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Mexico at odds over how to mourn

MEXICO CITY — Mexico, a country suffering the turmoil of a drug war, can't agree on how to honor the victims of a six-year assault on organized crime that has taken as many as 70,000 lives.

The government's official monument was dedicated Friday, four months after its completion, in a public event where relatives of the missing chased after the dignitaries in tears, pleading for help in finding their loved ones.

Only some victims' rights groups recognize the monument, while others picked an entirely different monument to place handkerchiefs painted with names and personal messages in protest of the official site, which does not bear a single victim's name.

"Other organizations asked us for other space because they're against this one," Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said at the official dedication of the government monument, which consists of steel panels bearing quotes from famous writers and thinkers. "What took us so long was trying to get agreement among the groups, and we failed."

The memorial dispute arises from the fact that the Mexican government has yet to fully document cases of drug war dead and missing, despite constant pleas from rights groups, the public and orders from Mexico's own transparency agency. The previous government of Felipe Calderon stopped counting drug war dead in September of 2011 and the new government of Enrique Pena Nieto has only provided monthly statistics for December, and January and February of this year. The estimates of the dead range from 60,000 to more than 100,000, and the missing from 5,000 to 27,000.

Jose Merino, a political science professor at Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, said only when the government documents every victim's case and acknowledges that the violence continues will people accept a memorial.

"We haven't reached the point where we can agree on what is hurting us and why," Merino said. "The job of the government is to study all these cases and not pile up stones for memorials."

Calderon, who at first dismissed most of the drug-war dead as criminals, proposed the memorial last year after a long process of meeting with victims' families and taking heat for his earlier remarks.

Javier Sicilia, a well-known poet whose son's death sparked a nationwide movement for peace, immediately opposed the idea because it is built on a military installation, and many Mexicans consider the military complicit in drug-war abuses and disappearances. Instead, Sicilia has organized the group that has taken over the recently built Pillar of Light, a tower designed to commemorate the country's independence, but that became a symbol of corruption because of its high costs and construction delays. Other known writers and filmmakers have joined Sicilia in his petition.