<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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If Crime Is Organized, then Why Not Us?

Sicilia: “We Are Taking the First Steps in this Great Crusade to Dignify Our Country”


By Marta Molina
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

June 16, 2011

Before the Caravan of Solace, many of the families who had lost their own to the war on drugs remembered them in the privacy of their living rooms. They lived below a yoke of fear imposed by the government’s criminalization of the victims and they didn’t dare raise their voices in a cry for justice. Now, as a result of the caravan, many know each other and recognize each other. They dare to go out into the street and say that their son, daughter, husband, wife, father or mother was not a criminal. Families that beforehand did not know each other began to share their pain, hugging each other, in the street, to appeal for justice, peace and dignity.


Maria Elena Herrera Magdalene holding a Chihuahua sign with photographs of her 4 children and two relatives missing. DR 2011 Marta Molina.
The recognition between them, the sharing of stories of life and death, the pain and solace, the love, the desires for justice, helped them to dignify the names of their fallen family members, friends and neighbors. This is what unites María Elena Herrera Magdalena of Morelia, Michoacán, whose four children were disappeared, with the parents of Juan Martín Ayala and of Sarahy Méndez Salazar, murdered in San Luís Potosí. This is what joins María América Nava of Ecatepec, in the state of Mexico, whose brother, a community organizer, was assassinated, in a hug with Nepomuceno Moreno, from Sonora, who joined the caravan to continue seeking justice for his son. Estela Ángeles Mondragón, of the Rarámuri, (also known as Tarahumara) indigenous community, shares with them the constant pilgrimage she makes from the mountains to the courtrooms to claim justice for her daughter, gunned down, and her assassinated husband.

Gloria Aguilar Hernández came out to denounce the disappearance of her husband and children and embraced Melchor Flores Landa, father of the performance artist known as the Galactic Cowboy, who had wanted to work in Barcelona as a street statue in Las Ramblas in his costume as a silver cowboy. The father of college student Gabi Pineda of Monterrey shared his pain with Soledad Marina, of Ciudad Juárez, where they killed her son, a graffiti artist.

All the victims that have found their voice during the caravan united with each other in this constant act of “making a path,” as Estela calls it in Tarahumara, “bohuerasa.” Each of them found their voice to each other they joined, with banners, photographs, names, tears and hugs: the family members of the victims of this war.

Like a sun that has brought into its orbit of entire planets of families that had been isolated and destroyed by the militarization of the war on drugs since 2006, Sicilia has brought together voices from the northernmost state of Chihuahua, like Julián LeBaron and Olga Reyes, and from the far south of Cancún, Quintana Roo, like Teresa Carmona, mother of Joaquín, architecture student at the national university, assassinated in his apartment in Mexico City last year.

During this Caravan of Solace that, in the words of Sicilia, means “being with the loneliness of the other,” not only have silences been broken, but so has the fear of coming out into the street that had been provoked by the criminalization of the victims and has brought Mexican society to its fracture and atomization. This is the first giant step of this caravan.

Make Visible, Organize, Act

As Artemisa Ibarra, who denounced in Chihuahua the disappearance of her brother, Aristófanes Ibarra Rodríguez, said: “Our Mexico is awakening from this apathy toward the pain of others, from the injustice, from this apathy that has allowed the violence to grow to these levels.”

The first step: to make visible and get to know them, to see who is here, to put first and last name to everyone who has suffered the indiscriminate violence in their daily lives, so that they see that they are not alone, so that they begin to weave networks of solidarity and demand of the government, without fear, because they are no longer just one or two, they are all the families and loved ones of 40,000 dead. The apathy has also died.

In this sense, as Javier Sicilia said last Saturday at the end of the caravan, “the government has to see that the people came out into the street and that we have made their pain visible. We are simply doing what the government will not do. The people are taking the highways to avoid being victims that are erased from the system.”

Organizing to Be Agents of Change

Last Saturday, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity that began in Cuernavaca, Morelos, on June 4 and travelled “the geography of pain” during eight days toward Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, came to its final stop. After crossing eleven Mexican states, part of the group crossed the border to meet, in El Paso, Texas, with more drug war victims, political exiles and Mexican citizens who left the country of their birth because, as Sicilia said during a public act at Alligator Park, “their country did not provide what they needed.”

Looking back, we remember those moments of the public events in the cities that defined “the route of pain,” always attentive to the possibility that someone discovered, albeit between the lines, some initial strategy or tactic to give form and continuity to the movement after the caravan. We found some clues, at times between the lines. Clearly, the protagonists of this new Mexican history will be those who organize and decide, as LeBaron said during his remarks in Chihuahua, to become agents of change and work actively in their communities:

“Today I will come down from the bus of the victims. As it should be. Today I get off the victim’s bus. I can’t travel on it for the rest of my life. Now is the hour to be agents of change and to work actively in our communities so that those who are still not yet born can aspire to a future in peace.”

In San Luis Potosí began the discussion of the need and responsibility of the citizenry to organize to combat the violence. When Julián LeBaron said: “The violence is within us. The institutions, the government, the Army and the police are also citizens and are not things outside of humanity. Every one of us has our responsibility in this struggle.” This was, without a doubt, a turning point. From that moment on, the most appealing speeches called for community organizing and collective commitment.

