Open Letter to the Young Women and Men of Mexico

by | 25 Nov 2014

Mexico Protest

Protest near a toll booth on the Mexico-Cuernavaca highway, in solidarity with the families of the Ayotzinapa student teachers. Photo: Yazmin Ortega Cortés

To all my friends from Mexico. And if I may, I would particularly like to address this to you, the young men and women of Mexico.

The whole world has been greatly shocked by the massacre of the young men from the rural teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, and in particular by the horrific details. I understand your great anguish, rage and perplexity:

What type of society is this that allows people—apparently normal like us—to commit such despicable crimes?

What State is this that seems to be completely infiltrated by narcoviolence?

What democracy is this that invites people to surrender to enemies that seem too strong to be subjugated, while it passes laws that criminalize peaceful protests (such as the bullet law, that permits the use of live ammunition against protesters, and the gag law, which prohibits the press from investigating or talking about crime)?

What police force is this that is an accomplice to forced disappearances and torture of innocent citizens?

What educational policy is this that persecutes rural education and prevents these young students from being heroes promoting a life of service to the community; instead making them martyrs through their horrible deaths?

What human rights commissions are these that exist in this country, that are absent and deaf to crimes against humanity while the real human rights activists are murdered?

What world is this that still praises the Mexican President for the simple and sole relevant fact of his delivering over to imperialism the country’s last treasure that had remained in the hands of the Mexicans?

I know these are many questions, and the worst that could happen would be to let yourselves be overcome by their magnitude and to feel impotent because of them. Our life and our society is dominated by two emotions: fear and hope. You should know that this violence is intended for your resignation, for you to be dominated by fear, and above all, by the fear of hoping. The powerful criminals know that without hope there is neither resistance nor social change. We know that it is hard to escape fear in such dramatic conditions.

Fear cannot be eliminated. The important thing is not to give in to it, but to take it seriously so it can be confronted and overcome efficiently. We call this hope. You have the strength to get out of this nightmare, to resist institutionalized illegality and violence and to build an alternative reality of hope. However, for that, organization and social support are needed as well as a clear vision, both political and ethical, of a society in which it is possible to live with dignity and in peace.

There are several options and it doesn’t surprise me that you are contemplating all of them. I know that some of you want to create autonomous zones, free from oppression and domination. Such liberated areas are essential as spaces for education, so that you can show each other that it is possible to live in cooperation and solidarity, so that each and every one of you can say: I am because you are.

But more than liberated zones, what is needed is to face the oppression and terror of political, economic, and cultural power. For this, there are two essential options, and I am sure that you will analyze both of them with extreme care: on the one hand, armed struggle, and on the other, peaceful struggle, both legal and illegal.

If I may say, history shows that the first of these is inevitable only when there is no possible alternative. The reason is simple: armed fighting has almost no societal support if it forces you to take life to save life. The question is: is there space to maneuver towards a peaceful alternative? I humbly think there is, because Mexican democracy, even if it is violated and hurt, is in our hearts. Your fights against the many and successive electoral frauds demonstrate it.

Look at the experience of Southern Europe, where despair amongst young people is giving rise to very interesting political innovations, party-movements that are internally adopting processes of participatory democracy, where familiar faces are the voice of creative deliberation processes in which thousands of citizens, both men and women, participate.

And I underline it, men and women. Sadly, in many countries, and Mexico is no exception, traditional political struggles have very authoritarian styles, styles that exhibit vertical chauvinism. It is necessary to go deep into that level within participatory democracy, especially as we know that women have been the preferred targets of the hired killers, sicarios.

Can a new party-movement organized by young women and men be possible in Mexico? You know the answer. Better yet, you are the answer. It won’t be easy because the men in power will try to criminalize your peaceful struggle. You must assume the cost of peaceful resistance; even if it is declared illegal, you must bear this risk in the name of hope. The fear of illegality must be confronted by a firm belief in the illegality of fear. That is where hope lies.

I embrace you in solidarity.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal), Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-​Madison Law School and Global Legal Scholar at the University of Warwick.

Translation of the Opinion piece “Carta a las y los jóvenes de México”, published in the Mexican Newspaper, La Jornada, on November 16, 2014. Translation by Edith Beltrán, edited by CLT.



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