By Al Giordano
At present, the Narco News Advance Team is in the Mexican Southeast, preparing our coverage of the upcoming second stage of the Caravan of Solace and the movement against the drug war inspired by Javier Sicilia. From September 8 to 18 we’ll be accompanying Sicilia and other family members of drug war victims and martyrs through the states of Morelos, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, crossing the border into Guatemala – where Sicilia tells Narco News he plans to offer an apology to the people of Central America for the maltreatment of their immigrants in Mexican territory – then through Zapatista territory, and the states of Tabasco, Veracruz, Puebla, the state of Mexico and, finally, in Mexico City. These are lands from where we’ve reported extensively for the past 14 years (11 of them via Narco News) and we can report to you already that there is a palpable excitement among many of the movements in the Mexican South for this upcoming visit, including yesterday’s communiqué from Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos reiterating “total support” for Sicilia and the movement (a statement that ought to be humbling to some who have accomplished far less yet who behave as more-radical-than-thou armchair critics of the world’s first ever mass movement to end the war on drugs).
Meanwhile, our second video in a series about the Egyptian revolution – narrated by those who helped make it happen – is now ready, and, in a way, it is precisely relevant to some of the discussions and debates in and around Mexico about whether Sicilia and his allies should collaborate, speak with, (in the most extreme silliness, whether they should “kiss” or “hug”), people with whom they openly disagree. This question was already answered only seven months ago this week in Egypt! And now you can see and hear how it happened, on video. Perhaps it is also relevant to debates and discussions and unanswered questions in your own land, too…
How many news stories, essays, videos and other reports have you seen about the Egyptian Revolution that “began,” according to many breathless reports, on January 25 of this year and culminated in the February 11 resignation of the three-decade dictator Hosni Mubarak? And how many of those reports spoke in fearsome terms about an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were some monolithic force aspiring to impose an Iran-style theocracy on the country?
Especially while the revolution was going through those key moments, so many pundits warned that if Mubarak were to be removed then the Muslim Brotherhood would take over and bring something even worse. But when School of Authentic Journalism professor Greg Berger and I traveled to Cairo a month after Mubarak was driven from power, and teamed up there with Joe Rizk and other new friends and colleagues to interview, on video, the young people who helped organize that revolution, we gained a completely different perspective on the Muslim Brotherhood, in good part thanks to meeting Mohammad Abbas, the 26-year-old organizer who emerged from that organization and who narrates this video, above, part II in our series on The Daily Life of Egypt’s Revolution.
(If you missed Part I, narrated, in English, by Aalam Wassef, you’ll want to see that, too: Especially if you are a video or media maker, journalist or blogger with dreams of reporting or inspiring fundamental change in your own land: Egypt: How We Did It When the Media Would Not. In addition to everything else it teaches, Part I serves as an excellent guide to how to make your videos or media “go viral” and speak with far more people than you might otherwise reach. For example, if you are putting videos or blog entries online and only getting a few hundred viewers, you're doing something wrong; Aalam explains how, in Egypt, it was done right.)
The interview with Abbas, in Part I of this series, illuminates many untold stories from Tahrir Square and the meetings and community organizing behind the revolution. Perhaps most importantly, Abbas speaks of his own personal experience – our questions focused heavily on getting these talented young organizers to talk in the first person about what they saw, heard, felt and thought during these historic events – as a Muslim who, for the first time, found himself working closely with Christians, secular leftists and others who were not part of the Muslim Brotherhood, many of whom in fact feared its members, and vice versa.
In so much of the developed world (and increasingly “gringotized” or “globalized” movements in the developing world), too much of “activism” has been reduced to seeking out the differences in opinion or culture between people and excluding others based on those divisions: secularists vs. religious people, believers in one god vs. believers in another, and “identity politics” that exclude people of different classes, genders, races, creeds, tendencies and orientations. What Abbas and everyone else we interviewed in Egypt concluded based on their experience organizing a successful revolution (successful, in that it took gigantic leaps forward and continues working today to concretize and advance its gains, because authentic revolutions are not romantic moments in time but permanent works-in-construction), was that the revolution became one only because they dropped their prejudices and fears and learned how to overcome their differences to work together on the goals they shared: the toppling of a dictator, and continuing into the present, the defeat of dictatorship itself.
