Social mobilisation against the Mexican “war” on drugs and crime —Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity

Johan Gordillo-García

Sociology PhD candidate, The University of Edinburgh

Faced by rising criminal violence and innumerable murders and disappearances of citizens, the government of the then Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) used various forms of state denial (Cohen, 2001) to defend his security strategy—declaring a “war” and deploying armed forces to deal with organised crime—and prevent protests around the increasing violence rates. Led by the poet Javier Sicilia after the murder of his 24-year-old son Juanelo in the state of Morelos in 2011, multiple relatives of victims of violence formed the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), a national social movement that fractured the official narrative of criminalization of victims and concealment of atrocities. On March 28th 2021, we commemorated ten years of the MPJD formation. I will present a brief chronicle of the actions that the movement has carried out and share some reflections on the construction of a sense of collectivity through its mobilisations.

After the murder of his son, Sicilia gave a press conference during which he invited civil society to participate in a march on April 6th 2011 to express a cry of outrage. The protest had around 40,000 participants in the capital of Morelos as well as solidarity events in at least 20 other cities. In the end, the poet called for another mobilization named “March for peace with justice and dignity”. This protest took place from May 5th to 8th. During the final day, there were around 200,000 participants, as well as solidarity marches in other states and countries. In the closing event of this march, 70 people read poetry and shared their testimonies of violence. In addition, the MPJD presented the content of the “National Pact for Peace”, a document with proposals on six areas that would be signed in Ciudad Juárez—the “epicentre of pain”—to stop the violence in the country.

Following this goal, the MPJD organized the Caravan of Consolation from June 4th to 10th, visiting some of the states with the highest rates of violence in the northern region of Mexico. During this mobilization, dozens of victims’ relatives presented their testimonies before hundreds or thousands of attendees. At the end of the caravan, the MPJD and hundreds of allied organisations signed the Pact. A few weeks later, the MPJD held a public dialogue with Calderón, where five relatives of victims of femicide, murder and disappearance, as well as a representative of indigenous peoples, demanded justice to the president. A similar event took place in July, when members of the MPJD met with representatives of Congress and questioned them for their co-responsibility in the “war”. Later, the MPJD began a 10-day-long caravan to the south of the country, meeting with members of indigenous communities and migrants.

There was a second gathering with Calderón. However, since the president imposed several restrictions, the MPJD decided to stop the dialogue process. Later, the movement also stopped all mobilizations because some participants were murdered and disappeared. As such, the MPJD focused on lobbying the Congress and, in April 2012 received the approval of the General Law of Victims but Calderón used his presidential capabilities to reject its official enactment.

Looking to expanding its scope, the movement carried out a month-long caravan across the USA to demand better policies around gun control and drug trafficking. A couple of months later, Enrique Peña, who was elected president in July 2012, made the official enactment of the General Law of Victims. Yet, the MPJD kept criticizing the security strategy of this new government, calling it a continuation of the war. Over time, for reasons that will not be discussed here, the national agenda focused on the search for the relatives of disappeared persons and dozens of colectivos (collectives) were formed. Thus, in August 2016, members of the MPJD collaborated with a colectivo to open a massive pit created by the government of Morelos, in which 119 bodies were buried without following any forensic protocol. This action revealed that not only were criminal groups abandoning bodies in clandestine pits but that governments were also involved in disappearing people.

Two years later, Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the presidential election and promised to adopt transitional justice mechanisms in Mexico but, once in office, ignored the victims’ demands. The trend of violence continued to rise, and Sicilia made a new call to protest to demand the president to fulfil his promises. However, López Obrador assured that the call was a “show” of his “adversaries”. Hence, the mobilization called Walk for Truth, Justice and Peace departed from Morelos in January 2020 and, after four days of walking and holding artistic events, thousands of people reached Mexico City’s centre to demand justice.

Construction of a new sense of collectivity

Given that social movements are relational and interactive phenomena (Diani, 1992), tactical repertoires can be understood from their identity-construction dimension (Taylor and Van Dyke, 2004). Through constant marches, caravans, memory events, dialogues and meetings, the MPJD redefined the collective identity of its participants, which is reflected in cognitive, moral, emotional (Polletta and Jasper, 2001) and even political (Simon and Klandermans, 2001) links of each person with a larger community.

A fundamental action in the repertoire of the MPJD is the presentation of testimonies by victims of different types of violence, narratives and experiences that in different contexts have served not only to record an atrocity but also to frame an individual and collective transformative project (Beverley, 2008). In recent years, a group of social anthropologists led by Myriam Jimeno have developed the concept of a political-emotional community (Jimeno, 2010; Macleod and De Marinis, 2018). According to the authors, this type of community is based on the connections created from the narration of an individual or collective tragedy, listened to by an audience that not only empathizes with pain but also actively responds to it. In this way, Jimeno argues, this dialectical interaction goes from a moment of compassion and consolation to the construction of a political bond that leads a wider public to get involved in actions that seek justice for the victims. There are multiple observable implications for arguing around the development of a political-emotional community within the MPJD. Although the limits of this text do not allow it to be widely discussed, the empirical research of my doctoral project will deeply develop the construction of these ties.

Mexico’s contemporary history is impossible to understand without a deep knowledge of what the MPJD has done and achieved. Anyone interested is invited to visit (in Spanish) to learn more about the activities we have been holding to commemorate the 10th anniversary and show solidarity with the thousands of relatives of victims of violence in the country.


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Cohen, S., 2001. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity.

Diani, M., 1992. “The Concept of Social Movement”, The Sociological Review, 40(1), 1–25.

Jimeno, M., 2010. “Emocoes e política: A vitima e a construcao de comunidades emo- cionais”, Revista Mana, (16)1, 99-121.

Macleod, M. and De Marinis, N. (eds.), 2018. Resisting Violence Emotional. Communities in Latin America. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Polletta, F. and Jasper, J., 200. “Collective Identity and Social Movements”, Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1). 283–305.

Simon, B. and Klandermans, B., 2001. “Politicized collective identity: A social psychological analysis”, American Psychologist, 56(4), 319–331.

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