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Mexican Poet Retired His Pen When His Son Was Murdered -- Now He's Turned Tragedy Into a Movement to the End Drug War

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and victims of the drug war are drawing attention to violence south of the border by traveling across the U.S. in a peace caravan.
 
 
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Photo Credit: wickenden via Flickr

 
 
 
 

Most people probably wouldn’t consider poetry and bravery synonymous, but poet Javier Sicilia defies such primitive thought. In war-plagued Mexico, protesting against the prohibition-fueled violence carries the gravest risks imaginable. Many voices similar to Sicilia's have been permanently silenced for making the same cries for peace. The luckier of these are now six feet deep as a result of their courageous deeds. The not-so-lucky were slain and disposed of in ways known to no one except God and the killers themselves. Still, Javier Sicilia remains undeterred by the risk of death, and he warriors on with nothing to lose at this point.

Thankfully for Americans, the former poet has again decided to bring this determination for peace north of Mexico’s border, in the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity’s “Peace Caravan” this summer. The American sea-to-shining-sea voyage will span roughly 6,000 miles in total. After departing San Diego on August 12, the caravan weaves across the States and eventually arrives in Washington, D.C. on September 10. The Greyhound motorcade is made up of buses, campers and trailers (of all sorts), and the convoy will be making demonstrations and overnight pit stops in numerous cities along the way.

As a former federal agent who’s worked on the border and inspected passenger buses similar to the ones about to embark on this trip, I can’t help but think how honored I will be to welcome these visitors after they cross the border into the United States.

Sicilia’s quest began the moment the lifeless bodies of his son, 24-year-old Juan Sicilia, and six college friends were discovered on March 28, 2011. After the students had their lives beaten and suffocated out of them, their corpses were stuffed in the back of a sedan and left abandoned along a highway in Morelos. The discovery was made on a Monday morning; apparently sometime earlier in the weekend a couple of the students had unknowingly gotten into an altercation with members of the fragmented Beltran Leyva Cartel, which is an organization that’s become lethally unpredictable since the death of “Don” Arturo Beltran Leyva. Evidently, the dispute took place at a nightclub in Cuernavaca, and as the seven friends were on their way home that evening, they were intercepted and abducted by masked reinforcements from the cartel.

Neither Juan nor his college buddies had anything to do with drug trafficking. Yet killing has become so thoughtless in Mexico these days that alternative methods for settling disputes seem rarely employed. Organized crime rules the day south of the border. What’s to stop cartel gunmen from murdering a few college kids over a scuffle when they already kill for sport every day anyways?

Yet Juan’s murder turned out to be different from your average killing. It woke a sleeping giant and gave momentum to countless numbers of victims who’d been waiting for someone to rally behind. Family members who’ve lost similar loved ones would now have a recognizable face for their grief in Javier Sicilia.

So viva Mexico and the United States alike, now uniting in an alliance to reform drug laws and end this pointless mayhem. The most pressing thing at the moment is getting marijuana legalized once and for all. This plant accounts for roughly 60 percent of cartel profits in Mexico, and its prohibition alone is responsible for much of the devastation wrought by the drug war. All the while its legality and legitimacy is welcomed by more than 50 percent of Americans (a figure increasing more and more every day).

There are varying reasons for supporting legalization, but one that can’t be neglected is the death toll accumulating south of the border. To me personally, this is the most immediate reason for ending prohibition. Third-party innocents from low-income, drug-producing countries die every day from our uncompromising drug policies. Yet the United States government remains committed to continuing down this unjust road-to-nowhere, which is something that should be intolerable to all of us.

Another critical reason for ending prohibition (and one that’s often overlooked in my opinion), is American national security. After 10 years of service with the government’s two main border enforcement agencies, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), I know that an indefinite drug war in Mexico equates to an indefinite drug war here in the United States. Southwest border states (especially Texas and Arizona) are increasingly witnessing spillover violence, and this trend will only increase as Mexico’s plight becomes more dire in years ahead. The only way to end this is to eliminate the black market for illicit narcotics, or at least to minimize the deadly industry, and legalizing marijuana alone at this point would do much to accomplish that feat.

The purpose of this article is to urge folks to come out and show love for Javier Sicilia and his accompanying brothers and sisters. Anyone with passion who wants to simultaneously witness a more peaceful Mexico and a more stable United States should be present for at least one of the caravan’s historic stops. Tens of millions of Americans are fed up with the nation’s prohibition policies, but many of us don’t go out of our way to help bring change. Numbers speak volumes, and being present is all it really takes to help increase the voltage and pressure on the government, and it’s only a fraction of the commitment (let alone blood) that our soon-to-be-arriving neighbors have had to ante up.

With countries like Mexico and Guatemala being under siege more than ever as a result of American drug policy, it’s likely the caravan will be dominated by the Latino community. Yet diverse participants from several drug reform organizations will be present as well. For example, there will be representatives from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) escorting the visitors at every stop of the way. An organization made up of former judges, prosecutors, cops and federal agents who oppose the country’s drug laws, LEAP members will be traveling in a mock police SUV and will be available for questions, comments, suggestions, etc. about the failures of prohibition (and ways to help bring it to an end).

Other heavy-hitting drug reform organization like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) will be taking part as well. And, having so many nationwide chapters, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is likely to have several volunteer boots on the ground during the voyage.

One of the caravan’s final Southern stops will be Atlanta, Georgia before heading up to the Midwest. Living in the Southeast, I contacted the Atlanta-based Peachtree NORML chapter when I heard that Javier Sicilia and company were coming to town. I’ve known the organization’s executive director, Sharon Ravert, for some time now (ever since I resigned from the government to get involved in marijuana reform). Knowing her and the other Peachtree members like I do, I wasn’t surprised to learn that plans were already in motion to roll out the red carpet for the expected company. Activities include a candlelight vigil, a march to city hall and street theater with stories from the caravan.

Global Exchange is the organization responsible for making this event possible, and on its site is a map with the caravan’s anticipated dates, cities and stops (along with the events happening in each). With the United States being as large as it is, many citizens (mainly in the Northwest) won’t have close and viable options for attending any stops—even with the participants touring like rock-stars and hitting 24 cities in just 30 days. But the grand finale will be in Washington, D.C. over the 9/11 anniversary, so what better time to travel to the nation’s capital?

More than 60,000 people have been killed in Mexico in the past six years as a result of U.S. drug policy. We can’t bring back the victims of September 11th or the victims of Mexico’s drug war for that matter. We can, however, do something to ensure fewer victims in the future: We can support the Peace Caravan and we can demand an end to this destructive, failed drug war once and for all.

Jamie Haase, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent.

 
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