Abbas speaks glowingly of how the youth of his organizations – politically considered to be on the religious right of his country’s political spectrum – came together with socialists and other radicals and what he learned from them. He talks of his newfound friendship with Coptic Christian organizer Sally Moore, and how they now speak daily and playfully scold each other if one is late in calling on any given day.
This video also shows the evolution of Abbas and many of his colleagues who, after the revolution, set off from the Muslim Brotherhood mothership to form their own new political force in Egyptian politics, laying waste to all the fears and lies that the Brotherhood would be some monolithic dominant force in a more democratic Egypt.
This video presents the story of a revolution within the revolution. And isn’t that always the case with nonviolent revolutions? That the change that occurs is not just up above with the faces and names of those in power, but is also, most profoundly and permanently, in the way that the participants see themselves and act having experienced the most historic of societal changes together.
We went to Egypt, as I’ve mentioned here previously, taking up the goal as expressed in 1963 by the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem, who said: "By a strange oversight, no historian has ever taken the trouble to study how people actually lived during the most extreme revolutionary moments."
The aftermath of Egypt's revolution finally offered us the opportunity to do just that.
Mohammed Abbas, like Aalam Wassef in Part I of this series, tells us all something about how he and others actually lived during the most extreme of revolutionary moments, and how the revolution, far from being just something external and impersonal for the history books, shook and changed its participants as well.
There are those who say that one cannot change the world unless and until one change’s one’s self. There is a kernel of truth in that, but only if acted upon together with its correlative truth: That one cannot change himself or herself without also immersing one’s self in the moment with others, listening to, learning from, and working together with them. It is there, and only there, that we discover the greater truth about ourselves. The human being is not a nation-state with borders, visas to be stamped and immigration officials to wall itself away from all that is outside of it. This video tells the news story of the Egyptian revolution from the organizer’s perspective of one of the key revolutionaries, but it also tells the story of the revolutionary himself, someone not unlike you or me, born into one culture and set of circumstances, who became more himself by opening himself up to those who come from other cultures and circumstances. Multiply Mohammad Abbas’ story several million times, and there you have the real story of what can be made to happen in an entire nation even under the most repressive of regimes or otherwise difficult circumstances.
By Al Giordano
This is, first, to thank the hundreds of readers who contributed (and the matching support from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict) to make the 2011 School of Authentic Journalism, May 11 to 21 in Mexico, possible, and also to report back to you all on some of what was made to happen.
There, 40 scholars and 39 professors met for ten days in May to teach and learn from each other both the skills of doing authentic journalism – investigation, writing, video production and use of the Internet – and also to deepen our understanding, as journalists, of the strategic dynamics of social movements, civil resistance, nonviolent conflicts and community organizing. We heard from movement organizers, analysts and strategists including Javier Sicilia (Mexico), Janet Cherry (South Africa), Oscar Olivera (Bolivia), Noha Atef (Egypt), Renny Cushing (US), Maria Rosas (Mexico), Stephen Zunes (US), Ivan Marovic (Serbia), Namees Arnous (Egypt), Joe Rizk (Egypt), Mercedes Osuna (Mexico), Jack DuVall (US), and Johanna Lawrenson (US), among others, as well as experienced authentic journalists including Natalia Viana, Greg Berger, Bill Conroy, Milena Velis, Richard Bell and many more. In addition to learning, everybody did real work.
We haven’t yet finished editing all the videos and articles to come out of the 2011 school, in part because shortly after it was scheduled to conclude, eleven participants stuck around in Mexico to accompany and report on the Caravan of Solace against the war on drugs from Cuernavaca to Ciudad Juárez, June 4 to 12, as well as other actions by that movement in Morelos and Mexico City. That was, likewise, made possible by your support.
From that work came forty news stories – all of them translated in English and in Spanish – and, so far, two videos (the one, above, “Barrel of Laughs,” uses time release video of Tanzanian political cartoonist Nathan Mpangala - of the class of 2011 - providing visuals of the narration of Serbian revolutionary Ivan Marovic on the development of “dilemma actions” by a movement to weaken authoritarian power; it also provides an example of the importance of humor to successful movements).
So much of what occurs at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism is intangible; after all, how does one measure learning, knowledge and experience? Lasting friendships and collaborations were formed, and this project now counts with even more skilled collaborators across the globe. Add to that what is quantifiable – work that is published, read, viewed, and redistributed by a virtual army of readers, journalists, twitterers and social networkers – and the written work alone that your support made possible (really, 80 news stories in two languages) comes out to a lot of bang for very frugal bucks. Not even included in the list below are a dozen groundbreaking investigative reports by Bill Conroy, and other Narco News stories produced outside of Mexico during these same months; this list includes only the reporting at the school and after it, in Mexico, made possible by the School and everyone who supported it.
And so I’m reporting back to you, this time not to ask you for contributions, but simply, and sincerely, to thank each and every one of you who has supported this project, and to let you see the measurable results of your support, so much of which is infused with the immeasurable energy of how your supported has changed and improved lives, journalism, and the movements that we report. You are all co-authors of these stories… And we have only just begun to write!
By Arzu Geybullayeva, May 18
By Katie Walsh, May 19
By Kanya Almeida, May 19
By Alex Elgee, May 20
By Tadeu Breda, May 22
By Lucero Mendizábal, May 22
By Candice Vallantin, May 23
By Greg Berger, Al Giordano & Joe Rizk, May 24
By Tadeu Breda, May 25
By Alphonce Shiundu, May 25
By Alphonce Shiundu, May 25
By Henry Taksier, May 26
By Aoife Allen, May 26
By Sandra Vi Sanchez, May 26
By Tyler Stringfellow, May 26
By Henry Taksier, May 26
By Terri Bennett, May 27
By Irene Caselli, May 27
By Javier Sicilia, Transcribed by Henry Taksier, June 1
By Marta Molina, June 1
By Antonio Cervantes, Translated by Al Giordano, June 2
By Erin Rosa, June 6
By Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 6
By Julian LeBaron, Transcribed and translated by Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 6
By Candice Vallantin, June 7
By Julian LeBaron and Antonio Cervantes, Transcribed and translated by Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 10
By Ingrid Morris, June 10
By Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 10
By Julian LeBaron and Antonio Cervantes, Transcribed and translated by Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 12, 2011
By Julian LeBaron and Antonio Cervantes, Transcribed and translated by Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 14
By Julian LeBaron and Antonio Cervantes, Transcribed and translated by Marta Molina and Al Giordano, June 16
By Al Giordano, June 16
By Marta Molina, June 16
By Viral Video Workgroup, School of Authentic Journalism, June 17
By Carolina Corral, June 17
By Investigative Journalism Workgroup, School of Authentic Journalism, July 5
By Erin Rosa, July 6
By Hanna Nikkanen, July 11
By Erin Rosa, July 13
By Javier Sicilia, Translated by Erin Rosa
By Al Giordano, August 2
By Julian LeBaron and Antonio Cervantes, Translated by Erin Rosa
I confess that this isn't even all of them. From the School we still have stories by Clarice Mishel Boddin and Joe Rizk to finish editing, and another by Aldo Orellana yet to be translated to English. (If I've forgotten any others, someone will surely remind me now.) And most of the videos started at the School, of course, take even more time to complete, and we'll be releasing those works in the coming weeks and months as we complete them.
And! Coming soon to this page... the announcement of the 2012 School of Authentic Journalism, dates, the list of who will be teaching, and the application form with which all can apply.
Update: Now we've got the 41st story up...
By Aldo Orellana López, August 4
By Al Giordano
It’s been more than two months since I’ve posted here at The Field. Between finishing and premiering the first of our video series about the Egyptian revolution as told by its own participants (I'll post that here and tell you more about it in the coming days), receiving the 78 participants of the ten-day School of Authentic Journalism in May, editing their stories and videos ever since, with two weeks in June reporting on the road for 3,000 kilometers with Javier Sicilia and the Caravan of Solace against the drug war in 11 Mexican states and El Paso, Texas, then gathering for a week in Boston with many of the world’s foremost strategists and organizers of nonviolent civil resistances, among other pressing matters, the only media to which I’ve paid especially close attention - not having had much time to be a media consumer of late - has been the NFL Network and the daily back-and-forth of the National Football League’s lockout of players which has finally come to a happy ending after more than 130 days.
You don’t have to be obsessed with, or even like, American football to get that this was a most important story, one that marks the largest victory by labor on a national scale in the United States in a long time, and therefore carries lessons for all workers and others who organize to improve their lives. There is a superb analysis of all that the players won in The Nation today by Dave Zirin which explains some of the basics, and then I’ll fill in some other interesting details, and also invite you to participate in a project that rappels off this organizing victory as a way to create more of them.
“What the NFLPA has done is the equivalent of the Bad News Bears squeaking out a victory against the 1927 New York Yankees… It’s workers, in an age of austerity, beating back the bosses and showing that solidarity is the only way to win.
“When the lockout began, NFL’s owners had, in their judgment, and frankly mine as well, every possible advantage. They had a promise from their television partners of four billion dollars in ‘lockout insurance’ even if the games didn’t air. They had a workforce with a career shelf-life of 3.4 years, understandably skittish about missing a single paycheck. And most critically, they had what they thought was overwhelming public opinion. After all, in past labor disputes, fans sided against those who ‘get paid to play a game.’ Owners wanted more money and longer seasons and approached negotiations with an arrogance that would shame a Murdoch spawn.
“I remember talking to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith at the start of this process, and hearing his optimism in the face of these odds, as he spoke of the bravery of workers in Wisconsin and the people of Egypt who he said were inspiring him to fight the good fight. He mentioned the books he was reading like the classic Civil Rights history Parting the Waters: America in the King Years by Taylor Branch. I remember smiling politely at De Smith and thinking, ‘This guy is going to get creamed.’
“I was very wrong…”
First, nice to hear from a journalist who can admit that his skepticism about an organized movement was overwrought. That ought to be a requirement for everybody who works in media. It turns out – once again – that those who carefully study and learn from the successful struggles of others do indeed have a good track record of winning their own.
Read the whole thing, and you’ll see the significant victories the players won. I would opine that one of the most important advances came at the beginning of the conflict, in that this movement would not allow itself to be defined by others and instead defined itself: rather than letting the media call it a “strike” by players, the NFL Players Association set to work defining the conflict as a “lockout,” putting the responsibility squarely where it belonged, on the owners, some of whom stewed in resentment since the last Collective Bargaining Agreement also won great advances for the players.
When the lockout began, the NFLPA withdrew itself from the legal status of a union, a step that allowed individual players to file lawsuits against the NFL for unfair practices. Some of the biggest star quarterbacks in the league – New England Patriot Tom Brady, Indianapolis Colt Peyton Manning and New Orleans Saint Drew Brees – were among the ten plaintiffs. When, last week, the owners voted to end the lockout, something which required a settlement of pending lawsuits, including what was known as the Brady suit, a couple of the plaintiffs (or, more properly, their agents) – San Diego Charger wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriot offensive lineman Logan Mankins – made noises of trying to extract personal demands for more money on their own contracts as a condition for signing on to the settlement, all hell broke loose: Other players throughout the league used their Twitter accounts (and, through them, the media) to rhetorically kick their asses back in line with the solidarity of the movement. Unity was reestablished, and this great victory was won.
I hope that the participants in the struggle write some good books about it, telling us about the strategic and tactical decisions they made at each step of the 19-week conflict, because I’m certain that the lessons learned can be applied not only to other union struggles but to all organized movements everywhere. Just as the NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith studied the strategy and tactics of Martin Luther King and drew inspiration from movements from Cairo to Madison, others will now be able to apply this battle to their own.
Now, not everybody made out as well as the players. A series of small businesses outside the NFL dedicated to the sport of fantasy football – played by 35 million people, based on the scores, yardage and other results by individual NFL players – were severely hurt by the lockout. At least one magazine went out of business. Online sites that analyze and rank players for fantasy football teams had to cut staff and many will be offering only scaled down services this year, these are also economic casualties of the NFL owners greedy gambit. In other words, a vacuum has formed, at least somewhat, when it comes to that related sport that everyday fans play at home.
