In a dramatic setting of violence
heightened by an ineffective drug war,
the murder of poet Javier Sicilia’s son
has unleashed a grassroots movement
clamoring for an end to the war
with fair compensation for its victims.
Demonstrations by indignant citizens “sick to death of it”
are voicing demands, proposals and complaints
all over Mexico.
Official figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography indicate that 65% of Mexicans perceive insecurity as being worse or much worse than a year ago and 34% believe it’s just as bad. In early April the FBI director called Mexico’s levels of violence “unprecedented” and the World Bank pointed out that the worrying surge of violence was being encouraged by the trafficking in drugs, arms and people.
In April and May the number of corpses found in narco-graves in northern Mexico reached the hundreds and the United States had to admit its error in thinking the drug trafficking problem in Mexico could be solved with a quick campaign. Rupert Knox of Amnesty International declared the situation exceptionally serious, particularly because of the continuing impunity linked to cases involving public or military officials. Knox thinks that the Calderón government didn’t calculate the consequences of the drug war it had undertaken.
Italian journalist Gianni Mina contributed this statistic: since Calderón took office, more than 5,000 people have disappeared in a wave of terror in which it’s not easy to identify a dividing line between state terrorism and activity attributable to criminal organizations, given that a growing number of the disappeared are due to the army.
The poet’s son lights the fuseIn this dramatic setting, one more act of violence was the drop that overflowed the citizenry’s patience: the killing of a group of young people, one of whom was poet Javier Sicilia’s son. Sicilia wrote an open letter addressed to both politicians and criminals, in which he summed up the national mood with a popular phrase: “We’re sick to death!” The poet accused the political and criminal classes of tearing Mexico apart, pushing its citizens to indignation. Like him, many citizens were sick to death of politicians because their power struggles have ripped society’s fabric to shreds, and with the government because its war is ill conceived, poorly executed and badly directed. Sicilia said that many citizens feel this way not only because the young people’s killers weren’t brought to justice but also because the State wanted to make them the guilty party to justify itself. He recalled that many young people didn’t have the chance to get an education or find a decent job and this put them in the way of being possible recruits for organized crime. Sicilia announced that citizens’ networks in the state of Morelos were calling a national march to demand justice and peace. With his letter and its message this Catholic writer committed to the poor promoted the birth of a novel citizens’ movement.
“No more deaths!”On April 7 civic demonstrations against Mexico’s violence were held not only in more than 20 Mexican cities, but also in Paris, New York, Barcelona and Buenos Aires,. In Mexico City they chanted, “They’re our dead, but this isn’t our war!,” “Calderón’s war is a young person’s holocaust!” and “14,000 orphans in Ciudad Juaréz, more than 300 children murdered!” As they passed a military barracks, the poet explained that drug trafficking and use has grown rather than decreased after four years of this war, and he demanded that the military not shelter crime in its ranks. The marches called for “no more blood” and “no more dead.” Sicilia chose to remain in the picket in Cuernavaca Square until April 13 to demand an investigation into his son’s death. Initially the prosecuting attorney in Morelos said that former military officers and active soldiers were responsible for the killing but the government later twisted the information in an attempt to exonerate the armed forces with unclear and contradictory data about the motive for the killing.
Despite the civic indignation, President Calderón insisted on continuing his war strategy. He criticized the demonstrators for accusing the government when they should only accuse the criminals. The rector of the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and some lawyers asserted that the demand to stop the war shouldn’t be directed at the authorities, since it’s the State’s duty to watch over public security, but writer Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa said the President was wrong, that criminal bands aren’t society’s interlocutors and citizens have a legal basis on which to demand that the authorities end the generalized impunity, which is the breeding ground of criminality.
“This isn’t our war!”Citizens want a different strategy for fighting organized crime: an effective one that doesn’t involve such high costs to society. The cost in human lives caused by the failed official strategy is leading citizens to demand that the government take another path.
Writer Epigmenio Ibarra reproached Calderón for ignoring the masses who had taken to the streets. He sees the President as an expert at promoting the discourse of hatred, presenting as suspicious those who raise their voices against his doctrine of war, trying to turn those who don’t agree with the government into defenders of drug trafficking.
Calderón’s brutality has not only failed to offer citizens security but has put the nation’s integrity in jeopardy. Why risk all on a military strategy when there are other more comprehensive social solutions that the government refuses to listen to? Ibarra charged that the massive troop mobilization, fear and resulting deaths suit Calderón and that he prefers to respond to brutality with brutality.
40,000 dead begin to have facesSicilia continued producing public analyses that identified the government, politicians and top religious hierarchy connected to the wealthy and big businesspeople as co-responsible for the security crisis Mexico is suffering. He described his picket as a sign of the country’s open wound caused by poverty, instability, defenselessness and vulnerability and called for another national march that would set out on foot from Cuernavaca on Thursday, May 5 and reach the center of Mexico City on Sunday May 8. The walk would be in silence as a demand that the State, businesspeople, churches and their hierarchies, and trade unions and their leaders assume their responsibility to keep millions of Mexicans from seeing their futures written off. He called for the signing of a pact to give the nation back its dignity. He banked on grief acting to restore love and justice.
Oaxacan activist Gustavo Esteva wrote a letter to Sicilia telling him that by ripping away the veil of complicit language he had made it possible for “40,000 dead to soon begin to acquire faces and cease to be collateral damage… Their deaths, which had become a daily custom, would soon become unbearable.” Sicilia had managed to express the general state of mind in the form of a real movement with dispersion, multiple initiatives, bottom-up drive and horizontality. It was time to act, to put a stop to the senseless war sponsored by national power and the US government. Esteva praised the poet for putting his finger on the cancers: the constitutional powers, big money, mass media, the churches and unions. The tattered social fabric would have to be rewoven to save and transform what remained of the country. From Madrid, Marcos Roitman wrote that Mexico was being hurt by violence “as irrational as it is excessive” and denounced both the origins and the methods of illegitimate political power.
Voices from around the worldInstead of attending to growing public demand, legislators tried to pass a security law that would legalize the army’s presence in the streets. Sicilia insisted in his call for the formation of a new national civic pact that would restore peace and tranquility to the country. He believed society feared that legislators would approve the bill without consulting the population. Amnesty International warned that the bill would seriously weaken human rights defense work.
Sicilia also called for dignity for the victims of the war against drug trafficking, who the government views as little more than collateral damage. Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel sent a letter to Sicilia in solidarity with the movement he’s leading. At the end of April some 200 writers, poets, musicians, artists, journalists and university lecturers from different corners of the world sent Calderón a letter expressing their profound concern for the incredibly painful events occurring in Mexico. The signers accompanied the relatives of the thousands of people who have lost their lives and demanded that the killers shouldn’t be sheltered by a cloak of impunity. International organizations such as the Permanent Tribunal of Peoples, the International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement, the International Association of Migrants, the International Association of Democratic Jurists, the Association of Peoples’ Lawyers, the Network of Alternatives to Impunity and Market Globalization and the Inter-ecclesiastical Peace and Justice Commission showed their solidarity with the movement sparked by Sicilia. They agreed that Mexico’s militarization has favored recurring state crimes within a context of growing impunity, including the current genocide of migrants in transit through Mexico. They demanded justice and compensation for the damage.
The dead scream in the In May, many civic organizations joined the march called by Sicilia from their own towns. They emphasized that there are already more than 40,000 dead in the war against drug-trafficking during Calderón’s Presidency, equivalent to one death every hour, and thousands of disappeared, widows and orphans. Sicilia asserted the war was turning Mexicans into people with “mutilated souls.”
silence of the living
Sicilia met with the man who had been the Federal District’s ombudsman, the president of Common Cause, the person who had led Mexico United against Crime, priest Alejandro Solalinde who defends Central American migrants and a Mormon who is leading a movement against kidnapping in Chihuahua. Together they prepared the march for peace with justice, dignity and the country’s reconstruction. They decided it should be silent in order to express how fed up Mexican society was and made it clear that they weren’t talking about the silence of the grave but rather another way the living could shout out to prevent more useless graves.
Although later on Calderón said he “respected” the march, his first retort was that he was right, the State would not give in to criminals, and he had law and might on his side. Social and academic organizations reproached him for not listening to those who didn’t follow him, instead seeking to damage their reputation. Sicilia argued that the marchers weren’t looking to bring down the government but rather to reconstruct the social fabric in a country torn to shreds and that national security wouldn’t be achieved without education and culture, an idea disdained by the authorities. Sicilia believes Calderón’s statements show he doesn’t understand people’s complaints. The nation’s pain is so strong that the aggrieved joined together from many parts of the country, independent of ideology.
“No more violence!”Raúl Vera, the bishop of Saltillo, joined Sicilia on a stretch of the march. He reflected that the country is leaderless, given that presidential messages reveal a man with great weaknesses and without acceptance, imposing himself by force. With their testimonies and placards the demonstrators showed the national tragedy on an enormous map. They wanted to make the government aware of the urgent need for change. Hundreds of civil society organizations joined together and by the time the march reached the center of Mexico City it had become a multitude.
There were also marches in dozens of other Mexican cities and all exceeded the number of people who had taken part in previous marches. There were also solidarity demonstrations in Paris, New York, London, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Río de Janeiro and other cities around the world, all demanding an end to militarization and justice for the dead civilians.
They marched in a heart-constricting silence and on ending the marches their voices reappeared. They chanted “No more deaths!” and “No more violence!”
Mexico is an ensnared countryThe speeches in Mexico City were preceded by five minutes of silence in honor of those killed. Sicilia said they had marched in silence because the pain is so huge and so deep and the horror it comes from so immense that words can no longer describe it. With this silence the protestors demanded an end to the deaths. They don’t want to bequeath their children a helpless country full of fear, indolence, cynicism, brutality and deceit, where the lords of death and of the ambition for boundless power and complicity reign. So many open wounds obliged them to walk, threading the silence with their grief, so that those responsible for security would hear all the names of the dead. In silence the demonstrators named the vile reality that the political classes, the powers that be, the monopolies, the hierarchies of economic and religious powers, the governments and police forces were all denying.
In the speeches the victims of violence raised their voices. Many who had previously kept their grief private expressed it publicly. The multitude asked the parties to clean their ranks of those colluding with crime. People asked why Calderón had been allowed to deploy the army in the streets in a farcical war that had cost thousands of deaths and abandoned millions of Mexicans to fear and uncertainty.
They complained that the presidency and the political class, faced with the underworld, assumed there were only two ways to confront it: managing it illegally or with the army in the streets. They criticized a society that pays tribute to success, money and power as absolute principles that must be conquered by any means and at any price.
In this setting crime expands into charging protection money, kidnapping, theft, trafficking in people and criminal business complexes. To all this, already quite terrible in itself, is added the US dimension, where drug trafficking money is laundered, arms are sold and a security policy is designed whose logic basically responds to the global interests in which Mexico has become ensnared.
For a six-point pactSicilia’s suggested pact is a basic commitment to peace with justice and dignity that would allow the country to set out on a new path. It can be summarized in six points. First, truth and justice: detain the true intellectual and material authors of crimes with transparent processes for investigating and trying them and administering justice. Second, replace the war strategy with a civil security approach. Third, fight against corruption and impunity. Fourth, fight against the economic roots and profits of organized crime. Fifth, create a national emergency plan to support children and young people and offer real opportunities for restoring the social fabric. And sixth, construct a participatory democracy and democratize the mass media.
The march organizers announced a civic caravan for June that would terminate in Ciudad Juárez with the signing of an agreement for a Mexico with peace and dignity. Verification and Sanction commissions made up of specialists and honorable people chosen by the citizenry would verify it point by point to see if there had been any progress. It was made clear that the blood of the dead wasn’t negotiable and the immediate demand would be de-militarization and justice for the dead and disappeared. Ciudad Juárez was chosen for being the area that has suffered the most killings. A proposal was made to raise a holocaust wall making the victims visible. The great achievement of this movement has been to show the faces of the victims and speak their names out loud.
Calderón insists on warPresident Calderón responded to the march by saying he was willing to set up a dialogue so its main promoters could hear the government’s reasons, which showed that the government was only reiterating its declaration of war. The formats that had been adopted in official dialogues after other civil society marches had demanded security had come to nothing. Members of the organizations marching on this occasion were in favor of dialogue, but not from a position of subordination. The President would have to stop the war immediately.
Several civic groups were not surprised by the President’s first response, given that Calderon’s government prides itself on governing without the people. They warned that if the government and mass media continued to oppose demilitarization, bigger movements would follow. It was a scandal that the public purse was paying six times more for this war than to fight poverty. The head of government showed himself authoritarian, unwilling to listen to the people’s clamor.
The march organizers agreed to dialogue with the government but asked that it be public and in the presence of families of victims disappeared, killed and executed in this war, because the government officials had to understand that the country was undergoing a national emergency. If they didn’t take any notice of the pact, the country would slip from their grasp.
Marcos speaks: The Zapatistas joined the civic mobilization as well. Subcomandante Marcos sent a second open letter to Luis Villoro on ethics and politics that started with a reference to Sicilia. He said the poet’s grief, geographically distant but close to the ideals of the past, echoed and reverberated in the Zapatistas’ mountains. Marcos hoped that Sicilia’s legendary tenacity, given that he was taking up the Zapatistas’ words and action, would succeed in uniting the rage and pain proliferating on Mexican soil. He recalled Sicilia’s intransigent but fraternal criticism of the Zapatista communities’ autonomous education system.
