Day of the Dead

(Perdonen que escriba este texto en inglés. Es respecto a las protestas frente a la Embajada de México la semana pasada debido al conflicto de Oaxaca, y al altar de Día de Muertos que algunas personas instalamos ahí el pasado jueves. De alguna manera este texto es la continuación de un diálogo en la página de Indymedia del Reino Unido. Es un poco largo y no estoy segura de que tendré tiempo de traducirlo al español.)

 It is not only the conflict in Oaxaca in itself that I have been thinking about. The various demonstrations outside the Mexican Embassy in London last week have given me much food for thought.       

To start with, I’ll tell you that last Thursday, through other 5 persons and myself, an invitation was extended for people to join us at the altar for the Day of the Dead outside the Embassy. This altar was commemorating the dead in Oaxaca. We called for a peaceful demonstration, and as some of you may know, after the previous demonstration on the 30th of October, where some people were arrested, there were some discussions in internet forums about the way we understand a call for justice.       

While we were at the Day of the Dead commemoration, a fierce battle was taking place in the city of Oaxaca, when the police and army-dressed-as-police put the University under siege, threatening with the absolutely illegal violation of its campus. It’s interesting to note that during the previous days, those same police and army forces destroyed some of the altars for the Day of the Dead that the people of Oaxaca were doing in the streets.        I guess I’ve said enough about my disappointment at the October 30th demonstration outside the Mexican Embassy in London, and why I decided to leave. I won’t repeat myself here, but I want to tell those persons engaged in this discussion that I do understand the emotions which led them to their attitude of challenge that day, and why this was intensified as they projected Brad Will’s last video against a barrier of police officers.       

My answer to this is, though, that emotion in itself is not the answer. It’s many of us who have felt the rage and grief about the recent events in Oaxaca. Yet, a demonstration should always have as a priority to make its message clear, and I believe this is usually lost when the clashes with the police start. I also want to ask: what is more important, the cause, our rage and our emotions, the political aims, or the lives of individuals? The feelings among the demonstrators are understandable and I share many of them. Still, what they were projecting were the last minutes of a human being’s life, and further violence, the shouts, the challenge, the ensuing arrests, I still believe do little to honour such a moment. I do believe that, once having chosen the polemic action of projecting this video, it would have been much more forceful to project it in silence; on the face of the barrier of police, to continue on a silent and peaceful defiance, which would have brought the message home that this was actually the moment when a young and brave journalist was murdered by the paramilitary forces in Oaxaca.       

I believe that the demonstrations outside the Mexican Embassy in London are being done in order to convey a message to the Mexican government, and to inform people in the UK about the atrocities going on in Oaxaca. I don’t believe for one second that these demonstrations are, or should be done in order to convey a message to the British police, and I hope we all agree on the sheer absurdity of the idea.       

Now let me tell you about our own experience (4 Mexicans and two British citizens who know Mexico –and Oaxaca—and have a deep love for that country) on organising the Day of the Dead event. When the first of us arrived at the Embassy, she started talking to the police officers about what we were planning to do, why, what was going on in Oaxaca, and what does the tradition of the Day of the Dead consist on. The officers understood perfectly well and were quite helpful. Some of them were indeed interested in what she had to say and even complained about the “rubbish” news in this country, which offered no information at all about the conflict.        

When the rest of us arrived, the situation was the same. Of course the police officers were firm, but we could talk to each other perfectly well as human beings do and negotiate the terms of the demonstration. They did intercede between us and the Embassy staff, actually, so that we could display the altar the way we wanted and so that they would receive the letter we had to deliver. The officers were utterly respectful. It was a pity when another officer arrived later and told us we couldn’t stay by the altar at the Embassy’s doors and had to move to the other pavement. Of course we were annoyed at that.       

