Los Caravaneros: A Procession for Peace
María González wept as she recounted the day her son Andrés Ascención González went missing. She held a photo of her son with his description and his “date last seen.”
“When your mother passes away, you are an orphan,” she said. “When your husband passes away, you are a widow…but there is no name for a missing son…there is no name for this pain.”
González joined the Caravan for Peace on their month-long journey across the United States. Beginning Aug. 12 in San Diego, Calif. and ending Sept. 12 in Washington D.C., the caravan traveled to more than 25 cities seeking justice and spreading awareness of the violence in Mexico.
Mexican poet Javier Sicilia started the Caravan for Peace after his son Juan Francisco, a university student was found murdered in the trunk of a car along with six of his friends in March 2011 near Cuernavaca.
Since former President Felipe Calderón decided to fight the drug cartels in 2006, reports estimate hundreds of thousands of murders, disappearances and internal displacements. Mexicans at home and abroad fear the gruesome violence of the drug war.
Julio Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant living in St. Louis, described how this violence deterred him from returning home. “You’re like a rat between two cats,” he said. “You try to protect yourself and your family from the front, they’ll get you from the back,” Ramirez explains.
The gruesome stories are countless. In May 2012, 49 dismembered bodies were stuffed into bags and dumped along a highway near Monterrey, Mexico, just two hours from the Texas border. In September 2011, five severed heads were found in front of a primary school in the resort town of Acapulco. In Nuevo Laredo, a man and woman were decapitated with a “narcomensajes” stating they were killed for providing information on cartels through social media. In June 2012, three federal police officers were shot and killed at Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport by two corrupt officers who were accused of working with cartels.
Yet, violence, extortion, cartel activity and kidnappings go unreported because many people are threatened, beaten and killed by corrupt police for notifying authorities of such incidents. Many live with this reality every day.
One caravan member spoke of her brother Miguel Guzmán, a military officer who went missing after he decided to speak out against officers involved in drug trafficking. “My brother, 19 years old…disappeared,” she said. “He has nothing to do with the drug war…he was an honest officer.”
The Caravan for Peace believes that the drug war persists due to failed policies in Mexico and the U.S. and lack of cooperation between the two countries. The caravan focuses on drug policies, arms trafficking, money laundering, U.S. foreign aid policy and immigration. The “caravaneros” believe the U.S. plays an integral role in the drug war. This is especially true due to the high demand for drugs in the U.S. and the trafficking of firearms into Mexico.
Caravan member María Herrera, a mother of four missing sons, describes the Rio Grande as “the valley of blood.” “[The U.S.] should give us an example of humanity, brotherhood,” she said. “We invite all of you to feel this pain…we hope that you will help us end this senseless war.”