A father's plea: End the war on drugs

 Javier Sicilia leads a 50-cross procession at Loyola Marymount University, each cross representing 1,000 cartel murder victims.

Story highlights

  • Mexican poet Javier Sicilia's son and six friends were killed by drug cartel hit men
  • Sicilia gave up writing and started a movement for peace and an end to war on drugs
  • Sicilia: 60,000 slain since war on drugs began in 2006, with no end to drugs
  • Sicilia leading a peace caravan in the U.S. to end the drug war ravaging both nations

Why was my son murdered? He was 24, and he had never tried drugs. He didn't even smoke. He had paid half his university costs with a sports scholarship and was working as administrative staff at a cardiac clinic in Morelos, Mexico. Why then was my son suffocated by hit men from the Gulf Cartel? Why did his six friends, just like him, die at his side?

The answer, you may tell me, is obvious. "Because drug traffickers are bad, and must be stopped." The answer, however, is not that simple. If it were I would not be leading a caravan for peace across the United States. Let's pose the question differently. If Mexico's President Felipe Calderon had treated drug abuse as a question of public health rather than a matter of national security, might my son and his friends still be alive today? If instead of declaring war on drug trafficking, Calderón had pursued a bilateral agenda with the United States to decriminalize drugs and regulate their use, is it possible that they and tens of thousands of other young people killed in the last six years would be still be with us?

Declaring a war obliges one's enemy to build up defensive armies. And if the principal tactic of that war is identifying and taking out crime syndicate leaders, it leaves their decapitated, but ever profitable, organizations adrift. President Calderon went on the offensive against cartel "capos." The result was a proliferation of criminal gangs.

My son, Juan Francisco, and his friends were kidnapped, tortured and killed by one of those new splinter gangs, who did the hit for just $25,000 and two pickup trucks.

Javier Sicilia

Why? One of the young men killed with my son had complained about a theft in the valet parking of a bar that turned out to be managed by one of the criminal gangs untethered after drug lord Beltrán Leyva was killed and his lieutenants scattered. "Comandante H," a former Beltrán Leyva confidante, was recently apprehended by authorities, telling his captors, "I was quite outraged when they murdered Sicilia's son and his friends. Murdering innocent people is not our business. Our business is drugs. But I was fleeing, and I could not do anything."

The horrific story of my son and his friends is one of thousands like it in our country. More than 60,000 people have been killed and 20,000 have disappeared because of the myopic war strategy Felipe Calderon and the Mexican security forces have pursued since 2006. Some murder estimates are even higher.

That is why I stopped writing poetry and took to the streets with thousands of other grieving Mexicans to make my son, and other victims like him, visible. Now, I'm traveling across the United States with members of dozens of families broken by violence to seek common cause with Americans whose communities, especially the African American and Latino communities who have so warmly hosted us, that have been battered by the violence and the criminalization that this same counterproductive war inflicts on the U.S. side of the border.

    Poet's pain over son's cartel slaying leads to movement for peace

    The path of peace must be taken by both our nations in concert. We know that President Calderón would not have declared his war without U.S. sponsorship, money and military advice.

    Drug traffickers would not be able to fight this war without the high-powered assault weapons which, legalized in the United States, now flood over the Mexican border. Drug lords could not afford their wars without massive illegal drug profits and collusion by international banks to launder their money.

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    Forty-plus years after U.S. President Nixon declared the drug war, it is time to concede it hasn't worked any more than alcohol Prohibition worked back in the 1920s.

    This is why, after traveling in two caravans across Mexico and, talking twice with President Calderon on live television, our movement of war victims called for a caravan across the United States. We started in San Diego on August 12th and we will end in Washington, D.C., on September 12th. With each mile traveled, we seek to raise awareness and spur the good conscience of the people of the United States, while reframing the issues of war and peace on the bilateral agenda of Mexico and the United States. We implore the governments of Mexico and of the United States to accept co-responsibility for ending the disastrous drug war.

    We've been encouraged by the warmth and breadth of support we've experienced on our journey, from thousands of Americans, including grieving moms who've lost their children to drug addiction and top cops who have decided to speak out against the destruction wrought by prohibition. Yet even as we are carried forward by the momentum of this fresh dialogue, another voice echoes.

    Every time I close my eyes I see my son's gaze moments before his death. He is afraid, very afraid, and behind his fear I hear a horrible question. "If drugs were legalized, and there were no weapons, would I be here, just about to die? Go, dad, leave all your things behind and tell everyone that this war is destroying more people than the drugs themselves. Tell them that no prohibition is worth the death of any person. Go tell them that we need to find peace, so that no other father will have to see his son die like this, and no son will again suffer what I am suffering."

    This is why we have come to the United States. If we do not make peace together, we will never find it.

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