|English | Español||August 15, 2018 | Issue #67|
A Contrast in Discourses: Sicilia and the Peace Caravan in Oaxaca
The Annihilating Language of the Left Meets the Language of Humanity of Drug War Victims
By Al Giordano
Local woman watches the peace caravan meeting in Juchitán, Oaxaca. DR 2011 Isolda Osorio.
For the past fourteen years, we’ve reported so many stories of Oaxacan resistance to the Mexican state and to impositions by outside economic interests: Our first crash course came during the September 1997 caravan of 1,111 masked Zapatista rebels from Chiapas when it passed through the cities of Juchitán de Zaragoza, Huajuapan de León and the state capital of Oaxaca de Juárez. The 2001 caravan of 24 Zapatista comandantes stopped in Juchitán and Oaxaca city, as did the Other Campaign listening tour by Subcomandante Marcos, in February 2006. From June to November of 2006, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca drove a despotic governor and his police corps out of the state, events that were reported extensively by this newspaper. Your reporter lived in Juchitán – Mexico’s largest indigenous city (85,869 inhabitants, most of the Zapotec ethnicity)– for stretches of 1997 and 1998, and on Oaxaca’s pacific coast for most of 2005.
Oaxaca’s history of popular struggle is among the deepest in the hemisphere. We’ve learned a lot from it, particularly from the Zapotec communities of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, who in the 1980s launched the first resistance against the one-party rule of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials). Much of my own early formation in Mexico came learning from my late friend, the exceptional community organizer and labor lawyer Carlos Sánchez, assassinated in 2003 in Juchitán, at the age of 49, while returning from his daughter’s 15th birthday celebration.
It is not easy to work or live in Oaxaca with a social conscience and not become overwhelmed at times with grief over the sheer volume of political assassination, unjust imprisonment and violence inflicted on good people who have worked to right wrongs and injustices. One day your friend and neighbor are there, fighting the good fight. The next day he and she are gone, forever. Then you watch helplessly as their children are raised fatherless or motherless. You see and feel the gaping holes left in communities throughout the state’s seven regions, and the long term consequences of such political violence, compounded today by the economic violence of the prohibitionist drug policy and its escalating consequences on all of Mexico, including Oaxaca, a key south-to-north funnel in the routes of South American cocaine.
For the past four-plus years, Oaxacan social movements have suffered a kind of hangover from the events of 2006: at first a string of victories, a popular assembly that displaced the state government for five glorious months, but that were then terminated by a crushing and brutal defeat when the boot of the federal police came down on November 25 of that year.
In many respects the kernel of the popular movement that exploded in June 2006 was sprouted that February during Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos’ visit to Oaxaca city. Marcos found the Oaxacan movements in disarray: Every possible flavor of political organization on the left had flocked to adhere to the national Other Campaign that had been launched in neighboring Chiapas. But after decades of so many local struggles with few advances, the Oaxacan left laid in splinters; bitterly divided and, that February, jockeying for position against each other to appear in the photo with the masked Zapatista spokesman.
This is hardly a phenomenon exclusive to Oaxaca or Mexico: There is often a correlation between the level of mutual animus between political factions and the closeness in their ideologies: In how many other lands do the Marxist-Leninists hate the Trotskyists, do both tendencies disrespect the Stalinists, do all of them dislike the anarchists (and vice versa), and do the feminists see so many organizations and leaders, often accurately, as so wrapped up in their machismo as to make their calls for justice and equality hypocritical? Add to that the indigenous communities – in Oaxaca, the vertebral column of all serious social struggle – who repeatedly feel used and abused by more urban or ideological groups. Also in this soup is the Mexican regime’s talent at enticing or blackmailing many activists into counterinsurgency tasks of either espionage or provocation, and a corresponding paranoia in which people accuse each other of such activity even when it’s not the case. This describes the messy situation that greeted Marcos in Oaxaca in 2006 and Sicilia and the Caravan, again, in 2011.
There is also the reality in Oaxaca that most movements are locally based. The only organization with strong statewide reach is the independent teachers union, Sección 22, which has a rich history of struggle (see Jill Freidberg’s 2005 documentary, Granito de Arena, for an excellent account of its story), often successful, but which has also been regularly heavy-handed in its relations with other movements and sectors. It was at the Sección 22 headquarters in Oaxaca, in 2006, where Marcos grew so frustrated with the divisions and sniping between local adherent groups to the Other Campaign that he threw a carton of glass-bottled sodas across the room and exploded at the assembled that if they didn’t begin to learn to listen to each other and work together none of them would make any progress.
Many people took that message of unity and listening to heart and by May 2006, when the teachers union went on strike and organized a tent city in the state capital’s historic downtown, for the first time other organizations and individuals who were not teachers – labor unions, indigenous organizations, youth and anarcho-punk collectives, women’s and human rights groups, as well as the aforementioned ideological political orgs – joined them in the tent city. When in the dawn of June 14, 2006, then-governor Ulises Ruiz sent 800 state police in to bash heads and clear the encampment, the repression was thus spread to a much wider representation of Oaxacan society than the teachers union.
Together, on that June 2006 morning, the participants realized they were 15,000 strong and chased out the 800 police. They evicted the state government for 150 days, replacing it with a Popular Assembly form of governance. They took over radio stations and the women of the movement occupied and began broadcasting from the State TV Channel 9. Neighborhoods organized their own self-policing, garbage collection and other services. It’s worth repeating: When we consider that the famous “Paris Commune” of 1871 lasted only 50 days, the fact that Oaxaca self-governed for 150 days marked a watershed moment, perhaps the first signs of what could be called the “urban zapatismo” that the writer known as Hakim Bey looked forward to back in the 1990s. It is a model for people in other cities and states around the world to study and find useful in present and future struggles, one of the reasons we documented it so extensively on these pages.
But, alas, it did not last. And even five years later, there is no consensus among the participants of what strategies and tactics led to 120 days of victories and which opened the door to 30 days of denouement.
Sicilia and the Caravan of Peace, in September of 2011, encountered a landscape of movements in Oaxaca that has essentially returned to its divisions and weaknesses of the years prior to Marcos’ 2006 visit. There are sectors who insist that the APPO movement of 2006 still exists, but if they or anybody looks around them, what is missing are the masses of Oaxacans who participated then but do not do so today. Some seem to feel that they are still living in the Halcyon Days (a mythical seven days of winter when storms do not occur) of five years ago, when a movement had put an authoritarian and violent State on the ropes. And their idea of political action is simply to repeat, or attempt to resurrect, the same tactics, chants and slogans that were used when the APPO was massive and vibrant. (As Einstein defined insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”) In this mix, predictably, are some veterans of the 2006 struggle who claim a kind of “ownership” of “the Oaxaca movement.” Some of them have, on the one hand, jumped on the bandwagon started by Javier Sicilia, while, on the other hand, complaining to anyone who will listen about the movement’s commitment to nonviolence or that it should do things “the way we’ve always done them,” in other words, like every failed Mexican leftist movement has done in the past.
The recent caravans by the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity – in June to the North of Mexico, in September to the South – have also had, within them, sectors of grizzled veterans of past causes who have regularly expressed frustration with the different discourse of Sicilia and those who have joined with him. (See A Mexican Movement at a Crossroads: A Paper Pact or an Organized Community?, June 16, 2011, Narco News.) Efforts by some to steer or coopt the movement more to their own goals have failed across the board: Sicilia himself is implacable in doing things in his own poetic way, and the family members of drug war victims who have joined with him are increasingly asserting themselves in harmony with his adherence to nonviolence in word and in deed. In large part, it’s because the family members of the dead are not “activists” formed in ideological organizations or university classes, but, rather, regular every-day people, and that gives them, generally, a better understanding of, and connection with, the public opinion of rank-and-file Mexican citizens.
