The Struggle for Peace with Justice and Dignity

Watch El Poeta on PBS, part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series. The PBS premiere of El Poeta airs May 1st. Check your local PBS station for times. Just go to, enter your local station, and then check the schedule for May 1st (for example, in Raleigh, NC it will air at 10:30 P.M.).

If it is not airing on your local PBS station, write or call them to get this documentary on the air. It is important that people understand the suffering and pain caused by the Drug War, and the way struggle unites us transnationally to end the misery.

Also, starting May 2nd, and lasting two weeks, the film will be available online at The streaming link can be shared on your Facebook, Twitter, etc. So, if you watch it that way, make sure to share.


“They tried to bury us. They did not know were seeds.” – Mexican Proverb

When I watched the documentary, El Poeta, I sat in silence when it ended. My silence was an unspoken acknowledgement of Javier Sicilia’s last poem, written for his murdered son:

There is nothing else to say / The world is not worthy of the word / They suffocated it, deep inside of us…All we have is a world / For the silence of the just / Only for your silence / and my silence, Juanelo”.

This would be his last poem, because as Sicilia would later write, quoting Theodor Adorno, “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbarity”. Words, powerful as they are, fail the Poet, as no refrain is sufficient to break through the void created by reality’s human-induced cruelty.

The loss of ability to articulate pain through words is where El Poeta, directed by Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway, through the visualization of suffering and struggle, permits us to re-embark upon truth’s journey. It is a journey to understand the transcendental meaning of justice as an ideal to be strived for in the name of the oppressed, of the victims. No longer is justice the regulated process of judging those deemed “criminals” by the obscene system. Justice is the prosecution of the obscene social system itself, of the governments that make it up, of the elites who benefit from it, of transnational capitalism and its corporate representatives. And this justice is sought in the name, voice, and symbol of the innocent. It is here where El Poeta begins, and where it ends.

El Poeta begins by making the drug war an international phenomenon, explicating its birth in 1971 during the Nixon administration, and its Mexican birth in 2006 during the Felipe Calderón’s administration. It also begins with simple white lettering on a black background with the statement, “Since 2006 more than 100,000 have been murdered or disappeared in Mexico – many innocent civilians.” The transition from grim reality to Sicilia’s gruff voice telling us that “Hope is a lovely word”, also sets the tenor of El Poeta, at once about immense pain, and at the same time, about the solidarity in struggle bringing hope back to illuminate the shadows cast by the violence. The struggle is to make Sicilia, those who walk beside him, and their home, México lindo, whole again.

El Poeta - Time imageJavier Sicilia, photo by Peter Hapak.

The horizon Sicilia references throughout El Poeta becomes the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity’s ideal of justice and democracy. This movement is built after the murder of Sicilia’s son, Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega, and six of his friends, on March 28th, 2011 in Cuernavaca, Morelos. As El Poeta explains, Calderón had been exclaiming that the majority of victims were not innocents, but instead involved with narcotrafficking. Thus, the State considered them justifiable collateral damage, or even more callously, deserving of death. With the death of Sicilia’s son, where innocence was impossible to dismiss, victims across México were able to lift up their voices in unison against the violence that has taken so many of their children and countrymen.

As Ruben Martinez describes, the victims’ parents and families cried, “Our children were innocent too!” Sicilia, in the firmest manner possible, stated during a press conference, “Citizens are sacred. Kids are sacred. Our young people are sacred. Don’t touch them!” We must extrapolate from this a statement of universal justice, for if everyone is someone’s kid, then no one should be touched, or be defamed. Any act which infringes upon the sacred is profane, and produces suffering, unnecessary and unending suffering. And this universal justice is infringed upon every day by the insecurity created by what Juan Francisco’s godfather, Jorge González de León, calls, “the narcostate”.