Like nature, I happen to abhor a vacuum. I’m also, like many of you, an obsessive football fan, and a student of the strategies and organizing methods by head coaches who manage young and often rambunctious talent (it’s really not that different than, say, directing a School of Authentic Journalism). And so therefore, it is my great pleasure to announce today The Field’s latest innovation in the kind of low dollar fundraising that Narco News and The Fund for Authentic Journalism has pioneered over the past 11 years.
Today I invite my fellow and sister fantasy football addicts to join me in making our addiction work for a worthy cause: the world’s first-ever Fantasy Football-a-thon, to benefit The Fund for Authentic Journalism. For this venture – because I know that not all Field Hands necessarily come here looking for analysis about what happens on the football field – I’ve started a new blog exclusively for all things NFL and to report on this new fantasy league we’re forming: The Authentic League.
There, you can find out what this “Fantasy-Football-a-thon” is all about, and see if it is something you might also have fun playing while astounding your fans – and many other readers - with your own fantasy football prowess. And even if you play in different leagues, I’ll be offering my own analysis throughout the upcoming preseason and season because, after all, projecting sporting results is not really all that different from predicting primary and election results, something that I’ve done pretty well at over the years.
Basically, I decided that if I am going to have an obsession with something as silly to many people as a professional sport, I might as well make it count for something good while doing it, while also bringing the good news of the Authentic Journalism Renaissance to a potential 35 million fantasy football players and other NFL fans out there.
It’s an experiment that might or might not work (that’s what an “experiment” is), but as we say in the game, it has a “high upside” with, really, no risk, because this is what I would be doing in a tiny ten-team fantasy football league this autumn anyway even if we didn’t make it public.
None of this means I’m going to disappear as a journalist, political reporter and analyst of social movements, strategies and tactics. All that will still be going on here, just as it did during the 2010 football season. And we’ll also be announcing soon the dates and application process for the 2012 School of Authentic Journalism and, additionally, a three-day workshop in the New York City area this October, a kind of “mini-j-school” for journalists and communicators that report on civil resistance and community organizing. Stay tuned for all of that.
But meanwhile, I know that many of you, like me, are really, really ready for some football. See you over at The Authentic League, which we’ll update y’all here at The Field from time to time on the part that interests you; how this experiment might make possible even more reporting and authentic journalism on these pages about the struggles and conflicts that you come here to read about. Prepare for the kick-off!
By Al Giordano
“I'm learning to walk again/Can't you see I've waited long enough/Where do I begin?”
- from Walk, by the Foo Fighters (from the 2011 motion picture, Thor)
MEXICO CITY, MAY 7, 2011: What began on Thursday as a few hundred silent walkers heading out from the city of Cuernavaca today entered the metropolis of Mexico City thousands strong. At the entrance to Insurgentes Avenue they stopped and an organizer with a bullhorn provided instructions to the marchers, more in the voice of a Broadway theater director than of a political speechmaker:
“Parents of our dead, to the front of the march, behind the black banner that says, ‘We Have Had It Up to Here. Stop the War!’”
And in perfect choreography, Mexico’s most renowned father of one of the 40,000 drug war martyrs in the past four years, took a step back and other parents, with the black banner, stepped forward. A woman with an olive tree, a young girl, and a man with the Mexican flag then took their places five steps in front of the banner. Youths from Cuernavaca placed the security rope five steps in front of them, and the photo was painted by thousands of feet and hands working in unison.
Behind the family members of the dead from Felipe Calderón’s war on the Mexican people, more than 150 indigenous, religious, environmental, student, neighborhood and civic organizations and union locals took their places with their respective banners. Rank and file people unaffiliated with any group found their places in between. The retro-guard of more youths firmed up the security rope at the rear of the march – about a half-kilometer behind the snake of a width of two traffic lanes – and everything was ready. The youth with the bullhorn then instructed the vehicles leading the caravan twenty steps ahead of it to begin moving again, as what seemed like hundreds of photographers, TV cameras and reporters preserved the scene for history.