As the Southern Caravan passed through each city and town, the marches held in each place tended to group into three distinct sectors:
The first group is that of the family members of drug war victims with those who see their own role as in support of what many consider the most legitimate faces and voices of this fledgling movement. This sector includes a lot of human rights organizers and ecclesiastic bases of the liberation theology wing of the Catholic Church, many who view themselves at the service of the war victims and the movement. The family members are perhaps the least protagonist even though the movement is largely about them. They see it as about their dead, and many carry photos or images of their disappeared or deceased sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and loved ones.
Among the Zapotec pyramids and ruins of Monte Alban, local indigenous organizations received the caravan with a traditional ceremony. DR 2011 Isolda Osorio.
The second marching group consists of political activists experienced in other struggles who tend to group and march together to chant slogans they used in past ventures, such as “From north to south/From east to west/We are in the struggle/Whatever it costs.” In their chants, male voices typically drown out those of women, fists are thrust into the air. Red and black flags of ideological groups file in with them. And for the witnessing public, their section of a march is virtually indistinguishable from so many other protests the country has seen and heard. Many local groups in Oaxaca, in particular, tended to file in with this section of the marches.
The third group was a collection of musicians, entertainers, people in clown noses, and those who flocked around them to sing, rather than chant, their rhymes, in more joyous, original and theatrical form. This sector tended to include more women, children and families participating together. It also tended to stress the word “peace” more in its banners and songs, as well as wielding its more generalized symbols (such as white doves or peace signs). Local people along the caravan path who were not part of existing organizations or movements, but support its cause against drug war violence, tended to mix in with this section of the marches.
These three general sectors – families of victims, political activists, and creative peace advocates – coexisted well on the caravan, where folks tended to get along, sharing meals and long stretches on the highways and roads between stops. But they also reflect three distinct visions of what this movement is and how it can attain its goals. The creative tension between these three visions both fuels the diversity of the movement while also defining some of its cracks or fault lines.
In Oaxaca, this creative tension could first be felt in Huajuapan de León, in the Mixteca region of the state, a place also not far from the paramilitary violence that inflicts the autonomous town of San Juan Copala and its Triqui indigenous residents (the assassins of Mexican Betty Cariño and of Tyri Jaakkola, a human rights observer from Finland, during an April 2010 aid caravan to the town, have still not been brought to justice for that crime). The 13 buses of the peace caravan plus other assorted vehicles parked on the outskirts of the city and marched through a light rain to the city square on September 11.
The march arrived at nightfall to the Huajuapan city zócalo. The 600 caravan participants and local supporters went under and near a large white canopy where a stage had been erected. Some locals notably remained on the sides of the square, more observing and listening than indicating they were part of the protest.
Of more than a dozen speakers, the longest remarks were delivered by Omar Esparza, widower of Betty Cariño, assassinated in last year’s caravan to San Juan Copala. Esparza is also spokesman for Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Freedom (VOCAL, in its Spanish initials), one of the organizations of the 2006 APPO coalition, of anarchist tendencies. Esparza spoke for twelve minutes; four of them listing a history of marches and protests in the Huajuapan city square in years prior, two minutes listing the names of those he calls responsible for Betty Cariño’s murder, and then a generalized political speech about anti-mining and indigenous struggles in the region, saying, “Huajuapan is governed by a few families who control the food market, services, who control the political parties, the media, the authorities, the gas stations. Here, the political class keeps existing, that which continues oppressing and has oppressed our people for more than 500 years… We have to seek the unity of all sectors, of all the indigenous peoples, and be able to say to the current government of Oaxaca, to the government of Felipe Calderón, that we are tired, that they are not going to be able to stop our struggles and our efforts so that we can transform this country.”
During the twelve-minute speech, in contrast with so many talks given by so many family members of Mexicans assassinated or disappeared along the caravan routes, Esparza said nothing about his late wife, who she was, what she did, how they lived, how he felt about her loss, choosing instead to offer a boilerplate political speech of the sort that gets made at so many other political meetings and protests. The townspeople listening from the sides of the square didn’t applaud. They didn’t really relate to a political speech largely devoid of human content; one that instead placed angry blame on certain individuals and sectors of society and urged a vague concept of “struggle” (“lucha,” in Spanish) without defining what exactly that entails.
Esparza did not exactly stop when his own remarks were finished. He then invited a speaker onto the stage who had not been scheduled, an unnamed representative of the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR, in its Spanish initials), part of the Communist Party of Mexico, which labels itself Marxist-Leninist, and which wields the yellow hammer-and-sickle on its red flags. The FPR and VOCAL clashed plenty back in 2006 in the APPO assemblies, as Marxist-Leninists and anarchists often do, and one got the sense that the surprise invitation involved some kind of organizational log-rolling or concessions among rival sectors of the Oaxaca left. The FPR speech was even more lacking of human element, a shouted discourse about “the nefarious policies of Felipe Calderón… a tyrant government that has criminalized poverty… another coup against the working class of this country,” etcetera.
It wasn’t until the event MC Rocato Balbot introduced Socorro Vázquez Zamora, a resident of Huajuapan de León for 30 years, when she said “My son has been disappeared,” that the general public onlookers began to pay close attention. “He is a mechanic. He is a worker. He is a healthy man.” Fighting tears, she told the story of how her son went to Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas to work on cars, his disappearance, and her efforts for the past eight months to look for him. “I’m a poor woman, alone… I went to Mexico City to seek help… because he is my only son. I have two children, a woman and a man… I feel very useless because I don’t have a way to look for my son. I have come to ask for help from this señor… this… Si… Javier? From Javier Sicilia. That he supports me in finding my son, because I feel very sad without having any news about him.”
And there, in the contrast between Mrs. Vázquez’s personal story and the rhetoric-laden “political” speeches before it one can find the essential difference between this movement to end the drug war and the usual movements of the Mexican left. The townspeople who were still looking on from the sidelines leaned in to hear and see her. Then a man stood up and called for a hat, “to raise funds to help this woman find her son.” A hat was passed and people came forward to put coins and bills in it.
Sicilia turned to Maria Herrera, the mother of four disappeared sons who first spoke in public last June when the Nothern Caravan came to Morelia Michoacán (as Marta Molina reported, there, she called herself “a humble person who has no training, but the pain and impotence forces me to speak,” much like Socorro Vázquez’s first public words on this September night in Huajuapan. (See Molina’s Nonviolent Struggle Arrives in the Lands of Guerrero, Mexico, September 14, 2011, Narco News, which also reports Herrera’s evolution into a bona fide leader among the national network of family members of drug war victims.) Touching Herrera’s arm, he pointed her toward Socorro Vázquez, and Herrera went to her side. Later that night, Vázquez was on a caravan bus, rolling toward the capital city of Oaxaca.
The caravan stayed two nights, September 11 and 12, in Oaxaca city. On the morning of the twelfth, it rode up the hill of Monte Alban for a welcoming ceremony by indigenous groups amidst the ancient pyramids and ruins. Then everyone came back down the hill for what was billed as six work tables on various issues related to violence in Oaxaca. At the last minute, presumably for lack of sufficient hall space, a session that had been planned to discuss violence against journalists in the drug war was combined with one on struggles against economic interests. One man gave a 30 minute monologue against genetically modified corn, and most of the journalists who attended simply got up, one at a time, and left.
Later that afternoon, there was a plenary session, at the downtown campus of the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez of Oaxaca (UABJO, in its Spanish initials) with Sicilia, other family members of drug war victims, and some Oaxacans, including Gustavo Esteva of the University of the Land (“Uni-Tierra”), who Sicilia mentioned as one of his influences in the practice of nonviolence. The plenary was a hybrid meeting and press conference, with questions coming from local participants, reporters, and caravan members. One UABJO student came to the microphone and noted that after the March 27 murder of his son, his Open Letter to Mexico’s Politicians and Criminals had very strong words for President Calderón, but that at the June public meeting with the president, Sicilia kissed him. She asked, “How do you get from cursing at him to giving him a kiss?”
About ten percent of the hundreds of people gathered at the meeting applauded the question (it is illuminating to note that about 90 percent did not), which has been a polemic over the summer. (See Sicilia’s Kisses, by Rene Torres Bejarano, August 22, 2011, Narco News.)
Sicilia noted that after his son, Juan Francisco Sicilia, was murdered, “I was angry, like any father would be… It is something very human, but also very primitive, to want to lash out when one is angry. But we also have a better self… My better self believes we can be critical of someone – and we certainly were very hard on the president in that meeting and we will be very hard on him when we meet again – without making someone feel we are out to hurt him.”
Sicilia then spoke words which appear in the philosophical magazine he edits, Conspiratio, describing its title: “The liturgical celebration by the first Christian communities had two big moments: the conspiratio and the comestio. The first took its sense of spiritu (breath), which was expressed by a kiss on the mouth, it was a co-respiration, a conspiracy: the creation of a common atmosphere, of a divine method.”
There is so much public support for Sicilia’s way of nonviolence that those on the left who disagree, who prefer a violent or armed path to change the country, or, at least, a more violent and threatening discourse of words and slogans, of pointing fingers and fists and placing blame on others rather than responsibility on ourselves to solve injustices, almost never express their disagreement out loud. After all, it is that public support onto which many are attempting to latch their own struggles and causes. And yet the frustration keeps seeping out: They are left to chew at the margins with debates over who should kiss whom and other such banalities. What is interesting is that there are some – and, again, we are speaking of less than ten percent of caravan participants, to reiterate that this is a very small sector – who gladly will jump on the caravan buses and accept free food from many of the poorest indigenous communities in the nation when the bus stops there, but who seemed to be doing so with a grimace on their faces, as if they either didn’t understand what this nonviolence thing is, or they outright reject it. This also was clearly the case with some journalists and “alternative media” activists who were along for the ride. Suffice to say, all of us should be read with a discerning eye, because our biases seep into our texts, videos and audios even when some don’t openly disclose them.
During that evening’s public meeting on the Oaxaca city zócalo, the sniping between different sectors of the local left emerged in full public view. The leader of the Sección 22 teachers union welcomed the caravan (from the large union banner on stage it seemed that the union had also provided the equipment). And when a representative of political prisoners in Oaxaca spoke he asked Sicilia and the union leader to hold a banner with him in solidarity with political prisoners from the towns of Loxicha, a municipality in rural Oaxaca. As the three held the long banner, the spokesman launched into an attack on the union, accusing it of blocking, through attorneys it has assigned to represent those prisoners, the afternoon’s attempt by members of the caravan to visit with those prisoners. The union leader did not directly respond to the accusation. It was, well, awkward.
Meanwhile, the chanting faction of the caravan together with members of Oaxacan organizations that use the same chants would interrupt family members of victims and others during their talks with the same-old shouts and slogans they seem to always repeat. (Only Rosario Cabañas, daughter of the assassinated guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas, was able to speak largely uninterrupted from the Oaxaca city square, a sign of a certain deference to armed struggle, although in subsequent remarks to Narco News TV Cabañas said that technology now makes guerrilla struggle impossible and that she was solidly behind the nonviolence strategy promoted by Sicilia.)
One member of the Narco News team spoke with a North American freelance reporter who sometimes lives in the city of Oaxaca. This individual complained bitterly about the movement, saying, “I don’t see many people here. That’s proof that the movement isn’t really succeeding.” Two weeks later, a media organization that this individual works for issued a public appeal for funds so that the same US citizen can do a radio “documentary” about the Mexican movement against the drug war. In other words, one can disdain a movement without even doing the heavy lifting required to understand it, but still consider reporting on it a career move. Another US citizen who lives in Oaxaca (there are many gringo and European expats there) has dedicated significant Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz posting to lecturing on what Sicilia and his movement should or should not do. Two other North Americans who sometimes work in Oaxaca publicly attacked Sicilia last spring for working with a US organizer of family members of murder victims because of – get this – a years-old dispute in the anti death penalty movement over whether death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal should be considered the most important such prisoner over and above all of the 3,250 other death row inmates in the US. This kind of “hidden imperialism” has had an unfortunate history in Oaxaca and a negative impact on its movements.
Woman from Loxicha, Oaxaca, a town with a long history of struggle and many political prisoners. DR 2011 Isolda Osorio.
The truth is that one of the main causes of the downfall of the APPO movement in 2006 was the virtual invasion by foreign “anti globalization” activists – the summit-hopping types with enough money for travel fare to anyplace on earth where they can revel in being “at the barricades” – who seemed to think that the Popular Assembly movement was more about street battles with cops than, say, governing in a popular way, by, say, assembly. They came with money, and some local organizations literally fought with each other over which would house and host them, as these visitors also became a source of income in a poverty-stricken state. The October 2006 murder of Indymedia filmmaker Brad Will in Oaxaca became the pretext for the Mexican national government to send in federal police and crush the movement by force.
It would be an exaggeration to say that outside influences like that were the exclusive cause of errors that brought a glorious four-months of struggle in 2006 in this state to a violent end. There was no shortage of Oaxacans and other Mexicans who also tended to see fighting the police as the main goal of that movement, and jumped at the chance any time it appeared. Days after Brad Will’s shooting, Mexican federal police launched an assault on the main campus of the UABJO, with the goal of taking back the university radio station which had become a key communications center for the movement. Narco News correspondent Greg Berger reported then that after a six-hour siege, the movement successfully repelled the national police forces.
This tactical victory may have, in fact, sowed the seeds of the movement’s ultimate defeat. For many, the goal of keeping police out of the city became their main or only goal. Within a month, the Mexican government did the math, figured out exactly how many police troops, water cannons, canisters of tear gas and other weapons it would need to remove the APPO occupation from the city it had held, then, for five months, and on November 25, 2006 – days before Felipe Calderòn’s inauguration as president – federal police deployed a rain of repressive violence to quell the rebellion. The exiled regime of state governor Ulises Ruiz returned to its offices and resumed the power it had lost the previous June.
The APPO movement, throughout those months, had referred to itself as “peaceful” (“pacifico,” in Spanish) and it largely had been, if peace is simply the absence of visible violence. The movement never claimed to be proactively nonviolent in the Gandhian sense of the term. Its last stand, however justified in terms of self-defense, did not even meet the definition of “pacific.” It devolved into a street battle, and only that. And it was precisely in those final days that it lost everything.
Since then, for almost five years, many of the Oaxaca movement’s most important voices either left the state (some left the country), while others ceased to be publicly involved. Other sectors went underground. Others have tried to resurrect the spirit of 2006 at various points to limited or very short-term flashes of public attention.
Into these dynamics came Sicilia and the family members of drug war victims, talking about more assertive forms of nonviolent civil resistance. (Just as peace is so much more than the mere absence of “war,” nonviolence is a lot more than the mere absence of overt violence.) And as in Guerrero, Chiapas and other states with strong histories of armed guerrilla conflict, many Oaxacans have begun to study and think about what this other way to fight is and how it might be done. Still others cling to the old and failed strategies and tactics that have defeated most Mexican popular movements in the past century.
And this is perhaps the greatest contribution made, so far, by Sicilia and the movement that has risen up around him: For the first time, at least in this reporter’s 14 years of reporting alongside social movements from the bottom to the top of Mexico, a serious proposal for a national nonviolent civil resistance is being considered, discussed, debated, promoted by some, opposed by others, but the topic is finally on the table.
There is no consensus on what that would mean, or how exactly it would be done. The national Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, Sicilia and other visible spokespeople, have not yet made detailed proposals of what the nonviolent civil resistance they propose will exactly entail. Nor have they launched the training phase – in which movement participants received intensive training in nonviolent action and organizing – that preceded the major advances by Gandhi, King, Cesar Chávez and other overt practitioners of it universally implemented on their own roads to victory.
Catholic Bishop Arturo Lona Reyes greets Javier Sicilia in Tehuantepec, at the Caravan’s first stop on the Isthmus. DR 2011 Isolda Osorio.
But what was once studied, written and talked about – strategic nonviolence – by only a very few Mexicans like the poet Javier Sicilia, Oaxaca’s Gustavo Esteva, a few liberation theologians, and the community of Acteal, Chiapas, is now on everybody’s lips. And since those who prefer the tired old ways that have failed other movements aren’t likely to win that argument within the Mexican left, this movement and its caravans have lit a fuse toward another path that more people than anyone expects may yet adopt as their own. Everything else, after all, has been tried already.
For Sicilia, the poet, words form action. Words are everything. Last May, speaking to the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, Sicilia said, “I come from a tradition that has an immense respect for the Word, and modern poetry is a continuation of making the Word sacred. Jesus Christ, an innocent man who was murdered, is the ultimate embodiment of poetry… And my son was a face of that sacred Word. When they murdered him, when they strangled him, they strangled the poetry out of me as well… You can strangle the verse, but you can’t shut up the poet. And mobilization is a form of poetry in motion.”
As the ten-day mobilization of the caravan came to its penultimate stop in the city of Puebla, from where it would return to Mexico City, Sicilia reflected publicly on the power of words and the contrast in discourses the caravan encountered along its path:
“We have been criticized a lot, in the press’s interpretation, that in this caravan, in contrast with the Northern Caravan, many organizations have spoken and what gives strength to the caravan is the visibility it brings to the victims of the war, to their pain. Evidently, the language of the victims, our language, is expressed with the heart, with our pain, with what is human, and unfortunately the language of the organizations has not been renovated. It is expressed with the slogan, with annihilating language that erases what is human, and erases the grievances that are behind those speeches… The organizations disgracefully haven’t renovated their speeches. Force and ideology end up disappearing the deep demands, the deep grievances, the freshness of the most recent victims that have lost a child, of we who seek a disappeared family member or have lost a family member have this humanity.”
Then, in a vintage Sicilia moment, the poet looked to the humanity of the organizations and individuals he had just criticized over their discourse:
“I would like to clarify: We can question, I myself question, the ideological discourse of the organizations. But what we cannot question are the profound causes behind them. Unfortunately, we have to work very hard to submerge ourselves in their discourse to see that there are victims, there, too. I believe that the victims, we, the victims of this absurd war, the victims of organized crime, the victims of the Army or the police, the victims of war, are a consequence of the victims cited by the organizations, who are victims of an ancestral problem of a structural order that has to do with the economy.”
“When we have put a value – and in this the left and the right are the same – an absolute value in the economy as the production of wealth, as the maximization of profits, the left is more social, the right is less social, but the point is that the maximization of profits and economic growth are the same.”
What can be seen here, thus, is that Sicilia absolutely shares the view of so much of Mexico’s vast and diverse left that the ultimate violence is economic (his call to end the prohibition of drugs, too, is an acknowledgement of the economic root of all drug war crime and violence), while the path he is charting toward ending those injustices is on an entirely different map than the traditional left in the country has ever used. It is a path that is attracting a wider span of Mexican society to it than the traditional lefts have succeeded in recruiting.
One gets the sense that the whispered complaints from what he simply calls “the organizations,” from the more ideological sectors, are not based on a fear that Sicilia’s path of nonviolence won’t work. The fear is precisely the opposite: That maybe, just maybe, it can succeed where other strategies and tactics before it have failed. And that would mean that a lot of presumptions around which a lot of struggle and sacrifice have been invested for so many years would be rendered, well, to Marx’s proverbial dustbin of history. The question, then, for many is: What is really more important? For those to whom “being right” or being “proved right” is more important than winning, Sicilia and the movement around him are indeed problematic. But for the great mass of rank-and-file Mexican citizens who seek an end to the violence and injustice, the price of not succeeding in this struggle is one of life and death.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism