That’s how a member of Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity described last year’s caravan through the USA. Why? Because unlike in Mexico where the whole country has faced the repercussions of the drug war’s violence in one way or another, the population that the caravan encountered in the USA was more or less ignorant of the injustices occurring in Mexico.
Last Thursday, March 28th, marked the two-year anniversary of the Movement for Peace. In March of 2011, Juan Sicilia was murdered in Cuernavaca, along with five other people. His father, the poet Javier Sicilia, began organizing actions to speak out against the violence. I’ve written a bit more background on the Movement for Peace in a previous post.
For the anniversary, the Movement for Peace organized a demonstration in Mexico City at the site of a monument – La Estela de Luz – that they want to be dedicated to the victims of the drug war. When I arrived they were setting up chairs that were left empty except for the names of people murdered or missing in recent years. Families of victims hung cloths embroidered with words commemorating their loved ones, sometimes with terse, news report style statements, highlighting the dehumanization that regular violence can elicit in a society.
I listened in on a brief history of the movement that a young organizer named Luis was giving to a group of students from Denmark. He described the organization’s several caravans, its decision to engage in dialogue with both opposition groups and the government, the passage of the Law of Victims, the disappearances and murders suffered by the organization itself, and the leadership role that the “victims” play.
At one point, Luis linked the Mexican situation to U.S. policy when he mentioned Nixon’s 1971 declaration of a ‘war on drugs.’ (see NPR’s timeline) I approached him later to ask him a bit more about the Movement for Peace’s experience with my country. Luis, it turns out, had been on their U.S. Caravan for Peace in 2012. When I asked him how he felt it had gone, his face betrayed his disappointment.
“We had to start from zero in every city.” That meant informing people that there was, in fact, a war on drugs raging in Mexico, that many tens of thousands of Mexicans had been killed or ‘disappeared,’ that weapons sold in the USA made their way across the border and into the hands of the cartels… It was exhausting and distressing. Of course, many people in the USA do associate Mexico with violence, but not because they have sought to understand what is going or why.
Luis doesn’t think they will try to go back to the United States. The challenges were enormous, and some people in the organization consider he U.S. caravan to have been a mistake.
I’ve spoken with people inside and outside the Movement for Peace who attribute the organization and its U.S. caravan’s difficulties to problems such as an over-reliance on big media, a focus on the victims as sob-stories, and the importance placed on the figure of Javier Sicilia. So it seems as though, with better tactics and a different approach, the Movement for Peace could probably achieve better results in the USA. But the fact remains that the general U.S. population’s lack of awareness of – and, quite frankly, interest in – the relentless tragedies occurring in a neighboring country (a sign at the demonstration claims 90,000 dead or missing), presents a terribly challenging barrier to change in Mexico.
What can Mexicans do without change in the U.S.? Not enough, I’m afraid. If violence decreases under the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, it will likely be due to the fact that the PRI, the political party back in power after a 12-year hiatus from its 71 years and counting in office, strikes deals with drug cartels.
The U.S. demand for drugs is enormous, and without U.S. drug policy reform even the unlikely possibility of legalization in Mexico before the U.S. wouldn’t end the illegal trafficking over the border. The weaponry that provides ammunition for killing comes largely from the north. The U.S. is actively involved in promoting a Mexican drug policy that results in increased violence. U.S. Migration policy fails to increase the legal options for Mexicans and Central Americans to look abroad for opportunities to support their families, leading many to migrate along a route where they’re pressured to join criminal organizations.
The Giant to the North has a huge influence on what’s going on in Mexico, and most people there don’t even know it.