Peace is a concept that holds more weight for some than others. The 80 families that are traveling with the Caravan for Peace through 26 U.S. cities in the South are carrying with them the memories of their loved ones, who have been ripped from their lives as consequence of the drug-related violence in Mexico.
Their stories are matched by the 16,000 other families in Mexico, those of disappeared and murdered civilians, random victims of the deluge of brutality that the drug war has unleashed upon all those within shooting distance.
Although the Caravan did not come through San Francisco, a few of the supporting organizations, including Global Exchange and Presente.org are based in the Bay Area.
“Mexico is a country that has known peace for most of the modern era, said Roberto Lovato, director of Presente.org and writer for New American Media traveling with the Caravan.
“I am Salvadoreño, and I’ve never known Mexico’s people to live in such terror of disappearances as we did in El Salvador. Except this time it’s sponsored by Barack Obama, not Reagan.”
The families have joined forces with over a hundred different supporting organizations and countless individuals in a peaceful campaign to “bring to the American people’s conscience their shared responsibility for the thousands of dead, missing, and displaced from the drug war.”
Those are the words of Javier Sicilia, poet and spokesperson for the Peace Caravan, whose 24 year old son Juan Francisco was murdered with his friends in Cuernavaca in March of 2011.
“Some of these families have had four, even five family members killed, recalled Angela Marino, a Postdoctorate Research Fellow at U.C. Berkeley who joined the Caravan in New Mexico, “So many mothers who searched and searched for their disappeared children, only to find that they were tortured and eventually killed….People who are so resilient and strong to keep pounding on the doors even when it became a risk for themselves; the spirit of the caravan is really led by that force.”
The “shared responsibility” Sicilia cited rests upon the U.S. being the highest consumer country in the world of marijuana, cocaine, and heroine, as well as being the primary supplier of weapons in the world.
“It’s the addiction habit in the U.S. that is driving the market and therefore the drug war in Mexico, explained Lovato. “But instead of facing that addiction, the U.S. chooses to face South and impose our even stronger addiction to militarism and violence onto Mexico.”
With 60,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared, 160,000 displaced and 8,000 orphaned, the so called Drug War is claiming more lives than the drugs in question could ever disturb. Sicilia pointed out, “Drug control is a health issue. The person who decides to use drugs, it’s their decision and they hurt themselves… But he who possesses a gun, it kills the other person, not just himself. And the guns are getting into the country from the United States.”
90% of the guns used in the drug war seized by the mexican Mexican government can be traced back to their purchase in the USA.
The techniques employed by the U.S. and Mexican governments to fight narco-traffic are, without question, failing dramatically. The alternative policies that the Caravan and its supporting organizations propose are mostly centered on an arms embargo to Mexico and the possibility of ending Prohibition; meaning the legalization of the drugs in question.
“You have to put them [these drugs] into the market law so that you can control them, like any other product. There is no other way. Or what else? What’s the option? To protect kids so that they don’t use drugs, do you have to kill them, just like they killed my son?” Sicilia asked.
“The U.S. government has spent over one trillion dollars on The War on Drugs since its commence, and what has been gained? Consumption levels are at record highs in the U.S.” pointed out Lovato.
But the U.S. and Mexican governments have remained stubborn in their belief that fighting fire with fire, and waging war on the narco-traffickers will eventually lead to a grand success. Their vision is reminiscent of the quintessential Hollywood crusade where the good guys shoot all the bad guys and glory is won.
Not only are these policies failing to reduce violence and drug consumption, they are also promoting racial profiling and the criminalization of African American and Latino populations in the U.S.
Here in California an African American’s odds of being imprisoned for marijuana is 10 times greater than other racial/ethnic groups caught with the same quantity. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2010 African Americans and Latinos accounted for 67.5% of people in state prisons with drug convictions.
“We’re about to enter the deep South next week, Lovato said, “Organizations like the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] are supporting the caravan as well, and already we’ve seen members of the African American community here in the Southwest coming forward to share their stories.”
Meanwhile, with a 2% impunity rate, criminals in Mexico have a 98% chance of getting away with murder. But not only are the police entirely unhelpful, they are often corrupt and filing a claim can be dangerous business.
“There is no one to go to. It’s very difficult to know who to trust,” said Marino, “But likewise on this side. People whose family members have been killed by U.S. law enforcement…. … who do they go to?”
This question held particular weight as the caravan passed through Anaheim, scene of recent police brutality attacks, and San Diego, where the widow Maria Puga stood in solidarity with the caravan.
Her late husband Anastasio Hernandez Rojas was beaten to death in 2010 by the U.S. Border Patrol, and video footage of his attack was recently aired on PBS.
“When we talk about the victims of the drug war, we’re not only talking about deaths at the hands of narco-traffickers, Marino implored, “There are also so many caught in a crossfire between failed state policy and police gone wild from the culture of violence. These stories run parallel and its crucial that they connect.”
“This is a historic act of solidarity,” said Lovato. “The South has come North to remind us our issues are connected….and the only way to end this is by working together.”
The Caravan will be continuing on through deep south, then the midwest, then through New York and will finally reach Washington D.C. on September 12th, which is being declared an International Day of Action for Peace in Mexico. Lovato ensured, “The Bay Area is well represented on the Caravan. We hope that September 12th will be a meaningful day of action there too, as well as in Europe and across Latin America.”
To take action, sign the petition to enforce stricter gun control at http://www.presente.org
Louisville, KY – Saturday, Sept 1
Chicago, IL – Monday – Tuesday, Sep 3–4
Cleveland, OH – Wednesday, Sept 5
New York, NY – Thursday – Friday, Sept 6–7
Baltimore, MD – Saturday – Sunday, Sept 8–9
Washington, D.C. – Monday – Wednesday, Sept 10–12
Story by: Zoë Clara Dutka