- Mexican ‘citizen-diplomats’ who lost loved ones to drug violence heading to city
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2012, 4:00 AM
Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who conceived the caravan idea, holds a broken AK47 in Houston as a symbolic gesture of the need to end gun smuggling.
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 López, whose daughter, Yahaira Guadalupe Baena López, 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 López. “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 Calderón who, although sympathetic to the caravaneros’ plight, refused to alter his war-on-drugs policy.
Calderón’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 Presente.org, 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.”
More information can be found in Facebook:facebook.com/CaravanforpeaceNYC, and also in Twitter: twitter.com/PeaceCaravanNYC.