Like the caravan that traveled through Mexico’s brutalized north to Ciudad Juarez last June, the caravan south was joined by hundreds of Mexicans determined to shine national attention on hidden sorrows and horrors caused both by long standing political repression in the south as well as the new national dynamics of criminal and state violence. Local organizations staged public marches and meetings, large and small, in the dozens of cities and towns the caravan visited. During these events, a specialized team set up tables to take testimony and give assistance to local citizens ignored by, ill-attended by, or too afraid to speak-up to local and other authorities.

For Micaela Cabañas Ayala, the link between past repression and today’s is painfully clear. She is the daughter of Lucio Cabañas the peasant school teacher turned guerrilla leader who was killed by the Mexican Army in the 1970s. But she joined the caravan as a victim of recent violence. Her mother Isabel Ayala and her aunt Reyna Ayala were killed on July 3 in Xaltianguis, outside of Acapulco. She and other family members are now seeking asylum in the U.S.

The caravan is an expression of a new movement, born of urgent necessity and led by victims. It is powered by resonant truths, spoken from the hearts of mothers, fathers, sister, daughters, sons, brothers, and others whose sorrow is compounded by the absence of justice and the infuriating corruption in Mexico’s judicial, police, and military institutions. The moral compass of these leaders is strong and accurate, but the complex and difficult task of connecting with and convincing their fellow citizens is incomplete.

Most Mexicans, undoubtedly, share the movement’s goals of peace and justice with dignity, but not necessarily its non-violent vision. Fear predominates and polls continue to show majority support for President Calderon’s aggressive use of the Army and military tactics. Connecting with the Mexican public was the goal of the caravan, but that road is still long and, even as the caravan was underway, events elsewhere cast ominous shadows across the path.

In Washington, Rep. Connie Mack, the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee previewed dangerous new Republican election-year talking points. “Mexican drug cartels have evolved into…the greatest national security threat faced by the United States with the ability to severely damage the U.S. economy”, says the Florida Republican. Criticizing the Obama Administration’s implementation of the Bush era military package called the Merida initiative, Mack calls for a multi-agency “counter insurgency strategy” to “combat insurgent activities, such as violence, corruption and propaganda near our border.” Rejection of this barely disguised call for military intervention was fast and furious across Mexico’s political spectrum, but the specter of deeper U.S. intervention has clearly been set loose.

Another deeply disturbing event was the public hanging of two mangled bodies from a pedestrian bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo on the eve of Mexico’s independence celebration. The victims, a young man and woman were alleged have denounced drug cartel activities on social networking sites, according to hand written signs left at the scene. These murders were especially chilling given that traditional print and electronic media have long ceased reporting on widespread criminal activity. Despite its limitations, social media was the last authentic information channel. Traffickers drove their point home. The hangings were followed just days later by the beheading of the editor-in-chief of Nuevo Laredo’s Primera Hora newspaper. Her killers placed her decapitated head with her computer, mouse, cables, and headphones.

A macabre detail (visible in the accompanying photo) that passed unmentioned in most coverage of these so-called “twitter murders” was the exit sign for a branch office of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the organization responsible for conducting the July 2012 presidential elections. The killers made no mention of the IFE, but intentional or not, the appearance of the familiar IFE logo in the crime photo was a reminder that just ten months prior to the 2012 presidential elections, basic conditions for free and fair elections — physical security, freedom of movement, and the freedom to speak without fear of retaliation — simply do not exist in significant regions of Mexico.

Yet another shocking leap in violence took place just days after the peace caravan left Veracruz, a major port city on the Gulf of Mexico, now engulfed in conflict. Thirty-five cadavers, some with signs of torture, were dumped — in full public view during evening rush hour in the center of the city. The bodies were left abandoned in two trucks, just a kilometer from where Mexico’s top state and federal prosecutors and judiciary officials would meet in a closed-door, national strategy meeting the following day.

Without a doubt, Mexico’s peace advocates have a long and taxing road ahead. They need many things, including reliable and strategic allies north of the border who can organize to reform U.S. drug policies, stop southbound gun smuggling, and challenge the flawed military/security priorities the U.S. pushes on Mexico.

It won’t be easy to shift U.S. drug policies away from the costly prohibition-enforcement-incarceration model that has made the drug trafficking obscenely profitable for the last forty years. But there is little doubt that a well -resourced public health strategy would be less expensive and more effective.

The NRA and their allies will fight any effort to limit and more closely track the sales of assault weapons that are the weapons of choice for the cartels. We need all hands on deck to expose the extremists and build a coalition to turn off the open spigot of assault weapons and other criminal firepower gushing into Mexico.

The biggest challenge of all may be how to transform the current military priorities of the drug war so as to instead channel resources to support community policing, build effective investigative capacity, restore community confidence in police and strategically fund educational and economic alternatives to the drug economy.

Help us connect the dots to build a powerful movement for peace in Mexico north of the border. Click the links above to see some of what we are doing and who we are working with to get it done.

For more news on the caravan, see Calderón breaks word to Javier Sicilia: Movement responds.

This month:
Stop the Drug War Speaking Tour: John Gibler and Diego Osorno – Oct 10-Nov 4 in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Mexico City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles.