By Al Giordano
(Gianni Proiettis with Mercedes Osuna in Chiapas, Mexico, in front of a military vehicle. Date of photo unknown.)
Ever wonder what it will be like to be deported from Mexico? Gianni Proiettis, the first journalist to be expelled by the Mexican regime since the 1990s (when the government of then-president Ernesto Zedillo kicked more than 400 journalists and human rights observers out of the country for having visited rebel indigenous Zapatista territory in Chiapas) today relates the story of his twenty-first century deportation.
Reached by Narco News on Sunday at the home of his sister in the Italian capital, Gianni – legal resident of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico since 1993, professor at the Autonomous University of Chiapas (UNACH, in its Spanish initials) and correspondent for the Italian Il Manifiesto newspaper with a weekly blog on its front page about Mexican news – narrated, step by step, his unexpected transatlantic journey.
“On Friday morning I went to the immigration offices in San Cristóbal to renew my FM2 visa like I do every year. I had already given them all the required papers,” Gianni begins. “Two days earlier the office director had called me and asked for my passport with an excuse that now they process the applications via Internet. I suggested that I bring her a photocopy. She said, no, she needed the original. I gave it to them last Wednesday.”
(Technically, a passport is property of the government that issues it, and no other government, under international law, has the right to take it away from a foreign citizen, one of the multiple irregularities in this case that may lead to Gianni’s eventual, or even swift, return to his home of eighteen years.)
“She gave me an appointment for Friday at 10:30 a.m. The only thing left to do was to pay the annual fee. I got there punctually at the hour she had given me. They had me waiting for more than an hour, while they let others ahead in line. Every five minutes or so an agent would come up to me and say ‘five minutes.’ Everything seemed normal. Then one said, ‘Can you come in here to the room on the right?’ When I entered that room, there were five men in uniforms of the National Immigration Institute. One of them said, ‘From this moment now, you are under our custody.’
“I had in my pocket a protective order that a judge had issued last December, preventing my arrest, that Mercedes Osuna had gotten for me. I called to the office director, but she had disappeared. She wouldn’t show her face. An officer said that my protective order had already expired. I said, ‘Then return it to me.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, it will be traveling with you.’ From that moment on, I never got my protective order back, nor the receipts that proved I had given them all the necessary documents to renew my annual visa. They had taken away the proof.
“They put me in a van with five immigration agents. It was preceded by a federal police cruiser which moved at high speed to the airport in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. They escorted me into the government section, and quickly to a small executive jet which brought a pilot, a copilot, two agents, and me to Mexico City.
“Ninety minutes later I was in the Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City, again in the government area. They offered me a steak or a fish but I said, ‘no thanks, you have taken away my appetite.’ It was already getting dark. I didn’t have a watch so I can’t tell you what time it was.
“One of the immigration officials in Mexico City told me, ‘You are being deported because you did not renew your visa. We gave you an order to leave that you did not obey. So we have deported you.’ I told him that that was totally false. Nobody had ever given me an order to leave. They invented the accusation out of thin air."
Yet the San Cristóbal office of the National Immigration Institute had signed a receipt back on April 5 when Gianni submitted his visa renewal forms with all the necessary paperwork. That receipt was among the documents taken from him by immigration agents on Friday, and never returned. However, the national headquarters must surely have a computer record of those transactions (didn't the local delegate tell Gianni that "now they process the applications via the Internet"?). Somebody broke the law, and it wasn't Gianni Proiettis.
“Then they escorted me to an Aeromexico flight to Rome via Madrid. Two agents came with me on the plane. It was strange. What was I going to do, escape from the plane mid-flight? But they insisted, ‘We will bring you to Rome.’
“Thirteen hours later, in the Barajas International Airport of Madrid, they brought me to a police office. I was still under arrest by two Mexican immigration agents. I noted the illegality of the thing. How is it possible that two Mexican police are detaining me in a Spanish airport when I have no criminal charges or legal obligations in Spain, or Italy, or even in Mexico, where expulsion is an administrative process?
“I tried to explain this to the Spanish police, that I should be free to go right there. They said, ‘We always do it that way.’ I said, ‘This isn’t an extradition, it is a deportation, Mexico no longer has authority over me.’ It was totally absurd. I was in Spain, but I was not free to go.
“At 8 p.m. on Saturday night we boarded a plane for Rome, still with the two Mexican agents. Then they made us get off the plane. As individuals, we were already documented with boarding passes. Of course I had no luggage. But in cases like this there is another layer of bureaucracy. The Spaniards said, ‘you can’t leave, more papers need to be filled out. You have to wait until the morning.’ So we stayed in the offices of the police. There were cells in the basement with cots, but the Mexican agents and I all tried to sleep on some benches in the office area.
“At some point I convinced them to take me to the airport restaurant area. The Mexican agents were actually nice kids. So we ate there in the restaurant area. Then we tried to sleep a little on the benches. At 6:30 a.m. they took us in a van to below the airplane, and we boarded.”
After a journey that began on Friday morning, 10:30 a.m. Mexico time, in the immigration offices of his city, Gianni Proiettis landed in Rome on Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m. Italian time (40 hours later). Gianni invited the two Mexican immigration agents to his sister’s house there, where they accepted the invitation for a coffee. (I would have gotten them drunk on limoncello, taken them to a bordello, and snapped some useful photographs, but Gianni, you can see, is a gentleman.) A little while later they left, and Gianni spoke with Narco News by telephone.
"But Gianni," I said, "remember back in the 1990s, when all our friends and colleagues who got expelled were given a letter by the Mexican government informing them that they had been banned from Mexican soil for a period of ten years? Did they give you any such letter? That letter is a very valuable thing. You could then use it for the opening chapter of what would surely be your international bestselling book titled, 'BANNED IN MEXICO!'"
“No,” he answered. “I signed a paper that confirmed they had returned my passport to me, and that was all.”
“Al, when will you be in San Cristóbal again so we can spend some time together?” Gianni asked.
“Because,” he added, matter-of-factly, “that is where you will find me.”
By Al Giordano
It seemed like only… last December… In fact it was… When state police in Chiapas, Mexico arrested Italian journalist Gianni Proiettis and attempted to turn him over to national immigration authorities (INM, or Instituto Nacional de la Migración) in an attempt to get him deported from Mexico after 16 years of legal residence in the country. We and others made a big fuss, and Gianni was released. The Chiapas state government then issued a formal public apology to Gianni and his family, stating it was a case of “mistaken identity.”
Today, four months later - Friday April 15 – Gianni went to the INM offices in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, for what he thought was his annual, routine, paperwork on renewing his visa.
There, he was held incomunicado, transported to the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and transported by airplane to Mexico City where, Narco News has learned, he is now in a holding cell of the INM in the borough of Iztapalapa of the national capital, where people are brought before being deported from the country.
Moments ago, a judge issued a protective order for his release, and to prevent the INM from deporting him.
His wife, Maribel, tells Narco News that nothing strange or out of the ordinary had happened in recent weeks or since the December problems.
These are all the facts we have so far, but we’re on it. We just wanted to get this up quickly on Google News and other search engines and feeds so that the authorities know that whatever they are trying to do with Gianni will not happen in silence.
Update 10:04 p.m. Here is a copy of the "ámparo" filed through attorneys by Narco News School of Authentic Journalism professor Mercedes Osuna in Chiapas, and signed by the federal district court in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital. Legally, this means that - because the authorities had not yet succeeded in putting Gianni on an airplane for deportation - that the case moves back to Chiapas and under Mexican law Gianni must be now transported back there before any other process can take place.
Update 11:25 p.m. Sad news. Mexican immigration authorities put Gianni on an airplane at 7 p.m. tonight and deported him to Rome. No reason given, not to his family, not to the Italian Embassy, not to his Mexican neighbors and colleagues and friends who knew him and loved him. The 9 p.m. court-signed protection order was already too late. As soon as we know more information, we will post it here.
By Al Giordano
Flanked by mothers, fathers, children and siblings of many of Mexico’s most nationally visible victims of violence, and by leading religious figures, poet and journalist Javier Sicilia today called for a national silent march to Mexico City, to culminate on the national zócalo on Saturday, May 8, under the banner of: “Stop the War, for a Just Mexico in Peace: We Have Had It Up to Here!”
More than a thousand friends, community organizers and independent media makers attended the announcement on Cuernavaca’s zócalo (city square) at 6 p.m. tonight, some arriving an hour early for a Catholic Mass where in place of the traditional call-and-response of “Lord, Hear Our Prayer,” the faithful chanted, “Not One More Death.” The Catholic priests on stage invited Julian LeBaron, Mormon and father of eleven children, brother of an assassinated anti-kidnapping organizer in the northern state of Chihuahua, to read each line of the call.
Delivering the sermon, Father Miguel Concha said, “We are against this war, a war that is not ours, a war that is theirs in the North. They sell the arms, launder the money, make business out of it, and we provide the deaths… May the Lord accompany us on this march today for a dignified, free, sovereign and just Mexico.”