Sicilia embodies indignation
By touching on Sicilia in particular through the murder of his son, the collective tragedy of a senseless war had put the poet in a difficult situation because so much grief hoped to find an echo and volume in his demands for justice and many concerns hoped his voice would embody the unheard indignant voices. Marcos stated that Sicilia did indeed embody them, but he shouldn’t aim to become a leader of operators. Nonetheless, Marcos discerned that around the poet’s figure, magnified by worthy grief, there were those in high-up political circles who were laying in wait to take advantage of the movement the poet had stirred up. The Zapatistas expressed respect and support for the demand for justice. Marcos argued that the war was continuing up above and that its destructive advance was trying to ensure that everyone accepted this routine horror as if it were something natural and impossible to change.
Precisely because of this, it was necessary in times of organized confusion and exercised arbitrariness to disorganize the confusion with critical analysis. He insisted that solutions can only be born from below, from radical proposals that don’t wait to be legitimized by a council of wise men. This response is pluralist and can be found in many places. Many collectives are no longer interested in changing or renewing a parasitical political class. They don’t want to change their masters but rather to live without them.
Pablo González Casanova sent a message to young people praising the youth movements opposing the war, discrimination and imitation democracies. There are those from above who want to destroy young people with drugs and arms sales, who want to make youth a consumer niche. He underscored that wherever one looks, young people are the preferred victims of a system that is making them lose their sense of life and alienating them with educational policies based on ignorance.
The Zapatistas join inMarcos’ letter to Sicilia said the Zapatistas had given him the job of telling the poet they felt summoned by his brave words and were answering the call to the national march that would leave Cuernavaca for Mexico City on May 5. Although they wanted to march at his side, they would do so in San Cristóbal de las Casas; would march in silence and at the end would say the words in Spanish and their original languages. On their march they would carry placards with these messages “Stop Calderón’s war”, “No more blood” and “We’re sick to death”.
They asked him to carry their words to the relatives of the 49 children killed and 70 wounded in the Hermosillo ABC nursery tragedy, to the admirable mothers of Ciudad Juárez, to the Le Baron and Salazar families of Chihuahua, to the relatives and friends of the victims of the conceited war, to defenders of the human rights of nationals and migrants and everyone called on to march. Responding to Sicilia’s call to name the victims, the Zapatistas would say the names of the children killed in the Hermosillo nursery, for whom justice has not been done. The Zapatistas know well that naming the dead is a way of not abandoning either them or the living. The Zapatistas kept their promise and called on the peoples of Mexico and the world and the followers of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Rain Forest and the followers of the Other Campaign.
“Men with noble hearts More than 15,000 Zapatistas marched in San Cristóbal de las Casas on May 7. It was the biggest march people there remembered since 2001 in what was called the Color of the Earth march. It was the first time the Zapatistas had ever rallied to a call from outside their movement. Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Chol, Zoque and Mam Zapatistas raised banners showing their solidarity with the grieving families who had lost loved ones in Calderón’s cruel war. At the rally point they shouted long live life, freedom, justice and peace and offered speeches in their different languages.
are summoning us”
At the end of the march Comandante David read the Zapatistas’ communiqué, which explained that thousands of Zapatista men, women, children and elders were there to say their word. They were there because people with firm dignity and noble hearts had called on them to demonstrate to stop the war that had filled Mexican soil with sadness, pain and indignation. They were there because they had felt drawn by the clamor for justice of the parents of children shot dead and the high-handedness of bad governments; they felt called by the merited rage of the parents of young people murdered by criminal bands and governmental cynicism. Mexico’s history had once again been stained with innocent blood and tens of thousands of people had died in an absurd war that’s going nowhere.
Peace and justice no longer find a place in any corner of Mexico. The victims’ only guilt is that of having been born in a country ill governed by legal and illegal groups with a thirst for war, death and destruction. This war has had as its main target innocent human beings who have nothing to do with either drug trafficking or government forces. Bad government has turned streets into war zones without the agreement of those who walk and work in them, and has also turned schools and universities into war zones. Meeting places and recreational areas are military objectives. Bad governments have caused the problem and now not only are they not solving it but they’re exacerbating it.
“They’re sick with power”The Zapatistas told us that good people’s silence and words don’t represent bad governments or criminals or the political class that wants to take advantage of a national tragedy. That even though the relatives of children who died in the Hermosillo nursery fire have demanded justice, the government has responded with lying declarations and answers, trying to wear them out and make them give up. That those who take part in the marches aren’t looking to take over the government but only demand that it strive to take care of the life, freedom, justice and peace of those governed. That politicians are lying when they say that anyone who doesn’t agree with their war is on the criminals’ side. That to see a threat in every justified pain was typical of those sick with power. And that correcting the mistake is not the same as giving in.
The Zapatistas weren’t there to talk about their own pain, which is great because they suffer serious aggression every day from governments of all parties, but to tell those who are marching throughout the country that they support them.
The drug war is a farceThere are continuing actions all over the country: demonstrations by Workers and Socialist Unity, the Network against Repression and for Security, the Mexican Sex Work Network, the Street Brigade for Women’s Support, the Magonist autonomous collective and many other organizations. In Jalisco the Mezcala Communards Assembly, the Libertarian Solidarity Group, the Resistance Notebooks Collective, the Save the Forest Committee in defense of Nixticuil, the Daily Rebellion Collective and many more held meetings for reflection, called press conferences and distributed 10,000 flyers in towns, neighborhoods and suburbs containing their arguments, setting out a reasoned list of everything they were fed up with and stressing that they were “sick to death” of state violence and organized crime.
They argued that Calderón’s war against drugs is a farce because it won’t work without the complicity, permission and participation of the political class and public institutions that control it. It’s a war that has devastated cities, with growing militarization and a media campaign aimed at legitimating an iron fist and exceptional measures as a way of governing.
The wave of violence during Calderón’s term has added to the ancestral and recent violence suffered by those on the bottom. Those with power seize land, natural resources, water, forests and urban collective plots to privatize them. The attempts to strip indigenous communities of their lands for agro-cattle farming, mining and tourism businesses are a constant, always accompanied by violence. Women suffer high rates of feminicide and young people, especially from the urban peripheries, are harassed daily by police who persecute and rob them.
This war has other purposes. After the electoral fraud, Calderón used it to legitimate himself and to justify and normalize the presence of the armed forces in the country’s streets and towns in open violation of the law. The criminalizing of social protest has grown under the Calderón government.
With his war, Calderón is seeking US backing. This war is really the continuation by other means of the economic policy of savage capitalism implemented in Mexico by all the governments of all parties in the last 30 years. Never have so many millions of young people been left with no chance to study or work. Capitalism has turned them into throwaways.
The war of bullets and The collectives assert they are sick to death of capitalism that glorifies the search for power and wealth. They are fed up with the political class and hold them responsible for the social crisis, illegal drug business and other highly profitable illegal businesses. Politicians are part of the problem, not the solution. These collectives say they have no expectations of the political class and the only thing they ask of it is to leave them in peace.
the everyday wars
This war of bullets comes on top of many wars that those on the bottom must wage every day: the war on hunger, speculation and informative silence, and on social policies that only seek to domesticate them. The collectives are calling on communities, neighborhoods, suburbs and families to find among themselves the security and peace that governments and criminals have taken from them.
With self -vigilance, self-defense and self-management they must ensure that nobody starves to death in their areas; they must look after their children and siblings so they don’t become cannon fodder as police or soldiers or as drug dealers’ hit men and employees. The solution won’t come from above; it’s being built from below, with no help from the politicians, their parties or governments and certainly with no help from capitalism.
A new pluralist civic movementThe most obvious thing about this new citizens’ movement is its broad, pluralist convergence. Another fundamental element is that it has inspirers, rather than leaders and is happening on horizontal planes, attracting spontaneity and creativity. It’s aiming at insecurity’s structural nucleus: corruption and impunity.
At the outset, one could see a sort of ingenuousness in some of those making the call, a belief that dialoguing with power would cause it to abandon its warlike strategy. But they soon realized that a dialogue with those at the top will resolve nothing. Groups taking part in this convergence have had to privilege what they titled a civic agreement and so have been forming a broad network for peace and justice that reflects horizontally on what it ought to do. The most important thing is the potential that springs from below.
The Zapatista contributionContact with the Zapatistas has been another of its values because Zapatism already has important experience in this realm. At the beginning the Zapatistas also believed that a road map to a solution could be found through dialogue with the government. The San Andrés Accords signed by the government and the EZLN grew out of dialogue in 1996. But they were betrayed by the executive branch. Later the Zapatistas calculated that the legislative and judicial branches could push for new legislation that would drive the San Andrés Accords. By the time the 21st century came around, they had confirmed that the entire Mexican State was racist and didn’t care about the rights of first nations.
So they began to look for solutions autonomously and also came to realize that solutions would have to be separate from capitalism and the State. The Zapatista example of expecting nothing from those on top but rather letting loose the creativity of those below can be a contribution to this new civic movement.
Jorge Alonso is a researcher for ciesas West and the envío correspondent in Mexico.