Saturday, June 11, 2011

Marx -- neither the father nor the godfather of liberation theology: An interview with Juan José Tamayo

This interview with the progressive Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo by Roberto T. Pintos was published in Escuela on June 2, 2011 and reproduced on Atrio. We are pleased to bring it to you in English.

To begin, Professor Tamayo, what is a theologian?

The Anglican archbishop William Temple, a man who worked for dialogue between the various Christian faiths, was asked the same question in the 1970s. He answered as follows: "A theologian is a very sensible and brainy person who spends a lifetime enclosed in books trying to give excruciatingly exact and precise responses to questions that nobody raises." He showed the British sense of humor, but there was an element of truth in the definition. Theologians have spent hours and hours caught up in discussing the sex of angels and unraveling unfathomable mysteries as if they were mathematical formulas.

And do you identify with that type of theologian?

Not at all. I move between European political theology, liberation theology, and the theology of religions. The definition of theology that resonates with me and that I try to put into practice is the one given by the Peruvian Gustavo Gutiérrez, considered one of the founders of liberation theology: critical reflection on historical praxis in the light of faith.

Is it true that one can feel comfortable living on the border?

Yes, yes, because man is a being on the border between life and death, words and silence, doubts and certainties, desire and reality, joy and sorrow, loneliness and companionship, hope and frustration, promises and their unfulfillment, love and hate, happiness and sorrow, weakness and strength, dedication to a cause and neglect, war and peace, health and disease, love and heartbreak, suffering and well-being, balance and instability, activity and inactivity ...

The political border as well?

Of course. I have never given my unconditional support to any political party's ideological agenda, which doesn't mean being apolitical. Quite the contrary. I take on left-wing civic and political engagement without losing sight of freedom and critical thinking. I am not aware of having fallen into the temptation, like the biblical Esau, to sell my freedom of conscience and opinion, expression and academic chair for a mess of pottage, however appealing it was or however hungry I was. And I've gone hungry as a child!

Let's talk about two of your latest books that will surely interest the readers of Escuela. First, La teología de la liberación en el nuevo escenario político y religioso ("Liberation theology in the new political and religious scene", Tirant lo Blanc, Valencia, 2010, 2nd ed.). Is liberation theology still alive? Hasn't it been swept away by the winds of globalization?

Good question. They once asked Woody Allen about the death of God and he answered, "God is dead, Marx is dead, Nietzsche is dead, liberation theology is dead, and I'm not in good health." It was true, in those days, Woody Allen had the flu. Is liberation theology afflicted by a temporary or chronic ailment? Is it in such bad health? Has it already been buried? I think desire is being confused with reality. Many take it for dead and have even wanted to bury it alive: the Vatican, the Empire, neo-liberalism, because it threatens the established order founded on an unjust structure. It's an anti-hegemony theology, anti-imperial, it's the critical conscience of capitalism. The more the attempts to kill it, the more liberation theology today stands at the side of the social movements, the alter-globalization ones.

But can religion be liberating when it has been a source of violence and has been allied with power?

You're right. There is no denying the violent nature of religions and their alliances with the powerful, nor can we ignore the fact that they have built phantasmagoric worlds outside reality to draw believers away from their historical responsibilities with promises of rewards in the afterlife for the gullible. Marx said that religion is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. But religions have also been founts of wisdom, opportunities for reconciliation in the midst of conflict and a force for liberation. Again I turn to Marx for whom religious misery is, on the one hand, the expression of real misery and, on the other, the protest against that misery, and religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of a soulless world.

Does this mean that Marx is the true inspiration of liberation theology?

No, I didn't say that. As my Latin American colleagues usually say: Marx is not the father or even the godfather of this theology. Marxism isn't the theory that is the basis or underlies liberation theology. The source of inspiration is the Gospel; it's Jesus of Nazareth, the liberating Christ. But neither Jesus nor the Gospel provide tools for analyzing reality. So we have to resort to the social sciences, which offer us analytical tools to better know the social, political, economic, etc. situation. And in this area, as in ethics, Marxism is very helpful as a tool of analysis, as a theory and praxis of social transformation and as an ethical attitude of denouncing structural injustice, but taken on not in a discipular way, but critically, as Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle in his time.

To conclude, let's turn to the second book, En la frontera. Cristianismo y laicidad ("On the Border: Christianity and Secularism"). Are the two concepts and phenomena really compatible? Were they ever? Will they be?

The book answers three questions dialectically, in the Hegelian mode. First, the thesis: Christianity and secularism are fully compatible phenomena. Moreover, Christianity was born and developed in the early centuries as a secular religion. Its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, is a lay Jewish believer who lives His faith without losing sight of freedom and in conflict with the occupying power, the Roman Empire. Religious freedom is the principle through which early Christianity governs itself until Theodosius the Great declares Christianity the official religion of the Empire in the Edict of Thessaloniki in 380.

And the antithesis?

While the secular state is being built in Europe throughout the Modern era, official Christianity becomes its main opponent, saying it is against the law of God, natural law, and the rights of the Church. And we're still in that, at least at the level of the institutional Catholic Church, that is rowing against the tide of history and doesn't represent the sentiments of Christians located spontaneously on the horizon of the secularism of the state and its institutions.

Is synthesis possible?

Of course. It's possible and necessary. The diversity of ideologies and religious beliefs can not be a source of confrontation between the citizens of a country. The State is not against religion. What it does is stay neutral and not favor some over others, however entrenched and majority they are, and facilitates the free exercise of all of them at both a public and private level, without taking the side of one faith or another, as is done in religious regimes.

But is secularism the panacea? Is it a solution to the problems that arise in democratic and pluralistic societies?

No. Secularism is the legal and political framework of the modern state -- which is no small thing -- with room for all ideologies, all religious beliefs and non-beliefs, provided that they are lived out and expressed peacefully and under the rule of law. But that legal and policy framework must be guided by a moral axiology, which gives it legitimacy, by the values of justice, freedom and solidarity. It must be built on the basis of political democracy, but also on an economic and ecological one, and on the principle of equality without discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, class or geographical origin.

The Catholic Church and Catholics: The Moral Disconnect Continues

Two years ago we wrote a piece in this blog called The Catholic Church and Catholics: A Moral Disconnect reporting on the results of a Gallup survey that showed Catholics differing significantly from the teachings of their church on the moral acceptability of things like abortion, divorce, and homosexuality.

This moral disconnect continues. According to a survey released this month by the Public Religion Research Institute, 54% of white Catholics and 51% of Hispanic Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Fifty-eight percent of white Catholics want abortion services to continue to be available in their communities despite their denomination's best efforts to close abortion facilities and outlaw the procedure. This is the same as the general public. Only 38% of Latino Catholics support keeping abortion available but Hispanic Catholics tend to be more socially conservative and many have come here from countries where abortion has never been legal so they have not become used to its availability as an option.

While they want abortion to continue to be legal and available, 58% of Catholic respondents also said that abortion was morally wrong. This means that 42% thought it wasn't wrong, a remarkably high percentage given that this is perhaps the most emphasized area of Catholic moral teaching in the Church today. There isn't even uniform consent that abortion is sinful. According to the survey, "white Catholics are evenly divided, with 46% agreeing that having an abortion is a sin, and 46% disagreeing." Latino Catholics fared better on this catechetical test -- 65% of them agreed that abortion is a sin. In Church teaching, not only is abortion a sin but it is a grave delict punishable by automatic excommunication under most circumstances as long as the woman is canonically of age.

The survey also asked about the morality of other issues. While it didn't break all issue areas by denomination, the survey reported that 68% of Catholics surveyed said that divorce is morally acceptable to them. The Church teaches that divorce is morally wrong.

And it's not that the priests aren't talking about abortion. Seventy-two percent of white Catholics and 63% of Latino Catholics who attend church once a month or more reported that they had heard about the issue from the pulpit. Fewer -- 35% of white Catholics and 49% of Latino Catholics -- had heard their priest talk about homosexuality. Eighty-six percent of white Catholics heard their priest say that abortion is morally wrong while only 64% heard that homosexuality is morally wrong. Both are morally wrong according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In the end, 68% of Catholics said they believe you can be a good Catholic while disagreeing with the official Church position on abortion and 74% said the same with respect to the Church teaching on homosexuality. One quarter of the Catholics gave their Church a low mark on the way it handles the abortion issue with 44% saying that it is too conservative. They are even more dissatisfied with how the Church handles homosexuality. As for the Church's political agenda, 58% of Catholics surveyed opined that it is wrong for the Church to put public pressure on politicians on the issue of abortion. That would include such tactics as denying communion to Catholic politicians who vote pro-choice.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sustainability: adjective or noun?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

It is fashionable today to talk about sustainability. It serves as a warranty label that the company, while producing, is environmentally friendly. Behind this word hides some truth, but also many scams. It is usually used as an adjective and not as a noun.

Let me explain. As an adjective, it is added to anything without changing the nature of the thing. For example, I can reduce the chemical pollution of a factory by putting better filters on its smokestacks that spew gases, but the company's way of relating to nature from which it gets the materials for production doesn't change; it continues to ravage it. Its concern isn't the environment, but that its profits and competitiveness be guaranteed. Therefore, sustainability is only a matter of accommodation, not change; it's an adjective, not a noun.

Sustainability as a noun requires a change in relationship with nature, life and the Earth. The first change begins with a different vision of reality. The Earth is alive and we are its conscious and intelligent portion. We're not outside of and above her as one who dominates, but within as one who cares, availing ourselves of her resources, while respecting her limits. There is an interaction between the human being and nature. If I pollute the air, I end up making her sick and strengthening the greenhouse effect, from which global warming is derived. If I restore the ciliary forest of the river, conserve water, I increase its volume and improved my quality of life, that of the birds, and that of the insects that pollinate the fruit trees and garden flowers.

Sustainability as a noun happens when we take responsibility for protecting the vitality and integrity of ecosystems. Because of the abusive exploitation of her goods and services, we are reaching the limits of the Earth. She can't even put back 30% of what has been removed and stolen. The Earth is becoming increasingly poorer, of forests, water, fertile soil, clean air and biodiversity. And what is more serious, more impoverished of people in solidarity, compassion, respect, with care and love towards those who are different. When will this stop?

Sustainability as a noun will be achieved the day we change our way of inhabiting the Earth, our Great Mother, of producing, distributing, consuming and treating waste. Our way of life is dying, unable to solve the problems it has created. Worse, it's killing us, and threatening the whole system of life.

We have to reinvent a new way of being in the world with others, with nature, with the Earth and Ultimate Reality. Learn to be more with less and meet our needs with a sense of solidarity with the millions of hungry people and the future of our children and grandchildren. Either we change or we're going to meet foreseeable ecological and human tragedies.

When those who control the finances and the destinies of the people meet, it's never to discuss the future of human life and conservation of the Earth. They come together to discuss money, how to save the financial and speculative system, how to guarantee interest rates and bank profits. If they talk about global warming and climate change, it's almost always from this perspective: how much could I lose to these phenomena? Or if not, how can I profit by buying or selling carbon bonuses (buying from other countries permission to continue polluting)? The sustainability they are talking about is neither an adjective, nor a noun. It's pure rhetoric. They forget that the Earth can live without us, as she lived for billions of years. We can't live without her.

Let us not be deluded: the companies, the vast majority, only assume the environmental responsibility to the extent that profits are not adversely affected and their competitiveness is not threatened. Therefore, no change of course, no different relationship with nature, nothing of ethical and spiritual values. As the Uruguayan social ecologist E. Gudynas rightly said: "The task is not to think about alternative development but alternatives to development."

We have reached a point where we have no other choice but to make a paradigmatic revolution. Otherwise we will be victims of the iron logic of capital that can lead to a great impasse for our civilization.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pilgrimage to the Sources of Javier Sicilia, the Poet Who Is Shaking Mexico

By Marta Molina
Narco News Bulletin
June 1, 2011

Who was Javier Sicilia before the death of his son? Why have his demands as a social fighter now become just one? Who were his influences, those who pushed him to be as he is and to have the strength and readiness to lead this mobilization? Who was he before he became a national symbol? What in his past allowed him to inspire a united movement against violence and the war in Mexico? Why has he stopped writing poetry?

Pilgrimage to the Sources

We find ourselves in Cuernavaca on May 17 with two of Javier’s best friends as they tell us a little bit about his past and understand the sources of his philosophy of life, his poetry, his way of being and, above all: What moved him to turn his very existence into a struggle for a Mexico without violence? They are Sylvia Marcos, leader of the anti-psychiatry movement in Mexico and Jean Robert, architect and intellectual of Rauraco descent (a people of the Switzerland-Germany region), a naturalized Mexican citizen, and personal friend of the late Austrian thinker who had lived in Mexico, Ivan Illich.

Conversing with them we discover that Javier was born in Mexico City in 1956 and unexpectedly we learn that his last name, “Sicilia,” isn’t precisely of Italian origin but, rather, Spanish. His father, Oscar Sicilia, came from the Canary Islands and it seems he is a descendant of Spain’s Asturia region.

According to Jean Robert, Javier is a man who has always “pulled the devil by the tail,” a Mexican expression that means he has always lived hand to mouth. When his two children were young he had to work month in, month out to pay the bills. “He did receive some grants that gave him some freedom of movement but this was a man who lived day to day.” This reality has nothing to do with what the Washington Post reported on May 8, describing Javier as “well to do.” “When I met him he worked as a copy editor in the Mexican Institute of Water Technology,” Jean Robert tells us. Imagine, a poet and writer in a public bureaucracy working as a corrector of texts. Had he been rich, maybe he would have dedicated himself entirely to poetry, or maybe he would never have been a poet.

In 1994, Javier founded the magazine Ixtus where, until 2007, he published his critique of modern society based on the Christian Gospels and the spirituality of personalities like Gandhi, Ivan Illich and Guiseppe Lanza del Vasto, the “apostle of nonviolence,” thinkers who influenced Javier and the way he addressed his struggles.

Jean Robert tells us how Javier had once formed part of a group of Mexicans interested in in the experiences of Lanza del Vasto – a Sicilian who later became a French citizen who had gone to live with Gandhi in India, in an ashram, and later went on a pilgrimage to the Ganges River. Del Vasto called it the “pilgrimage to the sources.” Upon returning to Europe, he felt a calling that led him to found a community similar to an ashram but in Europe, specifically in France. These communities were called Arks, followed the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence and also believed that modern industrial society was becoming undone by its own contradictions.

There are currently four Ark communities in France. Javier had visited one of them together with his Flamenco Belgian friend Georges Voet. Javier was left with a nostalgia from having lived in a community that is not a monastery but which did have a strong spiritual and meditative element. That experience led him, in his thirties, to found, together with a group of young people, an Ark on a plot of land in the south of the state of Morelos, in Mexico.

Jean Robert attended the final meetings of those who tried to found the Ark community, but by then they were well into their adult years, with university degrees, spouses, some already with children… and it had become difficult to continue the project. Javier, he says, told him that it didn’t work, that “all our attempts to cultivate fruits and tomatoes failed.”

The project dissolved. It was then that Jean Robert began to collaborate in Javier’s Ixtus magazine, writing about Ivan Illich and Javier became interested in Illich and his philosophies. “One day I brought Javier to Ivan’s house and they got along very well. They began an immediate and profound friendship and saw each other until Illich’s dying day.” Javier was the first to translate Illich’s texts into Spanish and edited a compilation titled Reunited Works, in Spanish, with Valentina Borremans, executor of Illich’s literary estate.

The Poetics of Action

One of the issues of Ixtus was titled “The Poetics of Action,” a very Gandhian title. Jean Robert tells us that Javier was inspired by a disciple of Lanza del Vasto named Pierre Soury, who believed that there was a primitive language that had to be recuperated. “From there, we go to the etymology of the word, poetry (poiesis, poieo), which means ‘I do,’” he says.

Poetry is action, and in Javier it has become a nonviolent action created by words. Sicilia said that he would not write any more poetry after the brutal assassination of his son. But he is writing poetry although without a pen; he is doing, he is taking action.

The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin said that “man inhabits poetically,” and, as such, to inhabit a place is to be a poet. But that is not sufficient. One has to find the way to inhabit that place. Javier has done that. He has achieved a realization of poetry converted into action. And as the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem said, poetry seldom occurs in poems, it only occurs when words stimulate action.

Ahimsa and the Recuperation of a Destroyed Mexico

After the closure of Ixtus magazine, Javier created a new magazine in 2009, named Conspiratio, through which he tries to replant Western cultural and social concepts to generate a space of reflection to bear the fruit of “a more human society.”

How can society be humanized? According to Lanza del Vasto, it begins with each one of us. Perhaps another reason that Javier has succeeded at mobilizing so many people is because many of them observe he has done that job.. Like Gandhi, he sees life as something that surges from a unity of being, in which there is no division between spirituality and practical activity and because he has tried to live that way. Gandhi spoke of a spiritual principle for that effort. It had a practical value: Ahimsa, or life force. That if someone cannot express an absolute knowledge of the truth (satyagraha, Gandhi called it), no one could use violence to obligate others to act against their sincere and distinct understanding of truth.

Ahimsa has deep roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, but in Javier Sicilia’s words during a May 19 press conference, we find a deep expression of the same concept when he said that the first march, from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, May 5 to 8, was, according to Christian philosophy, “an expression of the Kingdom.” Also there is Ahimsa, the life force, together with what Gandhi called Satyagraha, or truth, the two principles necessary for the New Pact and the Resurrection of Mexico.

To this Gandhian parallel we must add another that makes reference to the importance that Ghandi gave to poets in order to give strength to a movement, and it is nothing gratuitous: Sarojini Naidu was a poet who led various nonviolent marches during India’s movement for Independence. She accompanied Gandhi during the Great Salt March. When Gandhi was arrested, he said that it should be Sarojini who would lead the movement during his imprisonment because she converted poetry into Ahimsa. Sicilia, today, in a way follows in the footsteps of the poet Sarojini Naidu.

Poet and Community Organizer

Javier is an intellectual formed by Catholicism and has long been committed to social causes. His father, a textile manufacturer, was also a poet but in solitude. Perhaps that’s where Javier got his vocation. Although according to Jose Gil Olmos, journalist of the weekly Proceso magazine, Javier once wanted to be a Jesuit priest, but opted for poetry instead, “because he couldn’t commit to the vow of Papal obedience.” His spiritualism merged with social struggle when he joined with Sergio Méndez Arceo, known as “the Red Bishop” of Cuernavaca, pioneer of Liberation Theology, and “one of the first to bring that kind of politics into the Church,” remembers Rubén Flores, an old friend of the late Bishop. In the 1980s, Méndez Arceo began to form the Ecclesiastic Base Communities (CEB, in the Spanish initials) that tried to foster the democratic and social transformation of Mexico and Latin America.

In 1994, when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) appeared, Javier supported its proposal to transform the country through a national dialogue, and he traveled to Chiapas to defend the San Andrés Accords for the rights of indigenous peoples.

This was surely one of the reasons that the Zapatistas and the organizers of movements and actions with which they have been identified trusted Sicilia and his demand for justice enough to unite immediately with it.

In 2001, he joined the ecological and cultural movement to defend the Casino de la Selva, a building in the Morelos capital of Cuernavaca whose murals and archeological ruins would be damaged by a supermarket and mall. And it is that Javier surely believed in what Albert Camus wrote, that in the labor of the writer, or in his case, the poet, there is always a commitment.

For more than thirty years, Sicilia has written poetry, essays and articles that analyzed the situation in the country, the injustices committed by those who governed it, and has always defended the struggles of citizens and grassroots communities. He continues doing so in the present day, as a columnist for the weekly Proceso, where he began signing his columns with a closing comment borrowed from the speeches of Cato in ancient Rome when he ended his remarks saying, “And, additionally, I opine that Carthage must be destroyed.” Javier used that literary technique to bring attention to the old and new social demands as they arose.

For years, he ended his columns with the same phrase: “Additionally, I opine that the San Andrés Accords must be respected.” And to the reminder that the agreement must be complied with, he added other impossible demands, one by one: to, “free all Zapatista prisoners, defeat the Costco at Casino de la Selva, to solve the crimes of assassination in Juárez, to ban the San Xavier mine from San Pedro Hill, to free the prisoners of Atenco and of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials) and that (former governor) Ulises Ruiz must leave Oaxaca.”

Which of these demands were met? Surely, as alluded to in these lines, the Zapatistas marched on May 7 in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, in solidarity with Sicilia’s call to Stop the War, but their original demand has not been resolved: The peace agreement of San Andrés Larráinzar, that should have been the basis for a Constitutional reform of indigenous rights, to which then-President Vicente Fox had promised at first, but which continues to languish. The struggle to save the Casino de la Selva was another failure, without diminishing the importance of the struggle even though it didn’t arrive at its goal. The shopping mall and supermarket have now been there for a decade. The assassinations of Juárez remain unsolved. Some of the political prisoners of Atenco and the APPO have been liberated and many members of those movements were in the recent marches to stop the war that were held nationwide at Javier’s call on May 8.

Like many Mexicans who struggle, Javier lived recent years in a life with too many social demands on many fronts of national politics, perhaps too disperse to become one demand and gain coherence and traction. In the end, the demands formed an extensive list of petitions that seemed impossible to achieve, but which formed part of Javier’s profile as a social fighter, or community organizer: a shopping list of demands, that upon the assassination of his son, all rolled into one sole demand: “We have had it up to here! No more bloodshed. End the violence. Stop the War!”

The assassination of his son was a turning point in Javier’s life, a before and after that suddenly changed a shopping list of demands into a unifying exigency. It is worth repeating: All the many unsolved demands by Mexican society have now found a single blanket to cover them.

“I Want to Change This Country”

Javier almost never travels. But on a day not unlike today, two months ago, he awoke in Manila, Philippines, to the worst of news: His son, Juan Francisco, whom he called Juanelo, had been brutally assassinated with six of his friends and neighbors. This happened on March 27, but disgracefully, stories like this have been repeated thousands of times in Mexico during the past five years, bringing pain and indignation to many Mexican families while the war on drugs has been escalated.

In 2006, when Felipe Calderón gained the presidency of Mexico illegally, millions of Mexicans demonstrated against a government they did not elect. What followed was his first and almost only policy: to use the weapon of fear against his nation’s own citizens, sending the Army out into the streets supposedly to protect them. Thus began the latest phase of the “War on Drugs,” which has since created at least 6,000 orphans and 40,000 deaths; Juanelo, one of them.

He was 24-years-old, and he wanted to change the world. Juanelo was tired of living in a country at war. He wanted to do something. Jean Robert, Javier’s close friend, told us of the desperation of a father who listened to his son speak, full of energy and creativity to end the violence in Mexico. Upon his death, Juanelo could no longer change things, but his father took up his cause in an hour of national crisis. Javier said, in front of his friend Jean Robert, “Juanelo, you led me to this situation for a reason.”

This was the turning point in Javier’s struggle. The death of his son became the motor that drove the forces trying to change Mexico to unite. In Jean Robert’s analysis, there is a Christian parallel: One man’s search for the resurrection of Mexico through the blood of his son.

Jean Robert speaks to us of Javier, today. “I believe that Javier discovered, by surprise, that he is a political animal, in the positive sense of the word.” Even the journalist of opposite political tendencies, Enrique Krauze, wrote in his syndicated column on May 15, “Gandhi could not have better written or done what Javier Sicilia has accomplished.” Krauze asked Javier to make the movement grow. He wrote, “Sicilia, a great admirer of Gandhi, has the inspiration to make this movement last.”

