This article was published in El País on 6 May 2014. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).
Social Activist and His Wife Bludgeoned to Death in Mexico
by Pablo de Llano (El País)
– The murder of a married couple respected for their social activism shocks the State of Morelos, the birthplace of Mexico’s Peace Movement
“It’s an atypical event,” Morelos’s governor, Graco Ramírez, said. The press release from the State University of Morelos defines it somewhat differently; as a high-impact crime characterized by a situation of structural insecurity: “These brutal and unspeakable murders (…) once again prick the country’s conscience about the absence of the right to life and security for citizens.” For a hurried politician what happened is an “event” but for the professor’s colleagues and friends the murders were a crime. The politician says it was “atypical” but to the friends and colleagues it was appalling evidence of a problem with shared public responsibility.
The lifeless bodies of the renowned psychology professor and social activist Alejandro Chao (77) and his wife, Sara Rebolledo (71), were found Monday morning in their home in Cuernavaca, the capital of the State of Morelos. On their heads they had marks of being bludgeoned by a stone. A window to their house was broken. Morelos’s Prosecutor, headquartered two blocks from the crime scene, has suggested an assault when the couple returned home at night and came upon the intruders. Morelos’s security chief, Alberto Capella, has said that the people who carried out the crime reacted violently because they knew the couple, and were surprised to see them arrive, “outside their routine.”
Bordering the south of Mexico City, the small state of Morelos has two million residents. It’s not one of Mexico’s regions overwhelmed by organized crime but it is an area preoccupied with small-scale criminal activity: mostly, kidnappings and extortions. In 2013, it was the Mexican state with the highest proportion of abductions: 8.5 per 100,000 people. If the states of Michoacán and Tamualipas provide the actual paradigms for the authorities for trying to combat the power of the large drug trafficking mafiosi, Morelos epitomizes the problems of structural deficiencies to protect citizens from crimes committed by smaller criminal groups. In the wake of the violent dynamics within Mexico stemming from the fight against drug trafficking and fed by the fatal combination of socioeconomic marginalization and criminal impunity, these lesser groups look on everyday citizens as a way to make money.
Professor Chao’s university has called for a march this Wednesday in Cuernavaca. Three years ago, the city’s displeased society symbolically turned itself against crime; in March 2011, poet Javier Sicilia’s 24-year old son was assassinated. A famous Mexican intellectual, Sicilia headed a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, sparking the Movement for Peace, Justice, and Dignity, the country’s most relevant social phenomenon of recent years. Three years later, with Sicilia retired to a supporting role after two years of unceasing activism, and because of the victims’ stature, Cuernavaca’s society finds itself with a new high impact case: a respected academic who after a life dedicated to social progress ends up murdered in his house beside his wife in an alleged assault by common criminals.
Chao continued to serve as director of the School of Social Work, after 36 years spent training psychologists, facts recognized in the University’s press release, which also mentions that Chao served as Mexico’s representative on UNESCO’s Council of Higher Education. According to the University, Chao “throughout his long and fertile life, gave voice to historically excluded communities and groups.” The press release ends by announcing this Wednesday’s march, and with a slogan: “Towards a humanity based on culture.”
Professor Chao was also a promoter of culture and edited a published collection of poetry called Voices Against the Wind (Voces al viento), bringing together young poets. He published one of his books of poetry in this collection: he called it Canticles of the Kabbalah (Cántigas de la cábala). The academic collaborated on a literary and political blog called La Hormega. After learning of his murder this Monday his fellow bloggers published one of his poems. By telephone this morning, Juan Pablo Picazo, who is responsible for La Hormega said the professor was involved in a process of re-writing his canticles. “He used to say that the more you grow, the more you learn, in the vain of Walt Whitman.” The last paragraph of the canticle published yesterday on the blog says:
The poet revives to the tune of pipes and flutes made of hemp;
I leave the garden where the fireflies excite the quantum world,
the lively rainbow color of the hummingbird sucking bottlebrush flowers
Three years after the tragedy of Javier Sicilia’s son, Mexico proves it still has problems with poetry and life.
Journalist Pablo de Llano reports for El País from Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter @pablodellano. This story first appeared under the title, “Asesinados a golpes en México un luchador social y su esposa,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/05/06/actualidad/1399400912_102565.html.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.