The peace movement and the government’s warlike responses
After five years of Calderon’s “war on drugs,”
the terrible results are 63,700 dead
and more than 10,000 disappeared,
with 98% of these cases unsolved.
The peace movement poet Javier Sicilia heads
is continuing to speak out, organize, mobilize
and continually call for meetings and dialogue.
Calderon’s response has been ferocious repression.
Amid so much horror, the peace movement and the Zapatistas
are both announcing new plans.
At the end of the fifth year of Calderon’s six-year term in office, the situation in Mexico is deplorable. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has declared that Mexico’s growth rate in 2011—and the estimated rate for 2012—are below the region’s average. Millions are unemployed, underemployed and poor. Among the countries in the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OCED), Mexico has the second greatest social inequality, with the wealthiest 10% of the population receiving 26 times more than the poorest 10%. The mean for the OECD countries is nine times more.
As much insecurity as in a warAccording to a National University study, the minimum wage three decades ago could buy 51 kilos of tortillas or 12 kilos of beans—two of Mexico’s staple foods. Today it can only buy 5 kilos of tortillas or 3 kilos of beans. In other words, the minimum wage has lost 82% of its purchasing power in 30 years. Today 64% of workers can’t afford all the products in the basic market basket. According to the Secretariat of Education, 20% of youth between the ages of 12 and 29 are neither working nor in school.
The Washington Office on Latin America blames the so-called Mérida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement involving the US, Mexican and Central America governments with the declared aim of fighting drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering, for stirring up the violence in Mexico. Seconding that assessment, the investigation unit of the main financial group operating in Mexico admitted that no other country in the world not officially in a declared war has had the drop in public safety that Mexico has suffered in recent years. Yet, even though Calderón’s drug war has not reduced the violence, he insists on following his mistaken strategy to the end of his term.
The Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center spoke out against Calderon’s plan to pass on to his successor a repressive government by pushing through harsher definitions of terrorism and linking them to social protest, thereby criminalizing any demonstrations of discontent. Although that has increased the danger for its members, the peace movement has traveled all through Mexico.
Javier Sicilia, the poet organizer of the peace marches, emphasizes that a characteristic of his movement has been to show the faces of this strategy’s victims. Behind the banners and peace flags march a sea of photographs of the murdered and disappeared demanding justice. They are “neither a painful discouragement nor an incitement to revenge.”
The movement and The national legislature agreed to talk with the movement in late July of last year. There Sicilia accused the legislators of acting on behalf of those with political interests, running the country like a source of booty and not prioritizing education, culture and science. He explained that all three branches of government share responsibility for the violence the country is experiencing. He blamed them for not preventing the militarization of public safety and called on them to ask forgiveness of the victims and be accountable to citizens whom he sees as estranged from their elected representatives. Alluding to the official figures of 50,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared and 120,000 displaced by the war, he urged them to clearly define where they stand on war vs. peace, demanding that they establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a law to respond to the victims’ needs. He also said he considers unacceptable the abuses suffered by thousands of Central Americans who pass through Mexico on their way to the United States.
During the meeting, Miguel Concha, a Dominican priest, called on the House representatives to reject the proposed national security bill approved by the Senate because it would further militarize the country and increase the human rights violations. This bill seeks to guarantee the country’s security but not the citizens’. He proposed to draft a bill based on human and civic security. Farmer/freelance writer Julián Le Barón accused the elected representatives of being blind to the death all around them and insisted that they not make laws permitting atrocities to go unpunished.
The senators from the governing National Action Party opposed Sicilia’s proposed Truth Commission. They were backed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) bench and by Senator Pablo Gómez of the Democratic Revolution Party. Gómez said the already established National Human Rights Commission had the powers of a truth commission and the PRI members agreed with his assessment.
Despite that, Sicilia and those who accompanied him were satisfied with the meeting because they saw a big difference from the previous meeting with the President. The legislators had shown humility, had not tried to justify themselves and had admitted the impact of the victims’ testimonies exposing the horror of the war. Sicilia declared the movement in recess from demonstrations awaiting the results of the talk with those in power.
The movement suspends the dialogue, but only temporarilyThe results were not long in coming. The Green Party opposed Sicilia’s request that it abandon its electioneering petition to establish the death penalty in Mexico and the legislators showed their insensitivity to the movement by generally approving the national security bill and sending it on to committee for its findings.
To show their indignation and repudiate these decisions the movement held a demonstration in front of the House of Representatives at the beginning of August. Sicilia suggested that the political class was suffering schizophrenia and leading the country in a terrible direction, and that the bill’s passage was an insult to the victims. Thus, the movement considered the dialogue with Congress broken. Sicilia declared that they couldn’t dialogue with people who don’t speak the truth.
Nonetheless, it was only a temporary suspension of dialogue. When Congress announced that it would open its doors to the movement to participate in the findings process prior to passing the national security bill into law, the movement announced it would go back to dialogue with the legislators.
Be indignant in demanding peace!In mid-August the peace movement marched again in opposition to the bill, this time in silence. Backed by various academics and activists, Sicilia asked rhetorically in his speech why the politicians had been moved by the victims yet remained obstinate in their strategy. He also announced that the movement would renew its dialogue with the legislators on August 17, despite the betrayals. In that meeting Sicilia voiced the movement’s distrust of the politicians and demanded that they be allowed to hear the reasons given by the armed forces.
While the government did not accept this demand, this meeting ended with five agreements: continuation of dialogue, the setting up of a bicameral working group with movement representation, a request that the budget include specific resources for care of victims, outlining a mechanism for discussing the security bill, and an invitation to the legislators to join the movement’s trip to the south. Sicilia urged Mexican students to imitate Spanish youth by going into the streets to demand peace.
At the end of August a small cell of drug traffickers burned a casino in Monterrey, killing 52 people. By early September groups in various cities around the country were speaking out against the devastating violence, but President Calderón used the massacre to insist on his failed strategy against drug trafficking.
“Calderón will be remembered A caravan of Central American emigrants, inspired by the caravans Sicilia promoted, left Guatemala on July 23 and arrived in Mexico City on August 1. To show his solidarity, Sicilia joined the caravan, which called itself “Step by Step,” and once in the capital, he demanded that the Senate set aside all its bureaucratic business, eliminate the visas required for the Central Americans and look for the disappeared. In the name of the Mexican people he asked the Central Americans for forgiveness for the abuses they had suffered.
as a war criminal”
In mid-September the peace movement made its own caravan trip—its third so far—to southern Mexico. Prior to its departure, Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos issued his third letter on ethics and politics to philosopher Luis Villoro, one of Mexico’s most distinguished intellectuals, in which he assured that the Zapatistas were still resisting. He asked how one could talk about justice in Chiapas when those responsible for the Acteal massacre are still free and paramilitaries continue to be encouraged.
Condemning the President’s war for blaming the victims, Marcos predicted that Calderón will be remembered as a war criminal. He said the Zapatistas were following the peace movement with interest, making efforts to understand this new mobilization which was finding its own path and deserved respect. They could see that it was awakening hope and offering consolation to the victims’ family members and friends. He added that the Zapatistas had held out hope that a movement would arise that would stop this absurd war, but this had still not happened. The important thing was that it had made the victims visible, that they began to have names and that the lies about fighting organized crime were beginning to crumble.
Marcos said the Zapatistas still didn’t understand why the movement dedicated so much energy to talks with the political class, which is no more than a gang of criminals, but had decided that those in the movement would discover this for themselves. The Zapatistas neither judged nor condemned but only tried to understand the movement’s steps.
The caravan gathers testimoniesSicilia thanked Marcos for the lines he had dedicated to the movement. He told the Zapatistas that even if they couldn’t understand his desire to make peace even with adversaries, to pull them back in line with “patience and love,” he shared the same longings and hopes as the Zapatistas, and was convinced that Chiapas’ autonomous areas were one hope of rebuilding the nation. He asserted that stopping the war was everyone’s work, and that while they slowly wended their way to the south, to Zapatista lands, he sent them a kiss. Zapatista authorities met with Sicilia when the caravan reached Oventic. There the poet questioned the government for not taking on its historic responsibility with the Zapatista cause and made clear that while there was no alliance between his movement and the Zapatistas that they indeed agreed upon the struggle for a Mexico with peace, justice and dignity.
The caravan gathered testimony from many victims. It became clear that three types of trafficking intersect in Tabasco: trafficking in persons, drugs and arms. In Veracruz there was an attempt to ambush the vehicle in which Sicilia was traveling. In Xalapa the poet announced that during this caravan they had documented 221 cases of violence, mainly the forced disappearances of people.
