Inventive Nonviolence in Mexico: A Conversation With Javier Sicilia

A few days ago, I had a wide-ranging talk with Javier Sicilia, the founder of the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity. Since its inception last March, following the murder of Sicilia’s son, the group has campaigned against the spreading violence in Mexico, and more specifically against the militarization of Mexico’s Drug War and what Sicilia sees as the concurrent militarization of Mexican society. 
Fred Rosen 1/30/2012


A few days ago, I had a wide-ranging talk with Javier Sicilia, the founder of the nonviolent, anti-violence group called Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD). Since its inception last March, following the murder of Sicilia’s son in Cuernavaca, the group has campaigned against the spreading criminal and state violence in Mexico, and more specifically against the militarization of Mexico’s Drug War and what Sicilia sees as the concurrent militarization of Mexican society.

721 Javier Sicilia. Photo: Agendamx

I will report on this conversation over my next few blogs. For now, here are some excerpts on the questions of nonviolence and the process of dialogue:

FR: Over the past year, the MPJD has raised the level of awareness of many issues in Mexico, particularly the identities of the victims of the violence. But it’s one thing to raise the awareness of society. It’s another to translate that awareness to people in power. Have you been successful on that level?

JS: The goal is to put the question of violence on the political agenda. We are talking about things the government is erasing from the political discussion: peace, justice… But they are responsible for these things.

FR: Tell me something about the philosophy of nonviolence that your movement follows.

JS: I, and many of the leaders of the movement, come from a Christian tradition, a tradition that draws on the gospels, and a deep knowledge and interest in how spiritual life can translate itself into Ghandian-style politics. Ghandi has been one of the touchstones of this struggle. We are talking about a nonviolence that is very inventive. There are manuals of nonviolent action but one of the main strengths of nonviolent disobedience is its inventive capacity. Our caravans that have crossed the country, the march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, our narrative of embraces and kisses for our enemies and adversaries, the capacity to mobilize ourselves, the ability to dislocate the univocal nature of the political discourse, all of this is part of the nonviolent process that we have been developing.

We have introduced a very distinct narrative from previous social movements, which have generally been violent, confrontational, and aggressive. We have been firm in our moral positions facing political perversity, criminal perversity—firm in our nonviolent positions of mobilization.

And at the center of this nonviolence we have placed the process of dialogue, which is a value defended by everyone, but when it’s exercised it often produces deafness. We have engaged in dialogue with the groups of power as well as with groups both of the right and the left in a horizontal manner.

FR: One of the publicized, ongoing dialogues you have had here in Mexico has been with President Felipe Calderón. How is that particular dialogue going?

JS: Well, that is a dialogue that has reached certain points without bearing results. That is to say that it’s a dialogue that has produced some consensus and some conflict. One of the points of consensus was that the state has a responsibility toward its victims, and that consensus that produced a new prosecutor’s office with attention to victims, but the office has been under-funded and short on staff and still lacks status within the state. It needs to become an official state institution because the problem is very serious. In addition, the dialogue has produced two proposed laws in support of the victims of violence and the abuse of power. We are trying to combine the proposals into a single bill that we can support in the legislature.

The main point of conflict has been that Felipe Calderón refuses to change, and continues to follow his strategy of war, a strategy that is producing all these victims that the proposed law of victims and the new prosecutor’s office will have to attend to. And this war strategy is now creating a dynamic in support of a law of national security, which this war perspective requires and which would be terrible for the nation. It would give legitimacy to the war strategy of Calderón and to the militarization of the country, which would be quite serious. It would violate human rights and individual liberties and deepen the chaos in which we are now living. We are trying to convince the government to enact a law of national security that is not based on violence but rather is based on the reconstruction of the social fabric, which has been systematically torn apart by the logic of the market.

And further, we are pressing for the creation of exemplary punishment. There are too many criminals within the government and within the political parties. And if people aren’t punished, if there’s no cleansing of the parties, then simply, no strategy will work. There’s a great lack of action on the part of the government for commission or omission or links with organized crime. There is 98% impunity within the government, and we are in a situation in which the government has serious responsibilities.

FR: The success of much nonviolence depends on the humanity of the enemy. Ghandi was up against colonialists who nonetheless thought of themselves as humanists. Self-identified humanists are not Nazis. Felipe Calderón will at least talk to you. The Zetas won’t. Do you see any limits to your nonviolent action?

JS: I believe in the humanity that still exists in many of the functionaries of the state both here and in the United States. It’s to that humanity that we are appealing. The Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity is a movement that appeals to the heart, to the humanity within human beings. That’s why we have been able to raise the sensibility of the country. It’s not an ideological agenda; it’s a human agenda. We have to remember, as Ghandi said, that ideology, power and money have destroyed the conscience of the politicians and the criminals alike. That’s what we have to appeal to. We are a moral movement, like the movements of Ghandi, of Martin Luther King, like the movement against the Vietnam War.

FR: But again, how do you confront hyper-violent groups like the Zetas?

JS: Perhaps we can’t, but the Zetas exists because of the tacit approval of the government. I have always requested during the meetings and talks we have had with Felipe Calderón, that he review what’s happening to his army: How is the army being trained? I can understand how someone might desert from the army. What I can’t understand is how so many troops could become criminals, Kaibiles. The truth is that the Zetas come from the army. So there is something serious being constructed. The army is not building human beings. It is building assassins. So we have to know, how is the army being trained? If people aren’t educated honorably, they can become assassins. So we are betting on this humanity that still exists in certain politicians. The criminals are more difficult to reach, having lost their moral codes. Even the mafias had moral codes in the past—certain moral codes. (Some more than others.) But here in Mexico, the most minimum moral codes have been broken.

To be continued.



For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit See also the May/June 2011 NACLA Report "Mexico's Drug Crisis," or NACLA blogs, Border Wars and Traffick Jam, for more on the U.S.-Mexico border or drug trafficking in the region.


Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.