Anyone familiar with the life of Ivan Illich knows that he spent much of his time in Cuernavaca, a small city located about 50 miles south of Mexico City. Situated at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, Cuernavaca has a pleasant climate and long has been a summer residence for Mexico's elite as well as a popular destination for tourists.
Indeed, it was in an old hotel in Cuernavaca that in 1961, Illich founded CIDOC, a school that sought to train missionaries from North America - to "de-Yankee-fy" them, as Illich put it - before they served elsewhere in Latin America. After CIDOC was shut down in 1976, Illich maintained a home in a village called Ocotepec, just north of Cuernavaca. (We've seen this home described as a simple adobe, which makes sense, but we've not seen any photo of it.)
In a terrible way, Cuernavaca and Illich's presence there have been in the news, lately. Javier Sicilia, a well-known Mexican poet who lives there, has emerged in recent weeks as the leader of a grass-roots movement that's protesting the escalating but seemingly fruitless "war on drugs" that has killed some 40,000 Mexicans in the past 4 years. Among these was, on March 28, Javier's own son, Juan Francisco Sicilia, age 24, who with six other young men was murdered in Cuernavaca. While some of the victims showed signs of torture, no link between them and the drug trade has been established; they were murdered in cold blood.
Sicilia quickly turned his grief into action, speaking out, addressing the Mexican government, and calling for mass protests by Mexicans of all classes. In early May, he led thousands of people in walking silently from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, where they called on President Felipe Calderon to stop the violence and reconsider the current drug war strategy.
In many recent profiles of Javier Sicilia, Illich is cited as one of his major influences and a good friend. As described in this comprehensive report in The Narco News Bulletin by a reporter on the scene in Cuernavaca, Sicilia in 1994 founded a magazine called Ixtus. He used it to develop "his critique of modern society based on the Christian Gospels and the spirituality of personalities like Gandhi, Ivan Illich and Guiseppe Lanza del Vasto, the 'apostle of nonviolence.'" The latter, originally Sicilian, was a disciple of Gandhi who went on to found four ashram-like communities, called Arks, located in France. The Mexican poet visited one of these and with others tried to found a similar community in Mexico. It did not materialize, but it was in the late-stage planning meetings for this Mexican Ark, it's reported, that Sicilia met Jean Robert, a longtime collaborator and friend of Illich's who also lives in Cuernavaca.
And it was Robert's writing in Ixtus that introduced the poet to Illich's thought, and later, he introduced the two: “One day I brought Javier to Ivan’s house and they got along very well. They began an immediate and profound friendship and saw each other until Illich’s dying day,” Robert told Narco News's reporter Al Giordano. According to the Narco News article, Javier went on to translate Illich’s texts into Spanish and, with Valentina Borremans, CIDOC's co-founder and manager and now, the executor of Illich’s literary estate, to edit a two-volume compilation titled Obras Reunidas, or Reunited Works.
In 2009, Sicilia founded a new magazine, called Conspiratio - a name that clearly echoes Illich's call for the cultivation of conspiracy. Reaching far back in Church history, Illich sought to resurrect the notion of conspiratio, describing it as "a commingling of breaths," as the creation of a special "atmosphere" that emerges when committed friends come together, if only around a dinner table lit by candles, to share thoughts, to contemplate, and to seek the truth.
A quick search of the Web finds several relevant items, all written in Spanish - which, we regret to say, we can neither read nor speak. Here, for instance, is a piece from May 30, 2011, called "Ivan Illich y Javier Sicilia – Por Jean Robert." In 2008, a publication called Letras Libres published an article about the new collection of Illich's work, here. The same website offers another article about Illich, posted in March, 2001, by Sicilia and Robert. And yet another piece apparently concerning Illich and the poet, by Robert, is available at a site called SurySur: "La historicidad de las instituciones: sobre Ivan Illich y Javier Sicilia."
Finally, we point readers to a short video clip that our search discovered on YouTube. With narration in Spanish, "La tumba de Iván Illich" shows what appears to be a grave for Ivan Illich in Ocotepec. "¿Ocotepec o Bremen? un misterio que resolver," reads the video's caption - "a mystery to resolve." Ourselves, we believe he's buried in Bremen, beneath a simple wooden cross in the crowded graveyard of a Protestant church in the outlying district of Oberneulander. We've visited this grave, though not, alas, in the warmer months when, we've been told, it bursts with sunflowers.