Leading Mexican intellectual visits Tucson to garner U.S. support for peace movement
By Kevin G. Andrade, University of Arizona
On March 28, 2011, Javier Sicilia joined the ranks of thousands of other parents in Mexico. His son, Juan Pablo, was killed in Temixco, Morelos State in the midst of mounting violence in various parts of the country.
Sicilia’s story of parental loss has been repeated thousands of times over the past six years. In December 2006, shortly after taking office, President Felipe Calderón Hinajosa declared an all-out war on drug traffickers. Since then, estimates range between 54 thousand and 60 thousand dead as a result of fighting. That act has taken a huge toll on this country of 112 million. In addition, more than 1.6 million people have been displaced.
In an open letter to Mexico’s politicians and criminals, he renounced poetry, declaring, “poetry no longer exists in me.”
The protest movement he launched, titled, “Estamos hasta la madre,” loosely translated as “we’ve had enough!,” drew thousands out into the streets last year.
These are the roots of the organization that Sicilia leads, El Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity), which he plans to bring north of the border this August. Sicilia spoke at the University of Arizona in Tucson about the importance of the movement here.
“This war,” he said in a public speech, “has its origins in the United States. It’s called the War on Drugs.”
Since 1971, when President Richard Nixon declared the “War on Drugs,” it has played an integral part in relations between the United States and Latin America.
“What is happening with Mexico,” says Marcela Vasquez-León, a professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona, “is nothing new.”
The United States has taken a militarized approach when it comes to the issue of drug production and trafficking from Latin America to the United States. In Mexico, this focus resulted in the Plan Merida.
Established in 2008, the Plan Merida, allocated $1.8 billion in U.S. government aid to Mexico in order to combat the cartels. These funds are earmarked to improve police and military capabilities. Strings are often attached in the form of U.S. military advisers to train the groups receiving aid.
In July 2011, Gian Carlo Delgado-Ramos and Silvina María Romano published results from their study, which found that Plan Merida increased Mexico’s defense spending by 125 per cent since its establishment in 2008. It is modeled on Plan Colombia, and its successor, the Andean Initiative, designed to reduce the influence of illicit drugs in Colombia.
More than $3 billion have been invested in Plan Colombia. The vast majority of funds going towards the military to aid in the Southern Push strategy pursued by Alvaro Uribe during his presidency from 2002-2010, which weakened Colombia’s largest guerrilla movement, the FARC.
As part of the strategy, a massive aerial fumigation campaign began. In the year 2007 along, 85,000 hectares of countryside were fumigated. The objective was to reduce the cultivation of coca but there has been no real reduction and the only effect has been to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of residents in the countryside and forcing them to the cities. In addition, it has had a huge effect on the ecosystem and health of residents there.
Such policies, says Sicilia, have their origins in the United States and this has to be brought to the public’s attention.
“I came with the goal of bringing to the conscience of the American people and their politicians of the effects of the War on Drugs,” said Sicilia in an interview with the Border Journalism Network. “Drugs [policy] needs to be changed to a public health issue.”
In addition to the issue of drug policies, there is another source of violence that stems from north of the border. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that between 2007 and 2011, 68,000 guns seized in Mexico originated in the United States.
This is a major issue says Sicilia.
“They [the US] need to change their arms policies, their hemispheric control over arms, because their drugs policy, this War on Drugs, and the arms which are illegally entering Mexican territory, are destroying Mexico.”
In order to generate support from U.S. citizens about the issue, Sicilia plans to lead a march through Tucson on August sixth, as part of a peace caravan from Tijuana/San Diego to Brownsville/Matamoros. Such acts have garnered support from humanitarian workers and groups on both sides of the border.
“I hope that all people who wish to will participate in this Movement for Peace,” says Father Ricardo Machuca Hernandez of the Kino Border Initiative, a group that helps migrants in Nogales, Sonora. “It’s something needed not just by Mexico and the United States. It’s like a little grain of sand that will contribute to growing the peace which all desire.”
The tragic loss of his son has certainly made Sicilia a more public figure. This is a role which he takes on, but not of his own volition.
“If no one says anything about the pain of Mexicans, we won’t be able to do anything about it.”
With his son gone, but never forgotten, Sicilia marches on. He marches for peace in hope that other parents won’t have to feel his hurt.