Essentially a nature reserve in the furthest southwest corner of the United States, it also resembles a militarized zone. Here, the border wall that occupies the dreams of “brown peril” fanatics nationwide is a vivid reality. It’s also the location where, following the Mexican-American War, a bi-national commission began the task of defining that very same border in 1848. Nowadays, on the US side, you can’t go within fifty feet of the boundary without a shaking down by the Border Patrol.
The wider border region has become yet more surreal in recent years as much-touted “Drug War” violence has gripped Mexican cities like Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, accompanied by largely right-wing paranoia in the US about an inevitable “spill-over” – which predictably never comes.
To quote one of the many Drug War statistics that beggar belief, in 2010 Ciudad Juarez saw 3,075 murders while its border town cousin El Paso, Texas, saw just five. Yet less well-reported is that some thousand people in the US die per year in gang violence as well, largely fueled by the same narcotics trade. The “war on drugs” – as christened by President Richard Nixon in 1971 and waged ever since on a rolling tab that may top US$2 trillion – ultimately takes more lives than the drugs themselves.
On Sunday, Border Field State Park was the venue for the opening ceremony of the Caravan for Peace, a 30-day tour of 27 US cities by Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Specifically, the ceremony took place in what used to be known as Friendship Park (inaugurated by – irony of ironies – former First Lady Pat Nixon in 1971). The park was a meeting spot for families separated by the border for years until the Department of Homeland Security closed it in 2009 amid yet more paranoia about “border security”.
The symbolism of the venue was glaring. As the Mexican government fights a so-called “drug war” (lately rebranded by President Felipe Calderon as the “war on organized crime”), which has taken anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000 lives in less than six years, one might ask exactly where is the “friendship” in the US-Mexico relationship? US trade policy destroys Mexican jobs and wages, immigration policy criminalizes those looking to escape their country’s economic quagmire, and US-trained Mexican troops run roughshod through the country’s cities. Meanwhile, 70% of firearms seized south of the border are illegally smuggled from – Well, where else?
The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity – largely made up of victims and survivors of the country’s “drug war” conflict – has made several trips around Mexico to speak to citizens, empower victims, and make a persuasive case against their government’s “war”. Their agenda is simple and was laid out in the National Pact for Peace presented to the Mexican government one year ago: stop the militarization, debate legalization, and focus on rebuilding a devastated society.
As it makes its way across thirteen American states, culminating in a three-day visit to Washington on September 10, the Peace Movement will look to build coalitions with US-based civil society groups to demand an end to Washington’s “war on drugs”, which currently includes funding for Latin America’s “drug warrior” du jour, Mexico’s own Felipe Calderon.
A Poet Lays Down his Pen
While there had been opposition to Calderon’s “war” from the very beginning, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity came of age on May 8, 2011, when 200,000 people marched on Mexico City led by the poet Javier Sicilia, whose 24-year old son Juan Francisco lost his life two months earlier. Sicilia subsequently gave up writing (“The world is not worthy of words – they have been suffocated from the inside – just as they suffocated you,” he wrote in his final poem) yet he was able to bring a startling eloquence to a resistance movement that had long been ignored. The Peace Movement is now one of Mexico’s most high-profile social organizations and has broken through the country’s traditionally rigid class barriers, in large part due to Sicilia’s presence.
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Along the Border of the Surreal » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.