By Tony Macias
International Team - Mexico
Witness for Peace
For the past three days, thousands of Mexicans have been marching toward Mexico City to call for an end to the violence and impunity that have ravaged this country for several years. I could feel a collective sense of anticipation yesterday morning as we assembled in the southern end of Mexico City to complete the final leg of the historic march; groups of people from all over Mexico milled around, preparing banners, flags, and shirts that read “No + Sangre” (No More Blood). Others held up banners that bore images of loved ones lost or murdered in the past 5 years of escalated drug war violence- today is a day when the drug war's 40,000 victims will not remain nameless.
As marchers gathered in the early morning light , this idea of personhood is palpable: The idea is that everyone has value and belongs to one beloved community. Although it may appear like simple generosity, the seemingly endless free food and water that participants passed around yesterday morning is an affirmation of the new social contract that marchers want to create.
I met one young woman who stood by the march with her two children. She told me, “I'm here today because the war against the drug trade has left many dead and hasn't achieved anything. We in Mexican society are fed up that this is going on, and have seen that the government hasn't come up with any viable solutions.”
Another person I spoke with early that morning, a sociology student from Mexico City, hoped that this new movement would help create a society that's organized, unified, and educated. One that realizes that government power is determined by the will of its own people. The young mother I met continued in this vein: “The better world [we create] would be a place where everyone had what they needed to live in harmony.”
This nonviolent message stands in stark contrast to what we hear in the media and in government communiqués about the drug war, which use fear and bloody imagery to justify a violent and authoritarian approach to ending the drug war. This march is a flat-out rejection of the militarized war on drugs that has resulted in one death per hour over the past five years and over 10 thousand disappeared persons.
Javier Sicilia is a poet, journalist, and now a grieving father of a son murdered this past March. Certainly the most visible figure calling for this movement against violence, he is one of many marchers who have suffered directly and indirectly in this ongoing war. He recently said that the war on drugs is “turning Mexicans into people with mutilated souls, which is a form of death.”
While much of what marchers had to say was directed at the Mexican government, some made a clear link to the role of the U.S. in the escalation of drug violence. The sociology student I met reminded me that the U.S. is one of the largest consumer of drugs, most of which come from Latin America. A friend he was standing with continued by saying that the U.S.-funded Mérida Initiative has all the hallmarks of Plan Colombia, but that the military strategy against drug cartels isn't the way to solve our consumption problem. The sociology student concluded by saying that the U.S. is a model for the rest of the world, and if we change our actions around the international drug trade, then more countries will follow suit.
A caravan of Central American migrants also participated in yesterday's march. In a chilling sign of just how vulnerable migrants and migrant advocates are in Mexico, the caravan received death threats on their way to the march just a couple of days ago. Luckily, they all made it safely to the march.
One migrant I spoke with said that kidnappings, rapes, robberies, attacks and murders are all suffered by migrants as they cross through Mexico. Carrying one end of a banner that read “Migrants have also had it up to here!” he said that reforms in U.S. and Mexican migration enforcement was an important component to the social changes that all of the marchers called for today.
As a U.S. citizen participating in today's peace march, I see constant reminders of all the root issues that lie beneath this unprecedented violence. Marchers reiterated that the need for reform in Mexico goes beyond drug cartels and state-sponsored violence: protesters today spoke out about a variety of social problems like the 7 million Mexican youth that do not have jobs or access to higher education, about the 80 million poor Mexicans without access to healthy affordable food, etc. I am reminded that U.S. security policies like the failed Merida Initiative are also just part of the problem, that unfair trade policies like NAFTA and dangerous economic changes promoted by U.S.-led international financial institutions play a major role in disrupting Mexico's social fabric.
The three-day march closed this afternoon in Mexico's largest city, and it remains to be seen what shape this nonviolent movement will take next. This week has been one of pilgrimage, a journey taken by Mexican society in the lineage of great peace marches of the 20th century- the Salt March led by Gandhi, the March of Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the many migrant marches headed by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Mexico itself has a long tradition of pilgrimages, where almost every small town boasts an annual religious journey to a sacred site. These collective acts of devotion and faith have remained strong over centuries, and I have hope that this long journey toward nonviolence is also one that Mexican society is prepared to walk until they reach their destination – and that U.S. citizens will do our part to act in solidarity with them.