Liberation theology has been a long tradition in Mexico, but today’s announcement marked the first time that repeated speakers, including the secular ones, so heavily quoted Gandhi and King and so explicitly espoused “nonviolent action” as the strategy for a nascent social movement – against the war on drugs - with such heavy national media attention upon it. The closest thing this country – where armed revolutions and insurrections and their heroes have been fetishized to an extreme in which the iconography became as much product as protest - has ever had as an example of that kind of movement was among Mexican Americans across the border and the United Farmworkers movement launched by the late César Chávez. What may be brewing here is Mexico’s first ever expressly nonviolent civil resistance, poetically waged against the national tragedy of mass violence caused by the policy of drug prohibition.
As young people (they’ve been the principal engine of the movement’s activity since it sprang up after the March 28 deaths of Sicilia’s son and six others) erected 96 more plaques on the stone columns of the Governor’s Palace behind the stage – each with the name of someone assassinated in violence during 2011 in this state of Morelos – Sicilia called for the resignation of Governor Marco Adame and his appointees, to chants of “Out! Out!” and “May They All Go!”
But his announcement went way beyond the mere convocation of new marches.
“We are going to call you there (to the Mexico City Zócalo) and commit ourselves to sign a national authentic, genuine pact, without simulations or institutional signatures – those institutions that are already mere vestiges of what was a nation. We are going to call everyone to sign a pact in the center of the city that has been most hurt among hurts, in the center of Ciudad Juárez. There, in the open wound of the Northern border, we are calling so that you, who have squandered our money, have made decisions in our name without consulting us, have defrauded our trust and have put the country in a national emergency, that you sign a pact that allows us to recuperate the representation of the nation that has almost been lost and that you make the posts you hold count for something before it is too late.
“But we will go there also to say to ourselves, confronted with your omissions and complicities, that we, from below, can also organize ourselves, have constituent and reconstituent assemblies in every colony, in every neighborhood, in every community, to create create governability and local and trustworthy security.”
In other words, behind, before and after the marches and the mass meetings, the work soon shifts to the local decentralized level in which neighbors and townspeople assemble together to decide how each locale wants to make itself safe again, then together with those in the rest of the country write what is essentially a new Constitution without consulting those already in power who, after all, never consulted the people on whether it wanted a “war on drugs” and all the violence it has wrought. And after, and only after, that process will the politicians, bureaucrats and the other powerful interests be invited to sign the pact that the people shall write without them.
In other points of human history, organizing ventures like this have been called shadow governments, or parallel institutions. The conclusion is that the Mexican State has failed to function, the people will now create a new one, and then give the old one last chance to acquiesce to what the people decide. The other word for that, in history, is revolution.
A new sign that these sudden protests are already shaking down key pillars of support for "the drug war regime" came this morning in the resignation of nine of 16 board members of the government-allied "NGO," Mexico United Against Delinquency, a group that has provided cover for President Felipe Calderon's drug war by calling for more cops and soldiers and prisons and spending in the war against drug traffickers. Its director, Eduardo Gallo y Tello, whose daughter had been kidnapped in 2000 and made to do slave labor, cleaned out his desk at Mexico United in the morning, and by afternoon was on stage alongside Javier Sicilia and other families of victims of violence, issuing a fiery prosecution of a drug war "that has never defined what victory would look like."
Or, as Olga Reyes repeated to us today, excited at the decision to complete this process in her home state of Chihuahua from which her family and she now are exiled by drug war violence: “The Armed Forces couldn’t save us. Now it is the job of the Unarmed Forces.”
By Al Giordano
I’m going to make this quick because news is still happening to be reported here tonight in Cuernavaca, Morelos, where a national resistance to the “war on drugs” was born last week and rolls quickly toward destiny.
This afternoon at the sit-in against the national violence, underway on the Cuernavaca City Square, or Zócalo, Javier Sicilia arrived around 5 p.m., received by warm hugs by the locals and some especially heart-wrenching teary-eyed embraces by family members of other drug war martyrs who came here all the way from the US border state of Chihuahua: Julian LeBaron, brother of the late Mormon leader Benjamin LeBaron, an organizer against kidnappings who was assassinated in the town of Galeano in 2009, and Olga Reyes, of a Chihuahua family that has lost multiple members to assassins after it stood up against drug war violence (see Reyes Family: Militarization of Drug War in Mexico to Blame for Extortions, Kidnappings and Murders, Narco News, March 2, 2011).
Together with human rights leader and Catholic priest Miguel Concha, the three family members of drug war martyrs held a press conference for about three dozen local, national and international reporters and cameramen, at which Sicilia said he and his Morelos neighbors would be hanging plaques on the Governor’s Palace with the names of 95 state residents killed in prohibition-related violence since January 1 of this year. They also read each name aloud; 95 human lives in 100 days, all those human lives in just one of Mexico’s less populous states. Family members of various were there, standing tall and silent, relieved, surprised, proud that something the regime promised them would never be allowed them happened today: a dignified memory of their fallen.
Many – your reporter, included – thought that Javier's declaration simply meant they would hang banners on the walls of the state government seat, but the plot would soon thicken as he and others took up a power tool and began to drill metal plates, the first with the name of Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega (1987-2011) into the grey stone visage of State power, under the glare of TV network lights (including those of NNTV).
I had been talking with Sylvia Marcos and Jean Robert when the commotion started. Both of them, along with Javier (I'm going to ditch the term "don" that worthily proceeds his name from other pens: poets don't address each other that way), were young protégés of Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich back in the day when Illich had retired to Ocotepec, on the outskirts of this City of Eternal Spring. We looked up at Javier with his power drill buzzing and I exclaimed, all excited, “it’s a dilemma action!”
The colleagues looked at me quizzically, and there wasn’t time to tell them Ivan Marovic’s tale of when he and some chums made the Serbian regime arrest a wooden barrel, so I just said, “The governor is put in a dilemma with no good options. He can leave the plaques up, soon to be joined by hundreds of plaques by all the families over five years that have lost members to Calderon’s drug war, covering the entire palace! Or the governor can provoke an even more intense social revolt by sending police to remove the Vietnam Wall of the drug war. He loses either way.”
Javier Sicilia today called on citizens throughout Mexico to erect such plaques on every municipal and state government hall on every town and city square, so that the 40,000 Mexicans killed in Calderón’s war will not be forgotten. “We have to give them back their names, their history, and also to their families who have been criminalized. At every Zócalo, put up their names, put up a plaque, so that their deaths will never be repeated.”
And that’s how it was in Cuernavaca today: filled with the sense that everything is to be done and everything is possible.
Today was just the warm up for tomorrow: On Wednesday evening, at 6 p.m. (Mexico Time, Central Time Zone), the deadline that Javier gave the state prosecutors to solve the case of the assassinations of his son and six friends expires. He has called civil society – whose ranks last Wednesday in this town numbered 50,000 strong - down to the city square where he will announce his next steps in this nascent but steamrolling campaign to end the war on drugs in Mexico.
Sources have told us some of what will happen, and some of who will be here, including some folks of considerable national renown, but every damn one said “off the record,” knowing we’d keep our word. Suffice to say, we’re not moving from this spot until it happens. And after tomorrow, seems that we’re going to be moving a lot faster in this work of coldly and rationally documenting this history in the making. Auténticos: All hands on deck.
By Al Giordano
Yesterday, multitudes took to the streets in more than 40 Mexican cities - and in protests by Mexicans and their friends at consulates and embassies in Europe, North America and South America - to demand an end to the violence wrought by the US-imposed "war on drugs."
What? You haven't heard about this? Or if you have heard something about it, did you know that it is the biggest news story in the Mexican media, on the front page of virtually every daily newspaper in the country?
A sea change has occurred in Mexican public opinion. The people have turned definitively against the use of the Mexican Army to combat against drug traffickers. The cry from every city square yesterday was for the Army to return to its barracks and go back to doing the job it was formed to do; protect Mexico from foreign invasion and provide human aid relief in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Since President Felipe Calderón unleashed the Armed Forces, four years ago, to combat drug trafficking organizations, the violence between it and the competing narco organizations has led to a daily body count, widespread human rights abuses against civilians, and more than 40,000 deaths, so many of them of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and used by all sides in the armed conflict that still has no winners, that never will have any winner.
A fast moving series of events that began on March 28 have converged to usher Mexico into its very own "Arab spring." And it began just outside "the City of Eternal Spring," Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos, about an hour south of Mexico City. Narco News has been covering these events for the past week (sadly, we are so far the only English-language media to do so at each step of the story, even as it has huge consequences for United States drug policy not only in Mexico but throughout the world and at home). On that date, in the town of Temixco, seven young men were assassinated. These were kids with jobs, who went to school, model kids, not criminals. And one of those kids, Juan Francisco Silvia, was the son of a nationally respected journalist and poet, Javier Sicilia, of Cuernavaca.
In a week, the soft spoken, increasingly beloved, intellectual has become the national vessel through which millions of voices now demand: End the war on drugs.
We translated Javier's Open Letter to Mexico's Politicians and Criminals this week, and penned what is our third editorial in eleven years to provide you with context and background to understand the magnitude of what he has unearthed. Yesterday we translated his statements calling for the legalization of drugs to restore peace and dignity to Mexico, and then we headed out to report the marches that this increasingly and deservedly beloved man called for to happen only days ago. We had reporters with Sicilia in his city of Cuernavaca, in Mexico City, and correspondents in numerous other Mexican and international locations, and over the course of the day I will be adding photos and more information about what happened to this page as updates.
