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: 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


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.

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.

VoicesTourMany 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.

javier_gunsIn 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.

Support the 2013 Voices of Victims Tour. Demand reform. Make a donation today.

It has been established beyond a doubt that if Trayvon Martin were a young white boy with a bag of skittles and an iced tea he’d still be alive today. He would not have been seen as “suspicious” in a gated community, his clothing wouldn’t be a marker of being “up to no good” and his skin color wouldn’t signal “danger” and provide a cultural, and in Florida, legal justification for fear.

As Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow” put it, “… if he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty – far more than the man himself.

It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent under-caste.”

Though African-Americans make up less than 14% of the population of the United States, they make up more than 40% of the prison population and there are now more black men in prison than there were slaves in 1850.

Trayvon Martin’s death is more than a tragedy for one family, as deep and as profound as that is, it is an indictment of a state that accepts gun ownership, concealed weapon carry laws and Stand Your Ground laws. The tragedy is also an indictment of our country where fear of black boys and men is legitimated by law and portrayed as “normal”.

Trayvon Martin rally in San Francisco, July 2013

Trayvon Martin rally in San Francisco, July 2013

As our communities become more polarized and fearful, they become the tinder ready to burn when the spark of easy access to guns is introduced. When the Second Amendment becomes the cover for that fear, and when the government-led drug war becomes the means to separate and segregate our population by filling our jails, tragedy is inevitable.

This is a tragedy that is all too well-known by our neighbors in Mexico where impunity, fear and easy access to guns have created a situation leading to this staggering statistic – 70,000 people have died and tens of thousands are missing – people whose families mourn with the same deep grief that you see in the faces of Trayvon Martin’s parents.

I have sat with parents whose loss is engraved in the lines on their faces just as it is seen in the faces of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin; it is a grief that seems to scream out how incomprehensible it is that this young person is now gone forever – for no reason. And it is a grief that challenges us all to take on new roles as mothers, friends and neighbors to end the violence.

Mexican Poet & Activist Javier Sicilia

Mexican Poet & Activist Javier Sicilia

Last summer, the Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia, who also lost a son to violence, led a month-long, U.S. coast-to-coast Caravan for Peace – visiting 29 cities, calling for new federal legislation to regulate guns and for a dialogue about solutions to the drug war that won’t separate and divide communities with tragic consequences.

Caravan for Peace

Caravan for Peace travelers

The Caravan travelers – more than a hundred victims of drug war related violence in Mexico – met with victims of violence in the U.S. and they were eager to make connections to the communities most affected by the war on drugs, by the violence of our gun culture and by mass incarceration. In Mexico, most gun crimes are committed with weapons bought legally in the United States and smuggled into Mexico. The roots of Mexico’s drug violence are complex, but lax U.S. gun laws make it easy for Mexican cartels to get guns and escalate the killing, sometimes the killings are targeted but often they are random and incomprehensible.

A cell phone conversation between Michelle Alexander and Javier Sicilia on a dusty back road in Alabama led to a deep and respectful friendship between the two great thinkers. Listening to them talk, I realized that as mother and as an activist, they provide me a framework for understanding what is happening that doesn’t allow for despair but demands action.

“We want to share solutions, not tragedy. As neighbors, we ask for your help,” said Javier. I believe, in turn this international solidarity will help us to see the craziness of arming a fearful public which has been taught to profile rather than understand.

This fall, the Voices of Victims speaking tour will, once again, come to the U.S. to help us connect the dots about the causes of violence, the inadequacies of our gun and drug laws and to put faces of grief and action to the terrible statistics. Starting in Denver, Colorado on October 23 at a meeting on drug policy reform and ending on November 15 in Jackson Mississippi with Michelle Alexander, the tour hopes to build a movement strong enough to honor the memory of the fallen sons and build a movement capable of delivering true justice.

President Obama has called for the same. Speaking shortly after the Zimmerman verdict, he said:

I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.

Mourn and Organize!


Help stem the flow of guns and ammunition across the border by signing this petition today.

President Obama travels to Mexico today to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Obama’s visit comes at a time when President Peña Nieto is riding a wave of adulation, especially in international media. Nevertheless, as analyst John Ackerman points out in Foreign Policy this honeymoon effect is unearned and is likely to be short lived because the underlying Mexican realities of widespread violence, rampant corruption, and harsh inequality remain unaddressed.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Mexican poet and peace activist Javier Sicilia emphasized the need for both presidents to focus on curbing drug war violence. The following piece is reproduced from the Los Angeles Times. Join us next week on a conference call featuring Javier Sicilia and others to hear about the visit and discuss next steps with allies from the Mexican and U.S. peace movement, next Wednesday, May 8 at 12PM Eastern. We will discuss work on weapons trafficking, drug policy reform, and other important topics. RSVP to ted [at] globalexchange [dot] org.