Yet, we knew perfectly well that the amount of police officers and the restrictions had all to do with the demonstration on the 30th and its lamentable outcome. On the 30th, when the whole thing started, there were only 2 police officers, not aggressive at all, and the demonstrators were allowed to be at the Embassy’s doors. After what happened later, circumstances had obviously changed, and our own peaceful demonstration was directly affected. I am not trying to blame anyone; I’m just stating a fact, and that fact made us understand that we would have to yield a bit in the terms of our own demonstration, as the police officers were yielding themselves.        When some of the October 30th demonstrators arrived later at the Day of the Dead altar, we could detect in some a whiff of irritation at the way we seemed to be “cooperating” with the police. But they hadn’t seen how the whole process had developed, and it was actually quite interesting to see how human beings can understand each other when there is the will to do so, regardless the uniform.       

This goes not only for the British police. Even in my country, where the police can be so brutal and with absolute impunity, there is always the odd individual, the odd police officer you can talk to in other terms, and that should always be welcome. Unless, of course, what we’re aiming at is at having an antagonist, at all costs.        

Personally, I’m not aiming at that at all.       

 Those who have been listening to the Radio from the people of Oaxaca in these dramatic days surely have noticed how, even on the face of real violence, on the face of their city being taken by the brutality of the police and military forces, the citizens of Oaxaca have been careful enough to address these same forces reminding them they are all Mexican, that they have probably chosen their jobs out of very hard  personal circumstances, yet they should not raise their weapons against their brothers. That, to me, is very important.         Because the question is: what do we want? For the police to be brutal always so that we can prove our point? For the police to be our identifiable antagonist? I should think that what we want, everywhere in the world, is a good police force, that is accountable for their acts and whose work is to serve their community. Or am I wrong? What we all want, everywhere in the world, is a police force who is the declared enemy, who actually should treat us like shit so that we can insult them freely? And what, for God’s sake, would be the point of that?       

Some of the demonstrators that I have been talking to through the indymedia forum say there is no “good police” and that it’s all the same everywhere in the world. I may be wrong, but their hatred for the British police seems to me to surpass by far their horror at what is going on in Oaxaca, which is the reason why they’re supposed to be demonstrating in the first place.       

My answer is, if you have issues with the British police, address the real issues then: work towards the triumph of justice and transparency in the Charles de Meneses’ case. Work towards the recognition of the right to demonstrate in Westminster.       

And I’m sure many of you are already working on such issues and doing a wonderful work at that. But I don’t think anything is gained in that regard if we mix up one thing with the other and turn any demostration for whatever cause into a chance to challenge the British police. And I don’t think any triumph against impunity will come with street clashes. They all lose their meaning in the sheer repetition of it all. A clash with the police is a clash with the police is a clash with the police.       

Apart from these considerations, I still find it outrageous and unbelievable that anyone could compare the British police to the Mexican police. The realities of both police forces are utterly different, as is the history behind those realities. I am a Mexican citizen; believe me, it’s not the same.       

Yes, I have encountered a couple of nasty police officers in Britain. Nasty. Not brutal and willing to… well, everything, under the shelter of impunity. I have also had the need to ask for the police help in two occasions during the eight years I’ve been living here, and I can only be grateful. In both cases, believe me that under similar circumstances, in my country, to call the police would have been the last thing that would have crossed my mind; it would have only added to my problems.        

No, the British police, with all its horrors and flaws, is not comparable to the Mexican police. Please remember this well. It is NOT. Arrested persons after a demonstration are not tortured; arrested women are not raped. People here in general don’t go out walking in the street fearing the police. Even after the horrendous murder of Charles de Meneses, after the intensification of police surveillance with the terrorist threats and the image of heavily armed officers in the streets (something that in Mexico has always been the everyday landscape), people are not constantly threatened here by the police the way they are in Mexico. To say it is the same is a great disservice both to the Mexican people and to the British people.       

To start with, it is a very frivolous way of disregarding the real plight of the Mexican people, the way they have risked their lives, over and over again, in order to defend themselves from police brutality and impunity.

        And then there is the also frivolous disregard for the achievements both of the British people and of those people from abroad who have freely decided to come to live here. If the police here is less awful than it was and certainly doesn’t share the brutality the police displays in other countries, it is a triumph of the people, not of those in power. Of course there are still many issues to address, and they should be addressed. But first we have to start by acknowledging reality, the state of affairs.

