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Peace caravan highlights problems north of the border

September 15, 2012

Mexican poet, journalist and activist Javier Sicilia brought his Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity to Washington D.C. this week.

Having traversed Mexico, Sicilia’s peace caravan embarked on a voyage across the United States, beginning in San Diego on August 12 and ending in the nation’s capital on Wednesday. The convoy of two buses and a number of cars took in 27 cities, mostly along the U.S.-Mexican border, on its 6,000-mile journey.

The 120 people who comprise the caravan protested outside the White House on Monday before moving on to a rally in Washington’s Freedom Plaza. The aim of the tour was to promote dialogue with U.S. civil society and the government in five areas crucial to reducing drug violence: drug war policies, arms trafficking, immigration, U.S. foreign policy and money laundering.

Around 60,000 people have been killed, 10,000 have disappeared and over 160,000 have been displaced since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the nation’s drug cartels in December 2006. An outspoken critic of Mexico’s drug war, Sicilia became a prominent figure in the peace movement following the murder of his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco in Cuernavaca last year.

“I came to the U.S. because this is a shared problem and we have to work together to save our dignity, our democracy and our children,” Sicilia said this week. “I won’t get my son back but I don’t want more parents or children to suffer the way we have suffered.”

Throughout their journey across America, Sicilia and his supporters have engaged in several stunts to raise awareness of the issues at hand.

At a gun show in Pasadena, Texas they purchased a .357 Magnum pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle with minimal background checks in a matter of minutes, demonstrating the ease with which deadly weapons can be bought north of the border before being smuggled into Mexico. Upon arriving in Houston, the caravan participants destroyed the two guns in a symbolic protest against the fact that the majority of firearms traced from crimes in Mexico were sold in the United States.

In New York late last week, the movement’s focus shifted to money laundering. Marching through the city’s financial district, the demonstrators struck a resonate chord as they identified those who launder billions of dollars of drug money for Mexico’s cartels as the same “one percent” whom Occupy Wall Street protesters blame for America’s economic inequality.

“In this bank, they launder money,” Sicilia declared outside a branch of HSBC, the British bank recently singled out in a U.S. Senate committee for laundering billions of dollars linked to criminal gangs in Mexico.

Sicilia entered the branch and tried to open an account with dollar bills stained in red paint. Promptly escorted from the premises, he tossed the blood money on the sidewalk, before moving along Wall Street to the New York Stock Exchange, “a symbol of the finance capital that launders money.”

Due to return to Mexico soon, Sicilia is a leading advocate of the Victims’ Law, currently stalled in Congress after a veto by President Calderon, which would oblige the government to compensate victims of organized crime and their families.

Before leaving the United States, Sicilia again questioned the policy favored by both Calderon and Washington: “If Calderon had treated drug abuse as a question of public health rather than a matter of national security, might my son and his friends still be alive today? If instead of declaring war on drug trafficking, Calderon had pursued a bilateral agenda with the United States to decriminalize drugs and regulate their use, is it possible that they and tens of thousands of other young people killed in the last six years would be still be with us?”

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