MEXICO CITY - An anti-violence march that began in a central state with a few hundred people and gathered thousands over a four-day trek reached Mexico's capital Sunday, led by a poet whose son was killed by suspected drug traffickers.
An estimated 20,000 people poured into the main Zocalo square in Mexico City, wearing white T-shirts saying "enough bloodshed" and carrying photos of poet Javier Sicilia's slain son.
A few hundred people set off from Cuernavaca in the central state of Morelos on Thursday, marching silently along the 50-mile (80-kilometer) route. City officials said the march swelled to at least 20,000 after the bulk of protesters joined in Mexico City, although some media reported tens of thousands more.
Sofia Zepeda, 19, whose uncle disappeared with three others on a trip to western Colima state, carried a sign saying "No more violence, no more bloodshed."
"I came because of the problems that we are suffering across the country. We are marching for a free country with social conscience," said Zepeda, who is from the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec.
Gruesome violence has surged in the region southwest of Mexico City since drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva died in a December 2009 shootout with marines in Cuernavaca, leading to the splintering of his cartel. Rivals have routinely hung mutilated bodies from bridges along highways connecting Mexico City, Cuernavaca and the Pacific resort city of Acapulco.
Similar turf fighting has claimed more than 34,600 lives nationwide since President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of troops and federal police in late 2006 to intensify the battle against brutal cartels. An unprecedented number of drug bosses have been captured or killed, leading to a splintering of their cartels and fierce infighting over territory.
Among those marching were relatives of Marisela Escobedo, a woman who was killed in northern Chihuahua state while protesting in front of government offices to demand justice for her slain daughter, another case that provoked national furor.
The poet's son, Juan Francisco Sicilia, was killed in Cuernavaca on March 28 along with six other people. Some marchers had T-shirts that read "We are all Juan." Others had signs reading "Marisela Escobedo is here."
Three alleged drug gang members have been arrested in Sicilia's killing.
One of the suspects, Rodrigo Elizalde Mora, allegedly belonged to the gang led by Hector Beltran Leyva, now know as the Southern Pacific cartel. Authorities say Elizalde killed Sicilia and the others over an argument at a bar. Sicilia's family has questioned that claim, saying no such argument ever occurred. Elizalde, who was bruised when police presented him to the news media, said four gunmen had kidnapped him and handed him over to authorities.
Hours before the marchers reached Mexico City, federal police announced the capture of a suspected drug gang leader in Morelos.
Jose Zarco Cardenas, 22, had recently begun heading operations in Morelos for a gang that broke off from the Beltran Leyva cartel, the Public Safety Department said in statement Sunday. He was arrested in Mexico City on Friday along with an alleged accomplice.
The Public Safety Department said Zarco was 17 when he joined the Beltran Leyva cartel, taking orders from Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, a US-born capo who was captured in August 2010. Zarco was in charge of paying off municipal police in the resort city of Acapulco, the statement said.
Valdez Villareal allegedly started his own cartel after Arturo Beltran Leyva's death. Authorities say the Valdez Villareal faction is still fighting a gang led by Hector Beltran Leyva, the only Beltran Leyva brother not captured or killed.
The Public Safety Department said Zarco was put in charge of operations in Morelos following the April 27 capture of his predecessor, Miguel Angel Cedillo. Zarco had been trying to seek a truce with rival gangs La Familia and the Gulf cartel, which authorities say are trying to encroach on the Beltran Leyva territory, the statement said. He allegedly met several times with Servando Gomez Martinez, alias "La Tuta," the alleged boss of La Familia.
Meanwhile, violence continued in the region. At least six men were found shot to death in Acapulco between Saturday and Sunday, according to state police in Guerrero state, where the resort city is located.
A shootout broke out in Zihuatanejo, another resort city in Guerrero, police said. One of the cars involved in a shootout was left on the streets, stained with blood and riddled with bullets. The occupants apparently fled.
Shortly afterward, fliers threatening police were thrown from several cars at the Zihuatanejo city hall.