Galvanized by the brutal slaying of his 24-year old son on March 28, Mexican poet and intellectual Javier Sicilia has become the loudest voice of discontent in the ongoing war against criminal organizations in Mexico.
The murder of Juan Sicilia and six other youth is only a snapshot of the violence that has claimed more than 35,000 lives since 2006. Sicilia’s cries of frustration are justified, capable of awakening the Mexican people to the necessity of fighting crime at every level of society.
Unfortunately, in his rage he has lost sight of who and what to truly challenge.
In an open letter to the Mexican people, Sicilia lambasts the Calderon administration for “launching a war without realizing the consequences” and clinging to a strategy that is “badly planned, badly carried out and badly led.” He rails against self-interested politicians and corrupt officials that create an environment of impunity and fail to hold the people’s confidence.
While he calls criminals “subhuman, demonic, and imbecilic,” Sicilia spends more time criticizing Calderon than the criminals who killed his son and commit the vicious atrocities that are tearing the country apart. There is blame to share, to be sure. Former U.S. ambassador Carlos Pascual was pushed aside for reporting in a secret State Department cable that the Mexican army is too risk-averse and inefficient. Corruption and impunity have left operating room for traffickers and gang members for decades, and U.S. aid for institution building has been slow in delivery under the Merida Initiative.
However, the government that is fighting the crimes and the criminals themselves are not moral equivalents. Calderon responded tersely to Sicilia’s complaints by saying, “Let’s not confuse ourselves: Those who are killing are the criminals.”
Nor are the Mexican government’s efforts as fruitless as Sicilia would care to depict them. Ironically, he criticizes criminal impunity, yet unlike in the cases of many victims, Mexican officials promptly detained a key suspect in his son’s murder. Not long after, General Gaston Menchaca was also fired from his position of the Head of Public Security in Morales.
“It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs,” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart. They “are like caged animals, attacking one another.”
On April 6, Sicilia spearheaded a demonstration of 40,000 people in Morales, all united by the rallying cry “Stop the war! Not one more death!” They were joined by 10,000 demonstrators in Mexico City and smaller crowds in 35 other Mexican cities.
Sicilia’s call for President Calderon to stop using military and law enforcement to fight drug traffickers and his belief that legalization of drugs will help the situation are reflections of powerful divisions within Mexican public opinion. While he is correct in arguing that a strategy to combat organized crime must continue to be multifaceted and not rely solely on the use of force, he is wrong to establish a moral equivalence between Mexico’s lawless and its government.
Just as Mexico’s criminal organizations seek further entry into the U.S., the Obama Administration struggles to define and defend its strategy for dealing with a worsening situation in Mexico and Central America. It must balance a “stay the course” approach with disturbing signs that President Calderon is losing control of the narrative and the support of the Mexican people. All of this, of course, is to the delight of Mexico’s criminal organizations, whose goal is to disseminate fear and uncertainty on both sides of the border.
Ashley Mosteller is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.