Truth is that so much has happened in a day that processing it all tends to overwhelm. Last night, returning from the marches, ten reporters, photographers and video makers (all students or professors at the School of Authentic Journalism) met to compare notes. Everyone was so shaken - I mean that in the best possible way - by what we had seen and heard, and wanted to talk about it, to understand what exactly is happening here on the other side of the US border.
I was part of the team covering the demonstration in the capital, at which about 20,000 people came for the first ever demonstration against the war on drugs (there have been annual marijuana legalization marches in Mexico City for some time, but this was the first time a mass of people had convened to collapse the entire policy of the drug war, and the attendees were far more diverse). Here are some observations: A good half of the crowd looked like they had never attended a demonstration before. Couples, young and old, with homemade signs, many of which were versions of a popular piece of artwork that Mexican political cartoonists have caused to "go viral" on the Internet. Practicing the Debordian art of détournment, people added their own messages to it. Here is one example:
In Spanish, the plus sign ("+") translates as "mas," or "more." So to say "one plus one," you say "uno mas uno" (or "one, more one"). The original image - "No + (the red ink blot)" is immediately understood in Mexico as "No more blood." Everyday people added their own specific demands to this design, on placards, tee shirts, stickers, Xeroxed and photoshopped copies on letter paper. They called for no more deaths, injustice, impunity, corruption, police, and Calderón, among the related things they want no more of. The rage personalized on Calderón was particularly interesting, since many of these people were of the "middle class" demographic that constitute his electoral base. It's certain that a good number of people who came to this march had voted for Calderón in 2006 for president, but here they were, yesterday, chanting, "Out Calderón!" and "Urgent! Urgent! He Must Resign, the President!"
Many mothers and grandmothers carried signs they had made asking questions like, "If the children killed were named Calderón would you still want this war?" They marched next to businessmen in suits, Christian religious groups, punks with spiked hair, entire families with baby carriages, a few people walking their dogs, bicyclists, lesbians, gays, young office professionals with stylish printed placards, each of them unique, and small groups of three, four, five friends who told our reporters that they were not part of any organization or collective, but they had read about the march in the media or on Facebook and decided together to come out for it. I have reported on marches throughout Mexico for fourteen years and this was the first time I had seen so many of these kinds of people at a protest; regular people, who had they been walking without their signs on any given day on any corner wouldn't necessarily draw one's attention due to their sheer and pleasant normalcy.
That was about half of the march's attendees.
The other half were sectors of society that had obviously marched for causes before. I recognized many from the Zapatista Other Campaign and anti-electoral fraud protests of 2006. The electrical workers union brought a contingent of hundreds, the teacher's union, groups of professors or students from the universities in the city, indigenous campesinos, alternative media makers numbered over 100 among the ones I recognized, and there were about as many reporters and cameras from official news organizations. There were people peddling newspapers from every leftist "tendency" that exists: the marxist-leninists, the trotskyists, the anarchists, the maoists, even the stalinists. There were people, pushed by NGOs, who had marched "for more security" in the past and had interpreted that as "more police and prisons." But here they were answering don Javier's call to march against the war on drugs! The People's Front for Defense of the Land came from Atenco - I hugged Nacho del Valle, who was freed from prison almost a year ago - who had arrived with his neighbors at this march against violence with their machetes high in the air. In other lands it might seem paradoxical the sight of machete swords at what others called a "march for peace" but it caused absolutely no concern or fright among other attendees. In Mexico, it is well understood that people's self defense is a less violent alternative to corrupt police forces. And so they fit right in.
See, what has happened here is politically significant: those who have long had and voiced their grievances with "the evil government" of Calderón have intelligently latched on to the anti-war-on-drugs cause as their own, too, because they smartly percieve it as a "wedge issue" that encompasses the whole of national discontent and which could very possibly result in the toppling of an authoritarian president, "elected" only via well documented electoral fraud, with absolutely not a shred of moral authority among his own people. In just one week, humble and dignified Javier Sicilia has collected the free-floating moral authority that nobody else could credibly assume in this Failed State named Mexico and supplanted the napoleanic Calderón as the moral leader of a nation. A big reason that has happened is because, due to his columns over so many years, everybody knows that Sicilia dislikes political parties, has zero interest in running for political office, and serves as a kind of "anti-caudillo" figure at contrast with the strong swashbuckling machismo of so many previous political and revolutionary leaders that the public has grown uneasy with. This is not to say that "the Sicilian" who now puts order to "the mafias" is any kind of pushover at all. When he speaks of the need for criminals to return to their "codes of honor" and leave civilians alone, a guy named Giordano understands exactly what a guy named Sicilia is talking about: this is a man with guts and cunning, too, and one who knows his enemy, and his enemy's history.
Which brings us to what was actually an even more significant march yesterday, led by Sicilia in his city of Cuernavaca. The photo up above, the front page of El Diario de Morelos, tells 50,000 words, all of them voiced by someone who came to the protest there. Greg Berger, who teaches cinema at the state university in Cuernavaca, and the Narco News Team were there, too, and are currently banging out a viral video for NNTV on what happened - and what is still happening - there.
In a country where the Armed Forces inspire fear among everyday citizens (so much so that it is routine for a bar or restaurant to have a sign indicating that it will not serve people in uniform), more so in the past four years than ever before, it is not every day that 50,000 people - the largest march in the history of Cuernavaca, even of the entire state of Morelos - go to the gates of a military base and demand that the soldiers stay quarantined there. But that is exactly what happened. On a normal day, you can pass by that base and there are multiple gunmen in uniform stationed at watchposts, watching you and everybody else pass by. The military had the good sense to pull those troops back yesterday and there were few to be seen at all, according to our reporters. Then Javier Sicilia climbed atop a microbus and addressed the Armed Forces directly, with a nonviolent army at his back. There, he told them, "You have always been the custodians of peace for our nation. That's why we never want to see you again outside of your barracks." That just isn't ever said. Oh, wait. It just was, and for the multitude assembled, it was the reestablishment of the proper social order: that in a democracy, an army, if there is one, must be at service of the people. Four years of Calderón having reversed that order - he converted the people into mere pieces on the Army's chess board, objects to be pushed around, stopped, searched, invaded, molested and assassinated - has brought the public to its absolute limit.
Cuernavaca is now the unlikely epicenter of something of revolutionary potential: the reestablishment of the proper order of things in which a people rule its own country. It has been a bloody battlefield for four years (before that it was a tranquil flowered city with a strong pull on tourists who now no longer come there due to Calderón's War) but now it is a new kind of battlefield: a struggle to reconquer the terrain of daily life for every citizen, every family, block by block for every neighborhood. And nobody knows where this is going to go but I have an idea, and I will pose it with a question:
What happens when a neighborhood declares itself a military-free zone, and erects its own nonviolent checkpoints and barricades on traffic that enters it, with the goal of either keeping uniformed authorities out, or making them agree to the people's established rules before they enter? Very soon, Calderón, as commander of the Armed Forces, may have to answer this question. Does he repeat his arrogant history and engage the people themselves as enemy combatants, this time under the attention of the national media? And if he does, what will that spark in the next neighborhood over, in the city, in the state, in the entire country?
It is often said that the war on drugs has no clear enemy nor objectives. Javier Sicilia and the people of Cuernavaca - as well as the tens of thousands from throughout Mexico who marched in solidarity and for the same demands with them - have just called the bluff of the drug war. They have said, We know who the enemy is. It is us! And now we accept that fact and will deal with it accordingly, our way.
Kind reader, I would like you to think about that. It is important that you understand what is underway in Mexico, and especially in Cairovaca... oh, excuse me, I meant to say... Cuernavaca.
And in a little while I'll come back to this page and begin posting photos and reflections of yesterday's marches. But what you have just read, that is what makes this history.
And now for the updates...
5:13 p.m. The homemade sign in this placard at yesterday's march in Mexico City translates as: "Some fathers are poets. All children are poems."
Poets, writers (many journalists consider themselves one or the other or both), songwriters, screenwriters, really, artists of any sort, tend to identify with Javier Sicilia's tragic loss of a son. The Mexican painter Francisco Toledo led yesterday's march in Oaxaca city, and today the actor Edward James Olmos showed up in Cuernavaca to add his voice to the struggle. I ran into a poet friend of mine yesterday who has always told me he didn't like demonstrations or political organizations, but there he was. He looked almost embarrassed to have done so but at the same time he could not turn away. We can safely expect that the entire artistic and creative class of Mexico is in this fight, in one way or another, already. And that will help greatly in its creativity beyond the "same old, same old" slogans, images, icons and tactics that have slowed down other worthy but in the end not very creative struggles...
More to come...
5:37 p.m. Oh my, it seems this report has "gone viral" on the Internet and its social networks. If you would like to see more of this kind of reporting - we call it authentic journalism - then check out another essay we posted today from one of the talents we are training this year, Namees Arnous, of Cairo: An Authentic Journalist Speaks from a Free Egypt: "Let Me Tell You a Story about Media and Revolution."
Namees, along with other Egyptians and 80 journalists from 40 countries, will be with us soon in Mexico at the School of Authentic Journalism at a ten-day course that charges no tuition. We are already learning plenty from our colleagues who toppled Mubarak and finding many applications for their tactics and strategies on this side of the lake! Feel free to help that along; this project does all that it does mostly on small contributions from readers like you. Listen to Namees and do what she says!
