March 28th, 2016
The Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice—a roving demonstration of the brutality of the War on Drugs in Latin America—kicked off today in Honduras, and will make its way through El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico before arriving in New York ahead of ahead of the United Nations summit (UNGASS) on drugs in April.
Relatives of the disappeared, elected officials and advocates for human rights will caravan for 22 days, seeking to spread awareness about the harms of the drug war south of the border, and to promote alternatives to the system they say promotes violence and corruption.
“The War on Drugs is the greatest promoter of human rights violations that we [The Global Exchange] have seen,” Ted Lewis, human rights director for the Global Exchange, said in a telephone conference organized by the Drug Policy Alliance this afternoon He called the caravan a grassroots effort to “tackle the drug problem at an international level.”
A highly anticipated event among drug policy reformers, UNGASS was called to convene three years earlier than scheduled, at the behest of Latin American leaders who pronounced the urgency of a policy assessment. Now, the Caravan will aim to insert itself into that conversation.
Sebastián Sabini, deputy of the House of Representatives of Uruguay, said the Caravan is “taking advantage of this moment” to change policy that has to-date been centered around security, “whereas it should be based on health and human rights.” Sabini said the War on Drugs has increased violence, incarceration and the influence of traffickers on public officials and the justice system. “Because of this narco-controlled market, they are able to exert great power over our leadership,” he said, adding that “regulating the market of cannabis is definitely going to do away with the power that these narco traffickers have.”
Brutal reminders of the consequences of prohibition and the illicit-market trafficking associated with it are endemic to daily life in many of the communities that will be visited.
Maria Herrera, a mother of four disappeared sons in Mexico, said that since she lost her boys, “I’ve been using my entire body and my soul to find them but i have not found anything,” except for “pain and more pain.” She said that the rates of disappearances coupled with the lack of effective responses makes the issue seem “systematic.”
“It seems that no one wants to do anything or can do anything to put an end to this war,” she said, adding “This is a war against families” that has made public spaces unsafe and “destroyed our social fabric.”
Javier Sicilia, a famed Mexican poet who became a movement leader after his son was murdered by traffickers, led the first Caravan in 2012. This year, heightened awareness of international drug policy around UNGASS may help expand the Caravan’s audience and contextualize its message—that prohibition has failed to stop drug use and sale, and that the resulting global drug economy has disproportionately impacted the poorer countries where drugs are produced.