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In Mexico’s richest city, drug violence grows and candles burn in protest

October 12, 2010

The thousands of flickering candles run on and on along Monterrey’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, a spontaneous tribute to a 21-year-old university arts student shot dead by a drug hitmen who was chasing after an MEXICO/off-duty prison guard last week.

Even as busy shopperMEXICO/s bustle past, people are coming to Plaza Morelos to place the candles one after the other in the downtown of Mexico’s wealthy northern city in a rare public showing of anger, sadness and frustration at Lucila Quintanilla’s death and the spiraling drug violence across the city.

It was a Wednesday night like any other when hundreds of workers, shoppers, families and street vendors were wandering up and down Plaza Morelos in the warm autumn evening when a gunman pulled up in a black SUV and shot six times into the crowd. He missed his target, a guard at a Monterrey prison, and instead shot dead Quintanilla, who was chatting to her boyfriend on her cellular phone as she was out shopping. The boyfriend heard her die.

The hitman escaped, but the city, once lauded as a Latin American success story for its safe streets and growing middle class, cannot escape theMEXICO/ trauma of the growing drug violence. Alongside many of the candles on the Plaza Morelos lie hand-written messages. “My son was kidnapped on June 23, 2010. We’ve been through three months of pain and desperation and the authorities don’t do anything,” read one. “How many more innocents have to die?” reads another.

Quintanilla’s blood stained the street for days before water from a nearby building’s dripping airconditioning unit washed it away. Monterrey seems determined not to forget this time, and mourners on the Plaza Morelos say they want the line of candles to reach the city’s cathedral and run on and on. “Silence is complicity with organized crime,” said one woman holding up a sign in protest.

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