“¡Hasta La Madre!” – Poetry in Motion Stirs Up Controversy Over Drug War in Mexico

3 May

by Carlos Arredondo @ MATT.org

In the beginning of April he penned a letter open to the public at large and directed to the politicians and criminal organizations of Mexico, with the media resources and broadcasting muscle to make it count. Within days he had amassed a grass-root non-violent protest with some 50,000 participants mobilized in the streets of Cuernavaca, Morelos (the largest in the state’s history by the way). But wait, it wasn’t just Cuernavaca, masses took to the streets in over 40 cities throughout the Mexican nation, and internationally throughout Europe, South America and North America to unite in his cause. Then, with another bigger protest march already scheduled for early May in the zocalo of D.F. he begin to drill plaques with the names of men and women killed in the war onto the local Government Palace, and calling on citizens throughout all of Mexico to do the same on the municipal and state government halls in their own cities. So influential was his voice that even “Subcomandante Marcos” personally wrote to him expressing his solidarity and the commitment of his limited participation. But he has the attention of both rebel and orthodox alike… President Calderon also personally received him in his presidential palace in the wake of these events. And it seems the momentum is escalating, not waning…

So by now you must be asking who is “he”??? A politician? An influential and wealthy businessman or tycoon? A celebrity perhaps? A sports or entertainment icon? Well, chances are you would never have guessed. His name is Javier Sicilia, and he is a poet. Yup, that’s right a poet! A native Mexican, Javier is also a novelist, journalist, and a professor of literature. And this scholar poet’s voice seems to be a trumpet awakening the sleeping giant that is the citizenry of Mexico.
But first it was Javier who was jolted starkly out of a passive demeanor into his own current pro-active state. On March 28, his 24-year old son Juan Francisco Sicilia was brutally murdered along with another half-dozen young men. Javier was abroad when he found out news of his son’s death, and wrote an 8-line poem dedicated to his son just hours after. He claimed that this would be his last poem, because after his son’s death, “poetry does not exist in me anymore.” Only days later he wrote his letter (original Spanish version here) to politicians and criminals, which he distributed in mass media to the public. The letter in unfiltered terms criticized both the government and the drug-traffickers alike in a daringly bold and blunt manner. Then on April 6 the people responded in overwhelming unanimity as they marched the streets together in protest. (If you are curious as to the potential effectiveness of non-violent civil resistance, you may want to check out this article.) Not even a week later on April 12, with dozens of local, national and international reporters present after a press conference Sicilia led a company of people in drilling plaques onto the local municipal building in Cuernavaca with the names of 95 people murdered in just the last 100 days there. The first plaque up was one with his son’s name on it. The following day in Cuernavaca’s zocalo, Sicilia and other community leaders announced in the presence of thousands their plan for a march to Mexico City on May 8 in a campaign to end the drug-war. Various religious leaders spoke, heavily quoting Ghandi and King, and nearly 100 more plaques were erected. It was a clever tactic as it put the governmental authorities in a pickle of a situation: if they took the plaques down they would be demonized, if they left them up it would only announce that much louder the point of the message that Sicilia’s posse was trying to make. That weekend (Sunday, April 17), reportedly during the nocturnal hour of 3AM some officials removed several of the plaques, leaving most of them there along with the altar of flowers and candles which had been laid in front of them. But this hidden and hesitative move accomplished nothing as citizens immediately had organized to repopulate the wall and vowed to place two more plaques for each one that had been removed.
Most recently, last Wednesday protestors went to the Paloma de la Paz fountain (translated “Dove of Peace”) in Cuernavaca dying it the color of blood. This was followed by delivering letters in person to the Attorney General’s office and also to the State Congress while deputies were in session. They read their letters aloud and put up large banners saying “closed due to incompetents” and “closed due to impunity and complicity.”
Javier himself has admitted he is not a political person and that it is his convictions that are catalyzing his actions. Nevertheless it is perhaps this very thing that has made him win the agreement of the people so quickly and easily, and created consent for him to be a representative voice. It seems that morals and ethics are root motivators in this whole series of events. He is a poet not a politician, and a wordsmith whose sincerity is obviously transparent as he speaks out of genuine emotions in the wake of his son’s death. His ability to understand so many others who have lost loved ones and live in fear certainly allows most of the population to identify with him. However, Sicilia’s ideology is producing some ideas that could possibly be described as a bit “outside the box” and maybe even radical. And not necessarily radical in principle, but in ambition. He has talked of legalizing drugs, and of making truces or pacts with the drug traffickers to reduce bloodshed and eliminate the “collateral damage” of reckless violence. He also opposes the legislation which would give executive political powers unrestricted access to military force, a privilege that could be easily misused or abused. Add to the mix the support of controversial figures such as Subcomandante Marcos who wrote Sicilia in April saying he would also exercise his constitutional rights by marching with all of his EZLN in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas in May in conjunction with Sicilia’s march.
It will be interesting to see what this movement will evolve into in the near future. At least it seems hard to describe it as anything less than a movement, as small as it may be. It is difficult to say the scale and kind of fruit that the march this weekend will produce. But for those concerned with the welfare of Mexico, it will be something to keep an eye on.

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