The Peace Caravan
Teresa Carmona’s son Joaquin was an architecture student at a public university in
A native of Mexico City who moved to Cancun 25 years ago, Carmona traveled with the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity led by Javier Sicilia to call for an end to the violence that has taken the lives of more than 60,000 people in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006 and declared a war on drugs.
Aided by millions of dollars and military aid that has fueled an unprecedented rise in organized crime, the drug war has impacted people on both sides of the border.
A Poet Leads the Effort
Sicilia, one of
Partnering with Global Exchange, an international human rights organization founded in 1988, the caravan began in
Speaking inside the National Museum of Mexican Art, Sicilia noted the significance: “
Sicilia then called on President Obama to do what President Franklin D. Roosevelt did in 1933 when he signed the law that repealed prohibition: “We ask the citizens of the United States and the government of Barak Obama to remember President Roosevelt and like him, in a gesture of defending democracy and its freedoms, decree, along with the Mexican government and governments of the world, the end to the war on drugs. So that together we put a stop to the banks that launder money and reduce the real crime: corruption, human trafficking and extortion and to seek together in compassion, justice for the suffering families of the victims, the orphans, widows and those who have lost our children in this absurd war.”
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
LEAP, a non profit which will celebrate its 10th year in 2013, has about 3,000 criminal justice professionals, judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison wardens and parole officers as members.
Jim Gierach, a former Chicago drug prosecutor and current member of LEAP, says the drug war has led to more young people quitting school, joining gangs, getting guns and fighting over who’s going to control the drug business. “We end up with violence that’s epidemic, just like we, at one time, had with Al Capone here in
Gierach says, “We started out with the war on drugs intending to help our kids, but really we’ve ended up making drugs more available, more dangerous,” Gierach says. “It’s the most effective way to put more drugs, uncontrolled and unregulated, everywhere.”
Chad Padget, former correctional officer for the Indiana Department of Corrections, says the only way to regulate and control drugs is to bring the market above ground.“If it’s on the black market, it’s not going to work,” says Padget, who has been a speaker with LEAP since 2010. “That’s why we say we should legalize drugs.”
Padget also worked with youth services and saw firsthand the results. “Current policy has been horrible for young people,” he says. “It’s locking them up, splitting up families. If they would legalize drugs, families would be back together, people that are in prison are apt to be let out, and they would be a tremendous help in communities and we could just get rid of the whole policy of prohibition.”
Former Deputy Chief Stephen Downing headed the drug enforcement division of the Los Angeles Police Department and was commander of the Bureau of Special Investigations, which oversaw all of the narcotics enforcement operations. Now retired, Downing recalls that when Nixon announced the war on drugs in the 1970s, he was commander and there were only two small gangs in south central LA.
“They were called the Crips and the Bloods,” he says. “We had programs, they were neighborhood gangs, territorial and we had good programs that were calming them down, getting the kids home, targeting the hardcore toward juvenile justice. Then the war on drugs came along and the war on drugs had the effect of fueling the growth of gangs.”
Downing notes that today there are 33,000 gangs across the
“Two years ago, they controlled drug traffic in 250 American cities,” says Downing. “This last year the DOJ reported they control the traffic in 1,000 American cities.”
Addicted to the Drug War
Downing says the real problem is that police in
Nonviolent drug offenders now account for half of those in federal prison and about one-fourth of all inmates in the
“Just last week in
Once he saw the effects of the drug war, Downing changed his mind and joined LEAP, where he now serves on the Board of Directors. He joined the Caravan for Peace when they crossed the border in
“We do not advocate drug use. We advocate regulation and control of the drugs,” says Downing. “We are on the Caravan for Peace because Javier Sicilia’s philosophy is exactly our philosophy. If you support prohibition, you support violence and crime.”
LEAP member Dean Becker—a former security police officer for the U.S. Air Force and a specialist in guarding nuclear weapons—now produces nine radio shows a week for the Drug Truth Network based at the
Becker says his goal is to return things to as they were before prohibition, when adults were trusted to do the right thing. He says he is in favor of locking up anyone who dares sell drugs to children, but that to lock up adults for doing what they want to do in the sanctity of their own homes is “just un-American.”
More than Drugs
The caravan also raises issues of environmental degradation—from mining, migrants rights, and the estimated 5,300 disappeared since the rise of organized crime created by the drug war. “The war against drugs is not a war Mexicans asked for,” says Rafael Trujillo, whose mother and brother were also on the caravan.
Raul Trujillo Herrera, 21, and Jesus Salvador Trujillo, 27, father of two, disappeared, along with their car, never to be seen again. When two of his other brothers went to Vera Cruz to trade gold for money to support the families two years ago, they were also disappeared.
Carmona notes that only three percent of these crimes are investigated. “Yes, it’s terrible,” she says. “I mean the violence is terrible, but the impunity is just as bad.”
Trujillo says until the caravan went to the School of the Americas (SOA), at Fort Benning, Georgia, he did not know that many of the top leaders of the government had been trained there. “It was a real shock to discover that, because the drug problems were not even put on the table because we didn’t think they were our problem,” says
At the August Veterans for Peace Convention in
Goff explained how after President Calderón “won” the election by less than 1 percent, the first thing he did was raise the pay of military personnel 40 percent, because, Calderón said, he needed the armed forces to fight the war on drugs. The
SOA Watch reported in 2011 that Jesús Enrique Rejón Aguilar, a captured leader of the Zetas, the most violent of the cartels, helped recruit the original Mexican special forces that were trained at the SOA at
The tactics taught there helped the Zetas to become the most dangerous criminal organization in
Goff reports that Sicilia’s talk at
Goff reported in his “Charlie’s Digs” column for the News, Mexico’s only English language newspaper, that members of the Caravan met with members of both houses of Congress, with Maria Otero, the Undersecretary of State for Human Rights, and with leaders of various churches in Washington, DC.
It was a long journey, but the struggle to stop the war on drugs continues.
In a 2011 interview with Marta Molina of the Narco News Bulletin, an online magazine reporting on the drug war, Carmona called for a
“We want to live without fear that someone will hurt our kids,” said Carmona. “We want respect for diversity and a new and more human way of living together. We want to live in peace with justice and dignity.”
Gloria Williams is a freelance journalist and peace and justice activist. Photos are by Williams. Photo 1: Teresa Carmona with a photo of her murdered son. Photo 2: Javier Sicilia calling on Obama and others to stop the war on drugs. Photo 3: Former drug prosecutor now calls on people to end the drug war, stop the killing, and save "our kids." Photo 4: March through Little Village in Chicago. Photo 5: Marchers calling for an end to the war on drugs. Photo 6: The march through Little Village.