Drug War Woes Dampen Mexico's Bicentennial Party

Soldiers line up in front of Mexico's flag during bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City i i

Soldiers line up in front of Mexico's flag Monday in preparation for bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City. Festivities surrounding the 200th anniversary of Mexico's 1810 independence uprising are being scaled back in some parts of the country due to security concerns amid the wave of drug-related violence. Alexandre Meneghini/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Alexandre Meneghini/AP
Soldiers line up in front of Mexico's flag during bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City

Soldiers line up in front of Mexico's flag Monday in preparation for bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City. Festivities surrounding the 200th anniversary of Mexico's 1810 independence uprising are being scaled back in some parts of the country due to security concerns amid the wave of drug-related violence.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

Mexico is celebrating its 200th anniversary as an independent nation and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution. But the celebrations, which kick off Wednesday night, come amid much sadness for some Mexicans as the country is being swept by a wave of drug violence.

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's deadliest city, major security concerns are altering the traditional Independence Day festivities.

Usually in Juarez, as in other Mexican cities, just before 11 p.m. the mayor proudly steps out onto a balcony at city hall carrying an oversized Mexican flag. He addresses a massive crowd, then shouts at the top of his lungs, three times: "Viva Mexico!"

Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz has twice marked Independence Day in this traditional fashion. But this year, his last in office, things will be different in an effort to safeguard the public.

"We are not going to have music. We are not going to have a massive concentration of the population on the city buildings," he said.

Drug-related violence has battered Juarez for nearly three years. More than 6,000 people have been murdered, and residents live in fear. Because Wednesday night is of historic significance, Reyes Ferriz doesn't want to take any chances.

Two years ago in the central Mexican state of Michoacan, a grenade was tossed into a crowd during the Independence Day celebration. Eight people were killed, and more than a hundred were injured.

In Juarez, Julio Guereca has been an announcer at a local radio station for 18 years. He hosts a popular afternoon show where people call in and chat. Lately the topic of choice has been the Mexican bicentennial.

"People are sad, they feel betrayed. This is an event with 200 years of anticipation," Guereca says. "Are we going to have to wait another hundred years to have our big celebration, to commemorate our independence, our liberty?"

On a street corner along a busy intersection, a woman selling Independence Day memorabilia, including giant Mexican flags and noise makers, says sales are bad. Not too many people are enthusiastic about celebrating this year, she says.

Juarez resident Ambrioso Ramos doesn't blame the mayor for canceling the festivities this year. The city just isn't safe, he says. Recently, his neighborhood association hired security guards and installed gates with barbed wire to protect the neighborhood.

Ramos says despite the violence, there is still reason to celebrate in Mexico. He will join his neighborhood association at their own fiesta in a nearby park within the safety of their newly gated community.

And contrary to some reports, Juarez isn't completely canceling its celebration.

Fireworks will be launched from six different points in the city so most Juarez residents won't have to leave home to see them. There will be no mass gathering downtown. Reyes Ferriz will still deliver the grito, or cry of independence, but Juarenzes will have to listen to it on the radio or watch it on TV.

"This is the 200th anniversary of our country. So we are going to have a fireworks display like the city has never seen," the Juarez mayor says.

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