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

VoicesTourThe “Voices of the Victims” tour is calling for an end to a drug war that has killed over 70,000 people in Mexico since 2006. The tour begins an 11 city bi-national tour starting in Denver at the Drug Policy Alliance meeting on October 23rd.    

Following last year’s unprecedented 27-city Caravan for Peace, this year’s tour will once again feature Javier Sicilia and will put faces and stories to the horrible statistics and help facilitate an honest discussion about the failed war on drugs that includes acknowledging the suffering of real people.

JSflyer_finalThe discussion about potential alternatives to the current drug policy regime has gone from quiet whispers to more assertive calls for action in many countries across the hemisphere. 

Since last year’s caravan  journey across the United States there have been undeniable shifts in attitude on drug policy, gun safety, and even immigration policy. 

For the first time ever opinion polls reveal that more Americans favor decriminalization of drugs than oppose it.

  • Immigration reform legislation is now being seriously debated in the US Congress.
  • Gun safety legislation has stalled after a major effort, but will likely come back to the forefront.
  • And importantly, citizens in Colorado and Washington voted to regulate marijuana.
  • 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.

The Voices of the Victims tour aims to advance the debate about solutions, specifically as it relates to the escalating violence in Mexico, the mass incarceration in north and the failures of the current models in dealing with the issue.

Kicking off in Colorado, 18 representatives from the Mexican victim’s organization the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity will participate in panels looking to discuss alternatives to current drug policy. In Seattle the group will be hosted by the ACLU and will look to build on the success of the popular ballot initiative to regulate marijuana. 

Crossing the border into Canada the Voices tour will be meeting with public health and harm reduction experts to look at alternative ways to deal the drug issue. Community events in San Francisco and Los Angeles will focus on the Poetics of Protest and Policy and Javier Sicilia’s unique story.

“Our purpose is to honor our victims, to make their names and faces visible,” Sicilia said. “We will travel across the United States to raise awareness of the unbearable pain and loss caused by the drug war – and of the enormous shared responsibility for protecting families and communities in both our countries.”

Palo Alto organizer, Ruben Martinez says: “Sicilia comes with a profoundly moving story and message. His 24 year old son Juan Francisco was killed in a cartel-related crime in 2011. Sicilia made his pain and rage public with an open letter with the refrain “Estamos hasta la madre!” (colloquial Mexican Spanish for “We’ve had it!”), calling on all sides of the conflict — including Americans, whose drug and gun market is fully implicated — to a moral reckoning. He is a founder of Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, and has led several marches and caravans across Mexico and the U.S.”

The tour will continue to:

  • 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


  • Keep an eye out for updates from the Voices of Victims tour right here on our People to People blog.
  • Subscribe to this blog to receive new posts as soon as they are published!
  • Follow hashtag #VoicesofVictims13 to keep up to date about the Voices of Victims tour.




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

Javier Sicilia (left) with Global Exchange Human Rights Director Ted Lewis (right) June 2011

Congratulations Javier Sicilia, Global Exchange’s 2011 Human Rights Award winner who was just named one of TIME magazine’s People of the Year. TIME’s Person of the Year went to “The Protester” and Javier was among those profiled.

On June 1st 2011 Global Exchange honored People’s Choice winner Javier and two others at our annual Human Rights Awards gala.

Javier Sicilia is a Mexican father, poet, and citizen who lost his son Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega in a drug war massacre on March 28, 2011 in Mexico. Juan was murdered along with six friends in an act of violence that Morelos state authorities immediately dismissed as “a settling of accounts.”

Javier Sicilia (left) delivering speech at 2011 Global Exchange Human Rights Awards

As we described in our Human Rights Award announcement back in May: Rather than retreat to the shadows of shock or fear, Sicilia has turned the pain of his searing loss into a tool for peace by convening marches and building a movement to free Mexico from the dogmas, dark alliances, impunity, and political expediency that fuel this tragic war.

Here is Javier Sicilia’s speech from the 2011 Global Exchange Human Rights Awards:

Javier Sicilia – 2011 People’s Choice Honoree from Global Exchange on Vimeo.

TIME magazine’s Person of the Year 2011 article about Javier is an inspiring read. In it Javier describes how he got involved in the movement to free Mexico:

“I got the awful news about Juan Francisco’s murder while I was at a conference in the Philippines. When I got to Cuernavaca [the Mexican town south of Mexico City where his son and six friends had been tortured and killed by gangsters angry that two of the young men had reported members of their gang to police] I was in a lot of emotional pain. But when I arrived at the crematorium I had to deal with the media. I asked the reporters to have some respect; I told them I’d meet them the next day in the city plaza. When I got there I found they’d put a table [for a press conference] out for me, and I realized this was going to be bigger than I’d anticipated.

Read the complete TIME magazine article here.

During their speaking tour, authors John Gibler, and Diego Enrique Osorno gave a talk about an increasingly violent Mexico as they addressed the first event of a border activist summit at the University of Texas at El Paso. These two experts bring first hand perspectives from the regions of Mexico most affected by the drug war and discuss recent social mobilizations and possible avenues for change.

Diego Osorno’s best selling book on the origins and deeply entrenched power of the Cartel de Sinaloa speaks plainly about cartel infiltration of Mexico’s civil and military power structures and how to wrest the destiny of the country back from the criminal mafias empowered by drug prohibition, impunity, and easy access to guns.

Gibler’s work, To Die in Mexico takes the reader deep into the terrifying landscape of Mexico’s drug war where he exposes the hollow slogans and military “victories”  in the light of the searing pain and inhuman impact they bring to communities across Mexico.

The El Paso Times reported on the BASTA, the Border Activist Summit for Teaching and Action:

Gibler said two studies by Mexican universities found that 95 percent to 98 percent of homicides in the drug war were not investigated. The lack of investigation means that the deaths of human-rights activists, journalists and others also go unsolved….”All manner of violence is masked by this so-called drug war,” said Gibler, who pointed out that the arrival of federal forces in a locality often coincides with a rise in homicides.

Osorno said he knows 14 people (four women and 10 men) who have been killed and hopes for an end of the bloodshed in his country. “One day, this book of terror that we go to sleep with will close,” he said.

Speaking Tour Details

The speaking tour continues to Texas, Arizona, Mexico City, and various cities in California. Please check here for more information.