Skip to main content

A father's plea: End the war on drugs

By Javier Sicilia, Special to CNN
September 10, 2012 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
 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
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT