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Mexico peace tour: How the drug war changed once-calm Cuernavaca

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Henry Romero/Reuters

(Read caption) Mexican poet Javier Sicilia with about 500 people who started a caravan of 14 buses and 30 cars in Cuernavaca on Saturday, to protest against high levels of crime in the country. The caravan will travel over 1800 miles from Cuernavaca and pass through 12 states of the Mexican Republic to arrive on June 9 in Ciudad Juarez.

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On a regular weekday La Comuna café in Cuernavaca's old town is full of journalists discussing the news of the day while sipping cup after cup of organic coffee.

La Comuna belongs to a cooperative of human rights activists and has become the gathering place of Cuernavaca's political left.

The city, traditionally home to poets and artists, used to be a tranquil weekend destination for Mexico City's middle class elites, as the capital city is only one hour away.

But since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón came to power and declared a war on drug traffickers, it, like so many other cities across the country, has been caught in the throes of violence. Murders and disappearances have spiked, giving journalists an extra reason to sip coffee at this centrally-located cafe.

“We help each other out,” says José Martínez Cruz, the café's friendly manager and head of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Morelos (state). “We give them information and they spread the word.”

This state was once a middle-class paradise, says Mr. Martínez, but now impunity and violence reign. According to data collected by his organization, 80 extra-judicial killings took place last year, while 3,000 cases of disappearances were recorded in the past six years in the state alone.

As drug traffickers battling each other have moved into this territory, panic has ensued. In April 2010, an e-mail was widely circulated across the city, imposing a curfew on citizens. The e-mail was allegedly signed by one of the city's drug cartels.

Cuernavaca has not garnered worldwide notoriety as have other Mexican cities, such as Ciudad Juarez, one of the world's deadliest.


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