The world is a mess, we know it, and Britain is no paradise. There are many dirty businesses going on in here, and there is injustice. Well, let’s concentrate on fighting that, not on demeaning what has already been achieved, which ends up being almost like an unconscious call for violence and despair. In spite of its horrors, and in spite of the overwhelming feeling of collective guilt built in the consciousness of many Western citizens, British society does have some good things. There’s nothing like having grown up in a country where many of such things don’t exist at all in order to appreciate them! And those good things are still the outcome of a democracy, however flawed and however disappointing it may be, however disgraceful Labour turned out to be and however huge our justified indignation at this country’s foreign policy. If we don’t acknowledge what is already working, and focus only on what’s wrong, we may very well lose the good things we have, and even if you consider they are very few and unimportant, they are still good and they still help for life here not to be as terrible as it is in other places. Furthermore, I insist: those good things are achievements of the people. To ignore it is to let the people down.       

And now I will talk a bit about my experience of demonstrations in Mexico. I have the feeling that some people in Europe don’t understand very well the importance that rituals and symbols have for us. The Mexican police understands that perfectly well, though; that’s why they found the altars for the Day of the Dead threatening in Oaxaca, and that’s why, also, we decided to demonstrate outside the Embassy precisely with that: an altar for the Day of the Dead. A ritual. Symbols.        People in Oaxaca sung the National Anthem in their barricades facing the police that was forcing its way in. We decided to sing the National Anthem in front of the Embassy, and one person questioned this. So I have to insist on what I answered to him: I don’t know in other countries, but in Mexico, after years of symbols as the National Anthem and the flag being, so to speak, held hostage by those in power, they have been recalled by the people. It’s not a matter of nationalism; it’s a matter of taking back symbols which, roughly, represent the unity of a very large and diverse country and returning them to the people.        

I’ve heard that in previous demonstrations before the Mexican Embassy the Mexican flag has been burnt. I truly, truly wish this were not true! I’m certainly glad I was not there.       

Back in Mexico, I have been involved in several events and demonstrations against the government, the police, the army, etc. As you may well know, everyday we have causes to be involved in things like these, because violence, brutality and impunity are an everyday occurrence. I have worked with very big groups of people, and we have organised events attended by thousands of persons. As opposed to here, in those cases we knew that there would never be a possibility of negotiating anything with the police. Furthermore, we knew that we absolutely should not, under any circumstance, provoke them. We did things, things they didn’t like, things we deemed necessary and that had their humble but real, and practical and tangible, positive consequences. But we didn’t provoke them, for the very simple reason that we knew that by doing so, we might be responsible for people being beaten up, killed, raped, etc.        

And of course, in the convoluted political scene, there are always groups of people calling for confrontation. Groups of people who regarded our pacifist events as weak, submissive. Groups of people who wanted clashes with the police. Some of us call them the “ultras”. It is no secret that many among them are police themselves, and that such is the perfect shelter for infiltrators.        

I have no doubts whatsoever that the demonstrators I have talked with here are a hundred per cent well meaning and sincere. I just want to invite you to reflect on why, in places such as Mexico were violence is so endemic, the attitude of challenge and confrontation always ends up being penetrated by some of the darkest forces of the conflict. I think the answer is, because the heat of confrontation brings a lot of confusion and noise along with it. The strength of words, the strength of reason and actions gets lost in the turmoil.       

This is what I think and what I have learnt from my experience. I may be wrong, but I also appeal to what I have witnessed: in my country, during my lifetime at least, much more has been won by reason, dialogue and peaceful opposition than by direct confrontation.

And I know it’s not enough. I lose heart many times, I lose my hope very often. I don’t have the answer as to what must really be done for my country, or the world for that matter, to be a better place. But I do believe that the intensification of contradictions is not the answer.

So I truly hope that what all demonstrators want is justice, and not to heighten contradictions. That may work very well as a political tactic. It also works, I think, above human beings. Maybe that’s why I trust politics very little. I don’t believe in any cause that can be set above the lives of human beings. I may be wrong, of course. I just don’t believe we have any need of yet more bloodshed.               

Published in: on November 8, 2006 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment