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Caravan for Peace culminates with march and vigil in D.C.
The Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a protest movement against the ongoing Mexican drug war, culminated a multi-state tour in a vigil and rally in Malcolm X Park on Sep.12.
The Caravan, brainchild of Mexican poet Javier Sicilia in response to the murder of his son in 2011, has brought together more than 45 victims of drug-related violence in Mexico in a mobile protest covering over 5,500 miles on both sides of the border. “The goal is to make this problem—this mess—visible, because we know if people see what is happening they will do something about it,” said Caravan member Jorge Gonzales de Leon, who was also the godfather of Sicilia’s son.
Bringing the Caravan to the U.S. was a conscious choice, preceded by two similar movements in Mexico. “We realized that we can’t solve the problem by only staying in Mexico, because a lot of the causes of the violence are in the U.S.,” organizer Janice Gallagher said. “U.S. drug policies are hurting people on both sides of the border, and we need to work together to make change.”
According to Gallagher, the Caravan’s five main goals are ending the war on drugs, opening a conversation about alternatives to drug prohibition, halting the trafficking of arms from the U.S. to Mexico, demanding stricter money laundering policies, and promoting human dignity and human rights in immigration and U.S. foreign aid policies.
The activists say arms trafficking in particular exacerbates drug violence. “It’s really easy to say that in the United States, we don’t have anything to do with the drug war, but then … you see that 95 percent of the arms used by drug cartels come from the U.S.,” said Stephania Sferra (SFS ‘15), who worked with the movement this summer.
About 200 people, including eight Georgetown students, met at St. Stephen’s Church on Wednesday evening and marched from there to Malcolm X Park, bearing photos of missing loved ones, holding signs reading “Stop the Drug War,” and chanting “Los Queremos Vivos” (We Want Them Alive).
Many victims of drug violence were there to share their stoies. “I was kidnapped, they kept me in a box for seven and a half months, and since then I have been knocking on the door of the government to do something about the case, and they don’t care,” marcher Eduardo Vasca said. “The only thing they [the government] told me was to stop talking to the press. It’s very sad because it’s such a beautiful country, but they don’t have a justice system.”
Many activists believe the solution is ending current drug prohibition policies. “The beginning of the end is pretty simple and that is to adopt policies of regulation and control, or legalization,” said Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is an organization of former law enforcement officials who at one time supported drug prohibition policies, but “realized that not only was this war futile … but it was actually counterproductive to public safety,” according to Franklin.
Volunteer LEAP speaker Jamie Hasse agreed. He worked as an U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent on the southwest border in Laredo, Texas, until he resigned in 2011. “We need to get marijuana off the table,” Hasse said. “When I was in Laredo, from what I saw, cartel profits were about 70 percent from cannabis, but the majority of American people want it legalized.”
An increasing number of U.S. non-governmental organizations came to support the Caravan, and many sent representatives to the Wednesday vigil. “The Caravan has built an unprecedented coalition among organizations that have never had any kind of overlap before,” Global Exchange Human Rights Director Ted Lewis said. “The dynamism of the caravan has allowed people to work together in this way.”
During the Caravan’s march through the United States, similarities emerged between the struggles faced by Mexican victims and their American counterparts. “They live in different places but it’s really the same thing,” Gallagher said. “We visited Latino communities suffering from availability of weapons and the fallout from the drug trade.”
Profiling is another of the marchers’ complaints. “I’m most concerned with the racist application of drug laws here in the U.S.,” Drug Policy Alliance Research Assistant Daniel Robelo said. “Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by drug laws.”
Students were moved by the unified stand displayed by the protest. “This is a good way of saying that there is hope for Mexico,” Cristal Villaseñor (SFS ‘14) said.
The protest ended with some final remarks from Sicilia, in which he referred to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and shared his own dreams of a safe world for his daughter and grandson.
“The caravan created consciousness about the victims of a war who are human beings that deserve justice,” Sicilia said in an interview with the Voice. “That’s why we’re looking for a peace path, so that this that has happened to us does not happen to anyone else.”