Movement for Peace with Justice plans caravan to the U.S. capital

Latin America and the Caribbean

In March 2011, Mexican poet and journalist Javier Sicilia’s son was brutally murdered by drug traffickers. Sicilia’s high profile in Mexico brought national attention to his son’s unfortunate killing. In the midst of the media attention, Sicilia recognized the deafening silence that accompanied the stories of so many thousands of other victims of drug violence. In the five-year period since President Felipe Calderón initiated the militarization of the drug war, over 47,000 Mexican citizens have become cartel-related casualties.

Sicilia called attention to this injustice by starting the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), a civil movement that makes demands of both the government and the cartels. Sicilia and his followers look to change the Calderón administration’s outlook on the drug conflict and suggest a strategy “that goes beyond police and military power to include…a thorough investigation into the connections between politicians and criminals…, to modify the proposed National Security Law” to include stronger human rights provisions, and “the reconstruction of the social fabric in places damaged by the ‘narco war.’”

The group has taken their message to the public in a number of ways. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affiars, the Pact for Peace is “a proposal that emphasizes civil unity over violence” which the movement published in the summer of 2011. The success of the subsequent March for Peace and Justice, a demonstration against violence led by MPJD in Mexico City which ballooned from 500 to 150,000 participants, encouraged the MPJD to create a “Caravan for Peace,” a multi-stop march through Mexico’s northern states to Ciudad Juarez, the city most devastated by the drug cartels. According to COHA Research Associate Natalia Cote-Muñoz, the “Caravan revealed the scope of the tragedy that has affected so many Mexican lives while the state has abandoned its victims and failed to prevent the escalating violence.”

The movement plans to take its next step to the heart of the U.S. government in Washington D.C. this coming August. Sicilia argues that the United States plays a large role in the conflict in Mexico, through both lax weapons restrictions which allow guns to be smuggled across the border from the U.S. and the Merida Initiative. The Merida Initiative is a plan implemented by the Bush administration that provides billions of dollars in aid to Mexico and Central America to combat drug trafficking. Sicilia has said that he believes it “only has imagination for violence and war” and does not address the root issues which contribute to the crime. Human rights activists and the MPJD argue that the initiative reinforces the crime-fighting and militarization components of the conflict and do not properly afford for civil rights concerns. The Mexican military receives overwhelming resources from this program, and yet they are not properly held accountable when human rights abuses occur.

In addition, Sicilia believes that relaxed gun control laws in the U.S. facilitate the flow of illegal arms into Mexico. Programs like Operation Fast and Furious, a botched sting operation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, do little to restore confidence in critics’ like Sicilia’s belief in the Obama administration’s efforts to keep guns from flowing over the border. These factors have contributed to the movement’s decision to protest in the U.S. capital.

Various NGOs have started petitions to encourage the president to improve gun control legislation and stem the tide of illegal arms in Mexico, including one that can be found here. Below is a translation of an excerpt of an interview with Sicilia regarding his plan to bring the Caravan for Peace to the United States:

Peace Caravan prepares a protest in the American capital, CNN México, January 17, 2012

In August, Mexican poet Javier Sicilia will lead a new caravan, this time to the United States, to call for the U.S. Government to put an end to the illegal arms to Mexico, which “has only left pain and many dead.”

Sicilia announced that the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), which he leads, will prepare a protest in the U.S. capital, in which he hopes various Mexican and American civil organizations will participate.

At the event, protestors will ask the U.S. to stop aid to Mexico earmarked through the Merida Initiative, a plan devised in 2007 by the George W. Bush Administration to contribute to the fight against organized crime, since “it’s not working,” said Sicilia.

The Caravan seeks “to raise awareness within the American, Mexican, and Central American populations of the pain and suffering that this violence has caused us,” that has caused more than 47,000 deaths since December 2006, added Sicilia, who did not specify the route.

“The U.S. should take responsibility for the violence that endures in Mexico, because in a certain way it has contributed to the thousands of deaths caused by weapons which came to our territory illegally,” he said.

The United States, “the number one consumer of drugs” in the world, “has a legal industry, that of arms, which is arming the Mexican criminal,” contended the poet at the end of a press conference presenting Marcel Sisniega’s latest film based on his novel “A través del silencio.”

According to Sicilia, the wave of violence unleashed in the country as a result of the dispute between drug cartels for territorial control and their confrontation with security forces has left around “50,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared, and 120,000 displaced.”

This post was written by CIP Intern Michael Kane