Letter From Poet Javier Sicilia to Mexican Government and Cartels
For more than 100,000 citizens gathered at Mexico City’s symbolic Zócalo Square on May 8, 2011, one slogan said it all: “¡Hasta la madre!” (“We have had it!”)
The event, known as the March for Justice and Peace with Dignity, began in the town of Cuernavaca three days before and ended 40 miles away in the Mexican capital. A citizen-led call to end violence on the government and the drug cartels, who have been fighting a war that has killed roughly 40,000 men, women, and children since 2006, the massive and silent demonstration was led by Mexican poet and novelist Javier Sicilia.
Sicilia’s son was murdered in Cuernavaca on March 28, an event he has said embodies the general violence that has engulfed Mexico. After the funeral the poet—winner of the 2009 Aguascalientes National Award in Poetry—read what he said would be his last poem before renouncing his craft, saying “Poetry doesn’t exist for me anymore.”
But on April 3, Sicilia released an open letter to the Mexican government and criminals entitled “We’ve Had it Up to Here.” The message demands that both sides of the drug war take responsibility for the social and political damage they have inflicted on the country, establishes a rally cry for the masses, and tries to express a pain that “there are not words to describe.”
Since then, Sicilia has lashed out against violence caused by “Mexico’s failed drug policies” and has become the face of the citizen-led movement. In fact, the writer is planning a June 10 protest in Ciudad Juárez, the violence-plagued city that shares a border with El Paso, Texas. “We must not lose what Juarez symbolizes. … It is the symbol that the country is torn,” said the poet. Read Judith Torrea, Under the Shadow of Drug Trafficking.
Below is an English translation of Sicilia’s letter:
MEXICO CITY, 3 April 2011
The brutal murder of my son Juan Francisco, of Julio César Romero Jaime, of Luis Antonio Romero Jaime and of Gabriel Anejo Escalera, joins those of so many young men and women who likewise have been murdered throughout the country, not only because of the war launched by President Calderon’s government against organized crime, but also because of the rotting heart that has seized the unjustly named political class and the criminal class, which has broken its code of honour.
I do not want, in this letter, to talk about my son’s virtues, which were immense. Nor do I want to talk about those of the other boys I saw flourish next to him, studying, playing, loving and growing to serve – like so many other boys – this country that you have ripped apart. To talk about that would only serve to move what is of its own accord already moving the heart of the citizens to a state of indignation. I do not want to talk either about the pain my family is going through and the pain of the families of each of the boys who have been destroyed. There is no word to describe such pain -only poetry can come close to it, and you know nothing about poetry. What I want to say today, from these mutilated lives, from this pain that has no name because it is the product of what does not belong to nature -the death of one’s child is always unnatural and this is why there is no name for it: one is therefore neither an orphan nor a widower, one is simply and painfully nothing- what I want to say from these mutilated lives, I repeat, from the indignation sparkled by these deaths, is that we have had it up to here.
We have had it up to here with you politicians -and when I say politicians, I am not referring to anyone in particular, but to a large number of you, including those who make up the political parties- because in your power struggle, you have torn the fabric of this nation. Because in the middle of this war, which is badly designed, badly made and badly conducted, in the middle of this war that has thrown the country into a state of emergency, you have been unable -because of your meanness, your fights, your miserable skulduggery- to create the consensus needed by our nation to find unity, and without which this country has no way out. We have had it up to here because the corruption of the legal institutions generates complicity with crime and the impunity allowing it to be committed; because, in the midst of this corruption that is proof of the failure of the State, every citizen of this country has been reduced to what philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called, using a Greek work, zoe: that is, unprotected life, the life of an animal, of a being that can be subjected to violence, kidnapped, ill-treated or humiliated and murdered with impunity; we have had it up to here because you only use your imagination for the sake of violence, weapons, insult, and in so doing, you show a profound scorn towards education, culture and job opportunities implying decent and good work, which is what makes great nations; we have had it up to here because this short-sighted imagination is allowing our youth, our sons and daughters, to be not only murdered, but later criminalized, made falsely guilty in order to fulfil the intent of such imagination; we have had it up to here because another part of our youth, due to the lack of a good government program, have no opportunities to get an education, to find dignified work, and therefore, being pushed towards the periphery, are possible recruits for organized crime and violence; we have had it up to here because in view of all that, citizens have lost confidence in their rulers, their police, their Army, and they are afraid and full of sorrow; we have had it up to here because the only thing you care about, apart from gaining helpless power that is only good to administer misfortune, is making money, encouraging competition, your damned “competitivity”, fostering boundless consumption, which are other names for violence.
And as for you criminals, we have had it up to here of your violence, your loss of honour, your cruelty, your absurdity.
In the past, you had a code of honour. You were not so cruel in your settling of scores and you touched neither normal citizens, nor their families. Now you go after anybody. Your violence can no longer be named because it does not even have, like the pain and the suffering it brings about, a name and a meaning. You have even lost dignity in your killings. You have become cowards like those miserable Nazi Sommerkommandos who killed, with no regard for what is human, children, boys and girls, women, men and old people – that is, the innocent. We have had it up to here because your violence has become infrahuman, which is not to say animal -animals do not do what you do- but rather, subhuman, demoniac, idiotic. We have had it up to here because in your eagerness to obtain power and get richer, you humiliate our children, tearing them into pieces, triggering fear and horror.
And you, “Mister” politicians, and you “Mister” criminals -I put the word in quotations marks because this epithet is only granted to honourable people- with your omissions, your fighting and your deeds, are debasing the whole nation. My son Juan Francisco’s death has caused an uproar of solidarity and an outcry of indignation among citizens and the media, for which my family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. This indignation makes us hear again the very accurate sentence Martí* meant for our rulers: “If you cannot do your job right, step down”. On hearing it again -after the thousands of anonymous and non-anonymous bodies we carry behind us, that is, after so many innocent people being murdered and debased- this sentence should be accompanied by great social mobilizations to force you, at this moment of national emergency, to unite as a nation and create a state of real governance. Social networks in the state of Morelos are calling a national march on Wednesday April 6th, from the Dove of Peace monument to the state Congress, to demand justice and peace. If we citizens do not join in and do not reproduce this march in every municipality and county in the country, if we are not able to force you, “Mister” politicians, to govern with justice and dignity, and you “Mister” criminals, to go back to your code of honour and restrict your savagery, the spiral of violence that you have generated will take us onto a path of no return filled with horror. If you, “Mister” politicians, do not govern well, and you, “Mister” criminals, do not put a limit on your deeds, you will end up claiming victory and rising into power, but you will rule or reign over a bunch of ossuaries and terrified beings whose souls have been destroyed. A dream none of us could ever envy.
There is no life, as Albert Camus wrote, without persuasion and without peace, and the history of Mexico today only knows intimidation, suffering, distrust and the fear that another son or daughter of another family be debased or massacred; it only knows what you are asking from us, as it is happening now, that is, making death a matter of statistics and administration all of us should get used to.
Because we do not want that to happen, next Wednesday we will go out into the streets; because we do not want one more of our youths, one of our sons or daughters to be murdered, social networks in the state of Morelos are calling for a movement of national unity that we have to keep alive so that we can crush the fear and isolation that your incapacity, “Mister” politicians, and your cruelty, “Mister” criminals, want to get into our bodies and our souls.
I remember some verses written by Bertolt Brecht when the signs of horror-filled Nazism, that is, the horror of crime getting settled into the daily life of a nation, were already visible: “One day, they came to get the Blacks and I said nothing; another day, they came to get the Jews and I said nothing; one day they came to get me (or one of my children), and I had nothing to say”. Now, after all the crimes we have had to bear, when the bodies of my son and his friends, torn apart, have driven the citizens and the media into mobilization, we ought to speak with our bodies, with our wending, with our outcry of indignation, so that Brecht’s verses do not become a reality in our country.
Besides, I think we have to give back to this nation its lost dignity.
This letter was first published in issue 1976 of Proceso and was translated from the Spanish by Françoise Roy. The translation is reproduced with the translator’s permission.
*Alejandro Martí, a prominent Mexican businessman whose son was kidnapped for a ransom and killed in 2008.