Your reporter, for 14 years, has covered protest marches from top to bottom of the Mexican Republic. They voiced many grievances on many issues but after a while they all began to sound and look alike: the same chants, the same slogans, the same iconic images of Zapata and Villa and Che Guevara often with artillery in hand… Groups and factions trying to outshout each other with their chants specific to their causes, and a kind of nervous combination of both fear and hostility toward the police, and vice versa. For those citizens not involved in those struggles, some found such marches frightening. Many youths called them boring and uncool. The lack of public response and support tended to make many of those movements feel more alienated, and alienation leads to paranoia, and paranoia leads to frustration, and frustration leads to poor strategic and tactical choices. And thus, while they have long been large in size, protests in Mexico have tended to not achieve their goals. Movements have come and gone, made stabs at garnering greater support, then disappeared out of view again, their ranks diminished by the four horsemen of failure: alienation, paranoia, frustration and poor strategy.
Today felt different. Today was measurably, objectively, not the same. The loudest thing about this march was its contemplative silence and the applause and response it provoked from men, women, children, elderly folks, who came out of their homes and stores to stop and watch it pass by.
Through the relatively wealthy southern section of the city known as Tlalpan, local women had set up neat tables abundant with sandwiches, water, fruit, soda and more. “Are journalists welcome to a water?” I asked. Yes, they smiled in unison. Have an orange, too. Have a sandwich. Have two! They seemed almost crestfallen that all I wanted was a bottle of water.
Your correspondent had walked some kilometers already and sat down at the base of a statue of an animal, a couple meters above street level, to sip the water, watch the entire march walk by, and scribble into my notepad. Javier’s section of the march streamed by and Jean Robert, the tall white-maned senior citizen and intellectual who had walked three score kilometers from Cuernavaca, shouted to me, “do you know what that monument is, Giordano? It’s the monument of the street dog!” Ah, my patron saint!
Every human exchange we witnessed (this from the half dozen Narco News correspondents filming and reporting the events at this corner today, others are downtown and in Chiapas reporting related stories) seemed to have contained a degree of mirth, of humor, of hope. They had walked in from the provinces and were taking the capital. (And just as the 1994 communiquéby the Zapatistas of Chiapas pledged that on their way to take the capital they would stop to eat quesadillas in the town of Tres Marias, this silent march had complied with that promise, too.)
A friend who was with the March in the rural town of Topilejo last night reported, “It was like watching what we all hoped the Other Campaign of 2006 would become.” And in a sense it is the logical continuation of that worthy effort to unite all the social forces of the country, “from below and to the left,” to unravel the violent dictatorship that calls itself a democracy with endorsement from Washington and its obedient English-language media cadres.
Narco News will have more reports today and this weekend from different corners of the Republic, including from San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, where thousands of indigenous Zapatistas responded to Javier’s call with their own silent march to stop the war.
This section of Insurgentes Avenue includes white overhead walkway bridges for pedestrians to cross and avoid the highway-velocity traffic that normally pummels through it. Today, each of those bridges was adorned with banners in solidarity with the march and its cause, many signed by Tlalpan neighborhood groups, and people who climbed them for an aerial view of the march applauding and flashing V signs at the walkers down below.
Transit police in neon-yellow uniforms flanked the left side of the march as a human barrier between it and the city’s big red electric Metro Buses that came speeding through every ten minutes or so. In between those moments, women from the neighborhood ran out handing sandwiches and water bottles to the police, too, who gladly accepted them. One uniformed officer interviewed by an Australian National TV News camera today, said, “I support this march. This is about what all Mexicans want.”
During each of the walk’s rest stops, Javier retreats to the passenger seat of a vehicle parked in a shady spot, takes a sip of soda or a bite of a cookie, and is besieged by reporters seeking interviews. (A scene from yesterday, with a high-heeled big media star using too much make-up: TV AZTECA REPORTER: “Javier, what has happened on the march?” JAVIER, shrugging his shoulders, smiling: “Nothing.”) Today, as the cameras mobbed around him as if in the Pinball Wizard scene from the rock opera, Tommy, trying to get interviews, something exclusive, trying to see him, feel him, touch him, Javier reached into the back of the truck and held out an offering between two halves of a bread roll. “Would any of you,” he said, “like a sandwich?” And next thing they are too busy eating sandwiches to bother him with questions.
Javier Sicilia and his merry band (they kind of do conjure up images of Robin Hood and company) walking into the big city from Morelos may very well stop the drug war. They are harnessing a public opinion that has existed for a long time but no one had given voice or form to it. I’m a believer. We’ve been documenting and reporting everything they’ve done and will keep on doing so and see it all the way through. But I observe they are doing something else, maybe something even bigger than that once-thought impossible policy change, as well. They are teaching us how to walk again: Another way to fight. Not with polarization and sloganeering, but with creativity and fun, with a warm heart and a cool head. Heaven knows that if anyone has a right to rant and rail and shout and pound his fist into the air, it is he who lost his son so cruelly so few weeks ago. But here he is, today, in the nation’s capital, handing out sandwiches to reporters and to cops, giving them, too, a shot at redemption, to learn to walk again.
(Photo DR 2011 Alejandro Meléndez.)
By Al Giordano
When a parent has to bury a son or daughter, as Javier Sicilia pointed out this month after the assassination of 24-year-old Juan Francisco Sicilia, there is no word for what the parent becomes: “the death of a child is always unnatural and that’s why it has no name: I don’t know if it is orphan or widow, but it is simply and painfully nothing – from these, I repeat, mutilated lives, from this suffering, from the indignation that these deaths have provoked, it is simply that we have had it up to here.”
The fast developing saga of one father’s search for justice – not just for his own loss but for the families and friends and countrymen of 40,000 slain in the drug war of president Felipe Calderón since 2007 – has shaken the conscience of the Mexican nation. Tens of thousands of citizens have mobilized under Sicilia’s call of “Stop the War, for a Just Mexico, in Peace.” And as momentum builds toward a silent march to step out on May 5 from Sicilia’s city of Cuernavaca to Mexico City on May 8, the first signs of a smear campaign by the few defenders of Calderón’s War left emerged this week in an unpredicted location: on Facebook.
While Calderón has publicly attempted to treat Sicilia’s loss with respect – including that he invited the poet, father and nationally beloved journalist to the presidential manse of Los Pinos in the days after the murder of Sicilia’s son and six other innocents – he and his allies have been gritting their teeth as any tyrant and his lackeys anywhere tend to do when the citizenry turns audibly against the violence of his decrees.
One of Calderón’s closest personal and political buddies this week let it slip how those in power really view Sicilia and the citizen movement that has risen up around him.
Let us show you a screen shot and then tell you about Luis Carlos Ugalde, the individual who typed these words from his Facebook account on the fan page of the Mexico Institute, part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC:
Here, and just so no tyrants will need their spectacles to read the words on that screen shot, Ugalde responded to a call by one global citizen for Mexico Institute friends to vote in favor of Javier Sicilia for a Global Exchange “people’s choice” award in human rights.
The idea of honoring a human rights advocate with a human rights award was apparently offensive to Ugalde, who at 6:44 p.m. on Wednesday typed onto Facebook:
“Speaking out does not necessarily menan (sic) speaking well. It is laudable that he has come out to organize civil society. However, his message suggesting making a pact with drug trafickers (sic) to decrease violence in Mexico, is quite dangerous and provides the bad incentives to fight impunity in Mexico.”
First of all, getting lectured by Luis Carlos Ugalde on “impunity” is something akin to being force-fed a speech on "democracy" by deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Impunity is something that Ugalde publicly embraced in 2006, as then head of Mexico’s Federal Elections Institute (IFE, in its Spanish initials) when he refused to recuse himself from arbitrating a massive and well-documented case of election fraud in Mexico’s presidential elections. It was an election in which the candidate who received 1.5 million more votes than the other was denied the presidency by Ugalde and his electoral politbureau, and, instead, the post was handed to second-place finisher Felipe Calderón, who only a few years prior had served - you can't make this stuff up - as best man at Ugalde’s wedding in Tepoztlán, Morelos.
Now, that’s impunity! When you can be the top umpire over an electoral game in which you can deliver the presidency of a nation to the best man from your wedding, and not even have to recuse yourself from the case: ain’t that grand? The guy who won the most votes in that election, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, later called Ugalde an “electoral felon.”
Of course, impunity has its rewards. Since leaving the Federal Electoral Institute in 2007, Ugalde has been lavished with fellowships and teaching gigs at important US institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Harvard University. According to Ugalde’s own Facebook page, he now resides in Washington, DC, and even posts a cute profile photo of himself in front of the cherry blossom trees on the Potomac Basin:
(Oh, my, there goes the neighborhood: your correspondent is embarrassed to disclose that he has five “Facebook friends” in common with this “electoral felon.” Fair enough: we’ll have to post this story on their Facebook pages, too, then: that's what friends are for!)
Anyway, many keen observers have noticed what they see as a direct relationship between Calderón’s 2006 ascension-by-fraud to the presidency and the violence he unleashed when he militarized the drug war a few months later. After all, what better way to distract from the public grievance that you’re not, um, a real president than sending the Armed Forces into the streets to fight an unwinnable war and creating daily headlines and gruesome photos and TV images of so many of the 40,000 to perish in the bloodshed?
So when one man, in his immeasurable grief, stands up and says “we have had it up to here” with that simulated “war on drugs” and an entire country’s discontent finds echo in his call, the engineers of that false presidency have got to be a little bit concerned that the jig may soon be up, especially at this moment in history when an “Arab Spring” has become so attractive to people in other lands, maybe especially others with pyramids and pride for the ancient advanced civilizations of their own.
Most disgraceful about Ugalde’s Facebook indiscretion, is that it was knowingly dishonest – one could even say “fraudulent” - in its claim that Javier Sicilia had suggested “making a pact with drug traffickers.” For this is a point that Sicilia himself clarified in the national magazine Proceso more than two weeks ago.
Sicilia’s words at that moment were very valuable and instructive, and still are, so they are worth repeating here:
He said that such a pact would not come at this moment, but, rather, once drugs are legalized and their consumption will be treated as a public health matter.
In a brief declaration sent to the media, the poet and collaborator of Proceso, Javier Sicilia – whose son Juan Francisco was assassinated with six others on March 28 – said that if we don’t want to make such pacts then there will have to be “pacts of honor” so that the civilian population isn’t touched and the prisoners of the gangs should be treated according to human rights standards.
“My statements about a pact with narco-trafficking, as tends to occur in such a tense world and distorted by political interests, were not well understood. When I referred to a pact, I referred precisely to the fact that narco-trafficking has existed for a long time in our country. It is part of our life. However, since the war was unleashed as a means to exterminate it, the US, which is the grand consumer of these toxic substances, has not done anything to support us.
“The weapons that are arming organized crime and are killing our kids, our soldiers, our police, come from the US and they are not doing anything to stop them. These guns are maybe worse than any kind of drug, they are powerful, terrible and widespread,” said Sicilia.
He asked that “if the US doesn’t prosecute and put a stop to its arms industry – a legalized horror – why should we prosecute the producers of the drugs?”
Sicilia’s call, in fact, requires no pact with drug traffickers. It would simply and unilaterally pull the rug out from under their huge profits by legalizing and regulating drugs like alcohol is regulated today.
But Luis Carlos Ugalde, not surprisingly, doesn’t seem to exercise a scholar-fellow’s expected academic rigor when choosing to smear a father and poet who only weeks ago lost his son to the newly militarized “drug war” that Ugalde is at least partially responsible for wreaking. That's because he’s the guy who put Calderón in the powerful post to which he was not elected, thus creating the need for a big violent distraction from the cloud of illegitimacy that hung, and continues to hang, over his government.
The best way to interpret this is that the clique around Calderón, despite having all the armament and firepower of the Armed Forces, the police agencies, the commercial media monopolies and the entire apparatus of Mexican State at their command, is very frightened of one unarmed poet and student of Gandhian nonviolence that is Javier Sicilia.
They’re even scared of the possibility that he gets an international “people’s choice” human rights award, so terrified that Ugalde, for one, had to type a knowing falsehood during Wednesday Happy Hour during the Easter Week holidays onto his Facebook account.
Forgive them, Facebook. They know not what they do…
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.”