Tune in this Thursday, Sept. 20th, for Ending the Drug War: An International Challenge” a live-streamed Facebook webinar with experts and social movement leaders from Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, the United States and Canada.

After more than half a century of global drug prohibition, the evidence is clear: the U.S.-led international war on drugs has failed. Rather than keep our communities safe and healthy, drug war prohibition has hit the poor, people of color, and immigrants hardest.

This Thursday, September 20th at 5pm (PT), we will talk about the deadly impact of the drug war across the Western Hemisphere, its impact on immigrants, and our evolving understanding of true national and human security.

Ideas are changing and new policy initiatives are on the horizon. All speakers on this webinar supported and participated in the 2016 Caravan from Honduras to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in NYC.

Donald McPherson from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition on national reform models.
Zara Snapp from Instituto RIA on drug policy options for the new Mexican government.
Alex Sierra from Centro de Estudios Socio Jurídicos Latinoamericanos on the status of drug policy reform/peace process in Colombia.
Laura Carlsen from the Americas Program on U.S. Military Policy and the new Mexican government.
Miguel Villegas from Reverdeser Colectivo (Mexico) on a new regional paradigm.
Felix Valentin from OFRANEH (Honduras) on the brutal impact of drug war policies and U.S. support for the repressive government in Honduras.

Caravan Logo

Written by Laura Carlsen

Friday, April 1, 2016 we (the 33 people traveling from Honduras to New York City on the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice) awoke in a pine forest.

The night before, the Caravan decided to stay at an ecotourism center, a cluster of cabins about an hour out of La Esperanza called EcoSol. Many human rights and popular education workshops have been held here, and activists seeking respite from the constant pressure—and threats—of defending rights and territory in Honduras have found a place to breathe freely here, even if just for a few days.

We were grateful for the space–and the Internet–and caught up with tasks of internal organization, multimedia production and spreading the word about the now 3-day old Caravan.

There are 33 of us now. The caravan has gained strength along its path. After breakfast, we set off for Utopia, the COPINH’s (Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) cultural center outside La Esperanza.

COPINH Caravan Image 1COPINH leaders received us–Tomás Gómez, Lilian Pérez, Marleny Reyes, Sotelo Chavarria, Gaspar Sánchez and Selvi Milla among them, later joined by Berta’s daughter Laura Zúniga Cáceres. Years of experience, training and knowledge-building are reflected in this group, even in the younger ones. Also a different kind of leadership that consciously creates room for new people and new ideas. A feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, environmentalist leadership that refuses to be reduced to just one of those terms.

After we eat—mounds of beans and rice, thick tortillas and fried bananas, we enter the meeting room where we form a close circle around an altar to Berta. The photo that has spread across the globe, of her sitting on a rock beside the river, smiling and half-turned toward the camera, is poised in the center of the circle of colored candles, multi-hued corn, leaves and seeds. The room fills with the smoke of natural incense, as people from the caravan and the organization file in.

COPIHN Image 2Gaspar Sanchez, director of sexual diversity in the leadership of COPINH, begins. Later in the day he’ll explain that COPINH is possibly the only national indigenous organization with a commission devoted to sexual diversity. Although the work’s still getting off the ground—mostly because the attacks on Lenca land and resources have intensified, he explains–the recognition that gays and lesbians exist in indigenous communities, that they have rights, that the discrimination they face is double or triple, has been a huge advance for the organization and its LGBTQ members.

It is another sign that the political and economic elites behind the assassination of Berta Caceres knew exactly what they were doing. COPINH is a model for the power of resistance when it is inclusive, spiritual, cultural, and integral.

“The war on drugs in Honduras is an excuse to eliminate us”, Gaspar states. Chavarría relates the history of COPINH, beginning with its founding in 1993 “to confront the destruction of the environment”. The organization now works in 6 departments, demanding the right of indigenous communities to consultation under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, recuperating ancestral lands, and facing off with powerful transnational companies to block megaprojects on indigenous lands.