“Juárez’s wound is When the caravan reached the center of Mexico City, Sicilia proclaimed, “The wound of Juárez is spreading like gangrene to the south of the country.” He also denounced the immoral economic model that’s destroying the land, stripping away cultures, causing massive displacements and generating paramilitary groups. He declared that the movement had no power because those in it—the victims, and their widows and orphans—were the poorest of the poor, the war’s “collateral damage.”
spreading like gangrene”
At the end of September the movement announced that it had entered a very critical moment because there was no progress on various points in the dialogue with the politicians and there were profound differences regarding others, including matters related to the security law. Although a meeting had been planned with Calderón for September 23, the President canceled without setting another date. Sicilia complained that the judicial branch hadn’t even responded to the movement’s call for dialogue.
The government wanted a dialogue but with many more organizations, including those with affinities to the executive branch. The poet questioned the intention of diluting the moral force of the movement and accused the government of failing to understand the level of Mexico’s national emergency. In a march commemorating the October 2, 1968, massacre in Tlaltelolco square, the demonstrators demanded an end to both the militarization and the repression of the movement’s leaders.
Ten thousand more deathsFinally the second meeting with the President was rescheduled for October 14. The movement agreed to participate with others involved in movements against violence who were allies of Calderón and with various business leaders who were members of the Ombudsperson’s Office for Victims’ Care. Academics had discredited this new government entity because it was created without consulting any human rights groups, hadn’t been approved by Congress and was a farce rather than a real path to justice.
Sicilia’s spokesperson, Pietro Ameglio, recapitulated that with 10,000 more people killed after three months of dialogue with the government, the expectation of stopping the deadly dynamic had not been accomplished. He also announced that one of the victims, a member of the community of Ostula, would participate in the dialogue with Calderón.
Sicilia has always emphasized that one of the movement’s great successes is to have brought the victims out of anonymity, thus unmasking the victimizers, among them politicians and businessmen. He never fails to point out that the war, kidnappings, drug trafficking, forced disappearances and murders, particularly feminicides, are the perverse consequence of the prevailing economic, political and social model.
The second dialogue betweenBefore the new dialogue with President Calderon, the peace movement declared that since there had been more dissent than consensus in the previous one, they expected very little from the meeting, to take place in Chapultepec Castle. Once in the dialaogue, Sicilia criticized the atmosphere of violence and terror that was growing every day. He demanded that the political class, already immersed in the electoral process of buying votes, volitions and dignities, come up with a plan to demilitarize the country, ensure justice for the dead and disappeared, invest in education and employment to guarantee young people some options in life and recognize indigenous peoples’ autonomy.
the movement and the President
Movement leader Emilio Alvarez Icaza, who headed the Federal District’s Office of Human Rights Defender for eight years until resigning in 2009, stated that the dialogue was “an achievement of Mexican society in its struggle against arbitrariness, barbarity and authoritarianism.” He told the meeting that government officials in the work tables had dedicated themselves to refuting the movement’s proposals and even its name. He complained of the pitifully poor government responses to the ideas put forth by the movement because problems of violence aren’t resolved with more violence.
Calderon autistically clings to his warIndigenous groups also spoke to Calderón. They said that, as original peoples, they spoke from the oldest core of Mexican identity. They demanded clarification on numerous murders, the return alive of community members who had been disappeared by paramilitaries, respect for communal lands, guarantees for community police, an end to the military and paramilitary harassment of indigenous leaders, respect for their own forms of social organization, dismantling of organized criminal groups, compensation for the damage caused to victims and punishment for those responsible.
The President’s response to all these appeals was that he intended to pursue his strategy. Changing the dialogue format proved to be in the government’s interest when two of the business leaders who accompanied the President seconded him. When the meeting ended, Sicilia called on society to demonstrate on October 31 in memory of those who had died due to the violence, regretting that there had been no serious agreements to change Calderón’s war strategy. He said the President seemed stuck in a position “that bordered on autism.”
After this difficult meeting, Bishop Raúl Vera together with a hundred civil organizations and well-known personalities accepted an invitation to hold a national meeting to analyze and propose measures and actions oriented towards peace and putting an end to the war.
