Last year, Global Exchange joined with our allies from Mexico and the U.S. for an unprecedented 27-city Caravan for Peace that crossed the United States, calling for an end to the drug war and related violence.
This fall, we’re launching an 11-city Voices of Victims tour of North America, once again featuring Javier Sicilia, along with drug war victims, Mexican opinion leaders, and members of Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD).
The Voices of Victims tour will echo the voices of the Caravan that called for ending drug war policies that have served to empower vicious criminals. Once again, those who have suffered atrocities in Mexico will make the case for better laws to impede the smuggling of hundreds of thousands of guns (most of them legally purchased) from the United States to Mexico every year. They will join their voices with others seeking to reverse the accelerating militarization of our borders that that both criminalizes and dehumanizes immigrants.
In 2013, we continue to face the same set of problems, but the context has changed. Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was initially successful in discouraging media coverage of Mexico’s out-of-control violence, sending the comforting message that Mexico’s dreadful violence is waning. The grim reality is that murder and tragedy continue at the same emergency levels of recent years.
Many were encouraged that Peña Nieto revived an important victim’s compensation law* that had been promoted by the MPJD and then scuttled by outgoing President Calderón. Nevertheless, there has there has been no perceptible change in overall drug war strategy by Peña Nieto’s team, nor any broad progress toward staunching Mexico’s terrible wounds. [*The pros and cons of the federal victims law and several pieces of state legislation that mirrors it will be a major topic of discussion on this tour.]
Meanwhile, in the United States there have been undeniable shifts in attitude on drug policy, gun safety, and even immigration policy. Nevertheless, with the stunning exception of successful popular initiatives to regulate marijuana like wine in Colorado and Washington, law and policy have not shifted much – yet.
On all these three issues there is gathering momentum for sensible change. We face formidable obstacles and much work ahead, but prospects for substantial change in both our countries is very real.
For example, on the question of drug policy, the momentum is coming not just from rapidly shifting public opinion and voters like those in Colorado and Washington. In South America, Uruguay will legally regulate marijuana at a national level. And at the urging of Colombian President, Jorge Santos the Organization of American States (OAS) organized a broad international study group earlier this year to issue a scenario report on drug policy reform options in the Western Hemisphere.
A broad consensus on both the need to rethink drug war dogmas and to regulate marijuana as a simple and logical first step is forming among health professionals, police, local politicians, business leaders and the public.
This consensus will be much in evidence as the Voices of Victims tour begins on October 23 at the 2013 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver, Colorado where several “caravaneros” will speak to and participate in this important gathering by thousands of deeply engaged drug policy reform advocates from around the world.
The tour will continue to Seattle, WA Oct. 26; Vancouver, BC Oct. 27; SF Bay Area Oct. 30; Tucson, AZ Nov. 1-2; Toronto, ON Nov. 4; Ottawa, ON Nov. 5; Chicago, IL Nov. 6-7; Los Angeles, CA Nov. 8 -10; Washington, DC Nov. 12,13; and ends in Jackson, MS Nov. 15.
The challenge facing us now is how to turn changing public perceptions into organized political will to do something different. That is the reason for this tour. Hearing real people tell their terrifying stories of the drug war’s deadly consequences has already changed many hearts and minds. We still need to change a lot more.
The same political challenges apply to the question of weapons smuggling and immigration reform — two other U.S. issues with critical importance for Mexico.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed published last May, Javier Sicilia talked about his frustration over the defeat of legislation proposed after last December’s slaughter of 20 small school children and six in Newtown, CT:
“[President] Obama’s initiatives would have made this massive and continuous arming of Mexico’s criminal organizations significantly more difficult. In Mexico, we were deeply disappointed when the U.S. Senate rejected popular, modest and eminently sensible measures to make it slightly harder for criminals, smugglers, the mentally ill and the cartels to get their hands on powerful weapons.”
In Mexico, where the drug war driven murder rate has in risen by 36 fold since the year 2000 limiting the flow of guns into the country is vitally important, but so too is ending the money flow to violent criminals practically guaranteed by the chronic failure of drug prohibition strategies.
Breaking the political stalemates and information blockades that keep us locked into irrational and dangerous policies is a big and never ending task. The stalemate over immigration is yet another example of this political dysfunction that must be overcome. Right now, the radical Republican leadership in the House won’t even allow consideration of the highly restrictive immigration reform bill passed recently by the Senate.
Last year’s Caravan mobilized with nearly 200 diverse organizations at the forefront of many interconnected struggles for justice. We are again reaching out to our friends and allies even as we look to expand the network.
Together, we can transform the growing grassroots momentum into lasting policy reforms that will improve the lives of millions of people impacted by the war on drugs.