LeBaron’s intervention in Zacatecas involved the indispensible, the first step, which is getting to know our neighbors to be able to identify what each one can add to construct a movement that, from the grassroots, serves to create a network of citizens who reinforce the social fabric and participate, who occupy the places where decisions are made, who take back their streets so that they can finally walk freely upon them, people ready to struggle for a real democracy:

“They began to organize on each block in the neighborhoods where they lived. They told me that the neighbors got together and started knocking, door to door, house by house, and introduced themselves to each other with their names and occupations.

“‘Good morning, my name is Julian. I build houses.’

“‘I am Maria, I’m a schoolteacher.’

“‘We are neighbors. What is your name and what do you do? We want to know each other better and create a community on this block.’

“I imagine it happened something like that.

“They say that the next day after doing that, some people disappeared and stopped living on that block. Surely, they must have been dedicated to something dishonest. What would happen if all the blocks of a neighborhood did this? And after that, all the neighborhoods of a city, and then all the cities of a state, and then all the states of a country? Where would the criminals of Mexico hide then?”

And it was in Chihuahua, during the march to the city square, where we read the slogan on a banner that cited this need to get to know each other, to organize. “If Crime Is Organized, then Why Not Us?” The citizenry is ready to take that step.

“Returning to Gandhi, Returning to King”


Banner during the march in Chihuahua from the Plaza de la Madrehasta, the government palace. The text says, “If crime is organized, then why not Us?” DR 2011 Lucero Mendizábal.
In less than three months, since the assassination of Juan Francisco Sicilia, much has changed. And the cause has moved forward because from the beginning it was the citizenry that wanted to walk and that followed and supported the civil resistance actions that had been launched.

Actions that, as Sicilia recalled in his El Paso press conference, have occurred at distinct moments: the organization of an encampment at the Cuernavaca city square, filling the square with plaques of the names of the victims of this war; the nonviolent march from there to Mexico City, and the caravan that travelled this path of pain, demonstrating what the people want, which is the ability to walk peacefully through their streets. The visit to the state prosecutor’s office in Monterrey late on June 7 during that caravan’s stop in that city when citizen power demanded that nine emblematic murder cases be solved and brought to justice, bringing a promise to do so within a month, was another action of civil resistance. So was the proposal to put plaques in memory of the dead and disappeared at the entrance to the government centers wherever the caravan stopped en route to Ciudad Juárez.

Sicilia called for nonviolent action and civil resistance at various points along the caravan, reminding that, the way he sees it, “civil resistance is pure invention to confront problems” and adding that, “we have to return to the era of Gandhi, to the era of Luther King.”

It was in Juárez, the “epicenter of pain,” where the Citizen Pact based on six points that were read in the Mexico City Zócalo on May 8 were signed. On June 10 work tables were set up to discuss key themes (truth and justice, ending the war strategy, public safety, corruption, youth, recuperation of the social fabric, participative and representative democracy, indigenous culture and rights). From these sessions many points were raised that will continue to be worked on or begin to be worked on, but to continue moving forward, Sicilia said, the movement should begin with a minimum agreement and not “begin with one hundred demands” while the grassroots base has not yet been solidified. (See Al Giordano’s story, A Mexican Movement at a Crossroads: A Pact of Paper or an Organized Community?, Narco News, June 16, 2011.)

After the reading of the minutes from each of the work sessions, Sicilia recognized that this was only part of the process of this democratic excersize. “I have always believed that democracy is a horizon that at times appears but it is never permanent. Democracy has appeared in each of our marches at each moment that we have walked and that we have made the victims visible and consoled, fed, and clothed, there we found democracy, emergent, to begin again to submerge ourselves in the depths of the process and return again to emerge and maintain that horizon. I believe it has been a great exercise. He ended with the words of a disciple of Gandhi: “the fruit of the tree is not as important as the path toward it,” or what in Tarahumara is known as “bohuerasa.”

“We are on the march and we continue marching and at each moment in each step of this march a moment of democracy emerges to show those those lords of power, those lords of death, who do not want it that Mexico continues being tremendously democratic and is going to struggle for its peace, its justice and its dignity.”

And it is as Eduardo Galeano said, utopia serves as a reference point to walk toward: “Utopia is on the horizon. Walk two steps and it distances itself two steps and the horizon runs ten steps farther away. That’s what it is good for: for walking.”

“We Will Form Nonviolent Armies”

No one should expect that a poet, father of Juan Francisco, murdered in the war on drugs, that in just ten weeks he would have all the answers to the questions of how to change a nation. Still, Sicilia has already asked and answered some of the right questions: that the path to put an end to the violence must be that of nonviolence; that the names and faces of the 40,000 dead in this war should be made visible and that their families and survivors of the war constitute a grassroots base of wide reach and commitment to begin a national movement to bring dignity to the country.

Julián LeBaron, during the caravan, has given examples of community organizing through daily messages that appeal to a new generation of Mexicans ready to work for the change. He called on it, again, in El Paso, to “form a nonviolent army and defend our country against the violence.” He spoke of “a new Mexican race that no longer bows its head before threats, or politics or any attack against any Mexican… who is creating a new country, a country that has dignity, pride and honor.”

In LeBaron’s words, “The clock ticks as the hand of crime holds the heart of our country in a bloody fist.”

The next steps for the movement to obtain the fruits of these seeds planted in middle of the desert of Northern Mexico that the caravan traveled during eight intense days, says LeBaron, is to construct nonviolent armies. As Sicilia said, “The pain calls for unity. The pain has no ideology.” The grassroots base exists to be worked and the training of these nonviolent cells, throughout the country, and community organizing, are the next steps and the response to the question of “how?”

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America