WASHINGTON — Activists who dismiss the US and Mexican war on drug cartels as an abject, tragic failure rolled into Washington Monday after a monthlong cross-country trek to press for a new approach.
Those suggested alternatives include a stronger effort to deny cartels the guns they get from the United States and more work on rehab to cut America’s voracious appetite for cocaine and other illegal drugs.
Just over 100 activists disembarked from a small fleet of buses for three days of demonstrations and other events in the US capital, completing what they called a “caravan for peace.”
The journey began on August 10, took in 25 American cities and covered nearly 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles). But the activists have no official meetings planned with US officials.
The drive was led by Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet who emerged as the face of the protest movement against his government’s war on drugs since his son and six others were found killed and tortured last year in an incident blamed on a local gang.
The caravan movement is a bi-national effort involving more than 100 US organizations and more than 50 in Mexico.
“We have managed to bring together that which the war divided, communities that were very far apart, such as Latinos and African-Americas,” Sicilia told AFP outside a church that will serve as the movement’s headquarters through Wednesday.
In June 2011, Sicilia’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity organized a protest caravan linking Mexico City to the border town of Ciudad Juarez, considered the most violent city in Mexico.
Some 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed the military to combat cartels, according to estimates from non-governmental organizations.
Sicilia’s spontaneous movement mushroomed as it tried to shift the focus in the drug war and have people examine it from the standpoint of those slain, their relatives and the families of people who have gone missing.
Sicilia and some 50 other Mexicans decided to press on with the protests and take it across the United States.
Sicilia and his US hosts, which include the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, will go to the US Congress Tuesday in hopes of being received by lawmakers.
They will also demonstrate outside the White House and hold meetings with labor leaders before staging a final vigil on Wednesday.
Carime Estudillo, one of the caravan travelers, said her brother-in-law Jaime was kidnapped in 2009. Relatives paid ransom money, but never heard from the man again.
“We do not want revenge. We want Jaime back. His parents need him, alive or dead,” Estudillo said, holding back tears.
Sicilia described the numbers as mere abstractions.
“There is nothing like seeing and hearing people’s suffering,” he said.
Ted Lewis, human rights director at the group Global Exchange, said the caravan “has been clearly a huge step in making these issues visible, but it has to continue. The path is being imagined right now.”