President Obama has much to discuss with Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, when they meet in Mexico City this week. No issue, however, is more urgent than the search for peace, justice and dignity for and between our peoples.

For seven years, Mexico has been living a nightmare. More than 70,000 people, by some estimates, have been killed and thousands more have been disappeared in the wave of criminal and institutional violence of Mexico’s war on drug cartels. The collateral damage is a humanitarian tragedy that requires our leaders to have deep and frank discussions about how to transform the failed policies exacerbating the violence.

Our countries need to work together in prioritizing public health and regulation over a strategy that makes suspected drug offenders into military objectives. The effect of four decades of Mexico’s drug war has been, ironically, to strengthen and enrich the very criminals we oppose. We also need urgent common action to shut down the torrent of guns being smuggled from the United States into Mexico, and into the hands of criminals, at a rate of more than 200,000 a year.

For me these issues are personal and transcend ideology, politics and even nationality. One of the victims of the violence was my 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco. He was an athletic, studious young man with no connections to the criminal world. In March 2011, he was murdered with six friends by cartel hit men.

Why were they killed? Because two of the boys tried to get back some tools stolen from the parking lot of a local gang-run nightclub. My son was enlisted by his friends to help. They were kidnapped, beaten, stripped, spit on, tortured and slowly asphyxiated.

We are certain Obama understands how insidious and dangerous this indiscriminate violence is, and the way American drug laws and gun laws empower it.

When it comes to guns, the consensus in Mexico is broad: Students, workers, elected officials and especially police and soldiers all know they would be safer if the United States effectively cracked down on gun traffickers, instituted background checks for all gun buyers and ended sales of military-style assault weapons.

The hard truth is that weak U.S. gun laws allow for conversion of drug trade profits into contraband weaponry in the hands of the very criminal organizations terrorizing Mexico. Most of these weapons can be legally purchased at any of 8,834 U.S. federally licensed firearms dealers in your border states, as counted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and then resold at a profit to a smuggler.

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.

We urge Obama and Peña Nieto to use all their available executive powers to stem the tide of smuggled weapons and to support legislative and electoral efforts to overcome political inertia and roll back the power of the light arms industry and their political front groups like the National Rifle Assn.

But let’s be clear. Presidents are not all-seeing and omnipotent. They need to be supported, nudged, cajoled, convinced, assisted and otherwise pressured to work on the right causes and make good decisions. It is the role of an engaged citizenry to make that happen.

After my son’s death, our Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity arose. We pushed Mexico’s former president, Felipe Calderon, into a series of public dialogues and directly challenged his militarized approach to fighting the gangs. We mobilized enormous caravans of consolation and hope led by victims of violence. Dozens of buses rolled through Mexico’s worst conflict zones. Yet we knew that to end the killing, drug policy had to evolve. That meant crossing the border.

In August, I embarked on a 35-day, 125-person caravan across the United States. More than 200 U.S. organizations helped us with events in 27 cities focused on guns, money laundering and immigration justice. We underlined the need for the Obama administration to walk its talk of an evidence-based, public health model for drug policy. Yes, work to cut U.S. demand for drugs by devoting more resources to help addicts to recover and young people to make healthy choices. But to effectively shrink the profits of the illegal market, we must also consider regulating widely used recreational drugs.

In November, the citizens of Washington state and Colorado voted to start draining the coffers of criminal drug traffickers by establishing sensible state regulation of marijuana. We hope our leaders are listening.

As our presidents meet, let us wish them clarity and strong heart. We, the people on both sides of the border, will be very attentive.

Join us next week on a conference call featuring Javier Sicilia and others to hear about the visit and discuss next steps with allies from the Mexican and U.S. peace movement, next Wednesday, May 8 at 12PM Eastern. We will discuss work on weapons trafficking, drug policy reform, and other important topics. RSVP to ted [at] globalexchange [dot] org.

2013peopleschoice_extendedDo you have a Human Rights Hero you want to tell the world about?  Well, then you’re in the right place.

Introducing the 2013 Human Rights People’s Choice Award Contest, where people just like you nominate and vote for their Human Rights Hero.

To take part, just log on to our Human Rights Awards website to nominate and vote for your Human Rights Hero/Heroine.

Share the story of a person or organization working for human rights, whether they’re building a movement to end the Mexico drug war, empowering women, promoting local farming — tell us who inspires YOU!

You can nominate as many individuals and organizations as you like, but of course you can only vote for each nominee once.  After you’ve nominated, make sure to spread the word to your networks to increase your honoree’s odds of winning.

The last day to nominate and vote is March 22, 2013.

UPDATE: The last day to nominate and vote has been extended to March 26, 2013.

Your nominations and votes help determine who will win the People’s Choice Award and take home $1,000 to support their work.

Past People’s Choice honorees include Bradley Manning, Mexican Poet/Activist Javier Sicilia and Cambodian human rights activist Mu Sochua.

Daniel Ellsberg accepting the 2012 People's Choice Award on behalf of Bradley Manning

Daniel Ellsberg accepting the 2012 People’s Choice Award on behalf of Bradley Manning

The power to choose this year’s People’s Choice Award winner is in your hands.  Help us celebrate everyday human rights heroes and heroines.


  • Nominate and Vote: What are you waiting for? It’s easy and free! Log on to to get started.
  • Attend the Human Rights Awards: Join us at the Human Rights Awards Gala on May 9, 2013 in San Francisco. And don’t forget to participate in our exciting online auction.  Visit for more details.
  • Follow along on Twitter: Use Twitter hashtag HRA13 to keep up to date on the 2013 People’s Choice Contest & Human Rights Awards.

Javier Sicilia looks down gunsight at Albuquerque gun show during Caravan for Peace. Summer 2013 Photo Credit: Global Exchange

Javier Sicilia looks down gunsight at Albuquerque gun show during Caravan for Peace, Summer 2013. Photo Credit: Global Exchange

The following is a joint statement issued by the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and other participating  organizations (listed below.)

Victims of violence in Mexico, Javier Sicilia, and organizations from Mexico and the United States, gathered in the Second Conference of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in Mexico City on January 27, 2013, express our support for President Obama’s proposals that to stop the epidemic of violence with firearms, including assault weapons, that afflicts communities in both the United States and Mexico. We urge people of both countries to support these changes that are so urgent for preventing more atrocities with firearms.

Mexico is suffering the consequences of the unrestricted sale of military-style weapons in the United States. More than 100,000 Mexicans, among them 1,800 children less than 15 years old, have been killed in the failed war on drugs in Mexico since 2006. The great majority were victims of firearms, and 68% of firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico and traced between 2007 and 2011 were sold in the United States.

Assault weapons have had an especially devastating impact in Mexico, where organized crime desires these weapons to commit atrocities and control markets and territory. Besides homicides, guns are also used to disappear thousands of people, intimidate the population, and commit other crimes.

“We embrace the pain of the mothers and fathers in the United States who have lost children to gun violence, because my own son was disappeared in Michoacán with a firearm,” said Araceli Rodríguez, mother of Luis Ángel León Rodríguez.

A recent study from the University of Notre Dame shows that the expiration in 2004 of the assault weapons ban in the United States caused at least 2,684 additional homicides in Mexico in the following four years.

The massive homicides with guns also have had an intense psychological impact on children, thousands of them made into orphans by the murders of their parents with firearms. Other children have been witnesses to the murders of their parents, like the seven-year-old daughter of journalist Armando Rodríguez, killed with ten shots in front of her in 2008.

There is only one legal gun vendor in Mexico, so that the black market created by the weapons trafficking from the United States is the principle source of assault weapons, pistols, rifles and revolvers for criminal organizations in Mexico.

On January 14, Javier Sicilia and researcher Sergio Aguayo presented a petition from more than 54,000 people from Mexico and the United States to the United States Embassy in Mexico City, demanding an end to gun trafficking from the United States to Mexico. In the coming weeks, Sicilia, the Movement for Peace, and representatives of Mexican civil society will follow up on the petition to talk with U.S. representatives about the shared responsibility for violence in Mexico.

Proposed legislation in the United States includes universal background checks for every person that attempts to buy a firearm. Universal background checks are important to stop the illegal re-sale of weapons acquired by legally qualified individuals. Such gun purchases, known as “straw purchases,” are the way the large majority of guns end up in the hands of criminals.

On Wednesday, January 30, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to consider how to address proposals to control gun sales. We want the Senate to consider the impact that failed gun policies have had in Mexico as well as the United States.

We hope that the United States does not forget the suffering caused in the families, children and people of Mexico by the open gun market in the United States.

  • Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity
  • Grassroots Assembly of Migrant Families (APOFAM)
  • Global Exchange
  • Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)
  • Witness for Peace
  • National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities
  • Propuesta Cívica
  • Center for International Policy, Americas Program
  • Comité Espacio Ciudadano
  • Iniciativa Ciudadana para la Promoción de la Cultura del Diálogo A.C.
  • National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS)
  • Churches for Peace (Iglesias por la Paz)
  • Service for Peace and Justice (SERPAJ)-México