There’s a national The First National Meeting on the Emergency Situation in Mexico took place on October 22. Besides the members of the peace movement, representtives of hundreds of social, political, trade union and student organizations as well as nine human rights organizations attended.
emergency in Mexico
In the gathering it was strongly stated that Mexico is suffering a social crisis that originated in the capitalist system and is confronting a militarization and recolonization process. The neoliberal policies have raised the level of violence and lack of protection for social rights. The shameless US interference is an attack on national sovereignty. The worldwide energy, agricultural and social crisis has dominated the savage capitalism served by this violence. All of this will be reinforced in the 2012 presidential elections. Calderon’s drug war strategy is part of this process because it serves the major weapons industry and increases human rights violations. Democracy is a sham in Mexico because it adjusts to the mafia and the groups in power.
Proposals, agreements, convictions...Starting with this analysis, the gathering reached three areas of agreement. The first has to do with reconstructing the country and generating alternatives to violence, promoting food sovereignty, employment, salaries, work, health, housing, public safety, education, opportunities for youth, strengthening of unions and civic participation. The second has to do with national sovereignty, which includes opposing US intervention, open-pit mining projects and multinational corporations, and promoting native peoples’ autonomy. And the third is rejection of the war strategy as a national security method to protect victims, opposition to the proposed national security bill and the demand for demilitarization.
At the gathering, examples of community and movement resistance in confronting the crisis were also examined. As society hasn’t been able to struggle articulately and effectively against capitalism, it was agreed to explore the need to build a “movement of movements.” There’s a strong belief that only widespread social mobilization can create a peaceful alternative. The call for peace can bring together a broad collective of people with a sense of belonging. There was the sense that with everyone working together they could make a common diagnosis and build a common agenda. They saw the need to build a national space for convergence and unity of action among movements.
A second gathering was held on November 20. In it the conviction grew that only an increased mobilization of citizens that take over the streets will be able to influence the building of a new majority that could change the correlation of forces and turn the violence around.
More symbolic actions and On November 1, 2011, the peace movement and other organizations held a vigil for the dead in various cities around the country. Symbolic actions were promoted—fasting, silent walks, prayers, days of music, presentations of victim’s testimonies... They took advantage of the Day of the Dead festivities to make visible those who had died due to violence. In Ciudad Juárez the police moved against the demonstrators, hit them, arrested peaceful demonstrators and even jailed a journalist who was interviewing one of them. Some of the arrested were tortured. One of them was intimidated by the police who told him, “We’ve identified you and we’re going to make your life impossible.” They threatened another one with making him “disappear.”
more violent repression
The academic Victor Quintana warned that this was not a local incident but part of a violent strategy being put into place to restrict people’s liberties and rights, including those of media workers. Amnesty International repudiated the repression in Ciudad Juárez, and the city’s civil society protested energetically. Days later, ten years after finding numerous bodies of women murdered in this city, an Interior Ministry undersecretary asked forgiveness for the murders of these women and recognized the Mexican government’s responsibility by omission. The victims’ relatives, however, charged that this was a mere affectation as the government had only fulfilled one of the 13 resolutions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and even then only partially.
This isn’t the way to fight drugsIn a visit to Los Angeles in early November to attend an international conference to reform drug policies, Javier Sicilia spoke about organizing another caravan from El Paso, Texas, to Washington, DC, to demand an end to the war in Mexico, which is partly financed by the United States, and to make US citizens aware of the failure of this war. He reminded people that drug traffickers get arms from the US and suggested that the emphasis on drugs as a criminal issue should be discarded in favor of treating it as a public health problem.
Afterward, the US Ambassador in Mexico asked for a meeting with members of the peace movement. Sicilia once again set forth the idea that the strategy used to combat organized crime was a mistake since it generated so many disappearances, deaths, displacements and widows and orphans. Movement members criticized the lack of strong actions against money laundering.
Human Rights Watch, a US organization, presented its findings after two years of investigating executions, disappearances and torture in the war on drug trafficking in Mexico. The 212-page report titled “Neither Rights Nor Security: Killings, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico’s ‘War on Drugs” details serious human rights violations committed by armed forces and police elements at all government levels of five of Mexico’s most violent states. It provides data on 170 cases of torture, 39 forced disappearances and 24 extrajudicial executions since Calderón took office. The document shows that his government’s strategy not only has not reduced the violence but has increased it, which shatters the official claim that 90% of the deaths are related to delinquency.
Foretold murdersAt the end of November 2011, young people in various cities held marches for peace. In Mexico City a large part of those who demonstrated wore skeleton masks to repudiate the violence. In Guadalajara the demonstration was called after a truck was discovered full of 26 murdered people. In Ciudad Juárez the youth protested the arrest and torture of 14 people a few days earlier for having placed crosses at various points. The demonstrators demanded that the municipal police chief be punished for being a torturer. When he appeared with a sizable backing of armed personnel to violently repress the protest, it triggered a national outcry and new marches all around the country. Members of various civic organizations in Ciudad Juárez charged the military and police with being advisers for disappearances, massacres, and torture, and with supporting the paramilitaries.
At the end of November Nepomuceno Moreno, who had become an important peace movement activist after the disappearance of his son, was murdered. Given the threats he was receiving, he had directly requested protective measures in the dialogue with President Calderón. Sicilia condemned both the killing and the government’s attempt to criminalize Moreno, and noted that his murder had been foretold and given impunity.
The following month, after the death of a student at Mexico’s Autonomous University was confirmed as murder, both the university president and the peace movement demanded that the government find the perpetrator. A large group of well-known writers, editors and intellectuals signed a display at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara in those same days, in which they rejected the criminalization of victims of violence as a government response and demanded clarification of the murders.
Non-stop official violence Despite everything, the escalation of violence against members of the peace movement continued. An activist in Chihuahua suffered a cunning direct attack that nearly killed her. Another movement member, a community leader in Ostula, Michoacan, was violently kidnapped and murdered, even though he had been under a protection order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since September. The federal police supposedly protecting him left him to his fate only meters from the spot where his captors appeared. The Mexico City office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly condemned the community leader’s murder and the other attacks against the peace movement, demanding that serious, impartial, expedited and diligent investigations be carried out.
against movement members
In the city of Guerrero several days after this crime, public forces intervened in the kidnapping of two environmental rights defenders, also members of the movement. With that, Professor Pietro Ameglio, a well-known Gandhian civil rights and peace activist, warned that anyone working for peace runs the risk of being killed. If this ironic warning hadn’t already been sufficiently confirmed, it was sealed by the government’s attempt to imprison the famous priest Alejandro Solalinde, using a slanderous campaign of false accusations to discredit his commendable work defending Central American migrants.
Calderón accused of war crimesIn December, at a commemoration of the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sicilia announced that the investigations of various organizations counted 63,700 people murdered and more than 10,000 disappeared, of whom 63 of those murdered and 40 disappeared are human rights defenders. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has issued 158 precautionary measures for 200 rights defenders working under threat of death.
This unending tragedy gave rise to an important initiative supported by more than 23,000 Mexicans: to charge President Calderón in the International Criminal Court with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government responded by threatening to sue the signers in local courts.
For which drug cartel Analysts of Mexico’s violence have warned that the mass murders in various states are aimed at escalating the violence of fear and have nothing to do with ordinary criminal events or with settling of accounts, but with seeking national media coverage. Writer Carlos Fazio shows that Calderón’s crusade is state terrorism. It has led to the commission of war crimes, summary extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearances of people and paramilitary attacks.
will Mexicans vote?
In mid-December Sicilia announced that the peace movement would designate as criminals those who approved the national security law. He warned that with the present state of affairs, voters will have to ask themselves which drug cartels to vote for in this year’s presidential elections. It was a searing comment on the drug war’s failure to achieve its stated goal.
A new way of being is formingIn this complex situation the peace movement, which has grown by intuition and without resources or structure, has had to redefine its organization. Given its important media presence it has become a target of dangerous persecution.
While the weight of decision-making needs to be collective and horizontal, Sicilia must continue being an important moral figure. Time Magazine chose him as one of the important figures of 2011. There’s general agreement that the movement should take no part in the electoral campaigns and that it needs to transition into a nonviolent civil resistance movement.
The Zapatistas invited Sicilia to the Second International Seminar for Reflection and Analysis “…Planet Earth: Anti-systemic movements” held in Chiapas between December 30 and January 2 of this year. During his remarks on January 1, the 18th anniversary of the EZLN uprising, he called the Zapatista movement and the peace movement new forms that are a prelude to the new way of being that is forming in the midst of the disaster Mexico is living through today.
Jorge Alonzo is a researcher for CIESAS west and envío correspondent in Mexico.