The Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity participates in a ceremony
at Monte Albán in Oaxaca. (Photo from SDPNoticias / Lucía Vergara)
A Discourse of Divisiveness: Al Giordano and Mexico’s Social Movements
By Scott Campbell
On September 28, Al Giordano, founder and publisher of NarcoNews.com, published a lengthy article on the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity and its time in Oaxaca. Taking the political landscape of Oaxaca as a jumping off point, the main gist of Giordano’s piece was in pointing out the distinctions between the activities and rhetoric of the left and those of Javier Sicilia and the caravan. In the dichotomy he creates, Giordano comes down firmly on the side of Sicilia – one needs to read no further than the sub-headline where he distinguishes between the “annihilating language of the left” and the “language of humanity of drug war victims” to grasp the argument he is putting forward.
In Giordano’s view, “the left” is stuck in a no-longer relevant posture of confrontational and militant rhetoric and action which does not resonate with the everyday individual surviving in a country wrecked by neoliberalism and the violence of the state and drug cartels. He posits that Sicilia’s movement of Gandhian nonviolence with its post-partisan focus on common humanity – from the victims of the drug war all the way up to Felipe Calderón – creates a bond based not on ideology but shared loss, pain and grief, a bond which does resonate with the Mexican populous, and is something much more preferable to what the left has to offer.
A scorched earth attack on the left
Now, when you set up a contrast like that – between a side with humanity and a side that is annihilating – it makes tearing down one and raising up the other rather simple. In doesn’t hurt to throw in some unsubstantiated take downs, such as that those annihilators “gladly will jump on the caravan buses and accept free food from many of the poorest indigenous communities in the nation…but who seemed to be doing so with a grimace on their faces.” Or to imply that they are so out of touch they care more about politics than their own dead family members, as he does with Omar Esparza, whose wife Bety Cariño was assassinated by paramilitaries in 2010. At a caravan stop in Huajuapan, Giordano states Esparza, “said nothing about his late wife…choosing instead of offer a boilerplate political speech of the sort that gets made at so many other political meetings and protests.” He also inaccurately labels Esparza as a spokesperson for the anarchist-leaning group Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Freedom (VOCAL) when in fact he is a member of the Zapatista Indigenous Agrarian Movement (MAIZ). This error takes on more significance when Giordano notes that after speaking, Esparza invited someone from the Stalinist Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR) to speak and implied that the invitation involved “some kind of organizational log-rolling or concessions” on the part of the annihilating left, as VOCAL and the FPR do not get along, to put it mildly. However, since MAIZ and the FPR do frequently work together, the invitation is no surprise at all. When you create your own straw man, it’s easy to knock him down. Problem is, in the end it still is just a straw man of your own creation.
Nonetheless, such broadly-sweeping generalizations, categorizations, and subsequent castigations are inaccurate, dishonest, divisive and, most importantly, disrespectful of those unfairly painted as annihilators by Giordano’s pen of judgment. This is without even mentioning the ahistorical and decontextualized manner in which Giordano presents and ad nauseum praises Gandhian nonviolence, which additionally detracts from Giordano’s argument about the singularity of Sicilia’s movement and opens another avenue for rebuttal which space does not allow me to pursue here.
Hypocrisy and imperialism
What we can do is follow Giordano’s own advice, and “read with a discerning eye, because our biases seep into our texts, videos and audios even when some don’t openly disclose them.” And one thing we note when reading Giordano is that he has gone all-in with Javier Sicilia and his movement, or more appropriately, with Javier Sicilia and then the movement when it agrees with Javier Sicilia. (And despite pitching his tent in Sicilia’s shadow, with no apparent ironyGiordano warns of the annihilating left “attempting to latch their own struggles and causes” onto Sicilia’s movement.) Along with providing adulatory coverage of Sicilia, Giordano, in his characteristically belligerent fashion, seems to have taken on the self-appointed role of knocking down all detractors and critics, legitimate or not, who are not in lock-step with Sicilia’s way of doing things. It is not clear where the “my way or the highway” rule falls within Giordano’s vision of “authentic journalism,” but it is certainly present in his coverage of all things Sicilia.
One group that receives a hearty dose of Giordano’s wrath is foreigners who negatively impact Mexico’s social movements with their “internalized” or “hidden imperialism.” I agree that international solidarity activists who engage with social movements without understanding the movement or their own skin or economic privilege can be extremely detrimental. It can be detrimental even when such understanding is present. But Giordano takes an argument that is valid on a general level and manipulates the facts to again construct a straw man to knock down.
In his piece, Giordano places heavy blame on independent journalist Brad Will for the crushing of the 2006 rebellion in Oaxaca. Will was murdered by pro-government gunmen while filming their attack on a protesters’ barricade. Giordano’s colleague Greg Berger, at least according to a piece in Proceso featured on Narconews.com, even “makes fun of the tourists that come to support movements and end up harming them, like in the case of Brad Will…” In contrast to the attitudes of Giordano and Berger, those involved in the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca continue to have a deep respect for Brad Will and continue to demand justice for his murder. Certainly no one views him as a tourist to be made fun of.
Regarding imperialist gringos attacking and undermining Javier Sicilia’s movement, Giordano’s evidence is scant, to say the least. One item he does make mention of is an article written earlier this year, and it is his reference of that article which motivated me to write this piece. Giordano states, “Two other North Americans who sometimes work in Oaxaca publicly attacked Sicilia last spring for working with a US organizer of family members of murder victims because of – get this – a years-old dispute in the anti death penalty movement over whether death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal should be considered the most important such prisoner over and above all of the 3,250 other death row inmates in the US.”
The article was widely reposted in Spanish and I also reposted it on this blog. It in no way attacks Sicilia. In fact it praises Sicilia and presumes he has no idea of the past actions of Renny Cushing (the "US organizer" mentioned above) stating, “It’s also doubtful that Javier Sicilia has heard of this shameful episode.” The point of the article and the actions of Renny Cushing are grievously misrepresented by Giordano in the above quote. He also fails to disclose that Cushing is his good friend and mentor and further fails to mention the vicious attacks he unleashed on the author following her criticism of Cushing. Across the internet he labeled her a “provocateur” committing a “counterinsurgency job.”
Giordano’s hysterical paroxysms were countered, however, when a number of the main independent media outlets that cover Mexico’s social movements lined up to denounce Giordano’s dangerous and unsubstantiated attacks. Such a public chiding clearly failed to reach Giordano, given his continued manipulation of the facts. He further seems to be totally oblivious to the fact that it is precisely through the writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal that thousands of people in Mexico and Latin America find out about the cases of other death row prisoners and the horrendous executions of people like Troy Davis, murdered by the state of Georgia last September 21.
Rules that don’t apply to me
His defamations are made all the more outrageous given his remark early on in his article, where, with no sense of irony or glint of hypocrisy, he writes, “in this soup is the Mexican regime’s talent at enticing or blackmailing many activists into counterinsurgency tasks of either espionage or provocation, and a corresponding paranoia in which people accuse each other of such activity even when it’s not the case.”
In the end, it is Giordano’s attacks on committed activists, and the bandying about of the “imperialist” label that lay bare the vapidity of Giordano’s analysis and the the fundamental lack of self-reflection that has gone into it. It seems that Giordano has forgotten that he himself is a gringo. There is no awareness on his part that while he takes other people to task for non-existent offenses against the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, he, as a gringo, is indicting thousands, if not tens of thousands of Mexicans on the left for not falling in line with Sicilia. He is lecturing Mexico’s entire left on what their tactics, strategies and behavior should be. Beyond his inaccurate and sweeping generalizations, his hagiographic treatment of Sicilia, and his manipulation of the facts, it is his sense of entitlement, his feeling that he has the right to harangue, belittle and moralize to Mexico’s left that is the most offensive aspect of his article and his overall engagement with Sicilia’s movement.