The Mexican-led Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity passes through Fort Benning, Atlanta and Louisville this weekend before heading north to Chicago and finally east towards its September destination, Washington, DC, the seat of power for the War on Drugs that has claimed at least 60,000 lives south of the border since 2006.
This is a far different peace movement than the ones American officials and media are used to seeing. For the first time in memory, a caravan of Mexicans have crossed the border north to demand that the US government take responsibility for its major part in the mayhem, which escalated to a ground war with US advisers after a disputed 2006 election that installed Felipe Calderón as president, with the eager backing of the Bush White House. The killing of two American CIA agents in Mexico this week again revealed the spreading and secretive presence of US advisers, drones and counterterrorism units south of the border.
Also for the first time, the core of the movement is composed of Mexican victims of violence who are calling for the end of the militarized approach to drugs policy—in contrast to the common way the issue has been exploited to demand even greater law-and-order and suppression. Mexico’s people (and most Latin Americans) have had enough of tougher law-and-order (mano dura) crackdowns, police buildups, impunity for the powerful, corrupt judiciaries, dictatorships and torture chambers, as the caravan’s poet-leader Javier Sicilia explains in the exclusive interview below.
Also unique is the path the caravan will take though many of America’s most impoverished communities along the US-Mexican border, across the historic Black Belt and northward on the immigrant trail to cities like Chicago. These are the under-reported communities where incarceration and homicide rates are highest, amidst an underground economy of the underclass.
“This is putting the basic ingredients in place and planting the seeds for a unique transnational justice movement,” says the leader of one of the country’s largest immigrant rights organizations, Oscar Chacon, of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities.
Roberto Lovato of Presente.org, the largest Latino online advocacy group in the United States, agrees that the new binational movement is unique. But it also reminds him of the traumatic experiences of Central American victims during the civil wars of the seventies and ’80s. “As a Salvadoran, I have heard this before. Now it’s no longer the so-called war on communism but the war on drugs. There are women on this caravan because their husband’s heads were severed, a man who lost his wife and three daughters in a kidnapping by the Mexican military, people whose children are disappeared.”
“It was one thing to have wars in Central America,” Lovato notes, “and another for the war to be right here on the border. It’s one thing for a small Salvadoran population agitating for justice in their country, a whole ’nother thing to have these vast numbers of Mexicans on both sides of the border up in protest.” Lovato, who is 52, confesses that sleeping on church basement floors is getting to be too rough and says he’s just now learning “that women snore too.” But he wouldn’t miss the caravan for anything. “It’s pretty magnificent to those of us who know a movement when we see one. We’ve been waiting a long time for this awakening.”