Targeting the War on Drugs

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia lost his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco last year after going into a bar with six of his friends run by a drug cartel. All suffered a violent death.

After his son’s murder, Sicilia founded the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity) in Mexico. His crusade swept across borders in Latin America as many victims, like him, joined a movement to end what he called a lost and needless war.

Caravan for Peace is a call to action for the governments of the United States and Mexico to find solutions to the War on Drugs.

In a bi-national movement, political activists, citizens and 110 victims of violence in the United States and Mexico joined forces in San Diego for a 30-day, 6,000-mile journey to 27 cities and across 17 states to Washington D.C. Sicilia and his caravaneros delivered their message of peace and hope to the White House, calling for an International Day of Action for Peace in Mexico on September 12.

Led by Sicilia and Border Angels founder Enrique Morones, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity/Marcha Migrante VIII kicked off at Friendship Park on August 12, and began its sojourn to the White House. Morones said more than 150 civic organizations along the way provided food, shelter and care for all and the caravan met hundreds of volunteers, victims and supporters at each stop.

Morones said it is vital for people to realize the consequences of the escalating violence on both sides of the border since the two nations declared the War on Drugs. He said the campaign left innocent casualties in its wake, with more victims falling to failed policies and drug violence every day.

“Over the past six years the War on Drugs has left more than 70,000 dead and more than 20,000 missing in Mexico alone,” he said.

Los caravaneros called on Mexico and the U.S. to enter into a dialogue about alternatives based on evidence and forward-thinking options for drug regulation. Morones said it is essential that the importation of assault weapons into Mexico stops, that concrete steps are taken to combat money laundering, and that both nations re-examine the militarized border and criminalized immigrants.

As the activists gathered to begin their journey, California Senator Juan Vargas and U.S. Congressman Bob Filner met the caravan at Friendship Park with Senate and Congressional resolutions declaring August 12 a “Day of Peace” in San Diego County.

Filner said he stood with Sicilia to confirm their mutual humanity and call for new thinking by federal agencies in the U.S. and Mexico.

“I have worked in non-violent campaigns in the U.S. and throughout the world,” he said. “It is up to government of America to claim some responsibility here. This is not a Mexican problem. This is our problem.”

Dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil later that evening at Chicano Park. After moving a performance of “Misa Azteca” by the Southwestern College Concert Choir, one by one victims of the Drug War spoke of their losses. They hoped their heart-breaking experiences would be the beginning of change.

Gretchen Burns Bergman, lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign, said both countries have suffered senseless tragedies, the erosion of human rights and loss of liberties due to the punitive policies that fuel the violence of the drug cartels. She said her son spent more than a decade “cycling through the criminal justice system” for possession of marijuana.

“We are losing our sons and daughters to drug war violence, to accidental overdose death, and to mass arrest and incarceration,” she said. “It is time for families to unite, stand side by side, sister to sister, mother to mother, cross borders to demand no more Drug War for the sake of our children and future generations.”

Aracely Rodriquez, mother of Luis Ángel León, a federal police officer who refused to cooperate with a drug cartel, was murdered in the state of Michoacán. Rodriquez said the heartbroken people of Mexico found solace and a voice in the heart of Javier Sicilia.

“We have walked across this border with you to unite our pain with your pain,” she said. “I believe in my heart with all of the people with us here now that in uniting our pain we can create a change.”

Sicilia said he dedicated himself to protesting the War on Drugs and the escalating violence. His crusade travels across many borders of the world now and he said he brings his message for change in peace and love, not hate and anger. After 40 years of this war declared by President Nixon, “all is left are the dead, the missing loved ones and the innocent that lost their homeland,” said Sicilia.

“We are losing our democracy and we are losing our frame of reference of life-that we are human beings,” he said. “The only people that benefit from this are the lords of death, the lords of war and lords of pain.”

In Washington Sicilia and los caravaneros spoke to scholars, staff and guests at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, associate director of Latino Affairs and Immigration Julie Chavez Rodriquez, U.S. Mexican Ambassador Anthony Wayne, and members of Congress and the Senate.

Sicilia said there has been no reduction in America’s consumption of drugs, only an epidemic of murder and violence.

“We bring our disappeared children that never approached a dealer,” he said. “We bring defenseless orphans and widows. We bring young people, children of misery, because the Mexican government and the other places of Latin America allocate more American money to the promotion of war than to social programs that have found shelter in the crime and have ended up butchered.”

Sicilia said he dreams his daughter and his grandson will be able to go back to Mexico some day unafraid that someone will kill them like his son was killed.

“I dream that all those who have been displaced by this war and are absolutely defenseless will be able to return to their homes with their families while being assured that nobody will harm them.”


La Paz, Marcha Migrante VII

By: Albert Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Monday, February 27th, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Nestled in the Tehachapi Mountains, between San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, rugged, peaks and great oak stand guard, protecting a sacred plot of land. In this safe haven stands a simple wooden cross, with an iron crucifix behind a small granite headstone. Saint Francis of Assisi and La Virgen de Guadalupe stand on each end of a consecrated rose garden in Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), the home and burial site of Cesar Chavez, one of America’s great humanitarian activists of the 20th century.

In the midst of a mountain chain that almost divided the state into Northern California and Southern California twice, Cesar Chavez started a revolution that united people to fight for the rights of the migrant farm workers. His bold but nonviolent fight for social change, influenced by his deep faith in God and examples of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he fought this fight with boycotts, fasts, marches and strikes—and thousands of people joined his crusade. Cries of ¡Si Se Puede! and ¡Huelga! carried loudly across the nation’s streets all the way to Washington. He became the first American to found a successful farm workers union achieving bargaining power with growers in 1962, the National Farm Workers Association (now the United Farm Workers of America.)

His mortal remains lie at rest in La Paz, but his cause lives on in the National Chavez Center. His son, Paul F. Chavez, president, opened its doors and homes to Marcha Migrante VII travelers. This year, taking “A Walk with Cesar,” marchers celebrated the 50th year of service of the United Farm Workers following its footsteps into some of the pivotal and painful events and struggles of the past. Paul Chavez said after his father’s death that La Paz began to deteriorate with many projects started but unfinished. Promising his mother they would remain, he said they had to start thinking about the next 50 years. After several failed attempts, they found someone to work with to create a master plan with a vision of the future with his father’s cause at the forefront.

“The easy part was my father’s gravesite,” he said. “That is one thing that will never change. It is a two-person Catholic graveyard, consecrated by the church.”

Chavez said creating an atmosphere of remembrance of his father’s cause and educating people on the struggles of the migrant worker became the vision for the Chavez Center, targeting much of the education to children.

“Kids, they don’t know where the food comes from, they think it comes from the supermarket,” he said. “They don’t know that there are immigrants working hard every day under terrible conditions and being taken advantage of that labor to bring food to their tables. We use my father’s legacy to tell their stories.”

He said his father really believed migrant farmers could build their own union, be strong, independent and represent themselves fairly and peacefully.

“The poorest of the poor and the least educated of society could take on the biggest and most powerful industry and could beat them,” he said. “He really believed it. He saw migrant farm workers from San Ysidro to the Napa Valley coming here to be educated with the skills to negotiate as a collective bargaining unit and how to do arbitration.”

Set on a sprawling 187 acres, La Paz was a humble home for Cesar Chavez for more than 25 years, a respite from the battles in the fields and cities and a place to gather to unite for the cause. Paul Chavez took the group to the center’s newest facility, Villa La Paz.

Once a sanitarium and tuberculosis facility, the children’s hospital is now home to a state-of-the-art conference and educational center. Paul Chavez said this is just the beginning of a vision to bring in housing, gardens and facilities to accommodate people that travel to La Paz, added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2010. He said he waits for a call from Washington that declares the site as a national historical landmark and possibly an addition to the National Park System.

Paul Chavez said though the name has changed, he would always remember the place he grew up as “Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz, Our Lady Queen of Peace Educational Center, that is the name my father gave this place,” he said.

The queen of peace smiles beatifically at the peaceful place of rest for a humble American giant. La Paz is more than the name of a retreat, it was the strategy and guide for a loud but peaceful human rights revolution.

Border Angels March Recalls Chavez

ALBERT H. FULCHER/ STAFF A BLESSING — Mark Valdez receives a blessing from Father Dermot Rodgers after his 10-day fast that ended at the beach of Borderfield State Park.

By: Albert H. Fulcher, Senior Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Exhausted after fasting and traveling for 10 days, Mark Valdez took the last weary steps towards the beach at Border Field State Park. He was met there by Father Dermot Rodgers, who blessed him for his prayers and dedication. Rodgers broke bread with Valdez, an historic echo of 1968 when presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy met Cesar Chavez to break bread with him after a 25-day fast in protest of the poor treatment of migrant workers.

“My fast is two-fold,” said Valdez, a member of the Border Angels’ board of directors. “First, in memory of Cesar’s cause and sacrifices that brings me closer to God. Secondly, to experience what migrants experience every day trying to get across the border, many of them losing their lives.”

Marcha Migrante VII celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Farmers Workers, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962. Each day of travel was a tribute to his 10 core principles reflected in its theme, “Walk with Cesar.” Chavez’s principles were determination, acceptance of people, celebrating community, respect for live and environment, non-violence, helping the most needy, knowledge, sacrifice, service to others and innovation.

“This park is a sacred park,” said Border Angels founder Enrique Morones. “This is home to Friendship Park where we normally end our journey. The idea was to have a friendship between both countries.”

Beginning Feb. 2, at Cesar Chavez Park, marchers enjoyed a sendoff by the Hummingbird Aztec Dancers. Next was the drive to Holtville Cemetery, a somber graveyard of more than 700 unidentified migrants.

“The names on some of the crosses you carry are some of the names of some of the 10,000 people that have died crossing the border since October 1994,” said Morones.

In Yuma they saw where Cesar Chavez was born and the remains of the small adobe home where he grew up. They rumbled to Coachella to hear California Assembly man Manual Perez announce a three-bill package to assist communities that rely on the migrant work force. On the way to Los Angeles, marchers protested in front of an INS detention facility. That evening they rallied in Plaza Mexico, where El Pueblo Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula was founded. Morones said they spent a wonderful evening in Boyle Heights at the theater of iconic Latina playwright Josephina Lopez. After watching her production of “King of the Desert,” Lopez put the group up for the night at Casa 0101 Theatre.

During a day of fasting the group journeyed to the Cesar Chavez Center in La Paz, high in the Tehachapi Mountains (see Back Page.)

“This is a magical place, an historic place and also a sad place,” said Morones. “Sad only because Cesar is buried here. But Cesar is not gone, he’s with us and he will always be with us.”

Warm rooms and beds awaited 25 marchers, but several stayed up late painting crosses for their next day’s journey to 40 Acres, the place Chavez planned his most momentous initiatives, of including the 1970 signing of the historic UFW labor contract. His son, Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Center, said the center exists to fight for humane treatment of immigrants.

“(Latinos) have always answered the call to duty,” he said. “We’ve done the (worst) jobs, worked the hardest and we are not recognized for it. So let’s do it. Not so much on behalf of my dad, but we are going to do it on behalf of the larger Latino community.”

Moving on to Modesto, Morones said friends from El Concilio help the needy every day and do amazing work.

“We saw the work firsthand, from educating youth to visiting farm workers,” he said. “The work is exemplary and you can see the joy and the pride of the Concilio workers in the love they demonstrate.”

Many marchers headed to Sacramento and did interviews with local and international media. Morones visited offices of state legislators to seek humane immigration reform.

Marchers met in Escondido to support day laborers mistreated by the city’s law enforcement. Escondido has been dubbed “Little Arizona” by human rights groups.

Back home on the beach in the corner of the U.S., Morones gave thanks for everybody that participated in the march.

“There is so much work to do,” said Morones.

Chavez lessons continue.

%d bloggers like this: