Javier Sicilia, poet and leader of the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad in Mexico against drug violence.
Sicilia was thrust into the media spotlight a year ago when his son, Juan Francisco, 24, was killed in a cartel-related crime. Making his mourning public, he has led countless marches and caravans in Mexico calling for an end to President Felipe Calderón’s “war on drugs.” Now, he brings his message to Los Angeles—whose huge Mexican immigrant population is feeling the impact of the violence in the most personal way, from the death of loved ones back home, cross-border extortion and the impossibility of being able to visit family because of the lack of security.
Sicilia and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) have made the call for a major international peace caravan in the USA this summer. The caravan will begin in August and run from San Diego to Washington, DC. Victims of violence from both south and north of the border will join the caravan and aim to reframe the debate by calling for an end to the “drug war” and its tragic consequences at a pivotal moment between Mexican and U.S. presidential elections.
Sicilia will hold several public events during his stay in Los Angeles (which is part of a national speaking tour), including presentations at the Downtown Public Library, Loyola Marymount University, Pomona College and Our Lady Queen of the Angels Church (La Placita).
Sicilia, a mystical Catholic poet, turned to activism after his son’s murder. In essence, Sicilia has swapped his pen for protest, pushing for a stop to the war on the cartels and for a re-imagining of drug policy. Leading the fight with a radiant intellect and deep faith—he was a disciple of philospher-priest Ivan Illich—the TIME Magazine Protester of the Year brings home the message that the responsibility for both the violence and finding a way to end it lies on both sides of the border.
In the United States the War on Drugs is seen as a “Mexican problem.” But of course we Americans are deeply implicated in the violence, beginning with our vast consumer market for illegal drugs. We have also provided weapons for it, mostly through private dealers, but also through official programs such as the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation, now embroiled in scandal. The Mérida Initiative supplies even more military resources (nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid thusfar to the Mexican government) and underscores the close strategic ties between the administrations of Barack Obama and Mexican president Felipe Calderón.
Nearly six years after Calderón declared war on the cartels, the death toll only continues to rise—more than 40,000 dead in Mexico. But shouldn’t the 22,000 deaths every year in the U.S. as a result of drug overdose also be considered part of the global cost of the drug war?
In April, Javier Sicilia, a highly-regarded poet and regular columnist for Mexico’s leading political weekly Proceso, penned an anguished manifesto after his son, Juan Francisco, and several of Juan Francisco’s friends were killed in a drug cartel-related crime. Sicilia’s open letter is as lucid as it is piercing, a cry in the desert.
“What I want to tell you today about those mutilated lives,” wrote Sicilia of his son and by extension all victims of the drug violence, “about that suffering, about the indignation that these deaths has provoked, is simply that we have had enough.”
That italicized final phrase is an imperfect translation of the highly colloquial “estamos hasta la madre,” which invokes “mother,” as Mexicans often do in Spanish, in an elastic and metaphorical way. We are up to our “mother” in this suffering; we can take it no more; it has violated the most profound and sacred spaces of our spirit. The phrase becomes a mantra in Sicilia’s letter.
Sicilia’s words galvanized gave Mexicans a real-life, mad-as-hell “Network” moment. “Estamos hasta la madre” appeared on signs held up by grandmothers and children in protest marches nationwide, on countless Facebook pages, on the lips of people across all social strata.
Over the summer and into autumn, Sicilia has fused his mourning with his activism and become a media magnet in Mexico. He has led two highly publicized caravans, one to the northern border at Juárez and the other to the southern border with Guatemala in Chiapas, under the banner Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. At each stop Sicilia and his entourage of activists—among them many other mourners—meet with and try to console survivors of family members lost to the violence, hold press conferences, debate possible solutions to the conflict.
By presenting Javier Sicilia—a tragic, charismatic, idiosyncratic, and inspiring figure—our community can approach the drug war in all its complexity and begin to imagine its end.
Articles on Sicilia:
Time Magazine “Person of the Year” issue:
Rubén Martínez, Los Angeles Times opinion essay on Sicilia:
Enrique Krause, New York Times opinion essay: