21 May 2011

Only a week after Mexican poet Javier Sicilia's son - declared innocent by police - died as a result of the drug war in Cuernavaca, he had organized marches in 16 Mexican cities. The poetry of Sicilia, who writes political columns for Proceso, reads like spiritual preparation for life's trials, in which he consults Catholic saints, world religions, Mexican modernism, Rilke's meditations and Cavafy's nostalgic sensualism. The pain felt sets in motion a vision of "a world not worthy of words" from where he shared with his lost son in what he called his final poem "the silence of the righteous," after which he organized a silent march of 20,000 people from Cuernavaca to Mexico City.

In Sicilia's "Meister Eckhart," about the theologian whose doctrine of "disinterestedness" has been compared to Buddhism: "the meditation of naked gaze/ went beyond silence," Silicia goes on to describe how the silence and absence was greeted with divine presence. "Vigil," a sonnet for the composer Manuel Ponce, refers to no sound other than "the murmur under the aurora." Octavio Paz noted how Mexican rituals recover time and memory: "The fiesta occurs in an enchanted world: time is transformed to a mythical past or a total present." (Labyrinth of Solitude 50) "(The fiesta) is a break in the sequence of time and the irruption of a present which periodically returns without yesterday or tomorrow. Each poem is a Fiesta, a precipitate of pure time." (Paz, Mexican Poetry 41) In such a land of ritual, eternal themes are passed on from place to place and person to person, so the story of Thérèse of Lisieux - who influenced Bergson, Kerouac, and Merton, in Alfonso Reyes' hands is a Cubist "being beside me," is in Sicilia's a testament of sacrifice, in which the poet is absent and his commentary is minimal. Reyes (right) instilled in Mexicans a belief that "literature was more than a vocation or a profession, it was a religion.. the writer's first obligation is fidelity to his language. The writer has no other instrument but words." (Labyrinth 163-4)

Mexican poetry went through a period at the beginning of the 20th Century when it imitated the Parnassans, until Enrique González Martínez (left) decided to "wring the swan's neck." The erroneous belief that this was a reference to the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío underscored how this poem set forth what would define Mexican modernism in relation to other traditions. Where Darío would give way in Nicaragua to Ernesto Cardinal's Liberation Theology and political testimony, González Martínez' spiritual imagery, written by a traditional politician opposed to Madero's revolution, was kept separate from the political, setting the standard for Mexican modernism and thereafter. "Grace" is found in "interpretation" rather than appearances, the signified and not the signifier:

Wring the swan's neck who with deceiving plumage
inscribes his whiteness on the azure stream:
he merely vaunts his grace and nothing feels
of nature's voice or the soul of things.

Every form eschew and every language
whose processes with deep life's inner rhythm
are out of harmony... and greatly worship
life, and let life understand your homage.

See the sapient owl who from Olympus
spreads his wings, leaving Athene's lap,
and stays his silent flight on yonder tree.

His grace is not the swan's, but his unquiet
pupil, boring into the gloom, interprets
the secret book of the nocturnal spill.

(tr: Samuel Beckett)

Paz wrote in Labyrinth of Solitude "At the beginning of his eighth Duino Elegy, Rilke says that the "creature," in his condition of animal innocence, "beholds the open"... unlike ourselves, who never look forward, toward the absolute. Fear makes us turn our backs on death, and by refusing to contemplate it we shut ourselves off from life, which is a totality that includes it. The "open" is where contraries are reconciled, where light and shadow are fused. This conception restores death's original meaning: death and life are opposites that compliment each other. Both are halves of a sphere that we, subjects of time and space, can only glimpse.. This recognition can only take place through detachment: he must renounce his temporal life and his nostalgia for limbo, for the animal world. He must open himself out to death if he wishes to open himself out to life. Then he will be 'like the angels."(61) Sicilia's poem "The Open" distills in his own mind Rilke's imagery, referencing in Jen Hofer's translation "the animal advancing low to the earth toward the Open, a back and a forward in the occurrence of the infinite" the angel "suspended in the eternal" concluding with a utilization of Rilke's "is it different for lovers?" finding in their embrace "a faint crack/ in the porcelain dawn of the Open."

In a best-selling - though not translated into English - book published by Random House, Anabel Hernandez (above) accuses Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Gerardo García Luna, Secretary of Public Security, of having made a pact with Joaquín "Chapo" Guzmán (on book cover) and the Sinaloa Cartel, and last month filed an official complaint of death threats against her made by García Luna. On December 15, 2010, Gerardo Fernandez Jose Noronha distributed 300 copies of one of Hernandez' books at the end of a parliamentary session as a Christmas gift, asking for the resignation of Calderón and his government. Says Hernandez, "I think it is not a failed war but a phony war." Journalist Diego Enrique Osorno has published a book making similar allegations.

In 2006, several marches on behalf of former Mexico City mayor and presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the capitol's Zocalo, alleging that Calderón's victory was a result of electoral fraud, attracted more than a million Mexicans, (below) with tent cities set up to accommodate the protesters from day to day. Over 800,000 ballots were added and over 700,000 were missing, 60% of the ballot stations had inaccurate counts. With a one term presidential limit, electoral fraud is a way for past presidents to hold onto power, and both Carlos Salinas and Vincente Fox were actively involved in rigging the election.

Upon taking office, Calderón immediately declared his war on drugs, leading to the death of almost 40,000 people, about which Charles Bowden says "the Mexican government has announced they’ve made 53,000 drug arrests since they started this war. Less than two percent are the Sinaloa Cartel, the biggest one. I guess they haven’t had time." Congressman Manuel Clouthier, a member of Calderon's party, says "The Calderon government has been fighting organized crime in many parts of the republic, but has not touched Sinaloa.'" Policeman Luis Arturo Perez Torres says "I work in the police and because of this I know the government is protecting Chapo Guzman. It's hitting all the cartels but Chapo." Many of the protestors this weekend called for Calderón's resignation. After the protests, Calderón made a supposedly high profile bust of a Sinoloa operative. Also last month, legendary Gambino family attorney George Santangelo filed a two page motion in US federal court on behalf of Sinaloa kingpin Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada alleging "the FBI, the DEA and various Dept. of Homeland Security agents in Mexico were actually working with Zambada for more than five years." The US provides $1.3 billion annually to Mexico for military and juridical aid.

Sicilia, a self-described anarchist, has called for García Luna's resignation and drug legalization but is not endorsing a political party and spreads the blame around: "The political parties, the PAN, the PRI, the PRD, the PT, Convergencia, Nueva Alianza, the Panal, and the Verde have become a “partyacracy” from whose ranks emerge the nation’s leaders. In all of them there are links to crime and the mafias across the entire nation. With out a real cleaning up of their ranks and a total commitment to an ethics policy the public will have to ask ourselves in the next elections, 'For what cartel and for what power will we have to vote?”

In 2006, the PAN party had very low approval ratings, but Calderón's approval rating was high enough for him to run close enough to López Obrador to steal the election. After Calderón's highly unpopular drug war, those not in the higher echelons of the Sinoloa cartel or money laundering for US banks have a low opinion of PAN while its candidate, perhaps Calderón's campaign manager Josefina Vasquez Mota, will likely face off against López Obrador again next year. López Obrador said "the ones who defame, slander, and accuse me are those that think they are the lords and masters of Mexico. They are the ones who want to privatize the oil and electric industries.." CSIS, a US thinktank seeking to privatize Mexican oil, reported this month (pdf) that "although López Obrador himself contemplated a role for the private sector in oil production prior to the election of 2006, he has since moved firmly away from that position" that "A PAN president would likely try again to get far-reaching reform of the oil sector" and the old guard PRI "is once again the most intriguing of the three options.. it is the most likely to control Congress, yet.. has hard-line groups within it who continue to resist (oil privatization)."

Reformist president Lazaro Cárdenas expropriated Mexican oil in 1938, which had the effect of wiping out the prosperity of boom towns like Tampico. But of course, once private companies take over the oil, they take over the government. Would the politicians and media rush to war in Iraq if the US's oil was publicly owned?

Bowden, when asked if anything gave him hope, replied: "Certainly. To start with, the war on drugs has to end. We can’t build any more prisons. Second, the endurance of the Mexican people." Bingo.

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