Javier Sicilia, like many citizens of privilege living in Mexico City, had largely ignored the drug war. Then on March 28, 2011, his 24-year old son, Juan Francisco, a business student, and six of his friends were killed by drug cartel members after a minor scuffle in a bar.
Overnight, Sicilia’s son had become a drug war statistic—one of the estimated 60,000 deaths since President Felipe Calderon launched his military offensive in 2006 against narcotraffickers.
The grief stricken Sicilia, 55, a well-known poet in his country, announced he would never write another poem. Instead, he poured his grief into protest, spearheading the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity. Since his son’s death, Sicilia and the movements other leaders have crisscrossed Mexico in “caravans for peace” protesting the senseless deaths of their loved ones. In many parts of the country, thousands of protesters and victims of the violence have turned out to criticize the government for failing to solve the murders and kidnappings. At least 98 percent of these crimes are never solved, according to the government’s own figures.
Without a functioning judicial system and corrupted law enforcement agencies, Calderon’s military offensive against drug dealers has created chaos. The violence has spiraled into a low intensity civil war engulfing Mexico. Last year 160,000 were displaced from their homes because of the violence and another 220,000 are estimated to have left Ciudad Juarez in the last three years — at least half of them to the United States. Estimates of the dead range anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 since the conflict began in 2006 and at least 10,000 are estimated to have been kidnapped, their bodies never recovered.
“We are at the point of losing the country. It’s not an abstraction but a reality…,” Sicilia wrote recently in Proceso, a national news magazine in Mexico. To raise awareness about the dire circumstances in his country, Sicilia and the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity are now touring the United States and are holding speaking events this week in Texas. The peace caravan arrived in El Paso today and will be in Laredo the 22nd followed by McAllen the 23rd, San Antonio the 24th, Austin the 25th and Houston on Sunday the 26th.
Sicilia will be traveling with at least 40 other protesters who have lost family members to the violence in Mexico. Hundreds more protesters and supporters are expected to turn out for the event in front of the Texas Capitol Saturday beginning at noon. The group wants to raise awareness about U.S. policies that are spurring the violence in Mexico and what both countries can do to stop the killing.
Sicilia’s cousin, Maribel Zardain, who lives near Austin, says that the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity is nonpolitical and comprised of people from “many walks of life.”
“He is a pacifist leader,” she says of her cousin. “He doesn’t want vengeance. He wants peace and justice.”
Ana Yañez-Correa, an organizer of the Austin event Saturday says one goal is to “create a space where the victims can be heard.” She hopes the event will raise awareness about U.S. policies that have negative consequences in Mexico. “The United States is the number one provider of arms to Mexico,” she says. “We need to stop drug consumption here and stop the corruption of officials which makes narcotrafficking so much easier.”
The problems are multifaceted, she says. “We need to use many different approaches to address the war on drugs.”
The Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity began its U.S. tour on August 12 in San Diego, California, and it will end in Washington D.C. on September 12. Along the way the caravan of buses and cars will stop at more than 27 cities to try and raise awareness in a country that has an oversized influence on its neighbor to the south. “The United States is such a big country,” says Zardain, Sicilia’s cousin. “I don’t think people here know very much about what’s happening to us in Mexico. He is just trying to create a dialogue and hopefully a bilateral agreement that we cannot continue this way. We have to find peace.”
The Austin event will take place Saturday, August 25, and start at noon and end at 3:00 p.m. It will be held at the south steps of the Texas Capitol. Austin singer/songwriter Gina Chavez will perform at noon followed by a legislative resolution and multiple speakers from the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity. For more information or to volunteer contact Jane Ehinmoro at [email protected] Learn more about the Movement for Justice with Peace and Dignity.
Sponsors of the Austin event include The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, MORENA Austin, St. James’ Episcopal Church, Texas NORML, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, SOA Watch Austin, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the human rights nonprofit Global Exchange.