From Honduras to the UN, Caravan Demands a Stop to the Killings from the War on Drugs

Published in SinEmbargo.MX.  Translated by Laura Krasovitzky

From Honduras to the UN, Caravan demands to stop the killings from the war on drugs

A caravan that aims to raise awareness on the negative effects of prohibitionist drug policies worldwide has begun in Honduras as it plans to make its way through five countries towards the United Nations headquarters in New York in time for the General Assembly Special Session on drugs on April 19.

Civic organizations have criticized the role the United States has played when it comes to drugs and drug trafficking. Ted Lewis, Human Rights Director of U.S.-based Global Exchange, detailed how these anti-drugs policies have served to reprimand human rights defenders.

“The United States government has played a key role in promoting these prohibitionist policies all over the world, especially Latin America. Here we have a new series of laws that are being implemented with racist biases in criminal justice reform and in Latin America this has manifested in the way of interventions and violence against its own people,” said the Director.

Through a teleconference that brought together representatives from Mexico, the United States, Guatemala, El Salvador and Uruguay, caravan supporters pointed out that they aim to open up a debate on prohibitionist drug policies that have had an enormous human cost.

In the case of Mexico, a report made public by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the Senate with data from the Attorney General’s Office, revealed that during Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s term in office there were 120 thousand deaths tied to drug trafficking.

“We believe that there will be 30 to 100 people on the caravan, depending on where we are at the time. We are coordinating with different authorities and security experts. In Mexico we will have pretty strong security measures that include police escorts,“ said Ted Lewis.

The Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice will leave Honduras and will be making a series of stops until its last one in front of the U.N. in New York on April 18, a day before the General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

Maria Herrera is a Mexican mother of four disappeared sons, two of them in the Atoyac de Álvarez municipality in Guerrero, who is participating in the caravan. She narrated how the war has had devastating results for families. After the disappearance of her two children in 2008, she met many other mothers with similar cases.

“My wish is not only to find my sons, but also to know where these thousands of youths are,“ she said. Her children Jesús Salvador Trujillo and Raúl Trujillo Herrera were disappeared when they were walking around in that municipality.

“They worked with gold. We found out later that a commander and the director of the municipal police had been involved in their disappearance. The first is already dead, but investigations have been so weak that we have not had real progress. The ministerial police chief’s name is Erick Montúfar Mendoza and he knows what happened to my children,“ she said in the teleconference.

The caravan is made up of civic organizations, social movements and victims of human rights violations from different countries that are demanding an end to the drug war in order to create alternatives to prohibitionist policies that fuel violence and an illicit drug trade.

Martin Barahona, a bishop from the Anglican Episcopal Church in El Salvador, detailed the effects these policies have had in Central American countries.

“For many years, we have been worrying about the harms psychoactive substances produce. In El Salvador, the topic is invisible. My personal proposal is to decriminalize all types of psychoactive substances. The effects of the war have been completely negative because this is a health issue, not a market issue,“ said Barahona.

On its way to the U.N. Special Session where global drug policies will be reviewed, the Caravan seeks to “promote an honest and diverse discussion on drug policies with a focus on the social costs of prohibition and the war on drugs, as well as alternatives based on human rights, public health and violence reduction.“

The Caravan will visit some of the cities most affected by militarization, organized crime and mass incarceration with the purpose of bringing public attention to the voices of victims, migrants, indigenous and rural communities, women, youths and human rights defenders.

Once it reaches New York on April 18, some of the actions planned for that day include a walk from City Hall to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan in order to highlight the ties between drug policy and criminal justice reform, a gathering outside the U.N. with families of drug war victims from around the globe and an evening event at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem bringing together faith leaders opposed to the drug war.

The last General Assembly session touching upon the issue of drugs took place in 2008 when member states gathered to discuss progress based on the declaration of 1998.

Decriminalization is not something new to Latin America. Sebastián Sabini, Deputy of the House of Representatives in Uruguay expressed his open support for the caravan.

“Marijuana consumption was already legal. What we did was regulate access. Consumption has not increased and we have had 4,500 people who have registered to home-growing, clubs and scientific licenses. It is still soon to say exactly what the effects have been because sales for profit have not opened yet,“ he detailed.

Last March 11, a column published in The Angeles Times by ex-presidents from Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Colombia César Augusto Gaviria, warned that the war on drugs worldwide has been an “absolute disaster“ and urged U.N. member states to put an end to criminalization and incarceration for drug users.

“Outdated drug policies around the world have given way to increasing violence related to drugs, an overburdened criminal justice system, rampant corruption and mutilated democratic institutions. After analyzing the evidence, consulting drug policy experts and examining our own failures, we have come to an inevitable conclusion: “The war on drugs is an absolute disaster,“ wrote the heads of state.

The ex-presidents made a series of proposals for the General Assembly to implement if the U.N. wants to address the issue seriously in a way that “really promotes health and wellbeing for humanity.“