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.

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.




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.