Lilian Pérez notes that last year the organization achieved its dream of having a Casa de la Mujer, a women’s house. Here women from the communities receive leadership training with a different concept of leadership, gender equality, health and education workshops, etc.

at3yYyG - ImgurWhile the murder of Berta has been a terrible blow to the work, Lilian says they always had a pact– “that whether she’s here or not here, COPINH will continue forward… We’ll be many Bertas”.

Tomás Gómez, COPINH’s interim coordinator, emphasizes the importance of developing their own forms of autonomous and independent communication. The Honduran press is controlled by handful of families and frequently vilifies the COPINH and its actions. The organization has a network of five community radios.

Gómez explains that the spiritual aspect of the struggle reinforces identity and the strength to move forward collectively. La Pascualita, en elderly Lenca woman who conserved traditional ways even as the rest of the group lost the language and customs, now serves as the spiritual guide to the organization and a pillar of the effort to recover ancestral ways.

As the night winds down, we ask how they’ve come as far as they have, recovering ancestral lands, blocking the designs of powerful companies, overcoming repression, moving toward gender equality and uniting communities and the answer is the combination of the spiritual connection to the land, the development of autonomous media and productive projects, participatory democratic leadership and unity.

All these will be put to the test in this new phase of the organization after Berta’s death. But amid the laughter and the tears, the firm step of the leadership and the strong base and convictions of the organization–built through years of careful guidance–assure that the transition will be solid. The role of international solidarity, they emphasized, will be especially crucial in the months to come. 

You can follow the Caravan on Facebook  and Twitter, and please ask your friends to do the same.

This content was originally published by Telesur under the following address: http://bit.ly/1op4Jva. Global Exchange has translated the article into English. Translated by Laura Krasovitzky

Human rights defenders and victims along with religious leaders are participating in a caravan that seeks to compile testimonies that can be heard at the U.N. Special Session on drugs taking place on April 19. With the goal of raising awareness on the negative effects of prohibitionist drug policies around the world, the caravan will be traveling through Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico before culminating at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

The initiative began this past Monday and is being led by human rights defenders, religious leaders and victims of human rights violations who seek to open spaces for dialogue. During the U.N. special session, heads of state will address the issue of national drug policies and the future frameworks for regulation of these narcotics.

The civic organizations that make up this caravan have criticized the rol the United States has played in relation to drugs and drug trafficking. According to Human Rights Director of Global Exchange Ted Lewis, “The United States has played a key role in promoting these prohibitionist policies around 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.

In light of these views and the thousands of victims, especially in countries represented by the Caravan, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Honduran human rights organizations have endorsed the initiative and marked that the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice is expected to arrive one day before the U.N. special session.

By Laura Krasovitzky, Ted Lewis / Published on AlterNet March 25, 2016. 

Starting in Honduras on March 28th, the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice will travel through El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States with the goal of reaching New York City on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs beginning on April 19.

Made up of a diverse group of people including victims of the drug war, families who have lost relatives to violence or incarceration, human rights defenders, journalists, faith leaders, activists and others, the Caravan will travel through some of the places most affected by the war on drugs with the purpose of giving way to an inclusive, collective and open dialogue on drug policy and creating alternatives to the failed prohibitionist regime.

Why Latin America?As one of the primary regions for drug production and trafficking, Latin America has become a hub of human rights violations, organized crime, systemic impunity and environmental destruction. In Central America, the legacy of brutal civil wars combined with militarization strategies funded by the U.S. has given way to some of the most dangerous cities in the world, forcing thousands to abandon their homes in search of safety and risking deportation once they reach Mexico’s southern and northern borders.

In Honduras, Garifuna, indigenous and rural communities have been hit the hardest through gang violence and drug trafficking operations encroaching on their ancestral lands. Speaking out against the drug war comes at a high cost and those who engage in social justice and environmental activism are brutally silenced, as evidenced by the recent murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson García from the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

In neighboring El Salvador, between 20 and 30 people are murdered every day and approximately $400 million (USD) are paid by civilians in extortions every year. Similarly, Guatemala’s drug trafficking networks are responsible for 45% of homicides and overcrowded prisons with almost three times the people they can hold. Crossing into Mexico, over 150,000 people have been murdered and more than 27,000 disappeared since 2006, along with approximately 120 journalists who have been killed since 2000. There, the human cost of the drug war has been largely fueled by militarized national security strategies financed with a $25.6 billion (USD) budget from the U.S. as of 2016.

Caravan LogoWhile Latin America has paid a heavy price for implementing interventionist drug policies, the devastating effects of prohibition are not unique to the region. In the United States, over 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated and 80% of those in federal prisons for drug offenses are black or Latino. Drug law violations have been the main driver of new admissions to prison for decades and while federal and state governments have spent $1 trillion on the drug war in the past 40 years, federal assistance for harm reduction initiatives, such as syringe access programs that would help tackle the upsurge in opioid overdoses, has been nonexistent.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go.

Why now?

After decades of punitive global drug policies revolving around UNGASS 1998’s unrealistic pledge of a “drug free world“ and the 1961, 1971 and 1988 International Drug Control Treaties, many governments and civil society organizations alike are calling for a different approach to drug policy that prioritizes human rights, public health, harm reduction and sustainability.

As people from around the globe convene in New York for UNGASS 2016, the Caravan aims to shed light on the human faces and heartrending stories of the U.S.-driven drug war and its impact across the Americas.

Making its final stop in New York City 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.

Twenty-two days, five countries, one message: end the drug war. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.

Laura Krasovitzky is the Drug Policy Alliance representative for the caravan. Ted Lewis, human rights director for Global Exchange is the coordinator general of the ‘No More Drug War’ Caravan to Visit Five Impacted Countries on way to UN Session in NY

Women and the War on Drugs
by Robin Lloyd

The following piece was originally published by Peace and Justice Newsletter of Burlington. The author, Robin Lloyd, is a filmmaker and peace activist from Burlington VT.

I first smoked marijuana when I was thirty years old. I found it to be more fun than alcohol. And more spiritual. It reminded me why I became a Quaker. It helped me see the inner light in people.

The next realization was that it was insane to make this simple plant illegal.  In reading books on the subject I learned a surprising fact: the legal prohibition of cannabis, coca and poppy plants is determined at the highest level, not by God (since after all it is reported that Jesus used a cannabis extract in healing) but by the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.  In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the legislation implementing national prohibition in compliance with the Convention: the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.

So just to make that clear, US drug policy is determined by a United Nations Convention.

A potentially momentous reconsideration of that Convention will be taking place this April in New York City at the second United National General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS).

I attended the first UNGASS in 1998 as part of the effort by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to change policy and especially to assert our position that ending the war on drugs is a women’s issue.

Why? There are many things wrong with this War – its racism, its reliance on military solutions – but one not frequently mentioned is its impact on women.

The War on Drugs condones a form of macho violence. In earlier decades, that violence was played out between cops and robbers, then cowboys and Indians, and now the DEA and narco traffickers.

The War allows men to find an excuse to be violent and to militarize societies. Women lose in time of war, no matter what George Bush says.  And what are the results of criminalizing a natural human desire to change consciousness? A massive international slush fund of illegal money funding brothels, gun running, bribes, and casinos: all endeavors that are not much fun for women.

The legal enforcement of prohibition leads to racism and punitive incarceration. On the supply side, the chaos caused when Latin American governments, bullied by the US, agree to spray farmers’ land to destroy coca crops – without asking their permission of course –  in the middle of a civil war, has been an ongoing environmental tragedy and political disaster.

I accompanied a WILPF delegation to Colombia in 1996 and documented our meetings with the courageous but melancholy victims of the war: women heartbroken that their sons were forced to join a paramilitary group to kill other women’s sons who had joined the guerillas. A high point of our visit was a meeting with the secretary of the Small Coca Farmers Cooperative. Olmyra Morales arrived at our meeting at a human rights center in Bogota carrying a small suitcase. Like an Avon door-to-door saleswoman, she set out the healing lotions and teas made from he coca plant and described their beneficent uses.

A year later, WILPF US, under the leadership of executive director Marilyn Clement,  got a grant from the Drug Policy Foundation for a US tour of women survivors of the War on Drugs:  North and South. Olmyra came from Colombia, joining a coca farmer from Bolivia and Peru and an African-American former cocaine addict who was HIV positive – Marsha Burnett from Montpelier VT.

On one of the stops on the tour we met with the staff of a anti-drug abuse program  in Baltimore. It was an amazing but gentle confrontation between women who grew the crops whose product was destroying the communities in the inner city of Baltimore, and those who had to deal with the effects of this epidemic. Who was to blame?  Who was ‘evil’? New insights were gained that day.

The next year Olmyra came back to the US  to testify at the first UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, sponsored by the Transnational Institute from the Netherlands. She and Marsha Burnett were chosen from amongst civil society participants to address (from the balcony) hundreds of diplomats making up the UN Committee of the Whole. They spoke as victims of the supply and demand side of this war.

They held hands aloft and said “We together, representing the two criminalized extremes of the drug problem, say that we are united in seeking a sustainable way of life for our communities…”.

It was moving to hear poor women speaking the truth in those august halls. But did anyone really listen? What was the outcome of that first UNGASS? Titled “A Drug-Free World — We Can Do It!”, President Clinton cajoled the rest of the world into increasing the military response to drug use. The US government was happy to assist Latin American  countries in acquiring high speed motor boats for interdiction and low cost loans to build prisons for drug offenders (and anyone else who offended the state).

A lot of drugs have passed under the bridge since that time. This April, UNGASS II will take place in a much changed atmosphere.  According to the Transnational Institute,  UNGASS 2016 is an unparalleled opportunity to put an end to the horrors of the drug war and instead prioritize health, human rights, and safety.WILPF’s attempt to speak truth to power before UNGASS 1 was a low profile, grassroots effort. By contrast, this April, survivors and victims of this war, north and south, will be traveling as part of a much more robust caravan, starting in Honduras, to present their case to the UN.  Sponsored by Global Exchange, with a large grant from George Soros’s Open Society, this movement for freedom from government oppression has a chance to be a game changer.

To follow the Caravan, and for information on UNGASS,  please go to http://www.globalexchange.org/programs/caravan-peace-life-and-justice. For info on the film Courageous Women of Colombia, visit www.greenvalleymedia.org.

Caravan Video Contest Graphic (1)

In just two months the Global Exchange Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice will start a month-long, five-nation journey north from Honduras to New York City, arriving at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem on April 19th.

The Caravan aims to give voice to victims of the failed war on drugs and raise the call for drug policy reform that prioritizes health, harm reduction, and human rights.

The drug war is a failure and we all know it, but the stories of why and how it will end are just beginning to be told.

That is why we are launching an international video contest. We want to hear your story!

We invite you to create a 1-3 minute original video on the drug war’s impact in your community and what people are (or aren’t) doing about it. Convey to an international audience the urgency for action to end the drug war tragedy.

The creators of the top 3 videos will win great prizes:

  • First prize: A chance to join the Caravan as part of the audiovisual team in charge of the documentation of the Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice, March 28th until April 19th, 2016, from Honduras to New York, with all expenses paid, including airfare, accommodations, transportation, and food!
  • Second Prize: $1,500 grant.
  • Third Prize: Nikon D7100 Digital Camera

To Participate: Upload your video to YouTube and send us the link at caravana2016@gmail.com by March 1, 2016.

Your story will be part of the growing movement to end the war on drugs!!

Making the cost of the drug war visible, encouraging debate and demanding compassionate change are at the heart of the “Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice.”  Join us in building a powerful movement to Stop the Harm and ensure Peace, Life and Justice for all.

Learn more about the contest here and the upcoming Caravan: peacelifejustice.org/concurso/



On Thursday June 26th, people will take to the streets, the internet, the airwaves, and public plazas in more than 80 cities around the world to protest harmful drug laws at the root of violence and mass incarceration.

The Support. Don’t Punish: Global Day of Action seeks to promote a more effective and humane approach to drugs that is based on public health and human rights.

The campaign was organized by a coalition of NGOs calling on governments to put an end to the expensive and counter-productive war on drugs. According to estimates, the drug war costs in excess of $100 billion annually to enforce and has failed to diminish drug markets or reduce use.

These events are a counterpunch to the United Nation’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The United Nation’s anti-drug day gives rise to violent crackdowns and to promote harsh punishment in many countries, like China, which has recently announced the execution of 20 drug offenders.

steeda_debugIn the Bay Area, Global Exchange has partnered with Silicon Valley De-Bug to produce the video above that shows the Drug War’s damaging impact on one American family.

The Support. Don’t Punish: Global Day of Action is the first step in building a major civil society mobilization to end the Drug War aimed to impact policy makers from around the world during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Narcotic Drugs in 2016.

Help make a difference today and urge your U.S. Senator to reform federal drug laws by urging them to support the Smarter Sentencing Act. 

VoicesTourAs part of the Voices of Victims tour, foreign policy writer Laura Carlsen and member of the Victims Platform of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and human rights defender Araceli Rodríguez paired up for a Southwest tour through Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, October 23-November 5, 2013.

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City and a leading voice against the U.S.-sponsored drug war in Mexico. Araceli Rodríguez’s son Luis Angel León, a federal police officer, was forcibly disappeared four years ago. Her quest to find out what happened to him and attain justice in the case led her to become a founding member of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Since then she has traveled throughout Mexico and the United States, as a spokesperson for the Victims’ Platform, demanding justice and an end to the drug war that took her son’s life.

Within the war on drugs, women have too often been the invisible victims. Although they make up a smaller percentage of the homicide victims, they are the majority of those who seek justice for the murdered and the disappeared, at times risking their own lives. Araceli has been granted protective measures due to threats against her life and her efforts to find out the truth about how her son was murdered on official duty have led her to face members of organized crime and government alike.

Below is Laura’s brief chronicle of the women’s part of the Voices of Victims tour.

Araceli (middle) and Laura (second from left)

Araceli (middle) and Laura (second from left)

We decided to pair up for a series of public events to raise awareness of the cost of U.S. foreign policy in supporting the drug war in Mexico.

Because we are directly affected and we work with women victims and defenders, we focused on an often-overlooked theme: the role of women and the links between drug war violence and violation of women’s rights. Our presentations and slides showed the correlation between the drug war and an alarming rise in femicides, how a patriarchal and militarist strategy threatens democracy and women’s rights, and women’s roles in leading movements for peace and justice despite continued discrimination that often prevents them from taking full leadership positions. Araceli’s recounting her personal path from victim after losing her son to human rights defender, a path followed by many women throughout the country, created an instant bond with audiences throughout the tour.

We also did several talks bringing together that experience with a major problem affecting families and communities in the border region–the government persecution of immigrants.

We began our tour October 23 in Denver at the Drug Policy Alliance conference, where Araceli and I spoke on specific panels and workshops on migration, women, victims, and Mexico. The conference provided a great forum for getting to know other women working against the violence of the drug war. Among the most moving moments was when we heard the stories of African-American women who have lost part of their own lives or lost their children to prison or violence. At the same time, seeing their courageous efforts to change the system gave us heart and they too immediately felt the kinship of suffering when learning of the violence of Mexico’s drug war. We will be working to deepen these ties and bind our struggles in the future.

We talked about how it’s the women who are make up the backbone of our movements–how our roles as mothers in part is what leads us to become human rights defenders and how the war affects not only victims but the fabric of society that women play such a prominent role in weaving: community, family and raising and protecting children, livelihoods, health and justice. We shared stories of how militarization and police repression as a response to crime endanger us, rather than guarantee our safety, and the need to end prohibition to unwind the punitive system and defund the cartels.

On October 24, we drove up on a classic Colorado fall day to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Women and Gender Studies and Latin American Studies co-sponsored a class presentation and our talk “War on Drugs, War on Women”. Combining testimonies with analysis, we discussed the impact of the war on women and their families. In the packed presentation we discovered not only enormous sympathy among listeners, but also victims, reminding us that the US and Mexico are linked by both solidarity and violence. Along the way, we met many refugees of the violence who began to question the U.S. role in Mexico’s suffering.

Araceli at the Garden of the Gods Park

Araceli at the Garden of the Gods Park

On the way out of Denver, we stopped at Garden of the Gods Park and took a late afternoon walk among the red rocks. Natural beauty is a salve for the soul and taking time out for friendship and recreation helps keep activism sustainable.

The next day, we stopped for a meeting with Northern Command in Colorado Springs, where we asked some tough questions about why the Pentagon is training Mexican Army personnel in Iraq-style anti-terrorism methods and what they think about the results of the drug war.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico we spent a day with Jim and Suzanne Gollin of the Angelica Foundation, a partner on the Tour, before moving on to Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico Oct. 30 for the public event “War on Women: US-Backed Drug Wars in Mexico and Central America”, sponsored by Latin American and Iberian Studies. Later we had a meeting with a member of our partner organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

Araceli and Laura (both right) at the Drug Policy Alliance conference

Araceli and Laura (both right) at the Drug Policy Alliance conference

Driving south to Las Cruces, we spoke to a packed room at the public event “Drug War and Human Insecurity in the Borderland”, sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Border Studies of New Mexico State University. The university has strong ties to Mexico and has been a leader in research on conflict and the drug war. From there we turned west to Tucson where again the subject was the border, at the event “Drug wars, Detentions, Death: National Security and Human Insecurity in the US/Mexico Borderlands”, organized by the Center for Latin American Studies/Binational Migration Institute. We later met with students and faculty of the university at a luncheon to establish lasting ties between our movements and programs.

Also in Tucson, at the “Tear Down the Walls” conference we spoke to activists from around the U.S. and met up again with Javier Sicilia and the other part of the tour. The conference brought together anti-prison, immigrant rights, foreign policy reform and social change movements in an on-going discussion on coordinating actions
From there we left to do a presentation at Arizona State University called “America’s Drug Wars: Just Say No”, once again combining a discussion of how and why the U.S. government has supported the drug war, its impact and stories and personal testimony.

Araceli flew back to Mexico Nov. 5 and I went on to do a presentation organized by the University of Carolina and Duke University and community event in Chapel Hill, and to Washington D.C. where, once again, the two legs of the tour converged at a packed briefing in Congress organized by the Mesoamerican Working Group, which the Americas Program co-founded recently. We also met with White House Advisers Juan Gonzalez and Ricardo Zuniga to discuss the violence and human rights violations of the drug war and how this contradicts stated US foreign policy objectives. We emphasized the need for reforms in our drug policy and foreign policy, guaranteeing respect for human rights, the Ahuas massacre in which the DEA and State Department were involved in Honduras and with our partner, JASS, brought up the specific risks to women.

On the women’s voices part of the tour we met and spoke to a few thousand attendees including students, researchers, activists and academics. We gained a better understanding of our common ground and how we can support each other’s organizing. By far the most important aspect of the tour was the human connections made, which will serve as the basis for building our movements far into the future.

For more updates about the Voices of Victims tour, see our updates from the road on our People-to-People blog


The Voices of Victims tour (#VoicesofVictims13) led by Mexican drug war victims ended last week after headlining events in 11 U.S. and Canadian cities spotlighting the human costs of violent prohibition and mass incarceration strategies — and the urgent need for sensible alternatives.

Frank dialogue was a hallmark of this tour throughout. In Washington, DC, poet and Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) founder, Javier Sicilia spoke bluntly in a White House meeting, telling Ricardo Zuñiga, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Juan S. Gonzales, Special Advisor to the Vice President on the Western Hemisphere that we must fundamentally change U.S. backed policies of militarized prohibition that are driving a human rights disaster throughout the region.

Candor was again in evidence at another Washington DC meeting, this one hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS meeting was convened by civil society organizations, MPJD, Global Exchange and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda who requested that José Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General and Emilio Álvarez Icaza Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights present and discuss the OAS findings in the report on “Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas 2013-2015,” published earlier this year.


Notably, Secretary General Insulza embraced the idea that it is time to decriminalize and regulate marijuana and possibly other recreational drugs. Nevertheless, Javier Sicilia admonished the OAS, and the governments it serves, to act quickly, accelerating what he sees as “timid” steps toward change. Watch B-roll of the event.

On Capitol Hill, Voices tour spokespeople for the MPJD joined allies from the Mesoamerican Working Group (MAWG) to speak at a well-attended briefing hosted by New Mexico Congresswoman, Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Participants spoke about the gruesomely negative impact of the drug war on human security, human rights, and democracy in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Javier Sicilia focused on the ongoing national emergency in Mexico that he says is being downplayed and underreported in the media due to government pressure. The Hill briefing attracted members of Congress, State Department Aides, and congressional staffers from more than two-dozen offices.

Congressman, Beto O’Rourke from El Paso, TX spoke out strongly for an end to prohibition-as-we-know-it, making a spontaneous presentation that reflected his experience living in and representing a district that borders Mexico’s most violent city, Ciudad Juarez. O’Rourke has supported the MPJD and the call for deep reforms on both sides of the border since he was a member of the El Paso City Council.

The aim of the tour was to build on the connections forged between broad coalitions of Mexican and U.S. peacemakers who worked together building the 2012 Caravan for Peace. That Caravan brought together a drug policy reform movement embraced by church and community leaders; leading African-American and Latino organizations; gun-safety advocates, a few good politicians, law enforcement professionals, human and immigrant rights advocates, and many others across the United States who gave support, uplift, solace, and a heartfelt push toward justice for those who grieve loved ones lost to decades of drug war folly.


The final event of the Voices tour at the 7th Annual Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) Unity Conference brought many elements together. It featured a conversation about how to build a cross border movement to end the drug war between Javier Sicilia, the bereaved-Mexican father whose actions sparked a movement for peace and Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, the bestselling book that demystifies the iron links between the drug war, mass incarceration, and the American caste system it helps perpetuate.

Michelle Alexander and Javier Sicilia agreed that the damage done by the drug war in various countries has a common source in our deeply militarized and misguided prohibition policies. Both Michelle and Javier are models of courage and determination to speak unpopular truths. They agreed to work together to build the international movement and consensus on the urgent need to rethink and build a movement to undo the militarization of the of the drug war.

They agreed that it was critical to assure that the voice of victims be represented at policy discussions and that those impacted by the war on drugs are vital by sharing their stories and their policy recommendations.

While the tour is over, the organizing continues. Please help us continue to support these courageous advocates of drug policy and gun safety reforms on both sides of the border.


Thanks to all the people and organizations for their support for the past month and we look forward to collaborating in the future.

VoicesTourFor the past two weeks, the Voices of Victims tour has zigzagged across North America building a groundswell of support for reforming the War on Drugs that has killed over 70,000 people in Mexico.

Because drug war strategy is driven at its core by decisions made in the U.S., any solution to the violence in Mexico requires participation and deep policy changes in the north, particularly in the areas of our drug and firearms policies. U.S. and Canadian consumers buy more illicit drugs than those in any other country, even as our security policies employ more and more military solutions to stop the flow of drugs.

A year after the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity crossed the country in two big buses, victims of the violence in Mexico, including Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia, have again sought to make connections with organizers, immigrants, and victims north of their border. Sicilia and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity have renewed the call for the U.S. and Canada to engage in a serious debate about the future of drug policy, mass incarceration, immigration, and arms and security policies affecting our shared region.

Starting in Denver, Colorado at the Drug Policy Alliance’s annual convention, a large group of Mexican movement members joined the dialogue about marijuana decriminalization adding the important perspective that this is about more than individual liberties but has deep and profound social implications.

Going north to Seattle, WA they were hosted by the ACLU and spent time with law students studying Mexico’s new Victim’s Law and Washington’s 502 initiative, the marijuana reform law from a US and Latin American perspective, exploring what the broader international outcomes of legalization will be.

SiciliaStanfordIn Vancouver they visited InSite, a safe injection site where a public health approach to the drug issue was examined. It is a tiny space, but clean and warm and often the only “indoor” time some of the clients get. Our group was excited to look at the community aspects of Canadian drug policy. Javier joined with another poet and gave a lecture on pain/dolor, searching for the word – that does not exist – to know what to call one’s self when a parent loses a child (not a widower, not a orphan).

A highlight of this 11-city binational tour included a major address hosted by Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute where Javier addressed an audience that is used to hearing heads of state pontificate. Grounding his talk in the realities of passing the Victim’s Law in Mexico and putting faces on the statistics of death and disappearance gives urgency to policy decision that must be made.

In Tucson, AZ the Tour visited Operation Streamline at the Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse. The costly, unjust and ineffective “Operation Streamline” program requires criminal prosecution of anyone detained crossing the border without authorization. We watched as approximately 70 people, shackled and chained were steamrolled through the process. This fast track to detention and deportation has mainly affected migrant workers without any criminal history, rather than the drug traffickers the program was stated to target.

Ottawa parliament bldgLeaving Tucson, the group headed back to Canada. In Toronto, they participated in a roundtable discussion organized by survivors and victims of gun violence to strategize about effective community responses. In Ottawa, the tour participated in a government briefing with Members of Parliament from the opposition party, the NDP — leaders in foreign affairs, international relations, and healthcare.

As Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said,

“Javier Sicilia’s visit to Canada is critical in helping Canadians understand that our foreign policy decisions can either help to reduce the violence in Mexico or make things worse. Sicilia is reaching out to Canadians and encouraging us to play a stronger role in helping to stop the devastation that the drug war has caused in Mexico. Canada needs to work with the U.S. and Mexico on alternative approaches to the failed drug war.”

The conversations and connections that have begun are feeding the call for re-thinking policy strategies in all three countries. But we are are only half-way through the tour!

Won’t you help us continue the work of the Voices of Victim’s tour so that we can continue to amplify the conversations and connections that have already begun to rethink drug policy?


Help us complete the tour as we bring the powerful message of bi-national peace, solidarity, and action to activists working for sensible gun legislation in Chicago, immigrants in Los Angeles working to end militarization of the border, policymakers at the Organizations of American States working to bring alternative solutions to the drug policy debate, and advocates in Mississippi working to shift the discussion around mass incarceration of young African-American men in this country and the violence against immigrants and communities of color.


Please join us in Washington, DC if you can to meet with representatives from the Organization of American States who have explored four different scenarios for dealing with the issue of drugs in the hemisphere.
November 12, 8:00 – 10:00AM at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States
 1889 F St NW 
Washington, D.C., 20006

The last stop of our tour will be in Jackson, MS for an historic dialogue between Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow and Javier Sicilia in Jackson MS, making the links again between the mass incarceration of young Black men in this country, the violence against immigrants and in communities of color in this country and how coming together can shift the conversation in important ways. Register for the event.

Get the complete dates of the tour on our websiteon-the-road updates on our People-to-People blog, and follow the hashtag #VoicesofVictims13 on Twitter.