Last year was Mexico’s most violent year in its recent history. More than 35,000 people were murdered; an additional 5,000 disappeared. Some activists are mobilizing to pressure the government to act, but they’re being met by calculated indifference by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
On Thursday, Javier Sicilia and Julián LeBaron, two of the country’s most respected anti-violence activists, set out on the “Marcha por la Paz,” a walk for peace taking off from Cuernavaca, the capital of the southern state of Morelos. That’s where the son of Sicilia, a renowned poet, was brutally murdered almost a decade ago.
In 2011, a few months after his son’s death, Sicilia began a similar pilgrimage, Mexican flag in hand, surrounded by other victims of violence. LeBaron, whose brother and brother-in-law were kidnapped and killed in northern Mexico in 2009, was there as well. Now, after the recent murders of nine members of his family, LeBaron has reunited with Sicilia, urging the government to consider a different approach to national security.
“The authorities have failed,” LeBaron said recently. “The numbers are enough to tell the story.”
When a reporter asked López Obrador if he planned to meet with Sicilia and LeBaron when they reach Mexico City on Jan. 26, he balked. Given the country’s grave predicament and both men’s personal experience, one would think López Obrador would welcome the dialogue.
But López Obrador explained that Sicilia and LeBaron would indeed meet with his government’s security cabinet, but not with him. “They will be welcomed, but I won’t be there,” he said. “I want to avoid a show, a spectacle. I don’t like that kind of propaganda.”
It’s clear that he sees Sicilia, LeBaron and others not as bereaved citizens but as political risks to be averted.
And as caravans continue to head to Mexico, migrants are now in the same category. The president has chosen to ignore the plight of those affected by the country’s crackdown along Mexico’s southern border. Despite mounting evidence of a humanitarian crisis, López Obrador has yet to visit a migrant shelter in states such as Chiapas, where Central American migrants are being persecuted and threatened under the most harrowing of circumstances.
He has also declined to address the terrible conditions for migrants in northern Mexico, where complete acquiescence with President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy has now created a community of at least 100,000 people — many of them unaccompanied minors — living in limbo with no shelter, no income and mounting despair.
AMLO’s indifference is perplexing. As a candidate and opposition leader, López Obrador advocated for both victims of violence and immigrants in search of a better life. Almost five years years ago, he expressed his solidarity with an anti-violence, pro-immigrant march — much like the one being led by Sicilia and LeBaron — organized by activist Alejandro Solalinde, a Mexican priest who is now a López Obrador loyalist and has also chosen to also remain quiet on the current abuses.
“The migrant viacrucis headed by father Solalinde has begun,” López Obrador tweeted in 2015, addressing the president at the time. “Instead of harassing them, Enrique Peña Nieto should guarantee them freedom of transit.” He had also seemed willing to hear directly from victims. And in early 2018, just months away from his victory in the presidential election, López Obrador said: “It will soon be time for surviving victims and those grieving to show us the way toward reconciliation.”
The politics of being in power. López Obrador did see members of the LeBaron family in early December, but only after it became clear that they would pursue the formal designation of Mexican cartels as a foreign terrorist organization in Washington, a decision that could have dire consequences for Mexico’s economy and the president’s political project.
Journalist Salvador Camarena offered another possible explanation: López Obrador simply doesn’t want to be upstaged. “In over 14 months as unappealable president, AMLO has been careful not to grant prominence to any actor outside his movement,” he recently wrote.
“A march is more than just a protest,” Camarena says. “It is the eruption of a group that seeks to participate in the debate, in the decisions that arise from it, and not leave politicians alone when it comes to pointing the way forward.”
Sicilia, who once wrote admiringly of López Obrador, has now become not only a distraction but also a challenger. This, Camarena insists, “greatly angers” Mexico’s president.
If this is indeed the case, it will be the country’s loss. Sicilia, LeBaron and other victims of Mexico’s violence have fought for years to find solutions proactively. They are now marching in protest, but they also have concrete proposals and ideas to share with the government.
If only the president could find the time to meet with them.
León Krauze is an award-winning Mexican journalist, author and news anchor. He is currently the lead anchor at KMEX, Univision’s station in Los Angeles.