The Caravan for Peace left the San Diego-Tijuana border on Sunday, Aug. 12 and arrived in Los Angeles the next day, the first stop on a 26-city tour, carrying the message of peace and an end to the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs to Washington, D.C. Leading this tour is the Mexican poet, Christian mystic and now, peace activist, Javier Sicilia, 56, whose poems have been widely published throughout the Spanish-speaking world over the past 30 years. Sicilia was born again as an activist when he became a victim of the drug war. On March 28, 2011, Siclia's own son was murdered by drug gang members, along with six others, in Temixco, Morelo, Mexico. At his son's funeral Sicilia told his friends, "Poetry doesn't exist in me any more," reported the Guardian on Oct. 28, 2011.
"Today, democracy in the United States, just like that of Mexico and the whole world, has found itself trapped," declared Sicilia in his speech at the Caravan's start.
"One of these traps is the 'War on Drugs,' which has generated certain forms of life contrary to democracy. The nearly 70 thousand dead, over 20 thousand disappeared people, more than 250 thousand who have been displaced and the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows that have resulted from this last five years of war in Mexico evince this. This is also made apparent not only by the two million prisoners kept in the US because of the crime of possessing a few grams of a drug, but also by the legal and illegal commerce of firearms that come from the US and indiscriminately arm both the army and criminal organizations, by the money laundering that, through Mexican and American banks generates between 19 and 39 billion dollars of profit and destroys the social tissue, and by the increasing vulnerability of the immigrants and their criminalization because of the fact of being poor, Latin or African-American. This war has created a crisis and threatens the best of what the United States has given the world: democracy."
The Caravan takes place at a politically charged moment. It begins in Tijuana, six weeks after Mexico's July 1 presidential election and arrives in Washington, D.C. in September, six weeks prior to the U.S. elections. The goals of the Caravan include raising awareness about the violence and human rights atrocities taking place in the name of the drug war, to make people aware of the connection between the drug war in Mexico and U.S. policy, and foster a grassroots movement for change.
What kind of change? In the area of drug policy, alternatives to prohibition, which has done nothing to limit drug use; an end to the importation of assault weapons to Mexico, which often end up in the wrong hands; and in place of these policies, U.S. investment that focuses on healing "Mexico's torn social fabric."
Even though Sicilia has abandoned poetry, it would be wrong to conclude that his poetry and his activism are unrelated. His last book, "Desert Triptych," appeared in 2009, and reflects the mystical Catholic faith that inspires his sojourn across the literal and metaphorical deserts of the Mexican-American border region. In each of the book's three sections, Sicilia grapples with the pain of loss, humans' inability to understand God -- and the world -- with any completeness, and opening oneself to God and his mystery. His poetry often approaches prophecy, as in this excerpt from "The survivor," which appears in Desert Triptych's second panel, The night of the Open:
All absence is atrocious
and, nonetheless, it lingers like a hollow that comes from the dead,
from the white roots of the past.
Where to return to?;
to God, absent from the world of men?;
to those who have interpreted him until emptying him?
Where to turn that does not reveal the hollow,
the irreparable emptiness of absence?
Toward them, the dead, that guard memory
and know that we are not content in an interpreted world.
(Translated from the Spanish by David Shook)
"The irreparable emptiness of absence" is what propels Sicilia forward, as he and his Caravan for Peace turn back to the dead, to the victims of Mexico's -- and America's -- drug war, and something that the poet foresaw and felt even before the murder of his son.
Excerpt from "The survivor" © 2011, Javier Sicilia and Ediciones Era. Translation © 2012, David Shook. Read two more translations of Sicilia's poems at Shook's website.