Just as the Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice arrived at the gates of the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s college, a dozen strapping young men sped past us, running at full tilt. Their faces reflected alarm and a tremor of concern ran through our group.
These were, after all, classmates of the 43 students who had been brutally disappeared by local police working with criminal gangs and allegedly elements of Mexico’s military in September 2014.
“Something is happening”, whispered some of our caravaneros, stating the obvious as yet more young ran by, some of them carrying crates of what appeared to be Molotov cocktails, and clearly preparing for some kind of a battle.
The busses and cars of the Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice that had started two weeks earlier in Honduras backed up and parked. Caravan representatives got off the bus to make contact with our hosts, who told us that the meeting we had been rushing to was, unfortunately, delayed due to unexpected problems.
So we waited.
Eventually, we heard the story: two students and a teacher who had been heading to the state capitol for a meeting with lawyers about the case of the disappeared had been detained and roughed up. Apparently the force of the mobilized students had been enough to convince the authorities to release the men and things calmed back down, for the moment.
Nevertheless, what we had witnessed was a clear illustration that the students and teachers of this combative school were still under siege by authorities a year and a half after their fellow students had suffered the brutal abduction led by government authorities.
Soon, their National Assembly convened by the families of the missing boys from Ayotzinapa got underway and we were invited to present the Caravan’s message that boils down to this: The 50 year old drug war, based on lies of the Nixon administration is an utter disaster that is causing needless death and suffering throughout Central America, Mexico, the United States and beyond. Just like with the 13 years of alcohol prohibition in the US, the war for drug eradication does more damage than the “scourge” of drugs itself.
After exchanging powerful stories of loss and determination to bring about the changes we so desperately need, the caravan members hugged their way out of the room and headed to the state capital of Chilpancingo to join hundreds of peasants and human rights defenders who had come to greet the caravan and strengthen the spirits of the spirits of their companeros who have been camped out for months in (a plantón (or sit-in) in the plaza facing the state capitol, demanding the return of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students.
This powerful sit-in technique has been used, with great success, over many years, but we heard important reflection that given mass violence, the links between drug smugglers and authorities, and the apparently permanent crisis in the economy, that enriches the top strata of the economy and systematically marginalizes the lower ones, new tactics and forms of struggle were needed and that our international Caravan and its follow up actions had an important role to play in creating new and effective forms of international solidarity.
With all this in mind, we continued to Iguala Guerrero, the city where the 43 students were abducted. The original idea had been to put a plaque in the place where a large group had been attacked and kidnapped, but a local organization, had another idea. They wanted to make sure that and even bigger crisis in their town got the attention it deserves.
In Iguala over 500 people have disappeared in recent years and a group of their family members have found each other and built a powerful civic organizations called Los Otros Disaparecidos, or The Other Disappeared. This groups advocates for the distraught families and organizes searches for their disappeared. To date they have located hundreds of bodies in clandestine spread across the beautiful arid hillsides surrounding their city.
We joined them to place the commemorative plaque the Caravan had commissioned and then spoke to a large gathering in the town square and as night fell. We rushed to get back on our busses and took the long route back to Cuernavaca to avoid traveling on some notoriously dangerous roads, the blue flashing lights of the Federal Police — who have accompanied us since the Guatemalan border – eerily lighting the road ahead.
The “Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice” is an unprecedented mobilization of people and grassroots organizations. Traveling across Central America and the U.S, the caravan is projecting the voices of human rights defenders, community activists and victims of the U.S-driven drug war as world leaders discuss and debate global drug reform at the UN. Follow them here and share their message with your networks to help raise the call for an end to the drug war.