Anyway, now back to our regularly scheduled programing...
Friday, 11:35 a.m. A group of university students in Cuernavaca had already been studying the use of viral video in the Egyptian revolution when recent events hit their own city. In a collaboration with our creative friends, Los Detonadores, they started a Facebook page, Todos Somos Juan Francisco Sicilia ("We Are All Juan Francisco Sicilia") in memory and tribute to the poet's son, of their city and generation, whose assassination began this fast-moving chain of events. It is modeled after a Facebook page in Egypt that they studied in sequence, from the page's first day of publication, named We Are All Kahled Said, through its growth to its present 100,000+ strong. The Egyptian page served as a clearing house for "viral video conversations" in which people would borrow from each others' videos (adding new music or ideas) to make new ones. And it helped create a collective vision of what resistance and revolution in Egypt might look like, long in advance of the January 25 protests. (And there happens to be real interesting news out of Cairo today, with a new mobilization on Tahrir Square to "purify" the government from the remnants of the regime, under the title of "Warning Friday: Revolution Still Alive.")
They and their friends have now collaborated on two viral videos from Cuernavaca. This first one is from the demonstrations on Wednesday in Cuernavaca and Mexico City, and includes don Javier's message to the Armed Forces to go back to their barracks:
The second one highlights the protests in solidarity with Cuernavaca around the world:
NNTV's video report on these events is in fast and furious production as I type (some of the same youngsters who did such fast and good work on these videos are also busy assisting in our Cuernavaca newsroom with that). Stay tuned!
By Al Giordano
The thirteenth of March already seems a lifetime ago. That’s when Egyptian journalist Namees Arnous (class of 2011, Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, you can read more about her and 40 other classmates here) guided Greg Berger and I on our first visit through Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The first thing we noticed was a group of thirty or so people gathered on the sidewalk in a heated political conversation. They had no banners or placards. It wasn’t a protest or even really a meeting. It was an impromptu debate of some kind, that made me think of Einstein’s proverbial Village Square.
“Before the revolution,” Namees explained, “it was illegal for five or more people to gather in one place. They would be arrested.”
It was exactly one month after the fall of the dictator Hosni Mubarak and in the following week we would meet and speak with dozens of participants in the historic civil resistance that brought the thirty-years-tyrant down. A month later, the resisters were coming to grips with what all successful revolutionaries have faced throughout history: that after the milestone of “the revolution,” a kind of permanent counterrevolution assembles to try to impose the old order anew. The triumph must then be defended.
Revolution is not a matter of a few tumultuous weeks of crescendo battle at the barricades, nor is it the glorious day of victory (although “the date” is to always be treasured, celebrated, remembered and never denied). The period between January 25 and February 13 of 2011 was, rather, the long and often painful labor to give birth to a new Egypt. And while the old Pharaoh has fled the castle, his lackeys and functionaries still occupy so many of its recesses. To borrow from another famous myth of those lands, the vestiges of the Pharaoh – the regime itself, or The State – now seek to kill the revolution in its infancy. This is what always happens. Truth is, authentic revolution never ends. And what we met and learned from was a critical mass of Egyptians from all walks of life, emboldened and ready to defend it with their all.
In a rooftop apartment a half block from Tahrir Square, and in other locations, the Narco News team set up shop for a week. There, we received community organizers, strategists, bloggers, journalists, unaffiliated people who slept on Tahrir Square during those tumultuous events, doctors who cared for the wounded there, video makers who filmed them (and who designed the series of viral videos that helped bring an unexpected multitude to Tahrir on January 25). On camera, we interviewed Muslims, Coptic Christians, atheists, secularists, leftists of every indole, liberals, and rank-and-file participants of diverse hue.
We asked every one of them a series of twelve questions, which began with this statement:
“We are conducting interviews with people who were involved and direct eyewitnesses to the resistance of January and February 2011 in Egypt that brought the fall of Mubarak. Our questions are about your own personal experience: what you personally saw, what you did, how you did it, the tactics, strategies and decisions you made, and how these events affected your daily life. Unlike many journalist interviews, we are not asking people to analyze ‘what other people did or saw.’ We ask you for your own lived experience, so that people in Mexico and everywhere else around the world who want to do the same things in their lands can see how it was done here. Your personal experience is important to them and to us so we can learn from it. So, please, we request that you answer the questions by telling of what you saw, heard and did during these historic events. Your story is very interesting to the world. And thank you for talking with us and our viewers in many languages!”
The questions ranged from how each individual spent the days leading up to January 25, what they did and experienced on that date, and then on other key dates of the resistance struggle. We asked about the tactical and strategic decisions that had to be made, how they were made, and why specific paths were chosen. We asked whether the January 27 shut down of the Internet hurt or helped the resistance (the answer was unanimous from each and every person, and the consensus may surprise the techno-evangelists who speak so carelessly of “Twitter Revolutions”). We also asked deeply personal questions about whether participating in “the revolution” changed how they see themselves, their life plans, and their relations with family, love, creed and State. The interviews went on and on (the shortest lasted 45 minutes) particularly because most people had so much to say.
One of our Arabic translators and collaborators, a Muslim woman, who had in recent months worked as a “fixer” (interpreter and guide) for other reporters, including from the New York Times and the Washington Post, told us: “We’ve never been asked these questions. The guys from the Times and the Post kept saying ‘we want to interview the leaders of the revolution.’ I told them, ‘We have no leaders.’ They said, ‘Try harder’!”
We were not seeking out “leaders” (those already extensively interviewed or featured by international media) although some of them sought us out when word hit the street that we were asking these kinds of questions. Typically, as one interview went overtime, the person scheduled for the next interview would appear, and it turned out, although these were by and large not “resistance celebrities” or known public figures, that almost everybody knew each other already, and greeted each other with the ecstatic hugs of soldiers who had won a war together. Most of them had met only in the last weeks on a square called Tahrir. They will never forget it, or each other, that is clear.
The collective sum of all their stories is now on video (we felt as if we were smuggling pure gold out of the country, with multiple copies on hidden back ups, hard drives, camera chips and drive sticks, knowing how certain forces of continuing State power have continued to arrest and torture resistance participants, including, recently, one foreign journalist whose throat was slashed defending her video footage appropriated from secret police vaults). The revolution had been “won” but yet it continues, as does the counterrevolution. Everyone we spoke with is painstakingly aware of that reality.
In the coming days and weeks, we have scores of hours of interviews to transcribe (most in the original Egyptian Arabic, but a few in English, too), translate, edit and produce in the form of ten- or fifteen-minute viral videos to be made available free to all on the Internet. And then, additionally, we will translate those videos into other languages, such as Spanish, where speakers are hungry for their content.
This is the closest we’ve ever come to finding something that might be akin to a manual for revolution, for civil resistance, for nonviolent action to topple a violent dictator and for continued struggle to bring the rest of the regime - and all "regime-think" on earth - down with him; a manual narrated not by scholars, academics or authors, but by the participants themselves!
It was also the time, a most special one for me in this life, that I was able to most intensely investigate what Vaneigem calls the study of “how people actually lived during the most extreme revolutionary moments,” and to do so at a moment when memories were still fresh and relatively unburdened by the sort of calcified myths that encase around historical events after they have become history.
What Berger and I and our Egyptian collaborators hope to create from this treasure is not aimed at any documentary film festival or any such nonsense or award. It will go directly to where it came from: the people, with permission, free of any charge or fee, for all to use the materials in their own struggles. Hopefully, we will have considerable parts of the videos ready for the May 2011 School of Authentic Journalism. To the extent we do not, we will press our fellow students and professors there into helping to finish them.
But wait. This incredible experience did not end at the Egyptian border...
Then, on March 19, we headed out of Cairo, taking a couple of new Egyptian friends with us to Madrid to help us lead a four-day workshop on Citizen Journalism and Civil Resistance. There, we shared journalism and media skills, tactics and strategies with 34 others, many of whom were much like us. Some were from lands currently deep in conflict – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen – and others were from other parts of the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. And this has led to more international collaborations already and the emboldening of the Civil Resistance Renaissance and the Authentic Journalism Renaissance. Vanegeim's "extreme revolutionary moment" has crossed international borders. What the Egyptians have accomplished is positively infectious for us all. I feel as if we now stand on the threshold of a global culture of civil resistance that no tyrant or State or multinational corporation (another kind of state power) will be able to contain for long.
As usual, I am reluctant to draw detailed conclusions so quickly as to what we heard, saw and lived during these ten or twelve extremely intense days and nights. It is still so new and fresh, and the participants properly narrate much of that anyway. It is a disease of developed world academics and journalists to too rapidly wrap a chaotic story of continuing push and shove with a tidy little bow and greeting card slogan.
Instead, I will follow our own request to the interviewees, for now, and try to speak from personal lived experience, to try and remember, write, and figure out what I saw, heard and lived, and how it might have changed me. It's the inverse of the Heisenberg Principle: it is also true that one can't study something intensely without also being changed by it. I am certain that it mutated me, in a way, to have breathed in it. I am not yet sure exactly how it did. But I am guessing that for the rest of my days I will return, whenever possible, to a Square called Tahrir, where the doors to a new and better future flung open and which now await the rest of the citizens of the world to pass through them.