|English | Español||June 19, 2018 | Issue #67|
Sicilia to Journalists: “I Think My Son Would be Very Proud”
Remarks to the Graduating Class of the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism, May 21, Mexico City
By Javier Sicilia
Javier Sicilia at the graduation dinner of the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. DR 2011 Tyler Stringfellow.
Javier Sicilia (translated):
Good evening and thank you very much for this invitation.
Now I will speak to journalists because journalists amplify the voice and give a voice to civil society.
As a disciple of Gandhi, I am a firm critic of technology, of digital media and the internet and such things.
Still, I have to recognize that these new digital technologies have given an agility to and projected the voice of social movements throughout the world. This important revolution in the Middle East is exemplary and, here, we have with us a journalist who was very important in reporting that movement.
I think it’s very important for us to learn here in Mexico, those of us in the movement that began with the terrible death of my son and the movement that’s been started by all the other mothers and fathers who have felt this terrible pain.
We also owe a debt to these new social networks borne out of these new technologies.
I think that in this world we are living in a watershed moment, I’m talking specifically about what’s going on in my country here, but you can see this also in Spain. These are watershed moments like those that happened in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.
I think that all these state institutions founded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are now entering into a profound crisis. These are historical movements and it’s a historical crisis and they have a historical foundation.
And something new is emerging but we can also see the past in its mirror.
It’s the emergence of the commons. It’s something already established but the commons are taking on a new worldwide character.
And this is beautiful. We’re seeing new forms of the commons emerging. We’re seeing new forms of solidarity emerging and this may give birth to something even more beautiful than what we saw before.
These are forms that are very different than these state-based structures; far from the horrible Leviathan that Hobbs mentioned. A controlling monster; a monster that wound up destroying freedom and liberty.
I think we’re learning to be free and we’re learning to look beyond what we saw before. We’re learning to see freedom in our human diversity.
The case of my country might seem strange to Europeans because my country decided to direct itself like a mafia. Like a criminal state. Since the Mexican revolution, a state was formed that Mario Vargas Llosa described as a soft dictatorship. I say it was a mafia state because it was directly by means of giving out privileges and special favors. And all of this was directed from the office of the Presidency. Vargas Llosa also said this was a perfect dictatorship. And he was right until 2000.
We as citizens didn’t have freedom and the social processes to try and get this freedom were badly repressed. However, the sum total of all these social struggles was to obtain some kind of transformation in the year 2000.
I say an apparent transition because state power was fractured into what I would call three heads. These mafias that were united under one single political faction; they fractured into several factions that launched a political war amongst themselves.
And President Fox, who was the President of the so-called transition, he was a businessman who wound up obtaining a considerable amount of the Public’s consensus. He didn’t do what he should have done, which was to reform state power and get rid of the mafias that were inherited from the PRI political party. And that’s the soft dictatorship, the perfect dictatorship that I talked about. He basically tried to administrate these new fractured mafias. And this created fertile territory so that the state ceased to exist and organized crime that had already penetrated the state grew to become much greater and control much more.
To top it all off, the US, whose residents are our dear neighbors but also very inconvenient neighbors, a country that consumes a great quantity of drugs, decided to close off the borders where the drugs from Columbia had been passing. And they went through the Caribbean side through Miami. And by closing off those borders, they basically obliged the flow of drugs from Columbia to pass through Mexican territory. And the Mexican mafias wound up taking control of the market. To such an extent, if I have the correct figure, that we now have 12 cartels.
Sicilia speaks while school professor Daniel Perera translates. DR 2011 Tyler Stringfellow.
And encouraged by the US, he decided to launch a new war against drug trafficking. And in this war between the mafia-co-opted state and these powerful drug trafficking organizations, there has come a war in which we, the Mexican people, are the ones who have to suffer the deaths. And one of the other results of this crisis in policy is that there is no justice in this country for the victims of murder.
In old Italian philosophy, there is one philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, his fundamental work is called Homo Sacer (“The Sacred Man” or “The Accursed Man”). The Accursed Man was a figure that existed centuries ago in ancient Roman Times. He was sacred in the negative sense. He was a man that wasn’t protected by the state, and if he was murdered, it would be treated with total impunity. And in this current piece of omission, with the lack of justice here, all of us here in Mexico have turned into the same kind of Accursed Man. Accursed, in the sense that, at any time, we can be murdered. We can be kidnapped. And these crimes will not be investigated.
When my son was murdered, it was like something similar that had happened to Khaled Said in Egypt. Something very strange happened here in my country. These 40 thousand deaths, these ten thousand disappeared that had been reduced to simple statistics by the state, they began to have names and faces. And their family members began to have names and faces. The unnamable began to be named, that which the state had buried through its technique of terror. And we began to name names, families of the victims began to name names, even those that were afraid because previously these families had been threatened and there had been no justice for them.
We began to move out together, we began to march together and look at one another in the eyes. And our first task was to give each other consolation. And we walked together, unifying our pain, and unified as many citizens, we walked together to Mexico City.
We began to march to demand an end to this war and that the political class be transformed. We decided to re-found this nation in the name of justice. So that we could walk together to create these new forms of justice that are emerging in this new epic that we are living. Because we don’t have a democratic state, so we cannot evolve into a more deep form of the human experience.
The Mexican state is moving and turning into a police state, a military state, because it cannot control what is happening inside its borders. And that’s why we decided to write a new pact, a pact with six points that can become the new fertile ground from which this state of law and justice might emerge. And the next phase is for us to move to Cuidad Juárez for us to sign this pact. Cuidad Juárez which is the heart of this terrible experience and part of a whole strip of territory suffering greatly from this experience.
One of the points we want to defend is the political reform of the state, which is right now tied up in the Chamber of Deputees of Congress. Because the political parties have their own interest, and they are not interested in this reform. And we don’t just want this reform to be passed. We want to add new mechanisms so that politicians who don’t respond and don’t complete their functions as servants can be punished by the citizenry. This would mean the impeachment from political office. And we want to take away the right of diplomatic immunity from ALL politicians. This is something that protects them to keep on going and not be punished, ever.
But even if they don’t give us these mechanisms, the pact will also mean the construction of a new pact among citizens that can function and create new structures, even in this situation of non-legality that we’re living.
One of the great things of this civil resistance are things that aren’t anticipated that wind up coming up, as Gandhi said, and we came up with new mechanisms that we could create in order to pressure politicians that don’t complete their duties.
But all this depends on the ability of civil society, of all the social movements of citizens to unify and to put aside their personal agendas for just one moment so we can work together to heal and transform these institutions. At this moment, we’re in the phase of mobilization. And this is the panorama I wanted to explain to you about what we’re living here in Mexico.
Al Giordano: What do you need from us authentic journalists in the caravan that will be going to Cuidad Juárez from the fourth to the twelfth of June?
Javier Sicilia: Your eyes, your ears, your interpretation. Without you, we won’t have safety because we will be passing through what is known as this map of terror and this region of pain.
And it’s the most unprotected region of the country where people, in the midst of this war, are killed for nothing.
I want to tell you an anecdote about the importance of journalists in the midst of what’s going on in our country. When we were walking from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, a group of migrants who had shown solidarity with our struggle, with whom we are also showing solidarity for the way they’re mistreated while they try to cross through Mexican territory. They decided to board the train known as The Beast. This is the place where so many times they had been raped and mistreated.
When we arrived in the town of Topilejo, which is the third stop along our route, a journalist came up to me and said a group of organized criminals had just tried to take The Beast in a part of Vera Cruz which is about 400 km from Mexico City. They came on board with guns, the police weren’t around, and the military didn’t dare to approach. And they tried to kidnap a mother with her daughter – a two-year-old girl.
And thanks to the role of the journalists, who were there with their cameras, they were able to save the woman and her daughter. They managed to continue their journey to join our march in Mexico City. If it weren’t for these journalists, that mother and daughter would not have been with us and there might have been many deaths. This is the importance of the media. They are eyes. The way they give voice to the citizenry. Above all, independent journalists like all of you. Because there are definitely journalists who have dark interests. I’m hoping many of you will be able to join us in this caravan.
Hanna Nikkanen: As you know, one of my compañeros from Finland was murdered about a year ago in Oaxaca. This has created the possibility of international solidarity, we hope. But we are not sure yet. And I’d like to know what you think the role is of this international solidarity that can come from other places like Europe and Finland. His name was Jyri Jakkolla.
Javier Sicilia: The Finnish activist that died – it’s been very painful for us. Within these six points, one demand is that there are six particularly emblematic cases we want the government to solve before June 10. It’s one of our demands because it’s something the Mexican state actually owes us. And to be looked upon by international eyes is extremely important to us. The Mexican government has paid a lot of money to try to create this fake and made-up version of what Mexico is and to communicate that to the rest of the world.
The movement that is linking together this whole country is helping us to break this media siege. It’s helped us break this media blockade and has allowed many international journalists to paint a more accurate picture of what’s actually happening here in Mexico. This is very important to us because international pressure could do more to change the Mexican government than what we can do to pressure the government from here inside of Mexico.
That’s why it’s very important that we have you all, so that you can be our eyes and our ears, so that the international community can see us.
Alex Elgee: Every time I pass a newspaper stand in Mexico, I see very violent images on the front page. I wanted to ask what effect this has on the situation. Is it positive or negative?
Javier Sicilia: This has been very negative. It’s sowed terror and fear into the citizenry. That’s exactly what both organized crime and the state want to achieve. The large media conglomerates of this country – it’s a duopoly. The media here is not democratized. One of our demands in the six points is that we must break up this monopoly to democratize media so that it can be a public space.
It’s not that we want to cover up the violence, but we’re looking for new ways to debate and talk about it. We don’t want terror to be imposed upon us. This is one of the other battles we have to wage.
Patricia Guerrero: Has there been a mobilization in such a way to make sure that the demands of the six points are complied with, above all, the demand for the resignation of Public Safety Secretary Garcia Luna. The other is a very short question, but what do you think about the move to try to censor these so-called Narco-corridos that talk about drug traffickers, is that a form of censorship?
Javier Sicilia: This is something we’re still developing, enforcing the demands. And much of this will depend upon the agreements that are reached when we meet at Cuidad Juárez, if we are indeed able to unify all the social movements in this cause. Everything depends on this.
In terms of the second question, I think much of these songs about drug trafficking have exalted and glorified the road to violence for people that may join organized crime. It should also be accompanied by a move to silence, in the US, there are also these kinds of spectacles that glorify drugs like Charlie Sheen or Paris Hilton. But that depends on the North American parties. Because we’re the ones who have to wash the dishes and clean up after their mess. And there’s a culture to glorify the consumption of drugs.
Natalia Viana: I come from Brazil, where the same kinds of things are happening, but it’s limited to the poorest areas of the country. So people like me in the middle class feel safe while people living on the other side experience torture kidnapping, and they don’t have internet. So if it’s not much of a bother, I would like you to send a message to those people in Brazil, those in the middle class. Are they safe or not? Surely, these things are happening in many countries all over the world.
Javier Sicilia: I think people of the middle class also should start mobilizing and organizing themselves before the same thing happens to them as what has happened to the people of Colombia and what has happened to us here. I’m remembering something I saw in a few articles. It’s a poem by Pastor Niemöller when Nazism began its rise to power in Germany. It says one day they came for the blacks and I didn’t do anything. Then one day they came for the Jews and I didn’t do anything. Then one day they came for me and there was nothing I could do and no one could help me.
The middle class needs to shake off its sense of privilege and join with the other sectors of society and work together to mobilize. Because just as what has happened to us can happen to them as well.
Joe Rizk: A month and a half ago, I was talking to Gringoyo on Facebook and I told him I have some good news. In the streets of Tahrir, people had heard of Javier Sicilia. People had heard of Juan Francisco Sicilia. They may not know all the ins and outs and intricacies of the drug war, but they know something terrible has happened. And it has become inextricably linked to what has happened in Egypt. We wish to somehow extend this, even if symbolically. We feel that it can ultimately become more than just symbolic, become kind of a global awareness of the similar problems. Speaking with people here in Mexico, I sense that very similar problems exist. The lack of civilian rule, the paper form of democracy, a huge underprivileged sector of the population, a middle class that does not play the civic or political roles it is responsible to play. So we have more in common than meets the eye.
Tadeu Breda: It seems to me that the problem of drug trafficking is so insidious in all levels of this country’s government, even more so than in Brazil. My question is how do you think these six points and the mobilization across Mexico can help or lead to eradicate or withdraw the presence of so much organized crime of the government in Mexico.
Javier Sicilia: I love Brazilians. They have this natural ability to learn our language that we unfortunately do not share with them.
It’s definitely a terrible problem we’re facing and it’s called a co-opted state. It’s horrible, isn’t it? Because in essence, we’re living under the power of a Narco State. It’s often said that this is a failed state, in this country. And I wish it weren’t so because then there would be an easy way to solve it, we would just change the government and carry on, but unfortunately, it’s not, it’s a co-opted state. Co-opted from the very same political parties that ran the country by the get-go. So the problem is very deep. Finding a solution requires thinking in the long term. But the fact that the citizenry is gaining awareness of the situation and organizing and hopefully, through nonviolence, we will hopefully set the foundations for this new path, but it will take several generations. I think we’re living in an important time to start that process.
Yet it’s humbling to know it’s only a grain of sand contributing to a great void that needs to be filled.
Andrew Stelzer: Can Mexico change its policies without the permission, so to speak, of the US government? Especially on the topic of legalization of drugs, which I know many people in your movement are in favor of. And a side question, I’ve heard you’re giving up poetry for the time being. As many of us are artists in some way, I wonder, is giving up your means of expression, especially during a time of such pain, a good choice?
Javier Sicilia: I will start with the first question.
I think, yes, but we will need a government that is stronger and more valiant to hear the calls of the citizenry. We’ve had a government and upper middle classes that have lived in awe and on their knees toward the United States. Who want to be just like the US without realizing we’re different. We’ve started behaving like human beings who don’t even recognize our own humanity, and recognize only humanity in that which we want to become or be like and we are deeply wrong. We are different, in fact, and we can have different forms of well-being, of development, of finding the good life, than the US embodies.
I and many others think the legalization of drugs is desirable. Americans have legalized something much worse than drugs – and that’s weapons. And they are everywhere in the US and they come in through the border with Mexico freely all the time. So why not legalize drugs and inundate the US with drugs to satisfy its demand for them? And then they can deal with the problem.
I do believe that if the US was more sensible, they would propose a form of bilateral agreement to legalize drugs in both nations and face the fact that it has been a failed policy of both states for many years. It would be a necessary evil to legalize drugs in both nations but a necessary evil that wouldn’t cost us 40 thousand lives or more and we would treat it as a problem of public health and not criminal justice, like alcohol, tobacco, and other currently legal substances. Alcoholics don’t figure in 40 thousand dead in 4 years. It’s more of a problem of personal choice and individual liberty.
In terms of your question about poetry, I might have to translate this in Christian keynotes. Because I am a practicing believer. I come from a tradition that has an immense respect for the Word. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the world, life, human life, and everything on earth through the Word.
The Word is sacred. All the books of the great religious traditions are poetry and are sacred words. And I always believed poetry in the modern world is a continuation of this tradition of making the word sacred. That sacred word that in my tradition was enfleshed in a man called Jesus. An innocent who was Word incarnated, and was murdered.
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. And on Good Friday, I decided to turn to silence. And I will await the rebirth or the re-emergence of my nation in order for that word to re-emerge in myself. You can strangle the verse but you can’t shut up the poet. I think that after all, the word that called for this mobilization is the word of a poet. And I think mobilization is a great form of poetry in motion.
Al Giordano: This School of Authentic Journalism gives credit to what a person does in their daily life. So it is my great pressure to give the very first diploma of the evening to Javier Sicilia.
Javier Sicilia: I am deeply moved and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this show of support and solidarity and the many forms of love so many have showed me from the beginning of this mobilization, because the death of my son has touched the pain of many other families – fathers and mothers who have lost their loved ones – so I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I think my son would be very proud. There is much to do. And I take this diploma in the same grateful manner you all will receive yours. I hope you can all join me in this caravan.
Transcribed by Henry Taksier, class of 2011, School of Authentic Journalism, for Narco News.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism