Javier Sicilia, leader of Mexico’s growing movement to stop the drug war, called on the U.S. government to change its strategy and criticized the U.S. Merida Initiative as “an initiative that only has imagination for violence and war.”
Sicilia’s statements are the first directly focused on the role of the U.S. government in the drug war, with the exception of a mention in his speech in the Zocalo May 8th. The following is an interview we did during a pit stop of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity on June 5.
LC: Good morning and thank you very much for this interview. I wanted to ask you about the role of the United States, the Government of the United States, something that you mentioned in your speech in the Zocalo. What is the importance, how would you define this role?
JS: Well, for us it’s a terrible role. I believe that the United States, looking to protect its global interests, has in a way imposed this war against drug trafficking on us. Because that was how it was born, even though it has since acquired the tone of a war on organized crime, but at first it was a war against drug trafficking. They imposed it on us, even though the U.S. has the highest number of drug users.
They also have something more terrible than drugs themselves?which should be treated as a public health problem and not a security problem as they have been, or an issue of criminality?they have this other problem, legalized, which are guns? In four and a half years their weapons have legally armed the military and the police, but they have also illegally armed traffickers and the cartels. And this, in a state as negligent and as corrupt as Mexico (unfortunately we have to admit it), this has left us citizens in a state of absolute defenselessness. That is to say, those weapons are killing us, those guns are wiping us out. And the consumption of drugs in the United States has not dropped one bit.
If drugs were legalized, we could considerably reduce the problem and we could begin to work on it in a different way. But it seems that the United States and Mexico are dead-set on maintaining this strategy. The government and citizens of the United States have a huge debt with us. Behind each one of those drug users, people like Charlie Sheen or Paris Hilton that promote drug use, that promote drug use publicly, behind all of that and behind all of the weapons there are the dead.
The U.S. public needs to become aware of this so they can pressure the Obama administration and other U.S. institutions to change the strategy that they have initiated in Mexico and that the Mexican Government has accepted. They need to realize that they are killing us. And beyond just killing us, these crimes go unpunished. That is extremely serious. If we continue with this state of things, what we are provoking is something terrible, a tragic social cleansing where the innocent and the guilty alike are dying without justice, without clarity. This is terrible and these are crimes against humanity.
LC: The U.S. government says that it is supporting Mexico through, up until now, $1.5 billion in aid under the Merida Initiative. They have no made mention of this movement for peace but have made many declarations in support of Felipe Calderon’s war. What do you think of the Merida Initiative?
JS: Well, it’s very grave. It’s an initiative that only has imagination for violence and war. If you really want to save this nation, to help it, you have to look at the problem integrally. The problem here in Mexico is very serious. It’s not just our rotting institutions serving their own interests, as I have said, they also have interests, like the US banks do, with the cartels themselves.
This is the situation, added to the country’s rural problems?the countryside is devastated?, the erosion of the social fabric, the system of economic mutual supports at the community level that has been destroyed. Education is wrecked. There are no jobs. The destruction of mutual support systems has not been replaced by job creation; unemployment, salaries that are absurdly low, just like the era of savage capitalism. That is also national security.
We need to think about the problem comprehensively. We need to go to the root causes of the issue: the young people without opportunities, who are being killed or live in terror, who have a limited chance to make a living because salaries are so low, or the others who, without opportunities, join the ranks of organized crime?or unorganized crime, because we don’t even know what it is anymore, then the future of our country is dead; the future for our youth, our children, and our grandchildren is practically broken, undone.
If we don’t approach the problem holistically, if we just keep spending money on violent responses to it, then we’re on our way to a military/police state?a disaster worse than what we’re experiencing now.
The United States must go back to the drawing board, listen to what citizens are demanding, and the United States should remember, as a democratic country, that sovereignty lies in the citizens, not in government officials. They must pay attention and look at what we are perceiving as citizens and what we are proposing to fix the situation that the Mexican and American governments have put us in, sunk us in, a situation that is truly horrifying.
LC: On the other hand, a binational event is planned in El Paso, TX on the last day of this caravan. What significance does this binational effort have?
JS: It’s important because, as we were just talking about, this problem has as much to do with the U.S. government as it does with the Mexican government. The caravans and social organizations of the United States have started to become aware of the need to put pressure on the American government to change its policies as we are doing in our country.
I believe this gathering is vital because it’s a citizens’ outcry against institutions that are not doing what they were created to do, which is to serve, to provide security, to protect the lives of citizens and the life of the country. I believe these processes can be really important, because I think we’re at an historic crossroads, an unprecedented moment in which institutions, like the state, which is an historic construct, are in crisis and are no longer working as they were intended to.
And now the citizenry is emerging to try to discover different political forms that are possible that can dignify human beings. Right now the State, both States [United States and Mexico], seem designed to deny us our human essence. This means that the State is in crisis.
But the people have their way of thinking that goes beyond the institutions, they have a proposal. A proposal that is has to be developed along the way, because what we’re going through is unprecedented. Faced with the crumbling of very old institutions, new institutions must emerge slowly, and they are coming from the people themselves.
Translated from Spanish. Click here for original audio.
Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City. She can be reached at: (lcarlsen(a)ciponline.org).