Security Tight for Mexico Independence Day CelebrationsPosted: Updated:
Authorities in Mexico are on alert as the country celebrates Independence Day with drug cartel hotspots under the tightest security.
Memories of last year's grenade attack in Morelia haunt this year's festivities. 8 people died and more than 100 were injured when assailants tossed grenades into a crowd gathered for the "grito." Mexico arrested 3 suspects allegedly tied to a drug cartel.
I was in Juarez with border photographer Hugo Perez where we saw caravans of cops, city and federal and soldiers patrolling the downtown area that is the scene of the festivities. Police barricade a 15 block radius to keep vehicle traffic out. Only those on foot will be allowed to enter the plaza area where the mayor of Juarez Jose Reyes Ferris will re-enact the traditional "grito" or cry of Independence.
Security forces scoured the streets nearby. "They're checking every corner, even garbage cans," said Sergio Javier Tenorio with the city of Juarez's "comercio" department. I ran into him downtown where he was supervising vendors setting up food stands along the sidewalk. Vender Miguel Lopez was all smiles as hoped for a large crowd craving churros. "We're waiting for them." His family has had a stand for 20 years. They serve regular or filled churro and "papas locas" potatoes seasoned with "a secret recipe."
Across the street, vendor Jose Gonzalez worried people would stay away because fearing for their safety. "Plus a lot of people don't have money to celebrate this year, "he added referring to the recession.
In my experience on 16 de Septiembre people always turned out: - rich, poor, north south. It's the one holiday that unites all of Mexico. But this year, I'm not sure. Emotions are raw and people are on edge.
Downtown I met Adela Aguilar de Bustillos, a Juarez grandmother told me "No, no I'm not coming. It's not safe. It's very dangerous now."
This week Juarez topped last year's record number of murders - more than 1600. It's only mid-September and so far more than 100 murders this month. The escalating drug violence shows no signs of slowing despite a massive show of force by Mexico's federal government.
Drug violence will no doubt keep many Americans from crossing the border like they did in years past to enjoy Mexico's Independence Day. Organizers of celebrations in the U.S. expect larger crowds this year.
And grandmother Aguilar who was walking downtown with her daughter and baby granddaughter told me her family will watch the "grito" at home on television behind locked doors. On this Independence Day, in this border town, many Mexicans don't feel free to celebrate in safety.