As we have written here before, it is not likely that the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), the small but persistent pacifist movement organized by the Mexican poet, essayist and nonviolent activist, Javier Sicilia, will bring a genuine internal peace to Mexico any time soon, but its growing visibility and its persistence in the face of threats and smug dismissals from all sides is encouraging.
(This coming May 10 in New York, at NACLA’s celebration of its 45th anniversary, Sicilia will accept NACLA’s La Lucha Sigue award on behalf of the MPJD, the anti-violence movement he founded and leads. The award is presented every five years to an organization that has made significant contributions to Latin American peace and justice.)
The MPJD has made its presence felt in Mexico by organizing “peace caravans” and marches against militarization and violence throughout the country. The caravans, sometimes over a mile long, have consisted of hundreds of activists (and always a few private guards) traveling in buses, private cars, and vans. These peace marches on wheels have been meant to raise awareness of the daily violence experienced by many Mexicans, to encourage people to tell their stories, and to give a public voice and presence to the heretofore “invisible” victims of the violence.
This is the third (and final) set of excerpts from a long conversation I had with Sicilia about three weeks ago. In the first installment I excerpted some of Sicilia’s comments on the questions of nonviolence and the process of dialogue.
In a second installment, I excerpted comments on the question of the unraveling of Mexico’s social fabric.
In this installment, I present more excerpts from that same conversation, this time focused on the rationale for the MPJD’s upcoming caravan through the United States. This Fall, Sicilia will bring a caravan to the United States, where it will travel from California to New England attempting to raise awareness of the wave of violence Mexico is living through and, in particular, the relationship between that violence and U.S. policies and institutions.
FR: Why raise consciousness in the United States over something that is happening in Mexico?
JS: The war President Calderón unleashed when he came to office in 2006, the militarized war against drugs and organized crime, has a very important point of reference in the United States. First, the consumption of drugs in the United States is enormously high and is not falling. Second, Washington has designed Plan Mérida, the plan that has militarized the country. Then there’s an enormous responsibility for the problem of all the Central Americans who disappear in Mexico on their way, as everybody knows, to the United States. And then there is the question of arms trafficking. The United States claims to be very worried about drug trafficking. Nonetheless, it has a legal industry that transports arms to Mexico—not sporting guns, but arms of very high caliber. These arms have fallen into the hands of people who are very dangerous, into the hands of the criminal cartels. This is a Mexican responsibility but it’s a North American responsibility too.
In Mexico we have worked with caravans to make the victims known, even giving their names to the caravans because in this war the government has decided that the victims—the murder victims—are just numbers or perhaps violent criminals themselves. But robbing the victims of their identity is a criminal stance on the part of the government, because this is how crimes against humanity begin.
So we are going to the United States to raise the awareness of these problems. We have no intention of criticizing or raising the question of the gun culture of the United States. But yes, we will question the legality of those high-caliber arms, the absence of control over the flow of arms, the sale of arms that is damaging our country.
FR: So the idea is to raise the awareness of the North Americans so that they will put pressure on their government?
JS: Yes, the idea is to put these questions on the political agenda of the United States just as it’s entering a period of elections. It’s a serious theme. We are talking about almost sixty thousand dead over the past five years. And then there are thousands who have disappeared and a huge number that have been displaced from dangerous situations.
The United States has a great quantity of our displaced people in shelters. They are in a terrible situation because they can’t come home and Washington doesn’t recognize them as exiles or refugees. Thanks to the hard work and good will of U.S. border activists like Rubén García there are temporary shelters that welcome people who are displaced or threatened in their own country, but these refugees are in an awful situation.
FR: As a Mexican movement, what are your chances of raising awareness among North Americans?
JS: The United States is a very self-referential country. It’s not used to looking at itself from the outside, from other points of view. And it’s not aware of the problems it causes outside of its borders. But I think it’s also a very receptive country if one knows how to talk. And we are confident that we can have success with people who may know how to influence U.S. authorities.
FR: It’s one thing to educate people already sympathetic to your agenda, and another thing to influence people in a position to influence policy—people who may very well be aware of the effects of their policies. Can you reach those policy makers?
JS: Well, that’s our bet—that North Americans sympathetic with our agenda can help us reach certain authorities. The U.S. Caravan will allow us to walk and ride with people who can put the problem of violence on the agenda of the debates for the next elections. That’s where we are: a nonviolent movement that talks of peace and justice, things that the governments are sweeping under the rug but that they have responsibility for.
FR: Why lay responsibility at the door of the U.S. government?
JS: They launched the War on Drugs. For a long time there was a natural entry point of drugs through the Caribbean into south Florida. But after the Twin Towers attack they sealed off that area and drove the transshipment paths into Mexico, giving a boost to the violent, drug-trafficking cartels. And they designed the Plan Mérida according to the model of the Plan Colombia. And Plan Colombia has been a disaster that has nearly destroyed that country. Another thing that occurs in the United States is money laundering. And that’s the responsibility of the United States.
FR: There are those who say that the Drug War, along with Plan Colombia and Plan Mérida, was designed not only to suppress trafficking, but also to suppress dissent and political opposition.
JS: Yes, that may be one of its objectives. That’s why the militarization of the country worries us so much. In many ways it signifies the criminalization of protest. But I don’t know if it’s really the first objective. We don’t really know. Everything is wrapped in obscurity. There is another terrible danger that comes from the U.S. government, from both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are beginning to say that behind the drug traffickers are organizations of terrorists—narco terrorists. This language is dangerous because it can lead to a U.S. military intervention that is supported by the U.S. population. I don’t think the terrorism threat is true but it’s a belief that produces fear—that produces paranoia. It gives legitimacy to the idea of invasions.
FR: Do you have allies in the U.S. Congress or in the administration?
JS: Well we have sustained talks with people in the administration, including people who are involved with the planning and carrying out of Plan Mérida.
FR: And how have they responded?
JS: They have “taken note” of our concerns.
For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested. To read the first two installments of Fred Rosen's interview with Javier Sicilia, see "Inventive Nonviolence in Mexico: A Conversation With Javier Sicilia" and "Interview With Javier Sicilia Part II: Reweaving Mexico's Social Fabric."