Actually I thought about oganizing a march to Washington and request the poet join, but then I became less enthusiastic about his goal. Hopefully I was wrong in that, and I do think this is a good idea to bring awarness to the American people.....Paz, Buela
LOS ANGELES — The poet Javier Sicilia, whose son's murder inspired him to lead protest caravans against the drug war in Mexico, says he wants to resume the protest "from the other side of the problem."
Sicilia said he wants to lead another caravan, this time from the Mexican border to Washington to demand an end to the drug war.
Winner of the 2009 Aguascalientes poetry prize -- Mexico's most prestigious -- Sicilia wrote his last verse this year after his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco was tortured and killed in March with six other people by an organized crime group in Cuernavaca.
"The world is no longer the world of the word/ they drowned it inside us."
With those words, Sicilia put down his pen and turned from poetry to action, claiming that "the artist is the voice of the tribe" and leading various caravans across Mexico to demand an end to the government's US-financed counternarcotics strategy.
President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out offensive against the country's drug cartels in 2006, putting the military in charge, but the violence has spiraled to unprecedented levels.
Sicilia said he would like to march "from El Paso, Texas to Washington."
"It's a dream, but it can be done, perhaps next year," he told AFP. "It would be the same, but this time from the other side of the problem."
Such a caravan "would have a great impact" in sensitizing Americans to the failure of the war on drugs launched 40 years ago by then-president Richard Nixon, and on the effect US policies have had on their neighbor, he said.
The violence unleashed in Mexico by the internecine struggles among the cartels, and between the cartels and the security forces, has left some 50,000 dead, 10,000 disappeared and 120,000 displaced.
"These statistics are equivalent to those in Washington on the wall of the Vietnam memorial," the poet noted at a conference organized by groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, which has pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana for 20 years. "And North Americans bear a big responsibility for our dead."
The United States is the top consumer of drugs, Sicilia noted, and also has a "legal industry, the arms industry, which is arming Mexican criminals."
In addition, the war is sustained by the Merida Initiative, a US program that finances the counternarcotics campaign.
What Sicilia seeks, as with many of the groups attending the three-day conference here, is that drugs be treated as a public health problem and not a criminal matter, following the Portuguese model.
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drug possession and took a public health approach to the scourge. Since then, consumption rates have remained flat, prisons are no longer being filled with people convicted of minor crimes and addicts are receiving medical attention.
Mexico, on the other hand, is reminiscent "of US cities like Chicago during the era when alcohol was prohibited, although rates of crime, violence and corruption are much higher than those experienced by the North Americans," said Daniel Robelo, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Alliance.
And like prohibition, the damage done by drug abuse, overdoses and addiction is growing, given that criminalization "encourages risky and dangerous behavior" and creates a lucrative black market that enriches criminal organizations, he said.
At the same time, criminalization is to blame for the 2.3 million people sitting in US prisons today for drug-related offenses, compared to 500,000 at the beginning of the 1980s, according to California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.
But Robelo said decriminalization is "gaining momentum." A Gallup poll two weeks ago found that 50 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, compared to 30 percent in 2000.
"Drugs have been with North America forever, from the Amerindians to the hippie movement, but they were turned into a problem for ideological reasons, and because they make a lot of money if they are illegal," said Sicilia.
But as long as drugs are illegal, he said, "behind their consumption will be our dead."