Grieving Dad to Meet President Calderon

Grieving Dad to Meet President Calderon

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JUAREZ, Mexico—In a country where the word, “leadership” is often attached to words such as corruption, ineptitude, cronyism and even cynicism, the poet Javier Sicilia and his supporters are planning to meet Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon today in a public forum.

Even more unusual, the protestors will meet President Calderon on their own terms. It is already clear that the meeting will set a precedent -- not only for the Calderon administration, but also for all 84 previous governments in Mexico. To call the meeting historic would be an understatement.

True, throughout its history, Mexico has been governed by presidents, dictators and even emperors, who were inclined from time to time to organize well orchestrated meetings with “el pueblo.” These meetings allowed the leader to brag about his achievements and renew his promise of more justice and pleas for additional sacrifice by citizens “for the sake of the country.”

For nearly three months since the murder of his son and several of his friends, Javier Sicilia has been on television, leading protests in Mexico City, exhorting Mexicans to protest the Calderon-directed drug wars that have resulted in the death of 40,000 people.

A father’s grief for his son’s senseless death became a national cause.

Short Message, Powerful Meaning

Violence, of course, is not the only calamity facing Mexico. More than 60 percent of the population lives under the national poverty level and another 10 to 15 percent are near poverty’s edge.

Compounding this dire situation for the poor is that they are caught between impossible choices. They are victimized by organized crime — forced to make payoffs or even join the gangs. Or else the poor become the prey of officers in all levels of law enforcement.

Corruption has always been a part of life for most Mexicans. There is a saying in Mexico that with money, even a dog will give you a lap dance. However, the corrupt state of affairs facing impoverished Mexicans has brought more than half of the population to the point of despair.

“Mexico has suffered lots of tragedies throughout its history. But none of them compares to the one we have been living during the last four years,” Sicilia told a crowd of about 3,000 supporters when he arrived in Juarez earlier this month. They gathered at a sports park built by the Calderon administration as part of its plan to fight organized crime.

The sports venue came to the administration’s attention after a contentious encounter with residents of the now notorious area of Juarez known as Villas de Salvarcar. When 17 youth were massacred, government bureaucrats initially tried to portray them as drug criminals.

“The government has opted to cover its incompetence by claiming that most of the victims were tied to organized crime,” asserted Olga Esparza, mother of Monica Janeth Alaniz, an 18-year-old college student who disappeared in March 2009. “Possibly, some of them were, but a lot were also innocent. The fact is, the government didn’t bother to investigate the crime. We live in a country were impunity is the norm.’’

An Unusual Town Hall Meeting

It’s no secret that hardly any president in the world will willingly allow himself or herself to face an unfriendly crowd. Calderon is no exception, although his presidential term is nearly over.

While he publicly insists that his strategy against the drug cartels is the correct path for the country, his sinking popularity is dragging down his political party (Partido Acción Nacional, or the National Action Party) and greatly reducing its chances at regaining the presidency in the 2012 election.

Thus, a meeting with a crowd of protestors lacking a clear political affiliation could present him with the opportunity to rebuild his battered image with little or no risk. After all, Javier Sicilia has presented himself to the nation as a father and a poet, and not as a political rival to Calderon.

Sicilia’s willingness to negotiate with the president, though, has already sparked skepticism and, for some, a sense of disenchantment. Calderon does not have time left in his administration to realize the goals Sicilia wants. So skeptics wonder what the point is of this “historic” meeting between the grieving father and the outgoing president.

The march from the interior of Mexico that winded its way to Ciudad Juarez might end up back at square one.