Mexicans protest drug violence, 2011

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The campaign began after the murder of Sicilia's son on 28 March. While the organizations continued after 30 June and they did not achieve their original goals, their focus shifted to other issues.
28 March
30 June
Location and Goals
To demilitarize the war on drugs and reduce drug violence

In 2011, Mexico faced huge costs from the drug trade and efforts to
counteract it. Mexico constituted a key part of the global drug trade,
as cartels trafficked illegal drugs through Mexico to their main buyer,
the United States. Cartels committed extensive violence as they tried
to ensure compliance from citizens and maximize profit. The most
frequent victims of drug violence were poor Mexicans, and some cities,
such as the border town of Ciudad Juarez, were particularly dangerous.
Drug violence had killed 35,000 Mexicans since 2008. The Mexican
government worked closely with the U.S. government in “The War on
Drugs,” an effort to stop the flow of illegal drugs and defeat cartels.
However, the Mexican government also suffered from extensive
corruption, and many officials worked with cartels.

Javier Sicilia was a fairly prominent Catholic middle-aged Mexican poet,
who wrote for a number of left-leaning publications. However, on 28
March, cartel members murdered his 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco
Sicilia Ortega, and six others. His friend had reported a robbery that
turned out to have been committed by cartel members, who then murdered
the seven young men in the town of Cuernavaca.

The murder of Sicilia’s son attracted national attention due to his
father’s fame. On 3 April, Sicilia issued an open letter directed at
Mexico’s politicians and cartels. The letter established the Movement
for Peace with Justice and Dignity and announced a march on 6 April.
His used of the phrase “estamos hasta la madre” became a slogan for
protests against drug violence. The phrase literally translates as
“we’ve had it up to the mother.” While it is similar to the English
expression “we’ve had it up to here,” it also evokes the Virgin Mary,
and it captured Mexicans’ frustration with cartels and the Mexican

The letter also laid out Sicilia’s complaints. He demanded that the
cartels stop their brutal violence, and said that civilians should be
left out of their business. He also called for dramatic changes in the
fight against the drug trade. He called for an end to heavily
militarized responses to the drug trade and an increased focus on
protecting civilians. He made particularly clear his dislike for
President Felipe Calderon. Calderon had heavily escalated the fight
against drug cartels, implementing the U.S.-backed Merida Initiative.
Civilian casualties had skyrocketed during Calderon’s term, and Sicilia
called for changes in both U.S. and Mexican responses to the drug
trade. He also said that if Calderon and other Mexican politicians
could not ensure security, they should step down. Sicilia’s complaints
formed the basis of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.

On 6 April, the protests for which Sicilia called took place.
Protesters gathered in 40 cities. They made clear their displeasure
with both the government and cartels. The slogan “estamos hasta la
madre” was a rallying cry for protesters, as was a logo spelling out “no
more blood.” Other popular slogans included “Calderon out” and
“violence with violence is also a crime.” 20,000 people gathered in
Mexico City’s main Zocalo Square. Actors Daniel Gimenez Cacho and
Ofelia Medina spoke, among others. Cuernavaca, the town where Sicilia’s
son died, had 50,00 people at its protest, the largest in the history
of Morelos state. Protesters marched to a nearby military base,
demanding that soldiers reduce their role combating the drug trade. The
next day, the protests were the main story in Mexican newspapers.

The protests were composed of a diverse group of people. However,
protesters were more likely to be poor or leftists. The Mexican
electrical workers’ union and teachers’ union both helped organize for
the protests, as did Zapatista groups. Family members of victims of the
drug trade constituted a significant portion of protesters. Many
brought pictures of their loved ones to protests, or gave speeches
describing their losses.

The next major protest took place beginning on 5 May. Sicilia and 200
others began in Cuernavaca and made the 100 kilometer march to Mexico
City. Many protesters joined along the route, and the largest influx
came when they reached Mexico City on 8 May. Two hundred thousand
protesters were present at their final destination in Zocalo Square.
Sicilia gave a speech laying out his ideas to change the Drug War, and
he also called Genaro Garcia Luna to resign as Secretary of Public
Security. A number of other family members of victims spoke. Protests
also took place in 31 other cities on 8 May. Protesters continued to
occupy half the square for over a month.

On 1 June, Sicilia launched a caravan consisting of 14 buses carrying
hundreds of activists. They stopped in twelve cities, speaking about
the problems with cartels and the government and hearing from the
families of victims. The march ended 10 June in Ciudad Juarez, the
northern border city most heavily affected by drug violence.

After the caravan, President Calderon agreed to meet with the
activists. The meeting took the form of a conference on 30 June at
Chapultepec Castle. Many family members of victims attended. They
recounted their stories to Calderon, and Sicilia held further private
meetings with the President. Calderon was sympathetic to the victims
and at times visibly shaken, but he stood by his policies. The Movement
for Peace with Justice and Dignity continued after the conference, but
shifted its focus to a security bill introduced by Calderon and the U.S.

Research Notes

Javier Sicilia was heavily influenced by Gandhi.

Infante, Gabriel. 2011. “Mexicans Go out to Protest Against Violence and the Drug War.” France 24. April 8. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (

Krauze, Enrique. 2011. “Can This Poet Save Mexico?.” The New York Times. October 2. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (

Malkin, Elisabeth. 2011. “Tens of Thousands March in Mexico City.” The New York Times. May 9. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (

Padgett, Tim. 2011. “Why I Protest: Javier Sicilia of Mexico.” Time. December 14. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (,28804,2101745_2102138_2102238-2,00.html).

Sicilia, Javier. 2011. “Javier Sicilia's Open Letter to Mexico's Politicians and Criminals.” Glasgow Chiapas Solidarity Group. April 6. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (

Sicilia, Javier. 2012. “A Father's Plea: End the War on Drugs.” CNN. September 10. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (

Zabludovsky, Karla. 2011. “Mexico's Drug War Inspires Gandhian-style Protest.” The Guardian. August 16. Retrieved April 19, 2015 (

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Timothy Hirschel-Burns 04/19/2015