Pubdate: Wed, 29 Aug 2012
Source: San Antonio Current (TX)
Copyright: 2012 San Antonio Current
Author: Michael Barajas
Cited: Caravan for Peace:


Javier Sicilia's words still ring of poetry, though he says he's 
stopped writing it. A renowned novelist, essayist, and poet - winner 
of Mexico's top poetry prize three years ago - Sicilia told mourners 
gathered at his son's funeral in May 2011 when he read his final 
poem: "No puedo escribir mas poesia ... la poesia ya no existe en mi."

It's no longer in me.

The murder of his son Juan Francisco last year, an innocent 
24-year-old university student found along with six of his friends 
bound and shot by drug traffickers in Cuernavaca, shook Sicilia's 
world. With deep anguish also came conviction. With the rallying cry 
"!Hasta la madre!" Sicilia became the unlikely front man to a 
people's movement across Mexico, leading peace marches throughout 
last year to publicly denounce the violence, the cartels, and the 
government corruption that's allowed the problem to fester.

Now Sicilia, over 40 Mexican families broken by drug violence, and a 
slate of activists and human rights organizations have turned their 
sights north, traveling the length of the U.S.-Mexico border in a 
month-long Caravan for Peace. They aim to highlight the instability 
in Mexico along with U.S. drug policy, saying Americans shoulder 
equal blame in Mexico's current chaos.

Before the caravan's hours-long gathering with San Antonio families 
and religious leaders at St. Leonard Parish on the city's South Side, 
Sicilia delivered his own indictment of the War on Drugs begun under 
President Richard Nixon. Mexicans endure death, destruction, headless 
and mutilated bodies day after day as Mexico wars with the cartels. 
"This is all to prevent drug consumption in the U.S.," he said. "In 
all senses, this war is a failure, a horror, and the opening of doors 
into hell."

Since the start of Mexico's drug war, ramped up under Mexican 
President Felipe Calderon in 2006, some 70,000 people have 
disappeared or been murdered. The victims include the sister of Tere 
Vera, Minerva Vera Alvarado, who vanished in April 2006 in Oaxaca. "I 
have asked for justice, I have asked for the authorities to help me 
find my sister," Vera told the Current Friday. "I have traveled half 
the length of Mexico with her photo, looking, looking. The 
authorities won't investigate."

Vera smiled briefly, remembering her sister, a generous, giving 
woman, she said. Living next to a train line, she made it her mission 
to aid migrants moving north, Vera said. "She would give them water, 
clothes, anything she could."

Sorrow and pain follow the two buses that make up the Caravan for 
Peace. Olga Reyes of Chihuahua says six family members, all 
activists, have been killed, while many others in her family have 
fled, living in exile due to cartel threats. "This caravan is giving 
space for victims to speak out in a dignified way," said Janice 
Gallagher, an activist, doctoral candidate at Cornell University, and 
organizer with the caravan.

Groups taking part in Sicilia's Movement for Peace with Justice and 
Dignity (MPJD) - like the Drug Policy Alliance, the Center for 
International Policy's Americas Program, and Witness for Peace, among 
others - drafted the current MPJD platform at a mid-June weekend 
conference, Gallagher said. As the caravan takes the platform north, 
they hope to steer dialogue on drugs away from the simple 
prohibition-versus-legalization polarity into more humane territory, 
giving U.S. policymakers plenty to chew on by calling for suspension 
of U.S. assistance to Mexico's armed forces and a shift from military 
aid to development assistance. They call for tougher policies to stop 
the river of guns flowing from the U.S. into Mexico - particularly 
through Texas and Arizona - and increased federal crackdowns on money 
laundering. The platform also calls for better U.S. protections for 
immigrants displaced by violence seeking refuge in the U.S.

"We've come to the conclusion that the drug war is an abject failure, 
it needs to be ended," said Dean Becker, a Pacifica radio show host 
and activist with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition 
following the caravan. "The U.S. runs its drug war much in the same 
way these cartels do. It's plata or plomo, it's take the silver or 
lead," he said, referencing the common cartel expression to force 
cooperation with either a bribe or bullet. It's the same with the 
U.S. military aid, he insists, giving South and Central American 
governments the option to take millions to carry out the war on 
drugs, "or we flag them, put them on the bad-actors list, and cut off 
trade. ... We need a fundamental shift in the way we approach this problem."

Key to Sicilia's message to the U.S. is not only how drug violence 
has ravaged Mexico, but how the drug war has fractured families on 
the U.S. side of the border. Kicked-off in San Diego and trailing 
along the border states before heading into Louisiana, Mississippi, 
Alabama, and Georgia, Sicilia's caravan brings the message that the 
drug war is demonstrably ineffective and inhumane. Flanked by 
representatives with groups like the NAACP - which sends members to 
speak with Sicilia in every city the caravan visits - Sicilia talks 
of how U.S. drug policy, and the increased militarization of drug 
enforcement, has turned the U.S. into an incarceration nation, 
disproportionately jailing African-Americans and Hispanics along the 
way. Two-thirds of all prisoners held on drug-related charges are 
people of color, according to the Washington-based The Sentencing Project.

The U.S. has some 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, as much as 10 
times as many as other developed countries, and the U.S., home to 5 
percent of the world's population, also plays home to 25 percent of 
the world's prisoners.

Chalk it up to the war on drugs, activists with the caravan say. 
Incarceration in the U.S. has skyrocketed since Nixon launched the 
drug war, quadrupling just since the 1980s, while drug convictions 
rose ten fold between the 1980s and 1990s. More than half of federal 
inmates are in on drug convictions, and of the 1.64 million Americans 
arrested on drug charges in 2010, four out of five were jailed for 
possession, according to U.S. drug enforcement data.

While Sicilia says the U.S. and Mexico need to steer toward drug 
prevention and treatment, he's been careful not to explicitly 
advocate for legalization, saying instead both countries must treat 
drugs like a "public health problem" and resist tough-on-crime 
crackdowns and minimum-sentencing in the U.S., and a "mano dura" 
approach in Mexico that has escalated prohibition and repression.

Margarita McAuliffe, with the group Texas Moms United, knows well how 
the war on drugs has impacted local families. Her 28-year-old son has 
been twice jailed on possession charges. Incarceration hasn't helped 
him get the treatment he needs, she said. "This war has literally 
torn families apart here," McAuliffe said. "Everybody knows somebody 
who has been incarcerated for some type of drug charge. ... It's a 
victimless crime, and these people, a lot of them, have mental health 
issues, they self-medicate." McAuliffe and others pointed to the case 
last week of 30-year-old Thomas Reed Taylor, who died in the Bexar 
County jail hours after he turned himself in on drug-related 
misdemeanor warrants. Authorities have ordered an autopsy and have 
yet to issue a cause of death.

After traveling the South, the caravan will end its journey in 
Washington, D.C., next month. Sicilia hinted at the message he plans 
to bring to policymakers, referencing the end of Prohibition America 
in 1933. "Look back into that mirror of the past so we can find a 
path forward together," he said, before ending with a prayer of 
sorts: "Lord make us your instruments of peace," he said. "If we 
don't do it all together, hell will end up devouring us."

To follow the caravan's progress, go to
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom