June 10, 2011 by tristan savage
CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO; THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2011: Six months ago on this spot –in front of the governor’s office of this state of Chihuahua, in this capital city of the same name – human rights defender Marisela Escobedo, 52, was gunned down by a masked man. Today, thousands of citizens came together to install a plaque on the sidewalk in front of the Governor’s Palace, in memory of Marisela. There, poet Javier Sicilia warned the state governor that he would be a “delinquent” if he ordered the removal of that memorial stone as he had done multiple times before when similar plaques in Marisela’s name were erected.
Three years ago, in 2008, Marisela had lost her 17-year-old daughter (Rubi’s burned remains were discovered in June 2009 in a trash can), and at the moment of her own assassination Marisela was protesting the release of the man charged with the crime. Although authorities have done little to clarify what happened, local citizens widely believe that the freed defendant is the same man who assassinated Marisela in plain view of the state governor’s palace and the attorney general’s office, which can be seen across the city square.
Marisela’s spirit walked alongside thousands of Mexicans today from the Plaza de la Madre to the City Square, under a brutal desert sun, led by eight large, white dove puppets, eight black silhouettes of police-chalk corpses, a local truck with a liberty bell that had gone all the way to Cuernavaca to join the caravan that had just returned 2,000-plus kilometers to this spot, family members and friends of scores of young women assassinated in this state with large color posters of their faces and names, and the poet Javier Sicilia who has galvanized the pain of so many Mexicans into a national movement to stop the drug war.
As they walked up Cuauhtémoc Avenue, people poured out of nearly every store, home, and office building along the route to wave, to take photos, to applaud, to express solidarity. “That’s him!” one said to her coworkers. “That’s Javier!” The poet was flanked by a security team of two dozen unarmed women dressed in black robes with lavender straw hats that read, “Not one death more,” and was flanked by people, like him, who had lost family members to the war on drugs.
Mariano Coredero Vaca, grandfather of the late Mariano Enteros, killed on June 25, 2009 in the town of Parral, Chihuahua, walked with a dozen or more citizens of his town, all wearing white tee shirts emblazoned with the late youth’s photo and the words, “Mariano Enteros: Presente.” Another delegation, from Creel, Chihuahua, remembered the August 16, 2008 massacre of sixteen innocent civilians from that town, among the dead, four children.
A lone man carried a handmade sign that he made while waiting for the march to begin: “For every bullet that kills, there are millions of hugs feeding life. Don’t give up!”
It has seemed over the past week that the farther north that the caravan moved, the more the main goal – ending the drug war – came into focus. In Chihuahua today, it was the absolute unifying (and virtually the only) cause expressed from banners and chants. It was here in Chihuahua that the caravan’s message gained the coherence that any cause needs to win response and action from the public.
Along the Path of Pain
This newspaper has already reported on the first stops along the road, from Cuernavaca to Mexico City to Toluca to Morelia to San Luis Potosí, and of the visible tensions between the priorities of everyday citizens who came out to accompany the caravan because they want an end to the war, and those pushing other causes seeking to hitch their wagons to the Sicilia-inspired outbreak of national conscience.
In Morelia, June 4, the cries of those assassinated by a grenade during the national independence celebration of 2009 were nearly drowned out by the shopping list of issues, ideologies and organizations that had affixed themselves to the caravan’s first night’s rally. In San Luis Potosí on June 5 – where multi-national mining companies and local and national politicians alike see only gold in them there hills – Sicilia instead preached what is known in English as the Golden Rule, that protesters should do unto others what they want done unto themselves, beginning a kind of national teach-in on the power of nonviolence.
From San Luis Potosí the caravan crossed the desert on Monday, June 6, with a stop in the colonial mountain city of Zacatecas, where Julian LeBaron of Chihuahua – who has lost a brother and a brother-in-law to kidnappers who act with impunity and protection by the authorities – shared a parable about community organizing and what greatness this country could rise to with a simple strategy of neighbors seeking out neighbors.
The caravan then moved on to Western Mexico’s cowboy outpost of Durango, where the working class flooded into the streets and from the stage told story after story of the murders of family members in the name of the war on drugs, a polished colonial downtown-of-fear where the only store found open after midnight was the city funeral home. O
n Tuesday, June 7, it crossed the desert again – West to East – to Saltillo, where Bishop Raul Vera and thousands of parishioners met the now 600 caravan participants with a fried chicken meal and prayers. From there it moved to Monterrey – the economic capital of Northern Mexico – where speaker after speaker told, many of them crying, of how police and military forces had disappeared or assassinated their sons and daughters.
It was in Monterrey that the late-night public meeting converted into a march to the state prosecutor’s office, where, after midnight, the doors flew open and the poet Sicilia was received. He brought a list of unsolved cases of murder at the hands of police and the Army, and was promised – Narco News has learned – a response on each one within a week, and the results of a detailed investigation and the punishment of authorities responsible for each murder or disappearance within one month.
The next day, Wednesday, June 8, in the city of Torreón, LeBaron offered a new parable, citing the previous night’s happenings in Monterrey, explaining why he is convinced that “we are going to win” and that those opposed to the drug war “have more power than we know.”
Chihuahua: Gateway to Juárez
The caravan arrived at 2:22 a.m. Thursday morning to Chihuahua and eight hours later was on the march through this capital city’s streets again.
Shortly before noon, the march arrived in front of the Governor’s Palace – the same ground where Marisela Escobedo’s blood spilt in December 2010, taking her from this life – and while, from the rally stage, many Chihuahua citizens testified their own stories of losing loved ones to the violence of police, of soldiers, of drug traffickers, of common criminals – and, in too many cases, they had no idea who or what had taken their sons, their daughters, their parents, their mates, due to the indifference of governmental authorities – friends and family of Marisela drilled a metal plaque in memory of her into the sidewalk at the doorstep of the Governor’s Palace.
When Javier Sicilia took the stage, he spoke of his conversation in early April – days after the assassination of Juan Francisco Sicilia, 24, Javier’s son – with the man who occupies Mexico’s presidency, Felipe Calderón. And he remembered what he told the head of state that day: that “this war should never have been fought without remaking the government first, without a Constituent Assembly to change the constitution, because a peace without justice is not a peace. It is a war.”
And then Sicilia brought the attention of the thousands assembled to the sound of a power drill on stone: the plaque being placed at that moment in memoriam to Marisela Escobedo, on the sidewalk, in front of the Governor’s Palace, so that no one may enter or exit the building without seeing her name.
And the poet said, “We are going to install a plaque. They have told me that this plaque for Marisela Escobedo reminds us of a debt that the authorities have to her. And they have told me that they have removed it before and so we are going to put it back. I say to the governor from this square, we say it through my voice that he should remember that sovereignty lies with the people. This square does not belong to the government but to the people, and we will indict him if he takes it away. Not only that, but I appeal to the citizens of Chihuahua that you add plaques with the names of every one of your dead to this one.”
“These plaques, like those we have been putting up in Cuernavaca, Morelos, should fill all the city and town squares and nobody, but nobody, other than a person without common sense, a criminal, or a non entity, has the right to take them away. Nobody can remove this plaque. That’s where we are going, with a new gesture toward civil resistance, our civil resistance. We are going to install this plaque to tell them that the pain that inflicts us, we will never convert it into hate, but, rather, to love, to justice, to peace and to dignity.”
The families of the dead then came down from the stage and surrounded the memorial plaque at the gates of the Palace. The power drill finished its last loud spins. Sicilia called for a minute of silence, and the multitude hushed.
Eight hours later, the caravan arrived in Ciudad Juárez, where on Friday thousands of its participants from all 32 Mexican states will discuss, debate and sign a National Pact to solve this problem of the “war on drugs,” a war imposed on Mexico by its neighbor to the North. The nonviolent occupation of the world’s most violent city has begun.