That narcostate doesn’t exist in a vacuum. El Poeta demonstrates that the narcostate is related to the corruption of the political system, the Merida Initiative’s militarization of Mexico’s drug war with US funding, and the impunity criminal acts are committed with. Further, authorities are culpable for these atrocities, both as perpetrators of criminal acts, and for failing to generate an equal and free society. Sicilia is direct with Calderón, both in private and public meetings; Calderón is responsible for these thousands of dead, the government is responsible. And, the US is culpable for pursuing these policies, by utilizing its geopolitical power to militarize Mexico, and purchasing weapons from its own military-industrial complex for the Mexican Government.

The US government’s callous, “collateral damage” thinking is demonstrated by a clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham asking Anthony Placido, Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Administrator, “Do you believe that the efforts of President Calderón are winning the day or are we losing ground, or how would you characterize the war?” Placido responds, “The commitment and resolve of the Mexican Government is unprecedented…But, I believe this government is making progress, and that the violence we see is actually a sign post of success.” Placido echoes Calderón, who as well stated that innocent lives are worth fighting the drug cartels, that “I’m sorry I didn’t send the federal forces sooner.”

The bombastic barbarity of the elites on both sides of the frontera demonstrates their moral abdication and how they have forsaken their peoples to misery as a strategic decision to fight the results of their own economic and political failings. The elites’ vulgarity is contrasted with the compassion of those striving for justice, as the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity stops and Sicilia hugs a child orphaned by the murder of his parents, casualties in this unnecessary war. As Sicilia states, “This boy was the face of the country, a child abandoned, orphaned, with nobody to stand up for him. It is the image I carry with me the most, it is very present.”

SONY DSCKatie Galloway, Javier Sicilia, and Kelly de la Vega with credit Courtesy of Loteria Films.

When Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity travel to the US they are met with a silence from the majority, a majority whose connection to the drug war is their children using drugs, or a nightly newscast demonizing those affected. However, there is a minority, a minority who is affected by the violence the Drug War causes, African-Americans in the US. They have been brutalized by militarized police, had their families destroyed by incarceration. El Poeta ends by making this very clear connection, a connection of the oppressed. An African-American mother in Baltimore tells of her beloved son, who “eight years ago on Sept. 27th, 2004…was murdered at the age of 16.” She goes on to say, “I just met 4 mothers, who recently lost their sons.” Those mothers then begin to chant as the mother passes the microphone, “You are not alone! No eres sola!”

Throughout El Poeta, I was reminded of one of Sicilia’s poems, “Lucas 1, 30-33”, in La Presencia Desierta: Poesía 1982-2004. In the poem, Sicilia uses Mary as a way to express the material-becoming of God on Earth. As God becomes flesh and bone, this leads to the absence of angels to assist humans, who must continue to do the work and arrive at the “real” of life. Continuing to work is based on their faith that they can arrive at the “real”, as they lose contact with the angels. In El Poeta, the real is justice, and the people are carrying on with their work knowing that it may not end the violence now, but they should have faith it will. Sicilia and other members of the movement repeat throughout El Poeta a similar message, the justification for struggle is that in the process we take responsibility for universal justice, we create the world we want to live in. Or as it is stated in Luke, “The kingdom of God is within you.”


To demonstrate my gratitude to Javier Sicilia, whose writings have inspired me over the past three years, I would like to repeat his demands:

the San Andres Accords must be respected, stop the war, free José Manuel Mireles, his self-defense forces, Nestora Salgado, Mario Luna, and all political prisoners, bring justice for the victims of violence, judge the criminal politicians, and boycott the elections.”

Sharing in the transnational focus of the documentary, I would like to include my own:

end the Merida Initiative, respect the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, justice for Walter Scott, and for all black lives struggling against police brutality, end the drug war, demilitarize the police, reparations for the effects of the New and Old Jim Crows and Slavery, and here, as there, boycott the elections.”

Victims of the Drug War Named in El Poeta:

Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega

Jocilia Ramirez


Pablino Ramirez Reyes


Viviana Rayas

Juan Carlos

Juan Julian Fernandez Alvarez

Nepomuceno Moreno (murdered for speaking out against the government)

Andrew Smolski is a writer.

Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.