The Sicilia march began as a cluster of bereaved victims justifiably angry due to the violence that is stalking the society. There was no agenda other than that of expressing and giving testimony to anguish and suffering on encountering the worst pain that a parent can endure. He sought to exact answers from the authority: the responsible instance in a civilized country. But it has not remained there. Diverse elements have converted the march into a novel political factor that could either wither on the vine or transform the national political reality.
Two circumstances explain the turning of events. The first is that, little by little, the march became a magnet that has attracted all sorts of groups, interests, and causes whose sole common denominator is their opposition to the government of Felipe Calderón. Among the organizations present, we find SME Mexican Electricians Union members, machete wielders from Atenco, strikers from the UNAM, and other organizations, groups, and parties. The gamut of petitions says it all: change the economic policy; remove the Head of Public Security; legalize drugs; democratize the electronic media; stop the war; reform the political institutions; and reconstruct public institutions and the social fabric. Each of these motions has its logic and support base, but taken as a whole suggests at least two things: that that the society is in effect fed up with the derangement of daily life and the violence; and that there are organizations that are always ready to exploit any chance to chop firewood from the fallen tree. Important to note that, for the marchers, the drug mafias and the criminals are not an issue.
The other circumstance that explains the veering off the course is that, surely without proposing it, the President transformed the march into a valid spokesperson: on directing his message to its claims, he gave life to a potential movement, effectively changing its nature. The march stopped being only one of thousands of demonstrations swarming in the streets to acquire, at least potentially, the dimensions of a political movement. What remains now is to await and speculate on the potential consequences.
This is not the first spontaneous movement to acquire strength and power. Nor will it be the last. What has the potential of making it distinct is the combination of factors that drive it. It is noteworthy that what likens it to the White March of 2004 is that, if for no other reason, it had the effect of losing millions of votes for López-Obrador precisely due to his arrogance on branding it a “plot”. Instead of showing compassion for the essence of the claim –the pain of those who had lost what was most dear to them-, the authority, then and now, responded with technicalities and scorn. The rough-riding river is always risky for the status quo.
Could this be an opportunity for the government? According to Fukuyama in his new book*, the wars that China experienced obliged it to devise a system of government that would adjoin the distinct states, monarchies, and leaders to give form to what ended up being a national State. The needs of war imposed the necessity of unity, while those of peace pressed for attention to mundane affairs, such as those of collecting taxes, registering the population, and creating administrative structures to respond to the acquired commitments. I ask myself whether this will be the opportunity for the government to begin to weave a security structure at the level of the entire nation, granting privilege to what is conspicuously absent in the march’s claims (and in the federal government’s actions during these five years): competent local governments and police forces that are capable of providing the population with the security that the old system (that centralized everything) did not provide, and that the narcotrafficker (who control everything) has purloined from it.
Will this be an opportunity for the citizenry? Many voices, in the march and in the press, have advanced the idea of the opportunity that this circumstance represents for the construction of a grand citizen pact that would be capable of demanding from the government, and of those competing in the upcoming election, a plan to end impunity and to throw light on the murders and abductions. It is a great opportunity to challenge the three levels of government and the legislators: what is their proposed solution for emerging from the pothole?
A march such as this agglutinates many people and many causes and has no need of becoming violent or politicized. Its attractiveness lies in two very evident things: the population’s desperation, and the incapacity or indisposition of the government to explain, much less convince, them of the logic of its strategy against the narco. After forty thousand deaths, García-Luna’s affirmation that the government would win the “war” in seven years triggered the citizens’ uproar. Another seven years with no explanation whatsoever. What will follow will depend on the ability of the government to break up the movement that it inadvertently activated.
As in all such movements, purity is not what leads to laurels. Javier Sicilia was clearly a peaceable man devoted to his tasks and causes until violence rapped at his door. He now finds himself at the helm of a march that may well take on force or that may well disintegrate. Its fate will depend, on the one hand, on the capacity of the activists who have imbedded themselves in its bosom to manipulate the process without losing the signature halo of the original essence: the pain of the victims and the generalized grievances of the society, without which it would be impossible to attract the citizenry and civil-society organizations susceptible to affording it structure and the capacity of permanence. Its fate also depends on the success or the bungling of the government and that are the factors that could similarly provide fresh air for or an out to those who are “up to here” and who cry “basta”, much like those who, in an old Mexican saying, saw a donkey and summarily decided to take a trip. I do not doubt that in upcoming weeks this will grow or disappear. It is paradoxical that the professionals are on the marchers’ side.
The basta mood of the society is real and fear of a collapse because of the violence is worse. What is surprising is the inability of the government to understand the quandary in which it has placed the society: rather than placing itself at the helm or the protest march as part of its security strategy, it feels resentful and spiteful. What the march placed in evidence is the absence of solutions, the lack of leadership, and total incomprehension. The citizenry deserves an explanation. It is possible that the governmental strategy is the correct one given the givens, but if the population does not understand it as such, the bad guy of the movie will be the government. That’s why this march caught on.
*The Origins of Political Order.