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Can the Caravan for Peace force us to rethink the War on Drugs?

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Javier Sicilia, front man of 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 más poesía … la poesía ya no existe en mí."

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 Calderón 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.

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