans have always been very happy. With this, it could change the
attitude of people. It could make us more cold," said Rodolfo Chavez,
a 44-year-old education researcher. "Nobody could ever have imagined

Mexican authorities circulated a composite sketch of a chubby man
dressed in black who several witnesses reported seeing tossing a
fragmentation grenade and begging for forgiveness.

Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy promised a "profound and exhaustive"

No arrests have been reported.

Michoacan has had a front-row view as the drug war has spread
nationwide. Two years ago, gunmen in the city of Uruapan dumped five
human heads onto the floor of a dance hall, auguring a wave of
drug-hit beheadings that has only worsened.

Calderon chose Michoacan as the first place to send troops when, as a
newly elected president, he announced his crusade against drug
traffickers in December 2006.

On Wednesday, Calderon interrupted his scheduled activities to travel
to Morelia.

"The sad events in Morelia," he said before heading here, "have sent
the nation into mourning and demonstrate that the criminals act not
only against the government but against society."

Bucio lay in his hospital bed, while his relatives arranged the
cremation of his wife's remains. He hadn't yet broken the news of her
death to Jannyfer, who was in a bed four floors above.

"Who knows where all this will end," he said. "I think maybe we are
only at the beginning."