Shocking Stories of Loss Motivate Mourners of Mexico's Drug War Victims to Hold the U.S. Responsible
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Photos of the dead and missing displayed at AFL-CIO in Washington, DC.
The Caravan includes women whose young daughters were taken in the night (suspected to be victims of human trafficking), relatives of dead police and military, a teenage couple missing their family, a mother who lost four of her sons, famed Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, and more. United by tragedy and pulling strength from shared experience, the caravaners took time off from their search for their dead and came to America with goals and demands. They desperately want the United States to understand the truth about Mexico’s drug war victims, that the media is wrong to suggest the violence is only among and against the cartels. The sad truth is that the military intervention in Mexico has provoked a strong reaction from the cartels, and as the military keeps fighting back, the violence spirals out of control into the streets and homes of the citizens.
The Caravan aims to wake us up, to remind America that it is our policies and institutions that help to fuel their tragedy. Our tax dollars fund their war; our banks launder the cartel cash; our guns arm the insurgents; and our drug consumption drives the market fueling all of it. Peace, the Caravan says, will be a multinational movement of the people. But for it to arrive, Americans must understand not only the carnage that takes in place in Mexico, but also the role we play in it.
I caught up with the Caravan near the end of its crosscountry journey in New York, following them from the Big Apple to Baltimore and Washington, DC. Their stories are horrific, but their mission, like their slogan, is one of peace, justice and dignity for all.
Reeling in Banker Greed
At a vigil in front of St. Cecilia Catholic church in Harlem, one of New York City’s most violent and drug war-ravaged neighborhoods, Teresa Carmona‘s candle melted as she explained why HSBC bank would be targeted as retribution for her son’s death. Joaquin, 21, was studying architecture in Mexico City. “His dreams were coming true,” said Carmona. “And he had a lot of dreams.” In August 2010, he was murdered with a bullet to the head in his car in Mexico City. “He did not deserve to die,” said his mother. “He deserves justice. The banks, they’re criminals.”
This summer, a Senate investigation found that HSBC was complicit in allowing Mexican drug cartels to launder billions of dollars through its U.S. operations. The Senate report also says U.S. regulators knew that the bank had a poor system to defend against laundering, but did nothing to demand improvement. While US forces were training and arming the Mexican military to fight cartels, US bankers were cashing in on cartel profits.
On September 7, Carmona and the Caravan delivered a suitcase full of “blood money” to HSBC bank. But they know that HSBC was simply the bank that got caught, and their message to all of Wall Street coalesced with a march to Occupy Wall Street’s birthplace, Zuccotti Park.
Holding "blood money" and a photo of her son, Teresa Carmona marches from HSBC to Zuccotti Park.
Demanding the government put people over profits, the Caravan for Peace carries very much the same message as Occupy Wall Street. Institutions like the Drug Enforcement Agency, privately owned prisons, law enforcement, and even the military rely on drug war operations to stay relevant. Prohibition has not stopped the use of drugs, but has empowered perpetrators of violence. The caravaners demand the conversation about drug policy include alternatives, legalization or decriminalization, that treat instead of criminalize drug addicts. The harm elicited by the joint US-Mexican war on drugs has been so egregious that there simply must be something better. What's stopping us from adapting to a more successful strategy, claims the Caravan, is profit.
The Caravan demands that the US put people before profit and take a series of steps to create a policy that will better protect them from violence. To stop money laundering, they say, the US must punish the banks cleaning the blood off cartel money. And to disarm the cartels the military is fighting, the Caravan demands the US change or enforce its gun policy to immediately end the illegal traffic of US assault weapons to Mexico. Resources spent on weapons and violence, they say, would be better spent defending life.
Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet who put down his pen when his son was murdered, says, “It seems that what [the governments] understand is economic peace, a peace that benefits big capital, and the capital of death,” adding that US and Mexican drug policies “only benefit war.”
U.S. Weapons Used in Mexican Murders
In Washington, DC., the Caravan presented to the Mexican embassy two dismantled firearms stuck in a concrete block. The symbol, said Sicilia, was of the need to protect peace. In 2009 and 2010, 70 percent of firearms recovered by authorities in Mexico came from the United States. At a gun show in Albuquerque, New Mexico, witnessing the ease with which Americans buy weapons was a great shock to the movement.
“It was easier for us to get a gun than a cell phone,” said Araceli Rodriguez. At a gun fair in NM, she was told she could have “all the weapons I want” as long as she had ID and “the money to buy them.” When it came to a cell phone, however, payment plans and red tape took “five days so we could activate it, because they kept asking us for information that we didn’t have.”
The Albuquerque gun show was a defining moment for many of the caravaneiros, who know too many killed by American weapons.
At the gun show, Rodriguez said, “I cried because I saw mothers with their children in strollers, passing through like it was a park, as if they were looking at butterflies. There were these assault weapons, these huge guns that kill our people in Mexico, and 9- and 10-year-old children running around.”