Monday, October 15, 2012

Liberating Hope: Series on Caravan of Central American Families in Search of Disappeared Migrants

Departing Honduras (Part 2)
By: Elizabeth Perkins
“We can have 100 children, but one can’t take the place of another,” said one of the Honduran mothers participating in the “Caravan of Central American Mothers in Search of their Disappeared Children in Mexico” during a press conference in Tegucigalpa on Thursday. Thirteen Hondurans, mainly mothers searching for their children, will participate in the caravan this year. The entire caravan is hosted by the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (link to their website in Spanish) and includes 60 people from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Starting in Mexico on Monday, October 15, and leaving that country November 3, the caravan will cover some 4,600 kilometers through 14 states and 23 towns in the migrant route.
Mothers at the press conference Thursday. Photo courtesy of PMH.

The Ministry of Human Migration (Pastoral de Movilidad Humana, PMH), the national organization organizing the Honduran portion, got involved with the caravan in 2008, but it originally began in 2000 through the efforts of the Committee of Families of Disappeared Migrants of Progreso (COFAMIPRO), explained Lidia Mara Silva de Souza of PMH. Over time they have added groups from other Central American countries and their route has changed as migrant’s entry points into Mexico have changed. In 2011 they began entering the country through Tobasco. Typically, one year the members of the caravan begin a search for individuals and the following year family members are reunited. This year there are three migrants from Honduras who will be reunited with their families on the caravan.

The majority of Hondurans on the caravan come from the town of Progreso through the organization COFAMIPRO. I was able to speak with some of those leaving with the caravan before the press conference.

Photos of disappeared family members. Photo courtesy of PMH.
Justina’s son has been gone since 2001. He left because there it is very difficult to find work in Honduras. His mother says that he was after the “American dream.”
Dorca’s son has been gone for 10 years. He also left looking to better his financial situation. “In the United States there is opportunity. Here in Honduras even if you have a degree there are no opportunities,” she said. Many of the other women I spoke with cited poverty at home as the reason their family member left. They went north in search of financial opportunities that would allow them to aid their families in Honduras. Carlos from Choluteca carries 51 photos of families in his area who’ve asked them to look for their family members.
One of the major challenges for these families is the lack of search mechanisms they have access to. Silva de Souza spoke of an Argentine group working to identify bodies of migrants recently discovered in Mexico. The problem, she says, is that when authorities bury unidentified migrants they document no forensic evidence and often bury them in mass graves (in some cases with animals), making it even more difficult to identify individual remains. She says the team also takes blood samples from family members searching for loved ones in an effort to match remains. Silva de Souza cites a need for laws that create search mechanisms so families looking for disappeared migrants have a place to at least begin to look. She shared that the International Red Cross has begun talking with governments in Central America and Mexico to encourage the creation of such legislation.
Sociologist Ricardo Puerta talked about the larger issues behind the caravan. According to Puerta, Honduras has little cause to want change in immigration policies because the country’s economy depends heavily on remittances. Honduras receives US$2.8 billion annually in remittances. “It is an industry,” he said. Because of this, Honduras has a “default immigration policy.” Working to change U.S. immigration policy, he commented, is much more effective. “There is a structural problem in the economies of developed countries. They have to fill certain jobs with migrants,” he said. “The U.S. cannot expel 12 million immigrants all at once. The economy needs these people. Migrant workers are needed because they do work that U.S. citizens will not do.” He added that migrants have the financial incentive of the minimum wage in the U.S. being 15 times what it is in Honduras. He shared that of the 12 million immigrants that are currently in the U.S. 400,000 of those are Honduran. “The cruelest thing is the separation of families,” he added.

The problem of families separating goes even deeper. Corporate-driven trade agreements like DR-CAFTA that significantly reduce viable work opportunities in Central America drive people in large numbers to look for work elsewhere; work that will allow them to support their families at home in places like Honduras.

These issues are all under the surface of this caravan. The participants are simply looking to reunite their families. “You are the protagonists of your own story,” they were told at the end of the press conference. Many of the women echoed this saying they can’t sit still and cry and despair. Their message was one of hope. Some of the women who will leave with the caravan have found their children after looking for years. One of these has been searching since 1999 and in 2010 found her son in Mexico. She continues working with the caravan to support the others who go looking for their loved ones.

The Nicaraguan part of the caravan will met the Honduran group in Tegucigalpa on Friday and continued on to collect participants in El Salvador and Guatemala before following the route that many of their family members took into Mexico. We plan to speak them upon their return in November.
The caravan's route over the weekend on their way to Mexico.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Liberating Hope: Series on Caravan of Central American Families in Search of Disappeared Migrants

Departing Nicaragua (Part 1)

By: Cyndi Malasky and Brooke Denmark

Today a group of 13 Nicaraguan mothers, sisters and brothers are beginning their journey North to follow the footsteps of their disappeared loved ones. Many went missing while passing through Mexico  to reach the United States.  Some may have been kidnapped, victims of human trafficking, detained in Mexican jails or killed by gangs that prey on migrants.  Some may be living in Mexico, ashamed to call home because they have been unable to earn enough money to support their families or have been severely traumatized by one of the many dangers that migrants confront

Carmen with photos of her son.
All the family members anxiously hope to find their loved ones alive, or at the very least to find answers. The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement has invited them to join Central American families in a caravan through Mexico to search for their family members and spread awareness about the perils that Central American migrants face.

Most of the Nicaraguan families in the caravan come from the Northern department of Chinandega, which borders Honduras. Historically Chinandega was an epicenter of Nicaragua’s banana production.  Large U.S.-based banana companies employed residents of Chinandega for low wages while knowingly exposing workers to dangerous chemicals that have led to serious health problems and contamination of the land. The monoculture crops that currently dominate the region, such as cotton and peanuts, have become completely mechanized, leaving very few job opportunities in the agricultural sector. Without sources of employment, residents of Chinandega are forced to look for work elsewhere. Today Chinandega has the second highest rates of outward migration in all of Nicaragua, second only to the country’s capital. 

The Nicaraguan caravan is being organized by the Jesuit Migrants Services of Nicaragua (Servicio Jesuita Migratorio Nicaragua or SJM), which researches migration patterns from Nicaragua, and helps to organize migrants and their families into grassroots committees. The committees provide each other with psychological support and organize to help each other through different challenges that arise from migration, such as repatriating the bodies of migrants who were killed abroad.
Last week we met with the Nicaraguan group of family members across the street from the Mexican consulate after they finished handing in their paperwork and passports for their visas. The following are some of what the families shared about their reasons for joining the caravan, why their family members migrated and their hopes.

It is Marta’s mother’s only wish to see Marta and her twin sister together again before she dies.  Marta has heard from her sister sporadically during the 23 years she had been gone. She can’t even imagine what she has lived through. She only knows that her sister has survived at least one kidnapping, and been in and out of therapy. 

“A person who is not informed, does not see. Our level of education does not provide us with the orientation to know how to defend ourselves. The Jesuit Migrant services has helped here in the community, they have been angels, helped us to know our rights. Information about safe houses and the rights of migrants should really be played on the television so everyone, especially children, hear it. 

Most women leave to be able to take care of their sick parents, or because they have been abandoned and are single mothers. We have the right as women to find a way to make a living.  

Marta on the morning of the departure.
The poor in this country never are able to lift their heads, we fish around for food instead of ever really eating. The price of electricity goes up, the price of water goes up, the price of food goes up, but salaries never increase. No poor person makes enough to provide what the government defines as our basic needs. We wouldn’t leave if we had a dignified salary.   

We all support each other. We are not daughter of the same mother, but we are all daughters of God. These difficulties have brought us together and we are thankful at least for that.”  

Ana Maria
“The negative thing about the United States is that they don’t give visas. My son applied but didn’t get it so he had to go as he did [undocumented]. They are very closed off… I haven’t heard from my son in six years.”

In 2005, Roberto’s brother went with a group of community members who migrate yearly to El Salvador to cut sugarcane. From there he decided to continue north, with the goal of reaching the United States. 

“He called from El Salvador saying he had tried to cross the U.S. border and been arrested, beaten, and deported back to El Salvador. We heard from him one last time after he tried to cross again. He said that he had been caught a second time at the border, and was heading home. We never heard from him again.”

Carmen’s son grew up in Costa Rica where he was able to get an education and graduate from high school. She told me he decided to go to the United States to find the American dream. We asked her what the American Dream means to her. 

“You know, to have job security and be able to help your family.”   

Suyapa de Socorro and Guadalupe
Suyapa de Socorro 
“My hope, my only hope, is that I find him. But we are going also for all of the mothers. If a son is in jail we can give his parents a number to call. If the sons and daughter give us the name of a town, we will look for their mothers. We will tell the sons and daughters not to be afraid to contact their parents, not be ashamed. We understand the pain of their mothers, not knowing the fate of their children.” 

Maria Eugenia 
Maria Eugenia’s daughter went missing nine years ago. She believes she was a victim of human trafficking. Maria Eugenia is caring for her daughters two children, who were only 11 months old when she disappeared. This is Maria Eugenia’s second time participating in the caravan. 

“As a mother, until my last day I will keep looking to find whether she is dead or alive; I hope she’s not dead. It’s a pain that consumes me…I feel more hopeful and stronger with the support of the other mothers and the Jesuit Migrant Services, because it’s not just my case, there are thousands, every day…In the last caravan a Honduran woman found her daughter 20 years later, so why can’t we have hope?”

 “On the caravan there will be both beautiful things and painful things.”

Our team member based in Honduras will be meeting with Honduran families who will be participating in the caravan before they depart for Mexico and we will also talk with the families upon their return. Please stay tuned for the next parts in this series.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Time with Las Patronas

By: Claudia Ana Rodriguez, Witness for Peace - Mexico Team

This October, Witness for Peace will be hosting Leonila Romero Gonzalez, part of Catholic Migrant Ministry and volunteer of Las Patronas on a speaker’s tour through out the Mid Atlantic Region.  Read below to find out about her job, community, and the valiant work they do, and how to see her present at an event near you!  

Norma Romero, Las Patronas
Photo Credit: Javier Garcia

It is pretty unbelievable when you think about it.  A group of 15 women giving food to people as they ride a speeding train through their rural community?  And doing it completely out of the goodness of their heart. Not for monetary gain, some type of competition or new ridiculous reality television series.  But that is exactly the daily reality for one group of women known as Las Patronas in Veracruz, Mexico.

Leonila Romero Gonzalez

This last May, I met a woman name Leonila Romero Gonzalez.  She originally comes from the La Patrona community, and currently works with a national level Catholic Migrant Ministry in Mexico City.  Her work consists of coordinating national level workshops and trainings for the migrant shelters located throughout Mexico, helping Mexican families locate missing loved ones who migrated or disappeared in the process of migrating, and helping coordinate the delivery of bodies of Mexican migrants who have died in the USA back to their families.

While this is her day to day job, she also spends a lot of time with her family on the weekends and holidays in Veracruz, about 2-3 hours from Mexico City.

I was already familiar with Las Patronas when I met Leonila.  I’d seen countless videos, photos, and read many stories.  Being part of the Witness for Peace Mexico Team for the last two years has given me the opportunity to understand the migrant’s journey, the dangers and the U.S. policies that push the migration to begin with.  I’ve talked with many migrants, visited different shelters, and worked alongside organizations that not only analyze the issue, but also groups providing support to migrants on the journey, families and sending communities, and organizations and communities looking for alternatives to migration.  So, I would say, I was pretty knowledgeable about all of this going to Veracruz.  But nothing in the world could have prepared me for what I saw, heard, and talked about with the women that weekend.

I visited Veracruz with Leonila in August.  When we arrived, I was greeted by the roaring of the train.  Yes, the train roars.  I began to truly understand why so many migrants call it La Bestia, or the Beast.  It is quite literally a beast.  It is huge, loud, and plows its way down the train tracks as it makes its journey.  The first time I saw the train, it was moving southward, with maybe 5 migrants on it.  Later it was explained to me that those riding the train southward are migrants who had been deported.  

Leonila Vazquez Alvizar, Rosa Romero Vazquez, and Bernanda Romero Vazquez.
Photo Credit: Javier Garcia

Throughout my time with them, I had the opportunity to pack lunches, sort through donations of food and clothing, and talk with the women about the soup kitchen, the work they do and the community they live in.

They first started in 1995,  when two sisters, Bernarda Romero Vázquez and Rosa Romero Vázquez were walking home from the corner store, having just bought some bread and tortillas.  The train was passing by and they were waiting to cross the tracks and go home and eat.  There were people on top of the train, whom they thought were Mexicans, calling out to them, asking for food.  They said they were hungry.  The women were confused, but by the time the last car of the train passed, they decided to throw the bags of food they had up to them.  As they returned home and recounted the story to their family, they all decided they should make lunches for them as they pass.  And so began their work.

Rosa Romero Vazquez, waiting for the train
Photo Credit: Javier Garcia

Over fifteen years have passed, and the women keep up their work (along with a couple of men as well).  They receive donations of bread, rice, beans, pasta, pastries, and tuna from international donors and local super markets.  They fill plastic bags with these donated items, tie a knot with the handles, and hold the bag upside down so that migrants can grab the handles of the bag as the train passes.  They fill donated plastic bottles with clean water.  They also sort through donated clothing, taking out the warmer clothing to give to the migrants. They donate the rest to nearby communities.  Mostly women form their group, and its members have fluctuated over the years.  Sometimes people have family responsibilities that do not allow them the time to commit to working in the soup kitchen, which was built thanks to donations sent to the women.  They now also have a dormitory area to host migrants and volunteers who spend time with them.

Leonila Vazquez Alvizar, giving food to the migrants
Photo Credit: Javier Garcia
While they originally thought the people on the train were Mexican, they have come to understand that they are actually mostly from Central America.  During my weekend with them, I met migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  One man was injured on the train while I was there.  As another explained to me, there is a lot of trash and debris that fly off the train.  A piece of wood had gotten stuck in his eye.  His friends helped him off the train, and Leonila left the town and went to Cordoba (a city about 30 minutes away) with him to seek out medical attention.  Because it was Sunday, not many places were open and the doctors that did attend to him said he needed to see an ophthalmologist.  He wanted to get back on the train and keep traveling, even though it was clear he was in a lot of pain.  Leo convinced him to spend the night in the shelter, get the attention he needed the next day, rest, and in a few days time he continued on his journey.  She commented to me, with a laugh “even when I’m not at work I’m still working!”

My time with them left me speechless, but filled with emotion.  Seeing the train filled with migrants of all ages and backgrounds was painful, but the juxtaposition of this with the dedication and work of Las Patronas leaves one filled with hope and inspiration.

Rosa Romero Vazquez, giving food to the migrants Photo Credit: Javier Garcia

Not everyone may have the opportunity to visit Las Patronas, but Leonila is coming to the Mid Atlantic Region for a Witness for Peace Speaker’s tour!  Over the next few weeks there will be events in Pennsylvania and New York including, Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Syracuse, NYC, and Long Island among other places. Check the schedule here:

The Witness for Peace - Mexico Team would like to thank Javier Garcia for letting us use his photos!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Their Own Words: Voices from the Caravan for Peace in Washington, D.C.

By Alissa Escarce, Former Witness for Peace Delegate

Caravaneros on their way to lobby
From September 10th to the 12th, the Caravan for Peace closed its journey across the United States with lobbying, press conferences, and other activities in Washington, D.C.  On the last day I asked four caravaneros about their impressions of the city, their thoughts on lobbying, their reactions to the United States, their reflections on the Caravan, and their hopes for the future of the movement.  Here are some of their answers.

Maria’s* son, a policeman, was murdered at the hands of organized crime. Julia’s* brother was disappeared on the U.S.-Mexico border.  Marco and Alex’s brothers have been disappeared*.

All have channeled their grief into political action, supporting the Caravan’s demands that the United States end the failed war on drugs and treat drugs as an issue of public health, not of national security; shift foreign aid away from military initiatives and towards programs to repair Mexico’s social fabric; enforce laws against illegal gun sales and money laundering; and develop more humane policies towards immigrants.


Maria: In Mexico, when my husband went out for a walk or to the store, we would joke around.  I would say, “Hey, where are you going?” and he would laugh and answer “to Washington!”  It was a joke, but now it’s become a reality for me… Now he and I laugh when we talk on the telephone.  Two days ago when we set foot here in Washington I called him immediately and told him, “Well, now it’s real. I’ve arrived in Washington!”

Julia: I’ve been impressed, because I’d never been here.  Seeing the symbols and the architecture of the capitol, of the White House, of everything that is Washington—it has been a very, very, very gratifying personal experience.

Marco: This is a great city, where great powers govern, where the nation’s most important decisions are made.  But these also do harm to much of the world, right?  The city is very beautiful, very calm, but also hollow.

March in Washington, DC
We are here with great hope.  Perhaps the eyes through which you see a place cause you to perceive it in a different way, in the way that you want to see it.  Full of your dreams.  So we see this city filled with the light of hope, you know?  We have arrived with the hope of being listened to, so that it may be known that people who live very far from this country, very far from Washington, are here to protest the injustices that this country has committed.

Julia: Yesterday I lobbied the assistant of a congressperson from Los Angeles.  This representative was an African-American woman whose father was also an immigrant from Nigeria.  I found her so lovely.
When you enter the House of Representatives, the first thing you see are women in suits, with high heels, with a cold, serious, distant demeanor.  The men are the same.  But when I saw this representative, when I met her, I felt inspired.  We spoke just like I do with my friends and compañeros on the caravan.  It was a very human, very beautiful experience.  It was very gratifying to speak with a person like her, who was very human and down to earth.

Maria: Yesterday I had a meeting with the assistant Secretary of State, there at the State Department.  It was a pleasure to meet her, this woman named Maria, because she was shocked by my testimony and by that of Luisa* [mother of Marco and Alex]. She was very surprised to hear the voices of the victims telling her that the Mexican reality is not what she had been told… She also has children and she would not like to be in our shoes, living this pain.  It gave me great pleasure, and much hope that she will raise her voice on our behalf.

Marco: We also lobbied at senators’ offices… They didn’t know the magnitude of the violence, and had based their opinions solely on statistics.  They were very moved.  They said that they have contributed to this problem because it began, first and foremost, with the anti-drug issue.

We visited the office of a congress person from Colorado, and there we were told the same thing, that this violence is occurring because of the war on drugs.  Colorado is beginning to become more independent on these matters.  Now, neither Mexican cartels nor other types of cartels are doing the kinds of things they are doing in other states, because in Colorado they cultivate their own drugs, marijuana is being legalized, and they have seen that violence is dropping in the state.  I don’t know much about it, of course, but the important thing is that if they are seeing some improvement in that state, they should create similar policies throughout the country.

Alex: Behind each of the people we have lobbied, who are so removed from our pain, there are excellent human beings… Each has a heart inside, a heart that feels, a heart which is not insensitive to another’s pain… Some of them told me openly, that it’s not the same to experience a situation through statistics, through a project that you are assigned at work, as it is to be the object of a protest.  Statistics can’t protest, but a person can protest, you know?

Julia: I think that this caravan brought to Washington something that it badly needs, which is God, which is love, which is pain, which is the dignity of others, which is respect for all.  I think it was necessary, because it feels empty here.  It gave me enormous satisfaction to feel that I not only brought my thoughts, my words, and my time, but also God.  He is in each of us, with all of our defects and difficulties, our internal miseries… Despite the fact that this caravan brought demands and questions and ideas and many other things, it also brought love.

Caravanero after congressional briefing
It would be immature to say that we can change laws, right?  Very immature.  But this movement was not only for Washington, it was for the whole United States.  If the laws can be changed, wonderful; but I think that when we take initiative it doesn’t matter how much power Washington may have.  What matters is the power we want to give it.

We have reminded Washington, like many have earlier in history, that they are doing something wrong, but that it can be repaired.  Not now, not in five or ten years, but it can be repaired.

Maria: Over the years, many of my friends came to the United States as undocumented migrants. When they returned to Mexico they would show off and tell me things about the United States.  They told me that it was the greatest, that it was very pretty, that the cities where they were living were the greatest.  But you know, now that I have had the incredible opportunity to come here, I have realized that they exaggerated, that it’s not true.  I have realized that when I asked them if there were homeless people, if there was garbage, if there were people on the streets and they told me, “No, there’s no poverty”—I now realize that they were lying.

One of the cities I saw that was very devastated was in Mississippi. I saw burned houses, also related to the drug war.  I learned that white people don’t like black people, that there is horrific racism.  I saw that things are very dirty.  I was shocked to see the differences from one street to the next, that one could have the capitol and very elegant buildings, and that a block away there could be great poverty… In Baltimore I was also shocked by the devastation.  I can’t understand how from one city to the next, or from one street to the next the degree of marginalization can change so much.

I realized that people here also need a lot of help and that President Obama is not doing what he should be doing.  We in Mexico have the same problems with our President.

Marco: This is just a beginning of people taking to the streets to express their pain and the violence that we are living through.  When we started the caravan, someone asked me if we would be able to endure a whole month, and I thought of the pain that pulls us—the victims of the violence—forward.  For us there is no defined period of time, indeed we could endure this caravan and thousands of caravans.  The idea is to leave a seed in each city we have visited.  If we are to be the symbol of pain which will be a shield for the rest of humanity, so that all of this may stop, we must do it.  For me, this has not ended.  It is entering a stage of maturation. We have sown something very sincere, and that which is planted well will be harvested by our children and grandchildren, and by the people of the United States and the African-American community who accompanied us.  We know that this is for their well-being, and for ours.

Alex: As we leave I am very happy, and also sad that it is over.  I wish I could split my heart in two, so that one part could continue on, and the other could go back to the cruel reality that we are living through.  This is the end, but it is only one stage in a cycle that opens and closes… and we are going to think about the doors we were able to open, and hope that the seeds that we left in people’s consciences reproduce themselves.  We won’t wait for the seeds to flower on their own—we realize that we will have to water them.  We have a very clear objective: peace for generations to come.

Now that we have begun we have to continue, right?

Caravanero at the Capitol
Maria: When I decided to cross borders it was because of the promise that I made to Julian* at the moment that the federal authorities told me the way that he had been executed. At that moment I shrieked at God, asking why he had blindfolded himself and failed to see how my son and his companions were being torn apart.

I cried hard, I fell down because my legs could no longer tolerate so much pain.  But in that same moment I reacted, I got up, I wiped my tears and I shouted to Julian that I didn’t know why they had done this to him, but that I was going to fight to cross borders, to make his name echo throughout the world… I started traveling and working on the caravans. I became a human rights defender, even though I am not formally educated.  To defend human rights one doesn’t need to have studied—I think I’ve come to understand that.
There are no coincidences; everything happens for a reason.  If Julian and his companions were martyrs, it was for something.  God wanted to turn them into angels so that there would be justice here on earth. He wanted someone from the families of those men to raise their voices, so that those here on earth would realize that there is a great deal of injustice.

Julia: My brother brought me here.  My brother took me by the shoulder and told me “let’s go, I’m going to show you where I am.”  And I think I have been finding him in each experience and in each person who I have spent time with, in each of the beings who surround me.

As for my goals and hopes and expectations for the caravan when I began—to be honest I was afraid to come.  I don’t know why, but I was very afraid, and that has changed enormously.  The caravan has changed my life entirely, from my head to my toes, spiritually, emotionally, even physically.  I don’t know if this is all I have to give, and I only ask God that, if he has designed me for something greater, that he show me the way.  If I can give more, I will.  At this point I don’t know.


Now that the Caravan has ended, people in the United States must begin to seriously reevaluate our commitment, both personally and politically, to drug prohibition and the War on Drugs. Most of the crimes against people like Julia, Maria, Alex, and Marco’s family members have been committed by members of criminal organizations—organizations that formed to provide drugs to users in the U.S. while circumventing U.S. law enforcement. By fulfilling U.S. demand, these organizations became fabulously wealthy.  When President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels in 2006—influenced by U.S. pressure and aided militarily by the U.S.-funded Merida Initiative —the cartels used their wealth to arm themselves, heavily. Around 70% of the military-style assault weapons they acquired were purchased from U.S. arms dealers.

The bi-national strategy of killing or imprisoning the leaders of criminal organizations has removed the forces that kept cartels functioning mainly as drug businesses and that prevented them, for the most part, from attacking the civilian population.  Headless cartels have become sites of power struggles, have splintered and formed new organizations, have diversified their businesses to reap the profits of ransoms, “taxes” and human trafficking.  All of these changes have led to bloodshed and disappearances. To protect themselves traffickers terrorize the civilian population, especially those civilians who might know a little too much—human rights defenders, journalists, activists.  Some young men in these organizations have become so inured to murder that they have come to relish it.  They’ve become killing machines devoid of human empathy, whose violent tendencies may well outlive this conflict and continue to haunt their communities for decades.

Caravan closing event
As Stephen Downing, former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, told us repeatedly during the caravan, drug trafficking organizations are like starfish.  When you cut a starfish into pieces, intending to kill it, each piece grows instead into a new, whole starfish.  The only way to kill a starfish is to deprive it of nutrients—in this case, the profits of drug sales in the U.S.  After four decades of the War on Drugs, drug abuse in the U.S. is higher than ever, so to assume current policies will reduce addiction and overdose is wishful thinking.  The type of organized crime that flourished during alcohol prohibition withered and disappeared following legalization; I believe that the same would happen if we were to begin legalizing drugs. The process must be gradual and careful, backed by research, public health programs, and strong regulations.  Such a proposal will be frightening for many Americans. But of all the things I learned on the Caravan, the most important is that ending this war is extraordinarily urgent—for Mexico, for other Latin American countries, and, most strikingly, for communities throughout the United States.

We cannot remain paralyzed by fear.  Let’s educate ourselves, reassess our assumptions, and engage politically. No policy, as Julia says, will repair this problem immediately or even within a decade—but the problem can be repaired.  I’m committed.

*Names have been changed, and some details of stories have been omitted 

Witness for Peace-Mexico Team would like to thank Alissa Escarce for her hard work on the caravan and sharing the stories and experiences with us!