Anti-Drug War Caravan Comes to the Midwest, Heads East

The caravan wants to highlight both the complicity and the suffering of the US in its connection to the drug war – both the profits made by selling guns to Mexico, and the toll on minority communities exacted by harsh penalties for nonviolent, small-time drug offenses.

The Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, and his troop of grieving families and angry activists, travelling across the United States against the drug war, came to a stop in Chicago this weekend to visit a city wracked by violence.

The group marched through Chicago’s mostly immigrant neighborhood of Little Village chanting, “Where are our children? Alive they took them, alive we want them!”

Chicago is the Caravan of Solace’s fifteenth stop – it will head to New York, then to Washington D.C. – and it comes bringing a message that the ills of the drug war see no borders.

“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 US is still the biggest drug market in the world, and violence is greater than ever before,” said Sicilia.

“The drug war is destroying families on both sides of the border. The heads of major financial institutions on Wall Street have been complicit in laundering billions of dollars for drug traffickers that have murdered thousands of innocent people in Mexico. Yet the heads of these banks continue to walk freely,” Sicilia continued. “The caravan is not only calling for accountability for banks that launder drug money, but also for alternatives to prohibition that would eliminate illicit drug money at its source. Our goal is to become citizen-diplomats – to reach out to the people of the US.”

Sicilia founded the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity after his 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco, was killed along with five of his friends by drug traffickers. He is not the only one with such a story – Mexico has seen 70,000 death and more than 10,000 disappearances since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon brought in the federal police to deal with drug crime.

The northern part of the country closest to the US border has been the worst hit – Ciudad Juarez has become notorious for its wanton violence. In particular, the brutal killings in Juarez have left 60 women and girls already dead this year.

Teresa Carmona says that the lack of impunity in these killings is what has pushed her to come on the caravan. Carmona lost her 21-year-old son. Joaquin Garcia was killed in Mexico City on August 7th, 2010. Carmona says all she knows of her son’s death is that “it was brutal – and impunity rules in a shameful death.”

Carmona’s son was a third-year architecture student at the University Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) when he was killed in his apartment.

“They call us a victim movement,” said Carmona, “and that’s really what we are. It breaks the whole family.”

The caravan wants to highlight both the complicity and the suffering of the United States in its connection to the drug war – bringing together both the profits made by selling guns to Mexico, as well as the suffering of minority communities through harsh penalties for nonviolent, small-time drug offenses.

The caravan has been followed across the country by an SUV driven by members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The individuals inside it look like law enforcement, and they are – law enforcement calling for the legalization of all drugs.

Stephen Downing, former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, says that he has come along with the caravan because “Sicilia’s conclusions are exactly the same as what we have reached. We see the waste of resources and agree that the US has direct responsibility for the deaths” in the drug war.

Downing, the former head of narcotics enforcement in south central Los Angeles, says he saw first-hand how the drug war brought first a trickle and then a flood of financing to local police departments.

The police “have become addicted to federal drug money,” said Downing.

The group’s journey ends in Washington D.C., where the drug war was first started by President Nixon more than 40 years ago.

“Don’t wait until that pain reaches your intimate lives to hear the cry of those of us who cannot keep from uttering it.” said Sicilia in a story announcing the caravan. “Do not wait until the senseless death that this war has unleashed reaches your lives like it has reached ours, to know that such death exists and that it must be stopped. This is the moment for us to come together and change this policy of war – and rescue peace, life and democracy.”