A Mexican Poet’s March for Peace

A Mexican Poet’s March for Peace

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The “march” — as it is euphemistically called — is the talk of Mexico’s media and slowly drawing international attention.

After Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s son, Juan Francisco, and several of his friends were senselessly murdered on March 28 by a drug gang in Morelos, the poet has drawn crowds to his public demonstrations of grief and anger in Cuernavaca and Mexico City. Now he has begun a march from Mexico City to Ciudad Juarez—through the 11 Mexican cities most implicated in the drug violence of recent years.

Leaders from mainstream political Mexican parties have tentatively endorsed the pilgrimage’s goals. But the question everyone silently wonders is whether or not a famous father’s grief is enough to create a national movement.

The loud cry of Sicilia—“!Estamos hasta la madre!”—is a very Mexican expression mixing anger, frustration, impotence, despair. “The best English translation might be the cry of the Howard Beale character, played by Peter Finch in the 1976 movie Network, “I AM MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANY MORE!”

When Beale, the movie character says, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad,” he could be speaking as a Mexican today. With the poor and the middle-class facing unemployment or under-employment, and the wealthy needing security guards to drive to work, with crime on the street rampant—and a threat to all—the country is nearing a point of desperation.

From Poet to Activist

When asked, the 55-year-old Sicilia responds that he is personally apolitical and refuses to call his movement a political action. His poetry is distinctive in its religious flavor—indebted to the religious mystics of Spanish Catholicism. Sicilia describes himself only as “a simple poet,” someone who doesn’t need more than 40 inches of workspace. He also calls himself calls “a moral voice.”

“I need to march out of my moral convictions,’’ said Sicilia to the BBC Mexico’s correspondent Julian Minglierini, during an April 22 interview. He repeatedly declares President Felipe Calderon’s decision to fight the drug cartels and resulting 40,000 deaths to be a “stupid tragedy.”

Many Mexicans refer to the President, whose term is nearing its end in 2012, in disrespectful terms. But few had dared to voice their opinion so plainly and publicly like Sicilia. His plainness and bluntness may be the source of his charisma for many Mexicans who have joined him in his marches.

Step by Step

On June 3, after successfully promoting marches in more than 40 cities and gathering crowds of 50,000 in his hometown of Cuernavaca and 200,000 in Mexico city, Sicilia called for an end to the drug war; the retreat of military forces from the streets; and the legalization of drugs. Some in Sicilia’s processions are demanding the dismissal of the President, along with members of his cabinet.

The protests have found their echo in the United States. Representatives of civil rights organizations from different parts of the country are traveling to El Paso, Texas, to meet with Sicilia next Saturday. Thus far, Calderon and the members of his administration have had the support of U.S. Presidents in their war on drugs. But internally, there has been growing Mexican disenchantment with the policy. Calderon’s party, the PAN, is showing a decline in popular support even as its rival, the familiar if often corrupt face of Mexican compromise for most of the last century, the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party), is gaining new popularity.

Uncharted Waters

In the late 1960s, Mexico saw a student rebellion that resulted in the massacre of students and their supporters in plain view of the international media. But since then, Mexico has not experienced a protest movement like the one led by Sicilia now.

What Sicilia will achieve with his march is still in doubt. But what is clear is that he is setting a precedent for dissents unknown in Mexico in four decades. What will happen after the marches reach Ciudad Juarez is open to speculation—even by the poet who is leading the parade of protest.

“We have to rebuild the (moral) tissue of this nation,” he says. “If we do not, we are going to enter hell.”