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After son’s murder, poet fighting back

Javier Sicilia

Javier Sicilia

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Updated: May 21, 2012 8:34AM

His eyes reveal a deep pain every time Mexican poet Javier Sicilia talks about his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco, a health administration student, who was murdered by drug traffickers over a year ago in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

“My son could have contributed immensely to his country,” Sicilia told me. “And there are thousands like him.”

As a father, I could not even begin to imagine Sicilia’s torment. But revenge and hate don’t move Sicilia. He even said he has pardoned the drug traffickers involved in his son’s killing. But his outrage over the execution of his son and six of his friends — none of them involved in drugs — sparked a national outcry in Mexico.

Sicilia is one of Mexico’s best-known poets. His poetry is infused with religious imagery and left-leaning ideas. His white tousled hair gives him an air of bohemian intellectual. Time magazine included a profile of Sicilia in its 2012 Person of the Year issue dedicated to protesters around the world.

Never before has a Mexican poet mobilized thousands over an issue of national interest. Last April, after his son was murdered, Sicilia created the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity to urge a stop in the drug violence that has resulted in nearly 60,000 dead in the five years since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out war against the drug cartels. Sicilia called his movement ¡Hasta la Madre!, which loosely translates as Fed Up! The phrase echoed the sentiment of a whole country tired of drug violence, high crime and a broken judicial system.

In the beginning, only a few hundred people showed up to Sicilia’s rallies. Then thousands, some holding photographs of slain or kidnapped relatives. In June, hundreds of thousands joined rallies that culminated in a massive caravan across the country.

“Our movement gave name, face and voice to many innocent victims of the violence. The government considered all victims to be involved in drugs or collateral damage,” said Sicilia, who was in Chicago this week at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.

The outcry had such an impact that Calderon held a forum with Sicilia and relatives of victims on legislative and social reforms to help end the violence.

Sicilia’s push for legalizing the drug trade is at odds not only with Calderon’s strategy but also with U.S. efforts to combat drug trafficking. He is a harsh critic of the U.S. war on drugs. He points to the unabated drug consumption and the flow of American weapons that arm the drug cartels.

He is planning a caravan from California to Washington, D.C., in August to “bring to the American people’s conscience their shared responsibility for the thousands of dead, missing and displaced in the drug war.”

I share Sicilia’s pain in seeing Mexico ravaged by criminals. I also admire his courage. I don’t agree, however, that legalizing drugs would put the cartels out of business. I think much still needs to be done to stop money laundering and the flow of guns that end up in the hands of the narcos.

Sicilia stopped writing poetry when his son was murdered. He told me he doesn’t think he will ever write a poem again.

That is a heavy loss, too, and not only for Mexico.

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