Shocking Stories of Loss Motivate Mourners of Mexico's Drug War Victims to Hold the U.S. Responsible
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Araceli Rodriguez is comforted in Malcolm X Park, Washington, DC.
In November 2009, Rodriguez lost her son, a federal police officer. Luis Angel Leon Rodriguez had recruited a civilian to drive him to a dangerous location in Mexico because the police force did not provide him with a car. He had only a piece of paper and a gun, and police say he was shot with his own weapon.
Araceli Rodriguez never forgave the bosses who did not offer her son the necessary protection he needed to do his job, but she did forgive one of her son’s murderers. She looked him right in the eye as he told her that, after killing her son, he cut him into pieces and burned his remains. Rodriguez, like many family members of victims, interviewed incarcerated narcos in her search to find answers. Many caravaneiros have had better luck with the locked-up cartel members than they have turning over bodies in mass graves.
“I asked him how they could have done that, because he is a human being, and they were all brothers in that land,” she said, crying. “He said that he worked for a cartel and that he had been paid $3,000 pesos [a little over $250] to kill my son and his partners.”
Many of the women are quicker to forgive the murderers of their loved ones than the authorities who did not protect or help them find justice. The violence is structural, they say. They believe that circumstances and poverty can make people commit unimaginable crimes just to survive.
Rodriguez said that her son’s murderer had been beaten up in jail. When the authorities refused to treat him, Rodriguez took a painkiller out of her purse. “Take this pill in the name of my son,” she told him. Crying, he reached out to touch her, but the authorities would not allow it. “I told him I wouldn’t keep hate in my heart, but that there was a god and that one day there would be divine justice.”
Now, says Rodriguez, “I’m the voice of those who are not here, that are dead, who maybe their destiny was a common grave -- and for the missing ones -- I’m their voice. I’m the voice of the children that have been orphaned by the loss of their father or their mother, that will never be hugged again. I’m here to put my grain of sand,” she said. “This is what keeps me in this Caravan. Faith and illusion. That one day that I'll wake up and I’ll realize that the nightmare of pain has ended, and that there is justice with dignity for all.”
Solidarity Across Borders
While the Caravan pleads for the United States to have compassion for its struggle, it also found solidarity with communities devastated by the drug war on this side of the border. In Baltimore, the reality of the drug war’s violence at home was made clear. For many in the African-American community, their demands for peace, justice and dignity are the same as the caravaneiros.
There were 196 murders in Baltimore last year. Dominique Stevenson, director of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program for incarcerated youth, said the drug war in Baltimore looks like “conflicts that have taken place in other lands.”
“You basically have the equivalent of child soldiers here,” she said, “It looks like losing people almost every day. It looks like a tragedy. It looks like grief.”
Stevenson says the tragedy black, urban communities face on a daily basis is not a symptom of American capitalism, but intentional oppression that actually creates capital. She says change may not happen the way liberals envision, with well-intentioned, yet sideways initiatives that target symptoms of oppression, like poor education, without stopping the system itself.
“The uplift of those communities will come from the people in those communities,” she said, “Place the resources in the hands of the people that are attempting to do that work. That work is not going to look like liberal folks imagine. It might look revolutionary to them. To me, it would look like love.”
Ending prohibition, or considering alternatives to it, is nowhere near reaching the mainstream in the US. But while ending the drug war may seem revolutionary, to those who live within it every day, radical change is the only alternative to death and suffering.