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Mexican Peace Caravan Arrives in U.S. to Call for End to Deadly Drug War Policy

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A caravan of Mexican anti-violence protesters arrived in the United States over the weekend calling for a massive shift in U.S. drug policy. Mexican poet Javier Sicilia led the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity following the brutal murder of his 24-year-old son by drug traffickers earlier this year. The caravan’s demands include an end to the Merida Initiative, in which the United States provides training and support for the Mexican army in its “war on drugs.” We speak to Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy, and play an excerpt from her interview with Sicilia as she traveled with him to document the caravan’s journey. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a peace caravan that has been taking place in Mexico into Texas. We have been covering this over the last weeks, and we’re joined now by Laura Carlsen, who has been on the road reporting on the caravan of Mexican anti-violence protesters, led by Javier Sicilia, a poet who began speaking out after his 24-year-old son was brutally murdered by drug traffickers early this year. The movement is called the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity and calls for an end to the drug war. I want to play part of Laura Carlsen’s interview with Javier Sicilia.

JAVIER SICILIA: [translated] I believe that the United States, looking to protect its global interests, has in a way imposed this war against narcotrafficking on us, because that was how it was born, even though it has since acquired the tone of a war against organized crime. But at first, it was a war against narcotrafficking that they forced on us, since the U.S. has the highest number of drug users. They also have something more terrible than drugs themselves, which should be treated as a public health problem and not a security problem, as they have been. They have these things, guns, which are overwhelming and widespread. In four-and-a-half years, those weapons have legally armed the military and the police, but they have also illegally armed traffickers and the cartels. And this in a state as negligent and corrupt as Mexico, and disgracefully its governments are indeed corrupt. This has left us citizens in a state of total defenselessness. Those weapons are killing us. Those guns are wiping us out.

AMY GOODMAN: Javier Sicilia, Mexican poet, leading the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, calling for the end to the so-called “war on drugs,” saying it’s only leading to more violence and to more drugs.

We’re joined right now by Laura Carlsen, who has been covering this for the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program, the Center for International Policy.

Laura, talk about Javier, remarkable in what he has done, and this whole peace caravan that you’ve been covering.

LAURA CARLSEN: Javier Sicilia’s son, as you mentioned, was brutally murdered, probably by drug cartels, on March 28th. And his response to that terrible pain was to lash out, not only at the drug cartels for the violence, which of course he did, but also at the government. And there’s a reason for this. The drug war that was imposed by President Calderón in December of 2006 is directly correlated to the increase in violence that we’ve seen that was mentioned in the last interview. There was about an average of 2,000 drug war-related homicides in the years before President Calderón launched this drug war, which is a model of the military confronting cartels in the streets. And since then, last year, for example, we had 15,000 drug-related homicides. So the correlation is obvious to everyone. There’s been a real change in public opinion that this model is counterproductive, that it’s not working. And Javier Sicilia, with his loss, managed to catalyze the discontent and the real alarm among the public into a movement to demand an end to the drug war model and the search for new alternatives.

AMY GOODMAN: And this caravan, talk about where it went and what happened this past weekend.

LAURA CARLSEN: Well, the idea for the caravan was that it would go through the most heavily affected areas in Mexico, which is exactly what it did. So it began on June 4th from Cuernavaca, where Javier Sicilia’s son was murdered and tortured. It went through Mexico City. It went to Morelia. It went to Durango, Torreón, Monterrey, on the border, and ended up in Ciudad Juárez.

At each stop along the way, we heard testimonies, mostly from victims. It was something that was incredibly effective and had a huge impact emotionally on the hundreds of people who were traveling in the buses throughout the caravan, because people literally stood up and cried before a microphone, not only saying that their relatives had been murdered, tortured, but also that they had been disappeared, and then adding that their experiences with authorities had been completely frustrating, that there was no response from police or investigations, that there was no response from the judicial system to find out who was responsible for this. And in many cases, the victims themselves were being blamed as being somehow linked to organized crime in order to justify the fact that they’ve been killed. And this is something that’s been common. President Calderón has said 90 percent of the victims are linked to organized crime. There’s no factual basis for this. And it just ends up being an insult added to the injury of the victims. These were the testimonies that were gathered along the caravan to arrive in Ciudad Juárez, where there were working groups to construct a citizens pact for peace with justice and dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Carlsen, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program at the Center for International Policy. And I want to ask you a last question: after Juan Sicilia was murdered, his father Javier wrote one last poem dedicated to him, and then he said he would stop writing poetry. Where do you think he is right now? Do you think Javier is feeling that he is having effect enough to resume his poetry?

LAURA CARLSEN: I don’t know if he has it in him to resume the poetry. Right now I’m sure he’s resting. It was an extremely exhausting process, the caravan, and particularly for Javier Sicilia. There are actions that are planned in the pact, and they’re being organized right now to be carried out throughout the country. It’s such a deep, deep pain to lose a child, and he said that so often, that I think that he’s in another — he’s in another stage right now. He has said that there are no words in him to continue to write poetry. But there seems to be a lot of fight in him to continue to lead this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Laura Carlsen, with the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy, thanks so much for joining us.

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