Sicilia or the Power of Discourse

Sicilia or the Power of Discourse

By: Lorenzo Meyer

August 4, 2011 | Para leer esta columna en español, haga clic aquí

The Struggle for Legitimacy

In the last twenty years, there are two political discourses that have had a big impact in Mexico and even outside of Mexico, because of their ability to condense the grievances of a significant part of society: that of the rebels that formed the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the one that the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) is now constructing. The analysis and the memorial of grievances formulated by the EZLN and the MPJD awaken the interest and solidarity of many –and the hatred of some– because they contrast in a radical way with the form and content of the exhausted, irrelevant and not so credible discourse of those who govern the country: politicians, big business, foreign diplomats or religious leaders.

The EZLN’s discourse of the 1990s was accompanied by the use of arms, although they were few and never decisive (for an authentic armed challenge to the government or the armies of drug traffickers). The real damage to Salinas and the PRI regime was caused by the insurgents’ words and symbolic actions. Someone from Zedillo’s cabinet mocked the EZLN by classifying it as an “internet guerrilla,” without understanding that precisely there resided their intelligence and authentic force, in the social and historic arguments about ethics, with which it bared the poverty and falseness of neoliberal technocrat discourse –that which calls itself “social liberalism” in order to translate and make its harshness and submission to the “Washington Consensus” acceptable.

No one, from the heights of the government, the parties or big business or from the other arenas of the establishment, could refute efficiently the accusations by the Indigenous Chiapas rebels.

From the beginning the EZLN elected the playing field and took the initiative on the discussion with which it confronted the government: the centennial grievance of the original [indigenous] communities of Mexico. With its famous document: “For what are you going to pardon us; for not dying of hunger; for not being quiet in our misery…“ of January 18, 1994, neo-Zapatismo set aside an important part of Mexican and international society, and the technocrats could not thoroughly use their armed superiority to smash them. Some time ago the EZLN was isolated by a political-military circle and has stopped being at the center of Mexican political discussion, but it survives, it cannot be destroyed, and what still sustains it is the force of its discourse.

Different than the EZLN, the MPJD’s strength does not reside, not even symbolically, in rebellion and military force. To the contrary, its efficacy is rooted in a thorough criticism of arms, those of organized crime as well as those of the government, the first by brutal criminals and the second by also inefficient government instances.

The MPJD’s robustness comes from its decision and ability to give voice to a fed up general public –the now famous “we are up to here”– because of senseless criminal and governmental violence, on the rise and where the victims –criminals, police, soldiers and innocents– now add up to 50, 000 in a little less than 5 years.

The pen of the poet that organized and is at the front of the MPDJ, Javier Sicilia, today plays the same role as that Subcomandante Marcos played for the EZLN. The two are dipped in the ink of a religious thinking that after 500 years has undeniable resonance in Mexico. In fact, the word of Subcomandante Marcos was endorsed because of his commitment to the causes of indigenous Chiapanecos, that of Sicilia because of the horror and senseless murder of a son and of all the deaths that the “Calderón War” has caused and continues causing.

The Naked King

There are three fundamental discourses of Sicilia: that presented on May 8 in Mexico City’s Zócalo and the two with which he opened the meetings in Chapultepec, the first with Felipe Calderón on June 23 and the second with the representatives of the Legislative Power on July 28. The ideas formulated by Sicilia and that resonate, that have an echo among a good number of Mexicans, are many but can be summed up in one very general and fundamental [idea]: the content of the exercise of power is so distant from the interests of the bulk of the Mexican people that it turns out to be illegitimate and harmful.

In the Zócalo, Sicilia set forth and demanded that the victims stop being numbers for parts of the government and that their names be returned to them, their individuality, and that the significance of each one of those deaths be evaluated. Deaths [that are the] product of an absurd war, carried out by a profoundly corrupt governmental structure, unrepresentative and that at each one of its levels maintains ties with the criminal world that it claims to combat.

The MPJD’s June meeting with Felipe Calderón and part of his cabinet was historic, without precedent. There, Javier Sicilia said directly to him, literally in his face, to the Executive Power, that, in his position (as president) he was obligated to ask the nation in general and the victims of violence in particular for pardon, for a war between you [the rulers] and the drug traffickers” but “that is not our war.” That war was declared without previously having made “a profound political reform and a cleansing of institutions,” rotten institutions, and therefore the result means an injustice to a society that is paying a very high price for the lack of responsibility of a political class that has given priority to the security of institutions and not to human security, all of which has spilled over into a national emergency.

In the last meeting of the MPJD with the leadership of Congress at Chapultepec on July 28, the document with which Sicilia opened the meeting emphasized the lack of representativeness of our representative democracy. And that is not a “poetic truth” but a hard truth that the polls endorse: those called “popular representatives,” senators and deputies, are found at the bottom of the evaluations made by Mexican citizens (See the June 2011 Mitofsky Poll).

To the legislators, Javier Sicilia threw in their face that at times they act under the supposition that: “we citizens are idiots” and he accused them of being attentive not to the rhythms and beats of the heart of the country” but to their privileges and to “the partyocracy and petty interests” and pretending, “together with the criminals and other de facto (behind-the-scenes) powers, of kidnapping the nation’s democratic aspirations and the hope of wellbeing.” He also accused the Congress of being co-responsible for the 50, 000 deaths, 10, 000 disappearances, 120, 000 displaced and the insecurity of millions that have caused the illegal war against drug trafficking, illegal because the Executive made the decision to carry it on without asking for Congress’ permission and, once that decision was made, the legislators have done nothing to impede it, to stop the evil. Nor are they doing what they should to remedy the damage done. Because of all that, they, lacking as legislators, are obliged to publicly ask for pardon and, besides, to act in those very concrete fields that the MPJD has been demanding for doing justice for the victims –Mexicans and Central Americans–, to repair the institutions, to open genuinely hopeful horizons for youth and, finally to start to give political activity, especially facing next year’s elections, dignity, legitimacy and utility lost a long time ago. That not being the case, in 2012 we will have “an dishonorable government that will again administer the challenge of organized crime and distribute the country’s territory among factious powers, political employees, cartels and military forces.” The key term here is “again,” which implies that the terrible definition of the Mexico of today will persist.

The Finishing Touch

The truths expressed by Javier Sicilia in his three discourses are not really directed at the powerful, but at the citizen. They are not after all, all the truths that make up today’s Mexico, but all of them are resounding truths that have value by themselves and also because they are formulated from a dimension that did not seek to make politics in the ignoble sense that that term has among us. We are clearly dealing with a political phenomenon, but in the best sense of the term, that is only seen now and then: as an effort to transform a national tragedy into an energy that doesn’t seek positions but forging a collective conscience capable of imposing citizen dignity faced with a power that historically has done everything to negate it.


Originally Published in Spanish by Reforma at

Translation: Chiapas Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a Chiapas

P.O. Box  3421, Oakland, CA  94609


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