The face of a growing movement against the US drug war will appear in California August 12-13 as the Mexican poet Javier Sicilia begins a long procession across the United States to the steps of the White House.
The map for the rapidly improvised march, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, starts in San Diego and Los Angeles, then will pass through key border cities such as Las Cruces and El Paso, heading east toward New Orleans and then up to Washington DC, expecting to arrive between September 10-12.
The movement began spontaneously after Sicilia's teenage son, Juan, was killed March 28, one of the 60,000 dead so far along with 8,000 orphans and 250,000 displaced persons, according to Sicilia's numbers. Called the "caravan of solace,” it grew so rapidly in Mexico that Sicilia was invited to discuss solutions with outgoing President Felipe Calderon and other political leaders. Treating the drug issue as a public health crisis instead of a national security one is central to his argument. Without being detailed, he calls for a discussion of legalization, treatment and economic opportunities for unemployed youth drawn to the drug trade for income.
The incoming Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, avoided endorsing the deployment of the Mexican army against the cartels, the US-supported policy since Calderon took office in 2007. Instead, Pena Nieto has endorsed a "surge" by a new national paramilitary force combined with a greater emphasis on civilian alternatives. Former Mexican presidents and other Central American leaders have joined in demanding the end of the military conflict that has devastated their nations. The truce declared by imprisoned gang members in El Salvador, which has saved hundreds of lives thus far, was launched in March as well.
The stated purpose of Sicilia's caravan is to bring America's conscience to bear on US responsibility for the carnage. The American role includes consumption, illegal trafficking of weapons to Mexico, and partnership in counterterrorism strategies cloaked as drug enforcement. Both the CIA and US army personnel are on the ground in Mexico and Central America.
While the Obama administration welcomes a new "conversation" about alternatives to the military suppression campaign, there is little sign of any change by the Drug Enforcement Agency agents on the ground. According to the New York Times over-the-counter prescription drug abuse is a greater problem than cocaine. According to one survey the Times cites, of 38,450 overdose deaths in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug like painkillers, "more than all illicit drugs combined." While 1.5 million people used cocaine in 2010, seven million used "psychotherapeutics."
The drug will continue of its own momentum unless there is massive intervention by families likes those Sicilia represents.
The Drug War in Africa
Even worse, the US drug war has escalated to Africa, "a sign of how greater attention and resources have turned to efforts to fight drugs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down." (New York Times, July 22) The newly created West African Security Initiative involves 15 African nations led by US forces in an emulation of the interdiction strategies employed in Mexico and Central America. American officials argue that Al Qaeda is infiltrating its cadre into the networks shipping cocaine through North Africa to Europe. Counternarcotics funding for West Africa has jumped from $7.5 million to $50 million annually since 2000.
There is no evidence that military interdiction strategies can prevent cartels from detouring through impoverished and chaotic regions on many continents, however, thus providing the rationale for a global war on drugs and terrorism combined, with no estimate of costs or definition of an endgame.
In the context of Africa, for example, more than half the population is malnourished, hungry or starving. (Los Angeles Times, July 26) The staggering percentages of hungry people in Africa include Somalia (75%), Burundi (62%), and Eritrea (65%), and Zambia (44%).
In Central and Southeast Asia, Afghanistan has a hunger percentage of 58%; Yemen has 30% and Tajikistan 26%. It is impossible to believe that increased spending on the drug war will either reduce the flow of narcotics to Europe and the US, or provide job alternatives for the millions of lost young people in hungry lands.
For more information about the Caravan for Peace, please write firstname.lastname@example.org and read Javier Sicilia's invitation to participate in the historic caravan.
You may view and download the Caravan schedule and city list here.