Victims and Counter-Victims in Contemporary Mexico

Estelle Tarica[1]
University of California, Berkeley

Volume 7, 2015

In response to the violence unleashed by the “war on drugs” initiated by Mexican president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), victims of the violence and their families have become activists and have created protest groups which have thus far demonstrated an unprecedented mobilizing capacity. Though the ultimate impact of their actions remains to be seen, they have succeeded in creating a national forum for their concerns and have contributed to the shape of political discourse about violence in contemporary Mexico. In effect, the efforts of national groups like Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad, combined with the work of local and grassroots associations of victims and their family members throughout the country, have resulted in placing the victims of the violence at the center of discussions about Mexico’s current crisis.[2] Although there are significant differences among these various voices, they share a common purpose: to draw attention to the human cost of the war on drugs.

This discursive shift toward the figure of the victim has gathered intellectual weight thanks in part to the work of journalists, writers, scholars and other commentators, who have amplified the message of activists in books, newspapers, magazines and websites. Most crucial in this respect has been the figure of Javier Sicilia, a respected poet and columnist and the founder of Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (hereafter MPJD). His “Carta abierta a políticos y criminales,” which appeared in the weekly news magazine Proceso shortly after the murder of his son in March 2011, had a catalyzing effect that led to the creation of a national movement. It is also thanks in some measure to Sicilia’s efforts that the Ley General de Víctimas was passed by the Mexican congress and signed into law in 2013, under President Enrique Peña Nieto.[3] While numerous victims’ groups existed prior to the Calderón era to protest criminal impunity and the corruption of the judicial system—perhaps most famously, the “mothers” groups protesting the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez—it was not until 2011 that “the victim” came to be invested in Mexico with a potent political symbolism that competes for center stage.

This paradoxical potency of the victim is the result of what I will call “counter-victimization.” Counter-victimization is not anti-victimization. As I will show, it is rather an alternative form of victimization, one that constitutes a critique of the Mexican state. My concept of “counter-victimization” refers to a process whereby the victims of the war on drugs come to be invested with dignity and agency. It should be noted that in popular discussions, the category of victim tends to encompass two distinct legal categories: “direct” victims, referring to those who have suffered victimization in person, and “indirect” victims, referring to the family members or others closely connected to the direct victim.[4] Counter-victimization addresses the experience of both direct and indirect victims. It counters the prevailing tendency to criminalize or otherwise tar the reputation of those who have been killed or disappeared, which has the effect of holding them and their families responsible for the violence they have suffered while absolving the state of its responsibility for the violence. Counter-victimization emphasizes that the state’s corruption, impunity and misguided policies amount to a kind of criminal violence for which the state should be held responsible. The discourse of counter-victimization also responds to political notions of victims that are especially prevalent among the Left and that view victims as helpless and passive subjects who cannot act in their own name and of their own will; victims, by this view, cannot also be citizens. Counter-victimization is about political empowerment. But rather than seeking to transform victims into agents, counter-victimization identifies an agency that resides in the very condition of victimhood, and indeed as will be seen, at times suggests that the exercise of citizenship itself requires an awareness of shared victimization.

In many cases counter-victimization also involves a strong critique of Mexican neoliberalism in the new millennium. It thus contains a historical awareness that seeks to mark the shift from one biopolitical regime to another: from the post-revolutionary welfare state and its high points of charismatic populism, to the neoliberal, technocratic and administrative “estado sin entrañas” (Rivera Garza 13) of the past few decades. It is anchored in Giorgio Agamben’s notion of zoe, used here as a disturbing emblem of Mexican neoliberalism. In the words of Javier Sicilia: “cada ciudadano de este país ha sido reducido a lo que el filósofo Giorgio Agamben llamó, con palabra griega, zoe: la vida no protegida, la vida de un animal, de un ser que puede ser violentado, secuestrado, vejado y asesinado impunemente” (Sicilia, “Carta abierta”).

This apparently biopolitical approach to understanding Mexico’s contemporary crisis is an example of what I would call “biopolitics against itself,” because although it uses the categories of analysis emanating from Agamben’s theories about the biopolitical state in order to criticize the contemporary political order, it does so in a limited and functional way. First, it circumvents the more totalizing and global elements of theory by focusing on the recent past. Thus, whereas for Agamben, the origins of the biopolitical state date back to the birth of the West, for the agents of counter-victimization the biopolitical state in Mexico surfaces only in the late-twentieth century. In terms of a historical analysis of contemporary Mexico, then, counter-victimization tends to obscure the biopolitical continuities between neoliberalism and its antecedent, the welfare state, and in some cases is overtly nostalgic for the past.

Second, and more importantly, the biopolitical elements of counter-victimization redirect the negative and critical thrust of theory into a call for action, transforming the figures of zoe and homo sacer from concepts used to advance a political critique into concepts that build a political platform, a jumping-off point into the fray. Concretely, counter-victimizing discourses hold that homo sacer can be recovered as a subject to whom one extends compassion and justice and therefore reintegrates fully into the political body. In contrast, the homo sacer to whom Agamben refers, the victim who serves as the emblem for the problematic indistinction between zoe and bios that the state exploits in order to monopolize violence, thus transgressing its own legal foundation, forever remains “exceptional,” per Agamben’s definition, at the constitutive limits of the political order, an “inclusive exclusion” (Agamben 7). “Biopolitics against itself” involves the use of Agamben’s concept of the homo sacer in order to recapture empathy and dignity, transforming the victim into a central figure who can knit the fabric of society back together, rather than as an emblem of the ultimate amoral foundation of sovereign power. Such a version of “bare life” can be found in historian Ilán Semo’s extraordinary attribution of power to zoe, placing it in a dialogue with the state:

El argumento del orden (banal hasta lo sumiso) es: el Estado ha matado a 40 mil criminales menos ‘un porcentaje de daños colaterales.’ El argumento de zoe es: ‘El Estado (al menos el mexicano) no cuenta con ninguna ley para matar a nadie, ergo: el Estado está del lado del criminal.’ Hay 40 mil muertos que reclaman rostro, juicios, historia y memoria. Zoe habla no desde la ley, sino desde algo más poderoso aún: la fuerza de ley.


Clearly, then, contemporary discourses of victimization in Mexico adopt a more limited concept of the origins and functioning of the biopolitical state than Agamben’s, seeing it as a relatively new phenomenon as well as one that is more susceptible to the actions of ordinary political subjects, including the most abject. In this sense, it seeks to escape biopolitics by envisioning a society that remedies the nakedness and vulnerability of zoe through compassion.

In what follows I provide a closer examination of the extraordinary turn to the subjective and the personal that has been accomplished in contemporary Mexico in the name of the victim, and propose a more precise understanding of some of the underlying ideas that have made it possible to imagine that the best way to combat violence is by re-dignifying the victims and listening to their speech. An analysis of the key activist voices constituting this discourse—journalists, poets, victims and family members, among others—will show how counter-victimization seeks to remove the stigma that attaches to many victims and their families in contemporary Mexico, so that they may regain status before the law as persons invested with dignity whose death, disappearance or injury merits justice. It emphasizes the victims’ essential innocence and vulnerability, yet also holds that an appreciation of these traits by those around them can become a source of political awakening and renewed national fellowship. Thus, I argue, counter-victims express a double refusal: the refusal to be stigmatized as immoral and the refusal to be sidelined from the exercise of democratic citizenship. Indeed, as I will explore here, counter-victimization uses trauma as a springboard for political action, and its most visible proponent, Javier Sicilia, proposes to reinvigorate the practice of democratic citizenship in Mexico through appeals to shared victimization, a stance that merits further sustained critical attention.

Sidestepping the question of its political efficacy, in part because it still remains to be seen,[5] this discussion aims rather to delineate the principal variants of this powerful moral discourse as it grapples with the vexed question of who, precisely, counts as a victim and who should be held accountable. In this regard it will become clear that counter-victimization constitutes a multi-faceted discourse on the rule of law. By drawing attention to the daily violence suffered by Mexican citizens, counter-victimization shows the state’s failure to implement its own rule of law. It also holds the state itself to be one of the primary agents of the violence, and thereby criticizes the state’s self-authorized exception to the rule of law, seeking to remove that exception, as it were, by extending the rule of law to cover the state itself. Furthermore, counter-victimization seeks to extend the rule of law to cover new realms of social life, proposing to turn compassion into a civil right and obligation. And yet, as I will touch on in my discussion of Sicilia, it also seems to transcend the rule of law entirely as its sphere of action, appealing to a concept of religious community and a model of compassionate citizenship that finds dignity in suffering.

I. “Counter-victimization”

The fact that cases of extreme violence have become more rampant in Mexico, that the Mexican government has lost control of significant portions of the national territory to criminal drug organizations, and that impunity and government corruption are significant factors contributing to the propagation of violence—these are well-known elements of the situation. What is significant about the works I’ll discuss here is that they reorient these stories about contemporary Mexico towards the victim, placing the victim at the center.

Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero’s book Horrorism is a touchstone in this regard and can be said to have had something of an impact in Mexico. Cavarero proposes that to understand contemporary political violence, “we observe the scene of massacre from the point of view of the helpless victims rather than that of the warriors” (1). When we do that, she continues, “the end melts away, and the means become substance. More than terror, [more than war,] what stands out is horror.” Horrorism names “violence against the helpless” (3). The idea is that “the innocent victims, instead of their killers, ought to determine the name” that we give to the violence (3).

Mexican victim discourses are motivated by more than horror, however. They are also motivated by the outrage of justice denied. The terms “revictimización” and “doble victimización” have become common currency in Mexico. These refer to how the direct and indirect victims of a crime are treated in a manner lacking dignity and agency by state institutions, in effect subjecting them to another experience of victimization. I believe it is necessary to add yet another word to the new lexicon: “des-victimización,” de-victimization, a term which describes how the direct and indirect victims of a crime are refused their status as victims when the authorities, often in tandem with broad public opinion, deny the very existence of a crime. When one hears that those who have suffered from violence in contemporary Mexico had it coming to them (“algo habrán hecho,” “en algo andaban”) or are in some sense to blame for their suffering—these would be instances of “de-victimization.” Journalist Marcela Turati offers an ironic paraphrase of this common sentiment: “Cada vez que nos dicen: ‘¡Se matan entre ellos!’ debemos alegrarnos de esa victoria porque la mayoría de los que mueren (el 90%) lo merecían por ser malos, lo cual nunca nos consta porque en México los crímenes no se investigan y menos se castigan” (Fuego 32). This attitude is rampant as concerns the murder of women in Ciudad Juárez, whose rape, torture and disappearance is commonly blamed on the women themselves for having stepped out of place, worn “sexy” clothing, associated with strange men, and so forth. It also extends to the victims whom Calderón termed “collateral damages” of the war on drugs, the bystanders killed during confrontations between the army and drug gangs who are routinely and falsely implicated in criminal activities by the authorities and public opinion, in a move that Turati refers to as “fabricar culpables” (Fuego 94). This is an extreme case of de-victimization, in which the victims are said to be the perpetrators of crime, and hence utterly expendable. Poet Francisco Segovia has said of this semantic operation whereby the victimhood of the victims is erased: “vuelve invisibles a las víctimas, las vuelve zoe” (Segovia).

What I am calling “counter-victimization” seeks to rectify the effects of re-victimization and de-victimization. It is the attempt by direct and indirect victims to embody the legal and moral category of the victim without having to suffer further loss of dignity. Let me repeat that counter-victimization is not anti-victimization, but rather an alternative approach to victimization. Counter-victimization denotes a process, rather than a simple act. We can think about it in terms of a series of counter-victimizing steps or stages that lead victims from indignity to dignity as they seek social recognition for their trauma. Counter-victimization involves affirming that a victim does in fact exist, whether it be the victim of a crime as defined by the penal code and other laws, that is, a crime considered as such within the framework of legality / illegality defined by the State (for example, a victim of rape, a victim of kidnapping and disappearance, a victim of military misuse of force, etc), or a victim of an ethical lapse on the part of government authorities or other actors, a victim of social disregard, abandonment or exclusion (for example, the family member of a murder victim who is treated with contempt by local police).[6] Gaining recognition that a victim exists amounts to an implicit critique of the state’s de facto policy that military violence against civilians is necessary for the good of the country; counter-victims proclaim their refusal to tolerate these sacrifices. It also involves a critique of the weakness and corruption of the judicial system, which is incapable of bringing criminals to justice.

More significantly, for my purposes, counter-victimization involves an attempt to recapture the victims’ lost dignity, and in some cases, to make victimization itself a source of dignity. To have dignity, according to the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, is to be “merecedor de algo,” deserving or worthy of something. But how is worth defined and measured? Although there is consensus that justice is what the victims deserve, the question of who is a victim—that is, who counts among the dignified or worthy—is not a simple one. Contemporary victim discourses in Mexico respond to this question in identifiably distinct ways that co-exist in tension. In a preliminary fashion, these can be schematically divided into two groups that I will term “universalistas,” whose understanding of dignity derives from the discourse of human rights, and “familiares,” who define dignity more narrowly in terms of an individual’s social position and moral conduct. Using philosopher Michael Rosen’s recent work on dignity, the distinction between these two strands of counter-victimization can be summarized as follows: for the “familiares,” dignity is a matter of “what position some individual or group occupies in relation to human beings in a particular society,” whereas for the universalists, dignity is a matter of “what position human beings as a whole occupy in the order of the universe” (9). As will be seen further below, the distinction between these two strands of counter-victimization is useful but limited, because in reality the two frequently mix together and downplay their mutual tensions.

II. “…recuperar nombres y dignidades…”

The “universalist” and inclusive strand of counter-victimization finds its greatest expression among the numerous public intellectuals who have recently contributed to victim discourse in Mexico. This universalist strand derives from discourses of human rights; it holds that all people have dignity, that it is a universal moral value.[7] In response to the question about the worth of the victim, counter-victimization in the universalist vein would respond: he or she was a person, with a face, feelings, a life (a story). To be treated with dignity, in this understanding of the concept, means to be treated with humanity, as a person.

Prominent examples of the universalist or human-rights approach to counter-victimization include work by journalist Marcela Turati, especially her 2011 book Fuego Cruzado: las víctimas atrapadas en la guerra del narco, and novelist Cristina Rivera Garza, particularly her 2011 collection of essays Dolerse: Textos desde un país herido. Universalist counter-victimization discourse can also be found on the website, a virtual “altar” created in 2010 in memory of the seventy-two Central and South American migrants in transit on their way to the U.S. who were assassinated that same year in Tamaulipas by the Zetas cartel and buried in a mass grave. Turati, Rivera Garza and the writers featured on highlight the ethical dimension of the crisis, namely, the inability or refusal of everyday Mexicans to confront the depth of the violence around them, especially as manifested in the lack of empathy for the victims. Taken together, their work suggests that at the root of the violence there is a crisis of compassion, a disturbing indifference to the suffering of others.

These writers attribute the loss of compassion to several factors. One, the government and mass media collude in rendering this violence abstract through the language of numbers. Instructing other journalists in how to practice a more compassionate and committed form of journalism in the midst of the violence, Turati writes, “los muertos de los que da cuenta la estadística no son cifras, eran personas, tenían una historia” (“Previo”). Two, the sheer overwhelming repetition of violent acts, compounded by a media overexposure, has a numbing effect on the public. Turati writes in the opening chapter of Fuego Cruzado, “fuimos perdiendo la capacidad de asombro” (28), likening the process to a “domestication” and “banalization” of death: “Los mexicanos nos acostumbramos a desayunar con noticias sumergidas en sangre” (27). The result: “la pérdida de sensibilidad ante la barbarie … la banalización de la vida humana” (30).

Third, and paradoxically, these writers also suggest that the Mexican public has been horrified into silence, shocked into stone, resulting in the general loss of empathy: “El horror a todos enmudece,” Turati writes (Fuego 25). She echoes Cavarero’s analysis of the Medusa, the mythical monster woman whose gaze petrifies her victims; horror is that experience of petrification, which locks us into a mute, traumatized subjectivity. It is this image, of the petrified and frozen witness, the statue of stone, that intrigues Cristina Rivera Garza in the essays in Dolerse and that becomes for her a figure for the powerlessness of contemporary Mexicans: “Boquiabiertos, con los vellos erizados sobre la piel de gallina, fríos como estatuas, paralizados realmente, muchos no hemos hecho más que lo que se hace frente al horror: abrir la boca y morder el aire” (15). How to break free of the stone and become again a speaking person? How to re-sensitize the Mexican public and “de-banalize” the suffering of others?

Turati’s Fuego cruzado, Rivera Garza’s Dolerse, and all reflect a powerful underlying idea about literature as a form of representation uniquely capable of humanizing its subjects and returning thought and feeling to its readers. With the exception of some entries in, these works do not conform to a narrow definition of literature. Rather, they employ the stylistic techniques of poetry and fiction, as well as of the literary essay, all to great effect. Turati’s work is based on her extensive interviews with the victims from across the social spectrum, and thus has a strong testimonial element, foregrounding the voices of her informants. But her work is essentially literary portraiture, not testimony: she aims to give a face to the dead and to their survivors and others most directly touched by the violence. In Fuego cruzado, Turati’s highly selective presentation of telling details lends these experiences a vivid uniqueness. For example, one chapter opens on the image of a mutilated, deformed hand, “parecida a una pinza de cangrejo” (73). The hand belongs to a man who lost his wife and all his children when his truck was fired on by soldiers at a military checkpoint; bored and drugged out, the soldiers mistook him for a drug trafficker. The man’s damaged hand is meant to represent the psychic damage he has suffered from the loss of his family. Turati also uses occasional internal monologue—obviously of her own invention—in order to heighten our feeling of proximity to the events. One chapter tells the story of the rescue worker who, having dragged fifty-five decomposing bodies up from an abandoned mine where they had been dumped after being killed, cannot rid his clothes of their penetrating rotten smell:

Sus fosas nasales conservaron el olor de la carne pudriéndose en aguas fétidas, que no respetó mascarilla alguna; el tufo quedó prendido en sus guantes, en su overol, en las cuerdas, resistiendo miles de lavadas con desinfectantes. La imagen de los cuerpos suspendidos en las alturas, como volados sobre el abismo, se le atenazó en la mente. También la sensación de impotencia que lo invadió cada vez que esculcaban el charco podrido y encontraban nuevos cuerpos. Uno. Otro. Otro. (No, por favor, no más). Y otro. Y otro.

(Fuego 24)

Compressed and entirely significant, Turati offers snapshots, not biography, though these share with biography the aim of conjuring forth an individual life, an integral life. The point is to drive home the fact that the dead are “humanos rotos, vidas a media escritura, un yacimiento de dolor acumulado” (Fuego 25), and their family members, tragic survivors. Good journalism, Turati insists, must “dar rostro a los muertos,” “rescatar sus biografías de la fosa común” and “recuperar nombres y dignidades” (Turati, “Previo”).

Similar principles animate the writing found on the website, which uses literary biography as a commemorative tool. Seventy-two different writers contributed seventy-two different stories, one for each of the murdered men and women. Some of the biographies are real, but others are invented because at the time the website was created, not all of the migrants had been identified; even so, they too have been assigned stories.[8] Sergio Aguayo, author of the biography of migrant number 18, explains why it is necessary that each migrant have a story, even an invented one: “El horror anónimo es una abstracción que obstaculiza la empatía y solidaridad. Mi forma de rechazar esas aberraciones que nos degradan como país es dándole al guatemalteco 18 una identidad plausible.” Alberto Chimal, author of migrant number 32’s story, highlights the complicity of society at large in this anonymous man’s death: “Lo matamos todos. Ustedes y yo. Lo matamos, si no con armas, con nuestra inacción y nuestra indiferencia. Cada uno de nosotros tiene en sus manos aunque sea un poco de su sangre.” Another contributor, Cynthia Rodríguez, in her invented biography of migrant number 69, puts into practice the universalist idea that victimhood extends to every one of the seventy-two, even to those who conducted themselves badly in life. In her narrative, migrant 69 lies to his wife, beats his children and then abandons his family, but he still deserves to be mourned. Rodríguez writes in the voice of his wife: “hoy le sigo pidiendo [a Dios] que te me bendiga aunque ya no estés aquí y aunque me hiciste sufrir.”

Rivera Garza, meanwhile, seeks to reclaim what the horror of violence has taken away, namely, one’s faculty for speech and thought, and especially, one’s ability to speak about one’s pain. In Dolerse, she posits that horror has a reason and a purpose. Citing Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, she argues that at the root of horror there is an exercise of power; that horror is wielded as an instrument designed to render us incapable of giving voice to our experience. Horror is a form of silencing and hence of domination. But it is not infinite; it has another side, and on that side is pain. She writes, “Del otro lado … justo en su otro extremo, está el dolor—las múltiples maneras en que el dolor nos permite articular una experiencia inenarrable como una crítica intrínseca contras las condiciones que lo hicieron posible en primera instancia” (16). Pain, in other words, liberates us from the Medusa of horror and returns us to speech and to our critical faculties. The link between pain and speech is not easy, however; the language of pain is “…dispuesto, abierto, tartamudo, herido, balbuceante” (16). Rivera Garza places immense importance on the language of pain as a form of political speech, but it is a poetic language that remains at the margins of coherence. The point for Rivera Garza is not to celebrate senselessness as such, but rather to clear a space for testimonial speech that does not produce heroic agency in the speaker and hence establish preconditions for action as a citizen. She asks, “¿Dónde se coloca a la persona que, devastada por el sufrimiento, sólo atina a enunciarlo y, aún entonces, entrecortadamente?” (28). This is what she refers to as “agencia trágica,” the agency possessed by “quienes sufren como víctimas inadecuadas, pasivas o fatalistas” (30). Tragic agency confers a strange kind of dignity on those who suffer it: “el sufrimiento destruye pero también confiere dignidad, un estatus moral más alto, a quien sufre” (30).

Whether these various literary experiments succeed in breaking through the public’s indifference is an open question. Without a doubt, however, the turn to these particular forms and languages to express suffering and awaken compassion represents something of a consensus among Mexico’s lettered classes. For poet Francisco Segovia, the truth expressed in new testimonial speech “es lo único que puede oponerse a la violencia que deshumaniza a los hombres y secuestra su dignidad. … Son palabras … para remendar el tejido social.” Rivera Garza’s preference for a poetic and stuttering form of (non)testimony to express pain reprises a famous line from Javier Sicilia’s “Carta abierta a políticos y criminales”: “No quiero hablar del dolor de mi familia y de la familia de cada uno de los muchachos destruidos. Para ese dolor no hay palabras—sólo la poesía puede acercarse un poco a él.” The biographical snapshot of the victim, the dominant form in Turati’s work and in, can be found in countless venues, from the videos titled “En los Zapatos del Otro” by the group El Grito Más Fuerte to the needlepoint embroideries of Bordando por la Paz.

III. “sin serlo, murieron como narcos”

The “familiar” strand of counter-victimization discourse is limited and moralistic rather than inclusive. I call it “familiar” because it is exemplified by the “asociaciones” formed by the family members of those who have been injured, disappeared or killed. These so-called “indirect victims” express a far more direct connection to pain and loss than universalist counter-victimization. The “familiar” strand of victim discourse tends to make distinctions among people based on their moral conduct, that is, their integration into existing social institutions and their compliance with existing moral norms, and asks, what kind of person was he or she? From this point of view, only “good” people are proper victims; dignity derives from their social position and is practically synonymous with honor.

Gloria and Ana Lozano, sisters from the town of Creel, Chihuahua, exemplify the “familiar” strand of counter-victimization. Each sister lost her son in a 2008 massacre that claimed thirteen lives and was organized by the drug cartel La Línea. Apparently, the intended targets had joined a group of people watching a horse-racing event; the entire group was gunned down indiscriminately. Turati engaged in lengthy interviews with the two women. She opens their story by recounting how these mothers strove to protect their children by policing the social boundaries in their town that separated “good” people like themselves from “bad” people like the local “narcos”: “Las hermanas Gloria y Ana Luisa Lozano siempre cuidaron que sus hijos únicos no se acercaran mucho a los narcos del pueblo” (129). But their attempts to preserve the existence of these internal borders came to nothing when their sons were killed: “sin serlo, murieron como narcos” (129). We can speculate that for Turati, who chose to begin her chapter on the Lozano sisters with this tragically ironic element, the moral of their story lies precisely in the ultimate futility of policing the social boundaries that distinguish some townspeople from others. This would be an example of what scholar Rossana Reguillo refers to as “pensamiento mágico,” which holds that “la violencia tiene un territorio circunscribible,” and which, by so circumscribing the problem, avoids a confrontation with a deeper layer of social complicity (“Heridas”).

But this is not how the Lozanos see it, even though, as Turati tells it, the Lozanos understand that their sons might very well have become drug traffickers: their favorite music was narco-corridos and they idolized the lifestyle of narcos. Their sons, they admit, grew up believing that drug traffickers are “gente buena” (147). Yet although they acknowledge this perplexing confusion about their sons, who wanted to be narcos in life and ressembled narcos in death, their activism as indirect victims is guided by one overriding conviction: their sons were not narcos. It is because their sons are innocent that their deaths merit justice from the authorities—justice that narcos do not deserve: “¡Les deseo a todos [los narcotraficantes] que les maten un hijo!” (141).

These strong sentiments, provoked by the violent death of a loved one, reflect the “familiar” strategy of counter-victimization. It links the dignity of the victim—his or her worth—to social standing and moral conduct. It is a direct response to “de-victimization” by government authorities. When the authorities “fabricate” the victims’ guilt in order to justify the militarization of Mexico, family members justifiably seek to set the record straight and rescue their loved ones and themselves from the stigma. Thus references to the victims’ honesty, responsibility, and devotion to family and community are common threads running through the testimonials to the lost. A good example of this can found in the “Historias de vida” section of the website set up by the group Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, which has been particularly active in attacking the government’s criminalization strategy.

However, such a strategy of counter-victimization runs into problems when it serves to perpetuate the underlying moral and cultural logic whereby the status of victim is reserved for those who are innocent of any transgression. This occurs when “familiares” resort to notions of virtue that stigmatize others in turn. Berta Galdeán, who also lost a son in the Creel massacre, defended her son against the government’s imputations of his guilt by reaffirming his traditional upbringing: “el gobierno los manchó [a los hijos masacrados] de delincuentes, pero eran estudiantes, salieron de escuela religiosa, de familias con valores, ni investigaron quiénes eran. Nos sentimos humillados, frustrados, pisoteados por el mismo gobierno“ (Turati, Fuego 148). Rather than shift the ground rhetorically to a different field of battle, this form of counter-victimization tacitly confirms the government’s “de-victimizing” strategy because it meets the state head-on in a clash over the moral standing of the fallen.

Yet this should not cause us to diminish too dramatically the force of the families’ critique of the state. Their counter-victimization reveals the existence of a geographical dimension to the political discourse on violence, and responds to the uneven dissemination of social value across the Mexican national space. The Creel mothers express their awareness that the geographical and political map of the country, dividing it by region and terrain, includes the traces of a moral discourse that impacts how the state regards its citizens. They understand that their geographical location is intimately tied to their moral “location” on the map of national virtue. Berta Galdeán again: “El presidente sólo le hizo caso a la mamás de Juárez, ¿que nuestros hijos no valen lo mismo por ser de la sierra?” (Turati, Fuego 146). Ironically enough, the mothers of Juárez voice the same concerns about their location on the nation’s moral map. Luz María Dávila, whose two sons were killed in Ciudad Juárez in 2010 in the Villa de Salvárcar massacre, which then-president Felipe Calderón dismissed as gang-related, became a figure of media attention when she interrupted Calderón’s press conference during his visit to Juárez and addressed him directly in an impassioned impromptu speech. Like the Creel mothers and so many others, she was angry at Calderón’s imputations against her murdered children and called the President a liar: “Estudiaban y trabajaban.” She told him, “…aquí desde hace dos años, se están cometiendo asesinatos, están cometiendo muchas cosas y nadie hace nada … Yo no puedo darle la mano y decirle bienvenido porque para mí no es bienvenido.” She ended her speech demanding: “Haga algo por Juárez” (“Luz María”).

The Creel mothers interviewed by Turati can be considered examples of what geographer Melissa Wright has termed “conservative radicals.” Wright’s research focuses specifically on the “mother-activists” of Ciudad Juárez who have been protesting since the 1990s against government indifference to the murder, rape and disappearance of young women. Their activism, she writes, “plays on the patriarchal concept of matronly woman as inherently apolitical … to present the image of mothers as nonthreatening to government elites even as their demands often challenge the basic foundations of state and economy” (216-17, original emphasis). They are “conservative radicals” because “[t]heir demands for the return of their children, for an end to corruption, and for an end to legal impunity are radical in northern Mexico today. … But the mothers cloak their radicalism within a promise to return home once the violence, the legal impunity, and the corruption end.” Thus, Wright continues, “they seek radical changes while promising not to become radical themselves” (230).

The organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa embodies this contradiction. It was co-founded in Ciudad Juárez in 2001 by Norma Andrade and Marisela Ortiz Rivera, the mother and the teacher, respectively, of murder victim Lilia Andrade. As Wright argues, the organization plays on conservative stereotypes of female innocence in order to advance its cause and counter imputations that the female victims’ moral impurity is the reason they were murdered or disappeared. The polyvalent name of the organization itself communicates this strategy; among other things, it expresses a demand that women return to the domestic sphere. The strategic use of regressive images of women can be especially appreciated in the play Mujeres de arena, the work of playwright Humberto Robles in collaboration with members of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, which uses the play to raise funds and to raise consciousness about the violence against women in Juárez. The play seeks to establish the moral purity and superiority of the victims—in fact to substantiate them as victims by describing them precisely in this way—by utilizing nineteenth-century literary tropes connecting women to flowers and gardens. Yet both the play and the organization express radical notions criticizing Mexico’s patriarchal political and cultural order. The play exposes the sexism of the Chihuahua penal code and the corruption and hypocrisy of the authorities; and in jarring juxtaposition to its romantic imagery of female sexual innocence, the play also contains graphic descriptions of the rape and mutilation suffered by women. Notably absent from the play is any mention of the fact that the vast majority of the murder victims were working members of the Juárez labor force. However, this is something that Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa often points to in its various declarations, as can be appreciated from its website. The organization advances a serious critique of the maquila industry for its role in the femicides and for the climate of legal impunity afforded it by the Mexican government. It has also worked with international human rights organizations like the OEA’s Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, which in 2009 issued a scathing judgment against the Mexican government for the Juárez femicides, focusing in particular on the cases that have come to be known as the Campo Algodonero murders, committed in 2001 against three young women. Traditionalist images of female purity coexist with transgressive female action.

Both Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa and the Creel mothers are fierce and uncompromising in their tactics and have risked their lives for their cause. The Lozano sisters have been dubbed “the daughters of Pancho Villa” for blocking the train line (Turati, Fuego 134). Their efforts to discover their sons’ killers and to identify accomplices among the local authorities have placed them in real danger. Andrade and Ortiz of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, meanwhile, have also faced serious death threats and other forms of violent intimidation in Mexico. These are women who have transgressed countless social codes governing right behavior in their pursuit of justice for their family members, yet that concept of justice involves, in part, a reaffirmation of the very codes the women transgress. The dignity they attribute to their children in death sometimes works to confirm the logic whereby a person guilty of moral transgression cannot also be the victim of a crime and does not merit our regard.

The distinctions between the universalist and the familiar strands of counter-victimization are real and derive primarily from their stance toward existing internal social boundaries. The universalists hold these internal boundaries to be in some sense responsible for the violence because they encourage indifference and disregard, obstacles to compassion. In contrast, the “familiares” critique these only selectively, transgressing some but holding onto others in order to provide moral legitimacy for their actions; they understand their authority to rest on their position within hierarchical communities. Thus, the counter-victimization discourse of the “familiares” manifests their awareness of their own vulnerability to social stigma.

But these differences should not be overstated. Both of these approaches to the victim manifest outrage against injustice, and both involve a critique of the contemporary Mexican state for its role in setting off the current crisis of violence and for its corruption and ineffectiveness. Both are instrumental in putting forward a notion of a broken community in need of repair. Though there is disagreement about the definition of community—a disagreement that in less urgent circumstances would perhaps mark a greater division between universalists and familiars than it does now—in both cases counter-victimization is a reparative process that seeks a reintegration of the victims into the social body and highlights existing mechanisms of exclusion, the internal fractures that distinguish between “us” and “them.”

In effect, these two distinct ideological approaches to victimization often mix together, downplaying the tensions between them. Turati’s Fuego Cruzado, an example of the “universalist” approach, nevertheless gives voice to “familiares” with great respect and only the barest irony. The “familiares” themselves also produce a composite counter-victimization discourse, as when they work in alliance with national and international human rights organizations or use the figure of the grieving mother as an icon for universal suffering, as in the use of the political slogan “no más madres como yo.”[9] Luz María Dávila, in her speech to Calderón, demanded justice “[n]o nada más para mis dos niños, sino para todos los demás niños” (“Luz María”).

IV. “Además opino que hay que devolverle dignidad a esta nación”

The most prominent figure expressing a composite counter-victimization discourse is Javier Sicilia, whose leadership of the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad has placed him at the center of discussions about the violence and its victims. Sicilia, a poet and commentator known for a critique of neoliberalism deeply influenced by Catholicism, garnered national and international attention with his “Carta abierta a políticos y criminales,” published in the days after his son was murdered in Cuernavaca in March 2011. Barely more than a month later, he had formed a national movement and was leading a march on Mexico City that mobilized a hundred thousand people.[10] MJPD’s outreach involved a “caravan for peace” that traveled through northern Mexico into the US. Though his relations with other “familiares” has been contentious at times, he is unquestionably the most influential advocate for the victims on the scene today.

In his “Carta abierta,” Sicilia alludes to his pain and anger as the father of a murdered child whose killers have benefitted from impunity, and he also counter-victimizes his son, whose virtues “eran inmensas.” These gestures, as in the discourse of other “familiares,” are crucial to his demand for justice for his son, but they also serve a larger purpose, which is to make his own suffering and indignation exemplary of a broader experience encompassing all those affected by the drug war. Sicilia explains in his interview with a Spanish journalist:

Ordaz: “¿Por qué, en vez de encerrarse en su dolor, ha salido a la calle a decir basta?”

Sicilia: “Por dignidad. Y por mi hijo. Porque su desgracia le está poniendo cara y nombre a la de 40,000 desconocidos. Y, sobre todo, porque tengo que hacer todo lo posible para que no muera ni un muchacho más.”

(Ordaz, “Son valientes”)

This ability to extrapolate from his singular experience to a collective one makes Sicilia’s a fundamentally universalist understanding of the victim, one that is inspired by progressive Catholicism. Writing on the second anniversary of the founding of the MJPD, he notes,

Esa fecha atroz, que conmemora la aprehensión de un inocente y la agonía que lo llevaría a la tortura y a la ejecución, coincidió, dos mil años después, con la conmemoración del segundo aniversario de una agonía, una tortura y una ejecución semejante de siete inocentes en Morelos, cuyo asesinato nombró la inocencia de miles de otros.

(“Las víctimas”)

Sicilia’s homo sacer is none other than Christ himself, now embodied in each one of Mexico’s victims: “todos los ciudadanos, en medio de esta guerra, somos hombres sagrados en potencia. Salidos a la calle nos volvemos desnudez que cualquier poder puede solicitar para sus fines” (“El hombre desnudo”).

Sicilia’s overt parallel between the victims of the drug war and Jesus Christ opens up any number of questions, not least of which is the fact that Christ’s sacrifice was necessary for salvation to occur—would Sicilia say the same for his own son?[11] Yet beyond this troubling incoherence, what is significant about Sicilia’s religious language is that he uses counter-victimization as de-stigmatization, like other “familiares” who seek to recapture their own and their loved ones’ dignity through appeals to their moral innocence. But unlike most other “familiares,” for Sicilia this innocence is defined, as with the universalists, according to their position in the universe, as Michael Rosen would say, rather than in a precise socio-geographic location. We might say that whereas many “familiares” de-stigmatize their children by stigmatizing others’, differentiating them from the bad people with whom they have been confused, Sicilia proposes a massive de-stigmatization that leaves no markings of difference in place.

Sicilia’s vision encompasses the entire nation. He argues the country’s “social fabric” needs to be repaired through recognition of others’ pain: “este dolor del alma en los cuerpos no lo convertiremos en odio ni en más violencia, sino en una palanca que nos ayude a restaurar el amor, la paz, la justicia, la dignidad y la balbuciente democracia que estamos perdiendo. … aún creemos que es posible rescatar y reconstruir el tejido social de nuestros pueblos, barrios y ciudades” (“Texto”).[12] Sicilia uses Christian and spiritual notions of the national community, which he likens to a form of communion and whose greatest values are love and consensus. His idea of the nation is modeled on the activist community he himself has created through the MPJD and its “caravanas por la paz.” Mexico should become “una sociedad de amor” in which “lo mejor de cada uno se entrega en un compartir cuya sustancia es el gozo de sentirnos juntos, la alegría del consuelo que rompe con la soledad y el egoísmo, y nos convierte en comunidad y comunión” (“La fuerza”). In a sense, for Sicilia, in the existing Mexico, everyone is a victim, because of collective indifference and disregard. When Calderón and other politicians turn their backs on the victims, Sicilia writes, this also means “darle la espalda a la nación entera y a su clamor de paz y de justicia” (“El borramiento”). And in the Mexico to which he aspires, everyone is still a victim, because that as-yet-unrealized nation will be built on each person’s compassionate identification with the suffering of others.

Sicilia has succeeded in articulating compassion into something of a civil right. In part thanks to his efforts, the Mexican government recently inaugurated the groundbreaking Ley General de Víctimas. The law focuses on the question of monetary reparation for victims and thus has little likelihood of being implemented fully and fairly; indeed, the record so far suggests that the law has contributed to politicians’ venality and hypocrisy.[13] But like other Mexican laws which look good on paper, it establishes important legal principles. For example, in its principle of “good faith,” the new law expressly prohibits the authorities from criminalizing or otherwise holding the victim responsible for his/her suffering (“Ley,” Article 5). It defines a legal principle known as the “mínimo existencial,” which holds that dignity constitutes a baseline “minimum” of human existence that the state is obligated to guarantee, and establishes that victimhood is a violation of this fundamental “mínimo existencial.”[14]

Furthermore, the Ley General de Víctimas puts into law Sicilia’s vision that all citizens are in some sense victims who deserve to have their trauma recognized as such by a compassionate state. It does this by expanding the legal concept of the victim beyond the “direct” and “indirect” victims recognized by international law, to encompass as well the “potential victim,” who now gains legal status. The “potential victim” refers to “las personas físicas cuya integridad física o derechos peligren por prestar asistencia a la víctima ya sea por impedir o detener la violación de derechos o la comisión de un delito” (“Ley,” Article 4). At first glance, the idea is simple: if you attempt to help a victim, for example, by intervening in a kidnap or assault in process and thereby voluntarily putting yourself in harm’s way, then you can be considered a potential victim; the state recognizes the risk you have taken on by helping another person in danger. But as a political and legal category, the potential victim is difficult to comprehend, since it refers to an as-yet-unrealized state, the victim who does not yet exist. How can such a not-yet-existing person have rights? This feature of the law aims to encourage non-victims to help victims out, even if this means becoming a victim oneself; it seeks to reassure people that their actions on behalf of another will be recognized (and compensated monetarily, should the potential victim become a direct or indirect victim). In this sense, this article of the law provides direct incentive for overcoming one’s indifference to the plight of others. Crucially, because this is couched in terms of potentiality, the category “potential victim” covers everyone.

As a political discourse, Sicilia’s counter-victimization contains both old and new elements. Feminist scholar Marisa Belausteguigoitia points out that his discourse of compassion and consolation is not new, except that until him it had been the domain of women activists (31). His movement, and the principles he has helped codify into law, would also seem to reactivate ideas about the national subject that were put into place after the 1910 revolution. It is no coincidence that Sicilia’s 2011 speech in the Zócalo contained an indigenista flavor. Its first lines harken back to the Zócalo as the destination point of the city’s ancient indigenous inhabitants: “Hemos llegado a pie, como lo hicieron los antiguos mexicanos, hasta este sitio … hemos llegado aquí para volver a hacer visibles las raíces de nuestra nación, para que su desnudez, que acompañan la desnudez de la palabra, que es el silencio, y la dolorosa desnudez de nuestros muertos, nos ayuden a alumbrar el camino” (“Texto”). Via this reference to Mexico’s Indians, he posits the existence of an originary nakedness at the root of Mexican nationality, and calls on it for help. It thus transpires that paternalist indigenismo is a key contributor to Sicilia’s “biopolitics against itself.” Sicilia’s discourse also confirms anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz’s analysis that national belonging in Mexico tends to be imagined in terms of a relationship between the weak and the strong: “The fraternal bond is critical, but so are what one might call the bonds of dependence that are intrinsically a part of any nationalism” (12, original emphasis). Sicilia builds on this strand of nationalism by confirming what paternalist populists have said before: that this dependence is in fact a source of strength for the Mexican people. He calls it “la fuerza de la debilidad” (“La fuerza”).

Sicilia has suggested that the position of victim is universally shared, that everyone is homo sacer or a potential homo sacer. Although this is a situation of vulnerability against which counter-victimization demands the state to protect its citizens, Sicilia also suggests that the compassionate recognition of this feature of human experience is a democratic virtue. Collective recognition of victimhood, not protection from it, thereby becomes the remedy. This view is compelling to the extent that it confronts, as religions do, the enduring nature of human suffering and underscores the power of compassion. But counter-victimization also ceases to be, in this variant, committed to the rule of law. With this in mind, it perhaps comes as less of a surprise that Sicilia, increasingly disillusioned with Peña Nieto’s efforts, has spoken against the electoral process and in favor of the “grupos de auto-defensa” that emerged in 2013 in various Mexican states, arguing that since the state has lost its monopoly on violence, taking up arms is a legitimate way to regain one’s dignity (CNNMéxico, “Javier Sicilia;” Gil Olmos).


The voices I have examined here are committed to expressing what Rossana Reguillo calls “violencia subjetivamente percibida.” She is referring to “la expansión del miedo, de la indefensión y de la vulnerabilidad” (“De las violencias” 37). Reguillo argues that this subjective experience of violence is itself part of the violence inflicted by the State and its narco-enemies, for whom “la muerte no es suficiente” (35). What these two antagonists also require, she argues, is “exaltar la vulnerabilidad” of society at large. Resistance to this new order thus requires confronting that experience of vulnerability with a critical eye: “producir un dispositivo de extrañamiento frente a la violencia, hacerla salir de su naturalización, desplazarla del territorio en el que paraliza y hace colapsar los sistemas de significación a través de la idea de su inevitabilidad” (38). Reguillo recognizes the difficulty of maintaining critical distance under conditions of horrror, writing, “Los datos en torno a los migrantes torturados, sometidos, ejecutados y desaparecidos en este México … hacen colapsar las posibilidades de cualquier pregunta distanciada” (“De las violencias” 42). Yet she insists on the need to find analytical tools with which to approach the crisis.

The authors of counter-victimization agree with Reguillo in advocating a return to the subjective experience of the violence. They endow speech that communicates this facet of the violence with the power to transform the abstract into the singular, numbers into names, the lifeless statue into a feeling, sensing person. As Ilán Semo writes, “Cada relato vuelve al ejercicio fundamental … fijar el nombre, el rostro y la historia de quien la guerra redujo a una estadística.” Reguillo agrees: “Nombrar es un compromiso con el intelecto y con la opinión pública, contar muertos es una estrategia que apunta hacia el suceso sin comprometerse” (“De las violencias” 45).

Where universalist and familiar counter-victimization discourses differ from Reguillo, however, is in their emphasis on compassion and sentimental proximity, not critical distance, as the means to de-naturalize the violence and regain political agency. This element should give us pause. One troubling aspect of counter-victimization lies in its dissemination of stories about the victims that counter one simplistic version of events (the government’s criminalization of the fallen) with another, equally simplistic one (the fallen are innocents). This makes it difficult to come to terms with deeper patterns of social complicity with the violence and more complex accounts of belonging and identity.

The facility with which the government has co-opted counter-victimization should also serve as a warning sign about the limits of this discourse. At an official ceremony for the new Ley General de Víctimas in January 2013, Peña Nieto declared: “Con el nuevo ordenamiento se avanza en la construcción de una sociedad de pleno respeto a la integridad del ser humano, sensible y solidaria ante el dolor de un semejante.” A democratic state, he continued, “debe escuchar todas las voces y ser sensible y humano en su trato,” and he offered, “un oído que escuche y un brazo que apoye” (Vargas). The widespread use of speech that authorizes itself primarily in the personal experience of suffering and loss carries certain risks, not least of which is that it is easily falsified through cynical appropriation.

The contemporary focus on the victim that I am calling “counter-victimization” belongs squarely within the long history of anti-liberal thought and practice in Mexico. Although its primary aim is to mark this moment as traumatic, which among other things carries with it the risk of the loss of critical distance, it also opens the door to a view of what Lauren Berlant terms the ordinary “pain of subordination,” the everyday forms of adversity that do not rise to the level of trauma yet still mark peoples’ lives, involving issues of labor, debt, and resource scarcity (Berlant 58). Juárez mother Luz María Dávila’s words are significant in this respect. In an interview with Cristina Rivera Garza, she mentions that then-First Lady Margarita Zavala, wife of Felipe Calderón, had tried to reach her several times in the months after Dávila’s famous speech so that they could speak “[d]e madre a madre,” but Zavala’s people always called while Dávila was away at work (Rivera Garza 110)—an oversight that is more than a question of scheduling; it reflects an inability to apprehend the wider context of violence in contemporary Mexico that frames Dávila’s experience as a grieving mother.

But to the extent that counter-victimization calls attention to these more complex features of contemporary violence that both predate and are more profoundly embedded than the current crisis to the rule of the law, and to the extent that more narrow or limited concerns pertaining to specific criminal acts give way to broader and more diffuse concerns about the state of the nation, it also runs the risk of diminishing the force of its criticism against the current regime, drawing attention away from the more narrow question of institutional ineffectiveness and the problem of impunity. Here we can begin to perceive some of the dilemmas about complicity and accountability that emerge in these responses to the state’s ineffectiveness in matters of law. Counter-victimization discourses repeatedly point to the scandal of impunity, holding the state accountable for enforcing the rule of the law and defending the rights of civil society. Yet these same discourses also point to deeper and older patterns of injustice that cannot be circumscribed by the current crisis to the rule of law and whose moral dimensions far exceed legal and institutional frameworks. This is because counter-victimization also implicates civil society in the violence, holding it responsible for the current climate of violence because of its general lack of compassion for the victims, a lack which generates a kind of secondary, though no less penetrating, form of violence of which everyone is guilty and everyone is a victim.

Counter-victimization thus responds to this moment of crisis in the rule of law and also exceeds it, pushing toward a horizon of possibility that remains ambiguous. It seeks to restore and in some cases to expand the rule of law so as to remedy the condition of suffering victim that it projects as emblematic of the everyday experience of Mexican citizenship. Positing that all citizens are or can be victims, it suggests a parallel, if not an outright identity, between what it means to be a victim and what it means to be a citizen, between speaking as a victim and speaking as a citizen. Yet at the same time it seems to transcend the rule of law altogether as its horizon of action because it is so deeply attached to the emblematic victim it projects: it holds that dignified and empowered victims create community. The remedy to suffering, by this view, is not the rule of law, but instead, and paradoxically, collectively shared and spoken suffering, as if to say “we are all zoe, hence no one is.”


01. Special thanks to Manuel Cuellar for his invaluable research assistance. This paper also owes much to the discussions of the UC Berkeley 2012 study group “Radical Politics and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” A shorter and earlier version of this paper appeared in Spanish in Heridas abiertas: biopolítica y representación en América Latina, eds. Mabel Moraña and Ignacio Sánchez-Prado, Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana / Vervuert, 2014. 203-223. Print. 

02. The government estimates that the total number killed since 2006 in the “war on drugs” is greater than 70,000 (CNN México, “La lucha anti-crimen”). Figures from the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos estimate the number of disappeared at close to 25,000, plus another 15,000 non-identified dead (Fernández).

03. The Ley General de Víctimas was passed despite initial protests by leaders of other national victims’ rights groups, such as Alejandro Martí of México SOS and Isabel Miranda de Wallace of Alto al Secuestro (both Martí and Miranda de Wallace are allied with the PAN); the two groups then stood with Sicilia in support of the law and worked with him to revise it into its current form. Since 2014 Sicilia has denounced the law for its corrupt and ineffective implementation.

04. “Indirect victim” generally refers to the family members of the victim. “Direct victim” and “indirect victim” are legal terms found in international human rights legislation and adopted into the Mexican Ley General de Víctimas: “Se denominarán víctimas directas aquellas personas físicas que hayan sufrido algún daño o menoscabo económico, físico, mental, emocional, o en general cualquiera puesta en peligro o lesión a sus bienes jurídicos o derechos como consecuencia de la comisión de un delito o violaciones a sus derechos humanos reconocidos en la Constitución y en los Tratados Internacionales de los que el Estado Mexicano sea parte. Son víctimas indirectas los familiares o aquellas personas físicas a cargo de la víctima directa que tengan una relación inmediata con ella” (“Ley,” Article 4).

05. For analyses of Sicilia and other activism in response to the war of drugs that argue that these are “new forms of politics” in Mexico, see the October 2012 “Emplazadas” issue of Debate Feminista, especially the articles by Josefina Saldaña and Marisa Belausteguigoitia; see also Belausteguigoitia’s piece in this issue.

06. See Reguillo for a discussion on legality, illegality and what she terms “paralegality” as frames of reference for understanding the “order” of violence (“De las violencias” 44-45).

07. The first line of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” 

08. It is interesting to note that in the book version of the website, the editors decided to maintain the migrants’ anonymity, even though by the time of the book’s publication most of the migrants had been identified (Guillermoprieto 20). 

09. But see Wright’s analysis of the risks entailed in “mother-activism,” which tends to naturalize motherhood and obscure the ideological process by which mothers arrive at activism (“Femicide”).

10. MJPD organizers estimate 200,000 attended the march in Mexico City; authorities place the number at 90,000 (CNNMéxico, “Sicilia pide”). These numbers do not include participants in other cities.

11. Thanks to Ivonne del Valle for pointing this out.

12. Sicilia is not alone in his repeated references to the “tejido social,” which permeates national victims’ discourse across the political spectrum; the examples are too numerous to list. 

13. See the comments by legal scholar Edgardo Buscaglia ahead of the passage of the law; he warned of the potential for corruption in the administration of a government fund for monetary reparation (Sobrevilla). Sicilia has since come out strongly against the law (Gil Olmos).

14. The definition of “mínimo existencial”: “Constituye una garantía fundada en la dignidad humana como presupuesto del Estado democrático y consiste en la obligación del Estado de proporcionar a la víctima y a su núcleo familiar un lugar en el que se les preste la atención adecuada para que superen su condición y se asegure su subsistencia con la debida dignidad que debe ser reconocida a las personas en cada momento de su existencia” (“Ley,” Article 5). 

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