Pubdate: Wed, 05 Sep 2012
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2012 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Albor Ruiz
Cited: Caravan for Peace:


Mexican 'Citizen-Diplomats' WHO Lost Loved Ones to Drug Violence 
Heading to City

Their task is titanic, but so is their determination to end the war on drugs.

The Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a group originally 
composed of 110 Mexican fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, sons 
and daughters - 49 of whom lost loved ones to the violence of the 
drug war - arrives in our city tomorrow.

One of those mothers is Margarita Lopez, whose daughter, Yahaira 
Guadalupe Baena Lopez, 19, was taken from her home in Oaxaca by an 
armed group on April 13, 2011. She joined the caravan at its inception.

"My daughter was innocent but the authorities never took an interest 
in her disappearance, so I joined the caravan," said Lopez. "I don't 
want any more mothers to suffer the way I am suffering."

The group's journey began August 12 in San Diego and when it ends on 
Sept. 12, it will have traveled over 5,000 miles and 25 cities 
including Los Angeles, Santa Fe, El Paso, Houston, Montgomery, New 
Orleans, Chicago, New York and, finally, Washington, D.C.

"Our goal is to become citizen-diplomats - to reach out to the people 
of the U.S.," said Javier Sicilia, a distinguished Mexican poet, and 
the man who conceived the caravan idea.

"We want the people in U.S., its government and the presidential 
candidates to realize that the drug war has tragically failed on both 
sides of the border, that drugs are a public health issue not a 
national security issue," Sicilia added.

The goals of the caravan are to raise awareness about the need to 
stop gun trafficking, to debate alternatives to drug prohibition, to 
combat money laundering and to promote bilateral cooperation in human 
rights and security.

Sicilia's metamorphosis from admired poet to peace activist happened 
last year, when Juan Francisco, his 24-year-old son, was killed with 
five of his friends by drug traffickers in Cuernavaca.

After his son's death, speaking for thousands of victims, Sicilia 
declared: "We've had it" and took two steps that radically 
transformed his life . He founded the Movement for Peace with Justice 
and Dignity to urge an end to the drug war, and stopped writing poetry.

"Language is not enough any more to express the depth of my pain," he said.

Last year he led a similar caravan across Mexico and met with 
President Felipe Calderon who, although sympathetic to the 
caravaneros' plight, refused to alter his war-on-drugs policy.

Calderon's war on drugs has exerted a terrible toll: 70,000 deaths 
and 10,000 disappearances since 2006, as drug cartels continue their 
bloody fight for control of the multi-billion market north of the border.

"We are doing this because of what's is going on in Mexico," Sicilia 
said. "But its counterpart is the United States' responsibility. 
Washington spends billions to incarcerate people for drug crimes, has 
criminalized Latinos and African-Americans, but the U.S. is still the 
biggest drug market in the world and violence is greater than ever before."

Also, Sicilia added, many of the guns used to murder Mexicans have 
been traced to sources in the United States.

"I think what is important is the caravan's binational nature," said 
Roberto Lovato, the founder of, an online advocacy 
organization, and one of many American allies supporting the Caravan.

"The drug war has been a terrible failure also in the U.S.," Lovato 
said. "Just look at more than 2 million people being incarcerated, 
families destroyed by that incarceration, a trillion of our tax 
dollars utterly wasted."

As Sicilia told Democracy Now, "We need to create awareness, 
consciousness, that the people, the American people, know that behind 
every drug consumer and behind every use of guns, we pay with dead people."

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