Skip to main content

A father's plea: End the war on drugs

By Javier Sicilia, Special to CNN
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Mon September 10, 2012
 Javier Sicilia leads a 50-cross procession at Loyola Marymount University, each cross representing 1,000 cartel murder victims.
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

Editor's note: Javier Sicilia is one of Mexico's most highly regarded poets and the leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. His son, Juan Francisco, was murdered last year near his hometown of Cuernavaca. The Movement's Caravan for Peace crossed the border at San Diego on August 12 and will arrive in Washington on September 10. Follow on Twitter @caravanaUSA

(CNN) -- 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.

Javier Sicilia
Javier Sicilia

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's last poem
The world is not worthy of words

they have been suffocated from the inside

as they suffocated you, as they tore apart your lungs ...

the pain does not leave me

all that remains is a world

through the silence of the righteous,

only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.

Dedicated to his son, Juan Francisco

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.

A grieving father's peace crusade
Bodies dismembered in cartel violence
Zakaria: Mexico turning tide in drug war

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.

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.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Javier Sicilia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT