The clock on the Torre Latinoamericana strikes 5:00 on April 6th as the ragtag group that fills the esplanade of the Bellas Artes museum yells ‘No more blood!’ and ‘Down with Felipe Calderon!’. This is not a common place to begin a protest, but this march was called by poets and artists, friends, followers, and men and women who read the poems and articles of Javier Sicilia. They all believe that poetry and art will triumph over death.
After the murder of his son and six of his friends on March 28 in Cuernavaca, the poet and social activist published “An Open Letter to Politicians and Criminals,” in which he condemns Calderon’s war as being poorly planned, poorly executed, poorly directed, and for putting the country in a state of emergency. In his letter he also called upon his fellow Mexicans to struggle for peace and justice.
The letter was a powerful catalyst for the mobilization of a society that is fed up with so much violence. “We are fed up because the politicians cannot imagine anything other than violence, guns and insults. With that they show a profound contempt for education, culture, and opportunities for honest work. We are fed up because this lack of imagination is what is allowing our youth, our children, to not only be murdered, but afterward criminalized, falsely made guilty to satisfy this lack of imagination. We are fed up because as a result of the lack of an adequate government plan many of our youth don’t have the opportunity to pursue an education or to find dignified work. As a result these youth become possible recruits for organized crime and violence.”
Using citizen networks in the state of Morelos, the poet called for a march on April 6 at 5:00 in the afternoon from the monument of the dove of peace to the Government’s Palace in Cuernavaca. He also asked for concurrent marches to be held across the country. “If we are not capable of obligating you, the politicians, to govern with justice and dignity and obligating you, the criminals, to return to your code of honor and limit your barbarity, the spiral of violence that you’ve both generated will bring us down a path of horror without end.”
The march was preceded by an internet debate about the uselessness of marches. In this debate what predominated was the voices of those who are also fed up but who believe that everything is useless and who can only think about the downfall of the country. We must march, inform ourselves, argue, organize, and society must confront the political mafias, and the criminals rather than be left without a voice.
This is why “No more blood, not one more death” is the motto of this march that goes – at the same time as several others throughout the country – towards Mexico City’s Zocalo. Wit, along with indignation, stand out in each flier, banner, and sign:
“Enough Already! (Picasso’s dove takes flight again).” “No more damn war, it must end today!” “200,000 liters of blood spilled by Calderón and his hitmen.” “Calderón’s war is the youth’s holocaust.” “USA, Don’t be a sucker for your guns.” “14,000 orphans in Ciudad Juárez, more than 300 children killed.” “The murderers are in Los Pinos (the Mexican Presidential Palace).” Investigators from the National Institute of Anthropology and History sent a direct message: “While you (the champions of employment and clean hands) talk about organized crime, thousands of Mexicans know that you are all a part of organized crime, together with those who own the media outlets and their self-proclaimed journalists.”
Because of the time change the sun remains strong as people continue to arrive. There are groups of young people, contingents from the Mexican Electricians Union of (SME), supporters of Lopez Obrador, members of the Federal District’s Human Right’s Commission, and women with handfuls of flowers demanding an end to femicide and other crimes in Ciudad Juárez. While the aroma of white flowers floods the air, a woman comments that her sister is afraid to go out to buy tortillas. “Gardenias smell wonderful. Carnations not so much, but they last longer even though their stem is brittle,” explains the woman.
It is estimated that 10,000 attended the march in the capital. In Cuernavaca more than 40,000 came together with Javier Sicilia with the same demands. There were marches in Culiacán, Hermosillo and in cities in 21 of the country’s states. Many went out to protest in Monterrey in spite of the dangers in that city.
At 5:20 the column advances, blocking Eje Central and soon filling the street 5 de Mayo. A dozen machetes represent the people of Atenco. The youth yell for schools and jobs. They want hospitals, not the army.
In newspaper stands the cover of the new issue of Proceso, which has Javier Sicilia’s letter to the government and criminals, reads “We are fed up!” The magazine El Chamuco calls the recent agreement about the coverage of violence among several media outlets, headed by the television duopoly, the “pact to cover-up violence.” An enormous skeleton covers Calderón’s face. Even the magazine Letras Libres shows a gun and a bloodstain, while Milenio covers the DEA’s justification of the violence in Mexico.
At the entrance of 5 de Mayo, when the column seems like it is about to end, new contingents arrive from Eje Central. From the sidewalks people watch seriously but without hostility or rejection. Some of the looks betray a conviction: this march is necessary as a prelude to actions that can change the extreme situation engulfing the country.
Upon arriving at the Zócalo the column surrounds the areas that members of the SME and miners have occupied. In front of the Palacio Nacional the multitude chants: Shout, shout, don’t stop shouting that the government must die! But “Juarez must not die.” In front of the number 40,000 formed by three femur bones and four skulls the students propose to “end the bullets with culture and education.” The figure is the approximate number of deaths over the course of the war against the drug traffickers.
About 20 performers from UNAM lie on the floor. Four or five others with military jackets and hoods over their faces shoot them, re-killing them. One of them points his cardboard rifle at me. His hands are bloodstained. Bang, he shoots me. I move my head backwards as if it had been jolted by the impact. As regular media consumers, we are desensitized to violence because we see violent scenes everyday. The young speaker announces that “Now, each one of us is at risk of dying in the crossfire or being among the ‘collateral casualties’ of this war, and marches will not be sufficient to end it.”
It is 6:15 and the Zócalo is filled to capacity. The meeting started by highlighting the oddity of the march that expresses a rage long contained. From the platform poems are read instead of speeches.
Yes these are our dead, but this is not our war. “Here come the dead – so lonely, so mute, so ours, squeezed under the enormous sky of Anáhuac, they walk, they drag themselves, with their dread in their hands, their lurid tenderness.
“They are the dead who were found in a pit in Taxco, in remote sites in Chihuahua, in sparse plots of land, dumped in la Marquesa, hanging from bridges, headless, in ejidal lands, on the side of the highway, in abandoned cars, in San Fernando, those who were butchered and still have not been found, the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead whose bodies were dissolved in drums.
“They are called remains, cadavers, deceased, the dead for whom mothers and wives never get tired of waiting, imagined between subways and gringos.
“They are called camisole, woven in the soul’s coffin, a small, three-month-old undershirt, the photo of the toothless smile…”
Fragments of the poem read by its author, María Rivera.
With profound indignation some speakers reject the idea that drug trafficking is the country’s biggest problem. They say that the president is impulsive and faint-hearted. They demand he step down. The legalization of drugs would be similar to the expropriation of oil in that it would be an act of dignity that would put Mexican citizens before war and empire.
Others remember Javier Sicilia as someone who exemplifies what it meanes to be a poet and how to view the world through poetry, putting human values before selfishness and greed. They bemoan his poetic vow of silence and join his call for struggle.
A prolific and recognized narrator and historian says “my name is Paco Ignacio Taibo, I’m a writer and I’m here for the same reasons as all of you.” He tells a story about a young man from Azcapotzalco who he heard say that those who govern are the true ninis because they neither govern nor represent the people. “Let’s start preparing because we will have to work hard to get rid of the ninis who govern,” he says, concluding his brief speech.
“What’s next?” I ask the writer.
“Next we will sing the national anthem and will go and start preparing and calling for the next march and the one after that and the one after that. Only we can stop this. Things are getting worse, they take down a group on Monday and they’re back on the street on Tuesday. This never should have been started before reforming the corrupt police forces who have been infiltraded by the criminals. The entire first phase of the war has been directed by Chapo (Gúzman) while Calderón continues living in Disneyland. Now Mexico is in a living hell.”
After the rally I ask the actor Daniel Giménez Cacho the same thing. “I don’t know. I’m not a psychic,” he responds, stalling, “but I think what follows is to support Javier Sicilia’s plan, to have more protests, and accompany him in Cuernavaca.” He tells Radio Bemba that the impunity, the deafness, the lack of hope, racism, classism, and the quest for money at all costs in Mexico causes him heartache.
A young worker, Gabriela Barajas, says that she is scared that one day she’ll go out and not return home. She says that we must be conscious of the reality in our county and unify.
The protest has given life back not only to the complaints against the violence, but also against the other problems that are ravaging Mexican society. These include the lack of access to education and quality healthcare and the greed of politicians and businessmen.
Education is the only way out of this maze, says Victoria Nuñez, a sociology student. An education that makes people ask questions. “They have taken away philosophy, logic, art – everything that makes us question ourselves. The curriculum attacks socialization and promotes individualism. We must protest in order to recuperate what has been lost rather than remain without discourse and dialogue,” she says.
Fabiola De Nutella tells me that the most important thing is that the objective of the movement must be clear and that we cannot forget that the politicians are our employees and they should be accountable to us and live without privilege. For example, they should use ISSSTE (Mexico’s health care and social security system for state workers) rather than run up costs using expensive private doctors and hospitals.
The Zocalo’s flag is not at half-mast as it should be, as a sign of mourning for so many deaths. At the end of the protest, however, the flagpole is surrounded by hundreds of flames that wave like miniature flags with the wind. There are tears, sobs, uncontrollable crying, white flowers, memories and proposals that form a huge offering. Lying there are the snow-white gardenias and carnations that thousands of protesters carried in their hands and hair.
“Some parents are poets… All children are poetry.” “Calderón: Understand, my children don’t live in a bunker.” Other messages refer to the recent government-sponsored agreement among several news outlets establishing self-censorship in the coverage of violence. As if reality could be changed by a shift in editorial discretion. There are many critics of the alienating role of the television duopoly: “The Mexico Initiative is a cartel of misinformation.”
On a piece of cardboard a message reads “Felipe, would you continue with your war if one of the murdered young people had the last name Calderón Zavala?”
Alfredo Acedo is communications director and advisor to the National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations. [la Unión Nacional de Organizaciones Regionales Campesinas Autónomas. México.]
Translated by James Amarante.