The Movement for Peace Marches On Against the Drug War
The Goal Is Clear: Peace With Justice and Dignity
The one-year anniversary of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a grassroots groundswell against the drug war, played out March 28 in a small plaza in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City — absent the cameras and pens of the mainstream media.
What took place that day and during the day prior to the Movement event, both in spoken words and displayed emotions, pushed back hard against both US and Mexican interests that continue to perpetuate the carnage of the war on drugs. The flow of weapons from the US south into Mexico and the seemingly insatiable demand for the drugs flowing north into the US — both fueling misery, bloodshed and a major human exodus from Mexico — were all brought into sharp focus by this Movement gathering.
For Mexico, this war on drugs, since Mexican President Felipe Calderon escalated it beginning in late 2006, has cost some 65,000 lives, though the true number is an ever-growing figure that evades precise measurement and doesn’t even include the thousands of disappeared. In the US, the number of homicides attributable to the drug war is not even tracked systematically, as a recent Narco News story exposed, but the knowable murder tally between 2006 and 2010, based on FBI crime figures, (and representing a considerable undercount) is an average of 1,100 a year.
And then there is another class of victims, the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who have crossed the border into the US over the past five years (adding to the millions of people now living in the US without the proper paperwork) in search of work and a safe harbor from the violence of Mexico’s drug war — violence, in the form of not only murder but also robbery, extortion, kidnappings and sexual exploitation, that has disappeared not only people but jobs.
One class of these immigrants, deemed “illegals” by the xenophobic, are poor and, to a large extent, living in squalid conditions in the US working menial jobs that no one else will take and who daily live in fear of being deported back into the heart of the drug-war’s darkness. Another class of these Mexican immigrants fleeing Mexico’s drug-war violence are affluent, deemed “entrepreneurs” by the US communities that embrace them, many along the border in places such as San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio and El Paso, Texas — all gateway cities allowing them entrance into the US business community, an exodus encouraged by liberal US visa policies that offer legal shelter in exchange for capital investment by these affluent Mexican entrepreneurs.
Coparmex, a major Mexican business group with some 36,000 members, recently estimated that in excess of 160,000 businesses have closed or left Mexico in the past year alone due to “persistent violent crime woes” fostered by the drug war, according to a recent story published by the Spanish news agency EFE.
From the story:
"Organized crime is weakening the competitiveness of (Mexico's 32) states, discouraging domestic and foreign investment, causing the closure of formal companies…,” the head of Coparmex said.
"… According to figures from prosecutors, four kidnappings, 2,000 robberies and 4,600 acts of extortion were reported daily nationwide in 2011, mainly in Chihuahua, Baja California, Jalisco and Mexico City."
River of Iron
I was there, in the main plaza of Cuernavaca on Wednesday, March 28, observing the anniversary activities surrounding the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and listening to the poets, musicians and drug-war victims who took to the stage that day to relate their emotions and stories. Later that evening I sat with a group of victims on the campus of the School of Authentic Journalism, a 10-day intensive workshop in practicing real journalism held near Mexico City in late March of this year.
And even though much of what I learned that day through spoken words was via translation by fellow bilingual authentic journalists (because I do not speak Spanish) it was not the words that moved me the most. When you feel the emotion via the tears of a mother who has lost a child to a violent end in the drug war, or look into the desperate eyes of a father who has lost a son, for no sane reason, just one day disappeared without a trace, it leaves a mark on your heart that is not washed away by distance or time or augmented in effect by translation.
And because I cover this drug war, have for some eight years for Narco News, I know all too well the genesis of this pain, and to no small degree it traces back to US consumer habits and government policy — as we are the major consumers of the drugs coming north and our government and private companies are the major exporters of the weapons going south — the munitions, guns and bullets arming all sides of the failed, bloody drug war.
Here’s a small taste of that shipping agenda:
• Under the State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales program, which authorizes weapons sales by private US companies to overseas buyers, such as the Mexican military, some $85.2 million in arms were shipped to Mexico in fiscal 2010 alone.
U.S. private-sector suppliers, via the DCS program, doubled that mark in fiscal 2009, shipping to Mexico a total of $177 million worth of defense articles — which includes items like military aircraft, firearms and explosives.
By comparison, in fiscal 2009, private arms companies in the U.S. shipped $40 million worth of weapons to Afghanistan; $126 million to Iraq; and $131 million to Israel.
• A 2011 report prepared for the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs found “that from 2005 to 2009, the federal government’s annual spending on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America rose by 32%, from $482 million in 2005 to $635.8 million in 2009. In total, the government spent more than $3.1 billion on counternarcotics contracts during this period. …"
“From 2005 to 2009, the majority of counternarcotics contracts in Latin America went to only five contractors: DynCorp, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT, and ARINC, who collectively received contracts worth over $1.8 billion,” the report states.
• A 2011 Congressional Research Service report states the following concerning another major US drug-war program that largely benefits private contractors:
Between FY2008 and FY2010, Congress provided $1.5 billion for Mérida Initiative programs in Mexico, with an early emphasis on training and equipping Mexican security forces engaged in counter-drug efforts.
… Congress appropriated $143.0 million in Mérida assistance for Mexico for FY2011. The Administration requested $282 million in Mérida assistance for FY2012.
• And then there is the recent ATF (the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)-sanctioned Fast and Furious operation, and its predecessors under the Bush administration (one dubbed Wide Receiver, launched in 2006), which have allowed thousands of weapons to be smuggled across the border and into the hands of the powerful Mexican narco-trafficking organizations under the misguided premise that this might be useful in making cases against high-level “cartel” leaders — when, in fact, all it has assured is a higher death toll in Mexico.
And so, with these deadly figures firmly entrenched in my mind, it was with great anticipation that I sat on a hard chair on March 27, the day before the Cuernavaca Movement event, surrounded by a couple dozen other authentic journalists gathered together in a large palapa (pavilion) overlooking the mountains somewhere south of Mexico City at the Authentic School of Journalism campus. We were all awaiting a chance to hear and direct questions to Javier Sicilia, a modest but brilliant man with a deep voice and a grandfatherly appearance who is the catalyst behind the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.
The Movement was sparked a year ago by the brutal deaths of seven young men at the hands of narco-assassins, including the son of prominent Mexican poet and journalist Sicilia.
His articulation of the major goals of the Movement on that day, as a soft breeze eased through the palapa, hit me like a flash of sunlight cutting through the tumultuous, ominous clouds of the drug war that for me, after years of covering the carnage and corruption, seemed to be immune from such penetration.
The goals of the Movement, as outlined by Sicilia:
• Legalize drugs or assure all drugs consumed in the US are produced in the US.
• Demand that the US government control the flow of weapons into Mexico. Guns are an issue of national security; drugs are an issue of public health.
• Revise the Mérida Initiative so that it is not sending weapons to Mexico.
Allies or Part of the Problem?
It is clear who the big daddy perps are in the drug war — beyond the usual thug suspects. War, big war, at its root, is a business, and there is money to be made by those willing to trade in its misery. Irrespective of which side they supply, or which flag they wave, the major way of ensuring a continuing profit is to assure the continuance of the war.
But the question of who is a victim in such a war can be a bit trickier to determine on the margins. For example, it makes sense that family members of the murdered in the drug war are victims, but are the murdered themselves similarly victims — if they were active participants engaging in violent criminal acts as part of the drug trade?
The mainstream media has no problem dismissing the value of the lives of such people, typically discarding their existence by describing them as mere casualties of a so-called “cartel turf war.” But Sicilia brings a different perspective to the subject.
Sicilia told the authentic journalists assembled in the palapa on March 27 that: “Victims are humans. The state has done something wrong [in this drug war] even if it is only criminals killing criminals [which is clearly not the case, as the brutal torture/murder of Sicilia’s innocent son demonstrates].”
“They were not born criminals,” Sicilia added — at the time only hours before he was to travel into Cuernavaca to watch a soccer game played in honor of his slain son, who was an avid soccer player.
Sicilia, however, was less generous in defining the status of those among Mexico’s affluent who have fled that country, in fear, and set up shop in the US by virtue of their pecuniary success and attractiveness to US business interests — pulling needed resources out of Mexico in the process and further strengthening the grip of the drug-war economy in their homeland.
Sicilia put it this way at the March 27 authentic press gathering.
They [the business-class Mexicans who have fled to the US] could be allies [of the Movement] but they are also part of the problem. A huge percentage of these affluent [business people] are in it for themselves and are part of the country’s problem. … They are part of a social class that has extracted all it can from Mexico, and then they run away, so they are part of the problem.
This ownership class, just like the political class, is not interested in solving the problem [of the drug war]. [They are, in effect] serving the interests of the US while damaging Mexico.
But there is another exodus that is deplorable, that of the many poor. They are illegal [in the US] and running from the violence because they are directly threatened by it. Their condition [the way they are forced to live] should make all of us ashamed. They are living in conditions where they are unprotected by Mexico, and if caught in the US are sent back to the heart of violence.
This is part of the terrible situation of our country [especially] when it is put against the situation of privileged people.
The Movement, it seems clear, is gathering steam as it moves into its second year. It is a Movement with a message that crosses borders and traverses languages and, in the end, poses one clear, ultimate challenge for all of us that is unambiguous and impossible to avoid, a challenge that is not about finding ways to justify a wasteful, savage drug war, but rather it is a challenge to find a way to peace with justice and dignity.