Javier demonstrates political astuteness. He spent years in journalism and politics, yet without offending anyone. Sylvia Marcos observes that he listens while he speaks, that he can be criticized from the right and from the left, without becoming angry. It is part of his personality, and what gives him this role of leader and the political power that he has at this moment. His friends insist that there is a “Javier from before” and a “Javier of the last two months.” When they see him in private, without the microphones and the press that hound him, he returns to the Javier of before, that which does not exist in public, and he says, “Oh my, all this has fallen atop of me… What shall I do?” But when he is acting in public, he drinks it in, he reveals, he transforms, and this gives him strength. He is a man who historic necessity put in a new place to act using his talents. This has to last.

Sylvia insists that Javier already had his political talent. “We have always known his skill with people. He has always been very diplomatic, and a great communicator. And now he is a national personality, but this was not a flower that bloomed in just one day.”

It should not go unmentioned that among his close friends he counts with an admirable partner: Isolda. She is an architect and a poet who also lost a daughter. The both of them have lost children. “She is co-author,” says Jean, “of the transformation of Javier.”

They Strangled the Verse but Could Not Silence the Poet

Javier Sicilia, poet whose son was assassinated, poet who stopped writing poetry because they strangled his word the same way in which they suffocated his lungs. He has stopped writing poetry because the world is not worthy of the word, and the same pain is in the heart and the daily life of the Mexican people.

Javier has decided to turn his grief into action and put all his indignation and pain at the service of the demand for change. The people follow him, they share his struggle because it is that of all the people who “have had it up to here” of living under the yoke of violence and war.

His way of speaking, of being, of looking, of listening attentively, reveals his spirit in every word he pronounces, and in those words, his concern for everyone else. Although we know this world is formed by the indignant and the undignified, and that this is a defiled world, people like Javier give us hope. It won’t easily be born, but another world can be born of this, and his words give wings to that hope and makes us think anew, as Eduardo Galeano said this month from Plaza Catalunya of Barcelona (one of the epicenters of the incipient revolution of the indignant ones of Spain against the structural violence of the system, where people demand Authentic Democracy Already, “this world of shit is pregnant with another one that we believe in, and therefore it can be born.” And if Javier has this strength, why not the rest of humanity?

He has a big responsibility, and he knows it. And he also knows that he is not alone. And this also gives him strength. When he comes home each day he can hug his partner Isolda and ask once again why he has become one of the motors that motivate this mobilization. But now he is at the front of a national movement that on May 8 brought marches in 38 cities all at once. Javier has felt the horror, lived the pain. But he is a poet and a father with a mission to complete.

The Key to the Union

“The pain caused by the sinking of this nation is so great that it surpasses any ideology. We unite ourselves in what makes us human. We come together in the search of a soil where political problems can be talked about and benefit the nation. This is a war against the Mexican people, and that is why we are all united.”

That was Javier’s response to the journalist Greg Berger on May 5 in Cuernavaca, before the march to Mexico City, when he was asked why so many people of different ideologies, backgrounds, cultures and economic classes were in the march.

And it is that for the first time in a long time, thousands of people occupy the streets of Mexico and demonstrate peacefully to seek and end to the war and the violence in their country. Why now? Why this way? Because, as we have observed, there is finally a common demand that doesn’t distinguish between economic classes and ethnic groups. The violence does not discriminate and it harms all.

We can see Javier as key piece of a puzzle that tries to reconstruct Mexico’s social fabric. His words are inclusive and he has achieved an unexpected cohesion among peoples: from the EZLN to businessmen to the middle class, a cohesion to end the war on drugs. The left identifies with him. He is a journalist and the profession identifies with him. He is a poet and all kinds of artists also identify with him. He is a Catholic and the Catholics have shown their solidarity with him. His son was of the middle class and it seems the entire middle class, with or without children, has come out into the streets.

During the May 19 press conference, Javier reiterated that “This was unexpected for me, but I deeply appreciate it. We have been able to hug each other and accompany each other naming our pain. And we have been able to begin to demand that the State be reconstituted in the name of society.”

Javier did not expect this. He did not expect the uniting of classes, but he offers appreciation for it daily. “We cannot lose sight of the moral of the story nor of the victims. We cannot lose sight of the heart. Ideological and political speeches impose themselves over human dignity.” Thus, he asks that the government stop its “statistic-itis” and give names and faces to the victims of this war. One of the first actions of this movement was to hang plaques with the names of the dead in the central squares of the citiies and and towns “to rescue the spirit of every one of the victims of this Rotted State. These victims have names. They are not statistics.”

According to Javier, ideology does not matter, the differences between people do not matter. “What unites us is the heart to return the dream to this nation. At the heart of it, everything depends on whether we keep loving the poetic word, listening to the heart, to the deep human within, listening to what life is, and forget about the ideological differences or that political differences or those between the political parties. The human being and the human heart have to be the reference point, no matter where it comes from.”

We learn from Javier that we cannot wait for the government to bring us this transformation. We cannot wait for the government’s magic wand solves the problems. In his words, “The transformation comes from society. This is what this movement means, like countless others that are occurring around the world.” After Tunisia came Egypt, now Europe – where many of the protagonist of the revolution have savings accounts, but are tired of living under an obsolete State. We are indignant. And only creativity, constant love and poetry will get us out of this spiral of violence that attacks the world in all its ways and means.

From the outside looking in, it could be that some see a weakness in how the movement brings together so many people from different origins and tendencies. It might be seen as diffuse, or too much “a little bit of everything.” Nobody said it would be easy to break the barriers between classes or political tendencies. It will cost a lot. But this is something that accompanies all struggles. Maybe it is the fruit of generalized disillusion that is born from exclusionary struggles that define themselves by what they exclude.

But, to repeat, the violence doesn’t understand economic class. Even though we know that the movement that Javier Sicilia has inspired would have been unthinkable had it come from the death of a construction worker and son of peasant farmers. Yet Javier has been a teacher to many people. He inspired students and poets and has infinite networks at so many levels of the Mexican fabric that they stand with him, they enter into solidarity with him.

This is an unexpected union, but it follows what came before it. Al Giordano, journalist of Narco News, saw in the march of May 5 to 8 a big part of what was hoped for in the Other Campaign of 2006. Without a doubt, the EZLN is behind this model but “no one has been able to bring together this wide spectrum of society. This is the only inclusive struggle that I have covered in 14 years in Mexico.”

Additionally, I Opine that Human Dignity Must Be Respected

The Spanish poet Gabriel Celaya said that poetry is a weapon loaded from the future: “We sing like he who breathes. We speak of what we do each day. Nothing human can remain outside of our work. In the poem there must be clay, with apologies to the famous poets.” And it is that Javier has taught us something: that poetry is not an end in itself. Poetry is an instrument, among others, to respect human dignity and transform the world.

Javier became a mutilated poet, and wrote that he would not write more poetry after the terrible murder of his son until he sees “the resurrection of Mexico.” But he is making poetry nonetheless, without pen nor paper, but he is doing it. And maybe the poet in this case is his son, Juanelo, dictating the verses to his father that they can be made into action to cause the change that he never got to live or see.


Javier Sicilia - Wikipedia: English / Español

Javier Sicilia's Open Letter to Mexico's Politicians and Criminals: English / Español

The last poem:

El mundo ya no es digno de la palabra
Nos la ahogaron adentro
Como te asfixiaron,
Como te desgarraron a ti los pulmones...
Y el dolor no se me aparta
sólo queda un mundo
Por el silencio de los justos
Sólo por tu silencio y por mi silencio, Juanelo.

The world is not worthy of words
they have been suffocated from the inside
as they suffocated you, as they tore apart your lungs ...
the pain does not leave me
all that remains is a world
through the silence of the righteous,
only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.