El Cero

short stories

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Which way home?

Back at the end of March the son of a Mexican poet was murdered alongside friends in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos just south of Mexico City. His father Javier Sicilia called for nation-wide protests against the violence in Mexico and the current government policies being used to combat it. I saw the protest in Monterrey and some of the things that struck me most were its size and the people who were leading it. Now I don’t know the history of protests around this issue in Monterrey, and I don’t know the traditions of political movements within Mexico itself, but I felt the absence of traditional community leaders on the day. The issue is massively important for the region and Monterrey, but I was left with the feeling of a fringe event, that saying Stop the Violence was in some sense controversial, even embarrassing.

The protest in front of the government palace, Monterrey.

However, the majority of the people who were there, and who were willing to stand in front of the TV cameras and reporters were normal, young 20-30 year-olds. They were prepared to talk about and criticise a situation in full public view, that many people struggle to mention within the safety of their homes. Young people who don’t have any protection from heavily armed security contingents, or who can rely on the sanctity projected by the Catholic Church within Mexico. Last weekend as I watched people mourn at the site of another indiscriminate killing, it was the same young people who were alone, putting themselves in front of the cameras, speaking out about what was happening and finding alternative ways to be active against the violence other than just using more violence. In the circumstances I find this incredibly powerful.

A guitarist in front of a pock-marked wall, plastered over with political messages criticising the current situation in Mexico.

Many people I talk to say the violence will be over after the next presidential election in just over a year. They hope that the next President will work with, rather than fight against the drug cartels and the situation will normalise. I can fully understand people being desperate for some peace and I’m not a Mexican who’s lived in Mexico over the last few years, but this view really surprised me. Will this problem – and all the moral questions that have come with it – not just rise again the next time all these parties are in disagreement? Will everything that’s happened just be forgotten?

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Fear

According to one Latin American business magazine, the city of Monterrey in northeastern Mexico was the safest city in Latin America 5-6 years ago. Unfortunately the drug related violence now means Monterrey is given a special mention in both the U.S. State Department’s and the British Foreign Office’s travel warnings on Mexico. I don’t keep a record of the killings but they seem to happen almost daily alongside many other terrible and disturbing acts. For me second only to the violence itself, is seeing people living in fear. Fear disables people. People can’t think, speak or move freely.

Scared to say certain names, scared to discuss certain topics, scared to talk to strangers, scared because you don’t know who is who and who is talking to who, scared to leave your home after a certain time, scared to go to certain places, scared of the roadblocks, scared of the carjackings, scared of the robberies, scared of the extortion, scared of the kidnappings, scared of the disappearances, scared by the stories of torture, decapitation and mass graves, scared of the men in their masks with guns almost as big as their bodies, scared because you have no trust in the political structures or the security forces that guard them, scared of the nightly bursts of indiscriminate automatic gun fire.

Boundaries

Back when things were very different.

Mansour Mortezaee hasn’t got anything to do with Mexico as far as I know, but he’s certainly felt the impact of the boundaries his birthplace has put on him. Exiled from Iran in 1978, Mansour has had a successful career as a classical musician and teacher in the U.K., but he described the experience of being separated from his land as ‘very painful’ and the reality of not being part of Iran as ‘very difficult’. He was still making the U.K. his home after all this time.

Conversation with a priest

“So how long have you been here?”

“A couple of nights.”

“You see I already knew you were in town before you came here today, and if I know you’re here then so will other people. Do you understand?”

I had just spent the last two evenings sitting in his office trying to organise 20 minutes with him – which I hadn’t done elsewhere. However comments like this are stressful and they make you pause, I certainly don’t feel I can work as freely as I’d like in such an atmosphere.