Mexican poet Javier Sicilia lost his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco last year after going into a bar with six of his friends run by a drug cartel. All suffered a violent death.
After his son’s murder, Sicilia founded the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity) in Mexico. His crusade swept across borders in Latin America as many victims, like him, joined a movement to end what he called a lost and needless war.
Caravan for Peace is a call to action for the governments of the United States and Mexico to find solutions to the War on Drugs.
In a bi-national movement, political activists, citizens and 110 victims of violence in the United States and Mexico joined forces in San Diego for a 30-day, 6,000-mile journey to 27 cities and across 17 states to Washington D.C. Sicilia and his caravaneros delivered their message of peace and hope to the White House, calling for an International Day of Action for Peace in Mexico on September 12.
Led by Sicilia and Border Angels founder Enrique Morones, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity/Marcha Migrante VIII kicked off at Friendship Park on August 12, and began its sojourn to the White House. Morones said more than 150 civic organizations along the way provided food, shelter and care for all and the caravan met hundreds of volunteers, victims and supporters at each stop.
Morones said it is vital for people to realize the consequences of the escalating violence on both sides of the border since the two nations declared the War on Drugs. He said the campaign left innocent casualties in its wake, with more victims falling to failed policies and drug violence every day.
“Over the past six years the War on Drugs has left more than 70,000 dead and more than 20,000 missing in Mexico alone,” he said.
Los caravaneros called on Mexico and the U.S. to enter into a dialogue about alternatives based on evidence and forward-thinking options for drug regulation. Morones said it is essential that the importation of assault weapons into Mexico stops, that concrete steps are taken to combat money laundering, and that both nations re-examine the militarized border and criminalized immigrants.
As the activists gathered to begin their journey, California Senator Juan Vargas and U.S. Congressman Bob Filner met the caravan at Friendship Park with Senate and Congressional resolutions declaring August 12 a “Day of Peace” in San Diego County.
Filner said he stood with Sicilia to confirm their mutual humanity and call for new thinking by federal agencies in the U.S. and Mexico.
“I have worked in non-violent campaigns in the U.S. and throughout the world,” he said. “It is up to government of America to claim some responsibility here. This is not a Mexican problem. This is our problem.”
Dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil later that evening at Chicano Park. After moving a performance of “Misa Azteca” by the Southwestern College Concert Choir, one by one victims of the Drug War spoke of their losses. They hoped their heart-breaking experiences would be the beginning of change.
Gretchen Burns Bergman, lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign, said both countries have suffered senseless tragedies, the erosion of human rights and loss of liberties due to the punitive policies that fuel the violence of the drug cartels. She said her son spent more than a decade “cycling through the criminal justice system” for possession of marijuana.
“We are losing our sons and daughters to drug war violence, to accidental overdose death, and to mass arrest and incarceration,” she said. “It is time for families to unite, stand side by side, sister to sister, mother to mother, cross borders to demand no more Drug War for the sake of our children and future generations.”
Aracely Rodriquez, mother of Luis Ángel León, a federal police officer who refused to cooperate with a drug cartel, was murdered in the state of Michoacán. Rodriquez said the heartbroken people of Mexico found solace and a voice in the heart of Javier Sicilia.
“We have walked across this border with you to unite our pain with your pain,” she said. “I believe in my heart with all of the people with us here now that in uniting our pain we can create a change.”
Sicilia said he dedicated himself to protesting the War on Drugs and the escalating violence. His crusade travels across many borders of the world now and he said he brings his message for change in peace and love, not hate and anger. After 40 years of this war declared by President Nixon, “all is left are the dead, the missing loved ones and the innocent that lost their homeland,” said Sicilia.
“We are losing our democracy and we are losing our frame of reference of life-that we are human beings,” he said. “The only people that benefit from this are the lords of death, the lords of war and lords of pain.”
In Washington Sicilia and los caravaneros spoke to scholars, staff and guests at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, associate director of Latino Affairs and Immigration Julie Chavez Rodriquez, U.S. Mexican Ambassador Anthony Wayne, and members of Congress and the Senate.
Sicilia said there has been no reduction in America’s consumption of drugs, only an epidemic of murder and violence.
“We bring our disappeared children that never approached a dealer,” he said. “We bring defenseless orphans and widows. We bring young people, children of misery, because the Mexican government and the other places of Latin America allocate more American money to the promotion of war than to social programs that have found shelter in the crime and have ended up butchered.”
Sicilia said he dreams his daughter and my grandson will be able to go back to Mexico some day unafraid that someone will kill them like his son was killed.
“I dream that all those who have been displaced by this war and are absolutely defenseless will be able to return to their homes with their families while being assured that nobody will harm them.”