In recognizing protesters as “Person of the Year,” TIME magazine featured a photo of my favourite columnist: Javier Sicilia, the 56-year-old Mexican poet and journalist who writes for Mexico’s leading newsmagazine, Proceso.
I haven’t read TIME since I was in high school, but I was so pleased that I spent $6.48 to buy a copy in the Houston airport while travelling to Mexico.
But the tiny description of Sicilia that accompanied his photograph was disappointing: “Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who organized a movement against crime and corruption after his son was killed by drug traffickers.” That, plus a quote: “I only did what my heart was telling me to do. It was a great surprise to me to see the national response.”
TIME’s online service has more information about the man who has found himself leading a new social movement that confronts crime and corruption, and questions the logic of the so-called “War on Drugs.” But I want to say more here about his journalism.
One of the small joys for me in coming back to Mexico each December is to get my hands on copies of the Proceso newsmagazine. I read some articles on-line, but I love to touch the pages of this well-edited and beautifully-illustrated newsmagazine.
Proceso is published weekly. A newsmagazine for readers who like to challenged rather than comforted, Proceso covers events in Mexico and the world, and provides excellent analysis and coverage of arts and sports. Its founders include a Jesuit priest and a newspaper editor who escaped the stranglehold of government and big-business on Mexican media in the mid-70s.
A friend in rural Chiapas, knowing that I like Proceso, offered me the dozen or so copies he had collected over the past year, along with a stack of old copies dating back to about 1999.
On March 27, his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco was murdered, along with six other people, in Cuernavaca (the city I lived in for six years in mid and late 90s).
“We’re fed up”
As he tried to get Mexico’s calcified justice system to investigate, Sicilia and a handful of supporters called on Mexicans to take to the streets to demand a new approach to the “war” strategy that is used against drug-traffickers so that other parents would not lose their children. On April 6, he led the largest march ever seen in Cuernavaca. He and his supporters occupied the plaza in front of the Morelos state government building. On May 5, they began to walk the 80 km (over the Continental Divide, altitude 3,100 metres) to Mexico City, arriving there May 8. Since then, there have been caravans to the north, all the way to Ciudad Juárez (the Mexican city perhaps most afflicted by violence) and to southern Mexico where despite the poverty and repression (or perhaps because of them), communities are well-organized in networks of Indigenous people, farmers, women, and human rights defenders. All of this has come together as Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity—and it too has its martyrs: supporters in the troubled Pacific coast states of Michoacán and Guerrero have been targeted.
With more than 50,000 murders since President Felipe Calderón declared “war” on drug cartels in December 2006, Sicilia’s protest struck a chord with Mexicans who are fed up (“estamos hasta la madre,” says Sicilia) with politicians and criminals. A few days ago, he said the 2012 federal election is a choice among cartels tacitly aligned with different parties.
Sicilia is a lay Catholic, strongly motivated by Sergio Mendes Arceo (a former bishop of Cuernavaca known for his solidarity with progressive social movements) and Ivan Illich (the Austrian priest and educator who also lived and worked in Cuernavaca). Sicilia’s Proceso columns are rooted in gospel values, the best of Catholic social teaching and solidarity with those who suffer.
I’ll share some of Javier Sicilia’s thoughts in another post soon.