Mexico has been locked in a violent and bloody war for the past four years. At stake is who controls the country - the elected government or cashed up drug cartels. As the drug lords and federal forces battle it out, the civilian population have had enough and people power is on the rise. Dateline’s Yaara Bou Melham joined a march that could be the start of a new push for peace.
REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melham
100,000 people have filled the square in Mexico City to listen to a poet but he is not reading any poems to this crowd. Today, Javier Sicilia is trying to stop Mexico's war on drugs that in the past four years alone has taken 35,000 lives. One hour south of Mexico City is the sleepy town ofCuernavaca, a tourist haven, renowned for its artists and philosophers. But at the end of March this year, the peace in this small town was shattered.
JAVIER SICILIA, POET (Translation): There are terms to define loss, ‘widower’ if you lose a wife, ‘orphan’ if you lose a parent, but if you lose a son there are no words. It’s indescribable; it’s a kind of pain that belongs to an unspeakable world. It’s a silence that cannot be expressed.
These plaques in the main square commemorate the death of his son and his six friends. Their bodies were found in a car, bound, gagged and asphyxiated. Sicilia says that his son is one of the many thousands of innocent people who have died since President Felipe Calderon gave the military wide sweeping powers to fight Mexico's drug cartels. The drug gangs responded by random killings of innocent civilians in an attempt to blackmail the government to stopping the war.
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): We cannot understand a war that is so badly planned and run.
In response to the violence, Javier Sicilia has called for a 65 kilometre 4-day march from his home town to the capital, Mexico City. Many carry the slogan of the campaign. It means, "We have had it up to here".
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): It’s not my vocation, my work, but I am doing it as a duty, in memory of my son, in memory of so much suffering, so many dead, and all the pain of our nation.
This group of young Mexican film makers were getting the message out over the internet.
FILM MAKER: We are streaming live.
They are the unofficial media for the movement and the march. They broadcast through social networks and this diesel engine.
FILM MAKER: We update through blogs and chats. We broadcast live through TV and radio. We are connected with Facebook and Twitter.
On the first part of the march, many of those participating are friends of Javier Sicilia from his home town.
FRIEND: I believe Javier Sicilia is an ideal leader for us. He is a poet - he has an enormous heart. He has been aware of what has been happening in the country for the last 20 years.
FRIEND 2: We are fed up with all of the violence. The Government is not doing the right things to stop the violence.
FRIEND 3: I am marching today because I want the world to see his face. He was a gorgeous young man. He was what this country needed. He was killed and justice has not been made.
This initially started off as a cultural and artistic movement but it has now appealed to Mexicans of all sides of the political spectrum. It seems that tragedy has left nobody untouched.
MAN: Here you can find many different peoples, you can find high class, low class with good economic health or without… We have one thing in common – we don’t want to have a country like the one we are having.
This businessman's daughter was kidnapped and killed.. Each town and village along the way provides an opportunity to get their message out.
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): Evidently, we are fed up with crime and we want it to end, but we are also fed up with the way that institutions, especially the political parties are behaving. We have given them a blank cheque.
Unexpectedly, Javier Sicilia is handed a notebook to continue writing poetry. He had vowed to never write anything again after the death of his son and the gesture moves him to tears. Everybody wants a piece of him wherever he goes but this is a man unaccustomed to the limelight.
REPORTER: You have become a national hero. That is a lot of responsibility to bear. How do you feel about this?
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): Very bad, very bad because I am not that way inclined, I am not a hero. I’m a man in whom society has found a way to express their own pain.
He may be humble, but he is not afraid to lash out with some strong words.
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): our citizens are terrified, people are being told that they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, when a country tells its citizens that a place and time are wrong – it’s on the edge of the abyss. If this continues, I don’t know what the right place will be, not even your home.
There is neither chanting nor any political posturing here. It was promoted as a silent march. It is peaceful, co-operative, and well organised. On the dangerous sections of the journey, even buses are arranged. At night, the marchers are hosted by towns and schools along the way.
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): I think that marching…. Is a human vocation to walk, always in an upright position, leaning slightly forward. Part of God’s design, created to walk, a pilgrim people. Pilgrimages are a long tradition in this country.
This deeply Catholic man's message of peaceful resistance is drawing more followers.
MAN: My brother was murdered. One of my brothers was kidnapped. My wife's brother has disappeared. My uncle disappeared. A lot of people see this as the only thing left.
We have just entered Mexico City and the momentum of the movement is building, with the number of people almost doubling to almost 400 people. The march continues to grow exponentially.
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): They have understood that this is for everyone, for all citizens who are hurt and wounded – the shout of silence is getting louder.
YOUNG MARCHER: We are here because we want to change the country. It is full of people killing people.
WOMAN: Today is the key day for the government to see how angry people are.
The final day of the march - It takes us the whole day to walk through the sprawling Mexico City. Finally... Javier Sicilia calls for the resignation of a top security official, the withdrawal of the military from the streets, and for corrupt politicians to be thrown out. Finally he announces the signing of a national pact that aims to completely overhaul Mexican society.
REPORTER: Do you believe it was a success?
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): Yes, I think so, it managed to capture and break the fear gripping people, the terrible muzzling that this war had created.
Mexico's President quickly announced he is willing to have talks with Javier Sicilia. His next step is to take his campaign to Cuidad Juarez, a town bordering the United States, that has seen the most bloodshed. It is leaving this humble poet wondering whether a change can ever come.
JAVIER SICILIA (Translation): The solution is up to everyone, I think there are other civil and pluralist organisations that can do much more than what we have done. I have just called for people to think and rebuild the country.
YALDA HAKIM: Just a few days ago, the Mexican police arrested a man suspected of killing Javier Sicilia's son and his friends. Go to our website where there is an interview about that story and links to the campaign. Plus, a background factfile on the Mexican drug war.
YAARA BOU MELHEM
RICARDO DEL CONDE
Original Music composed by
Additional Footage Courtesy of Dejennos en Paz
29th May 2011