The Mexican people want their country back. That’s the message they plan to send on May 8th to Mexico’s government, as well as to the narco thugs who have held their country hostage for years, through widespread planned marches and rallies.
The national sentiment of Hasta la madre! [“We won’t take it anymore!”] has been slowly and steadily building, but was catalyzed by the death of a well-known Mexican poet’s son. Javier Sicilia, a journalist-turned-activist, lost his son to the drug war in late March 2011, and as a result has galvanized a movement of Mexicans, both domestically and in the United States, to protest the conduct of the drug war.
Sicilia says one of the goals of this mobilization is to return dignity to the names of the dead who “in the eyes of the State have been counted as collateral damage or statistics.” He also calls for a rebuilding of Mexico’s social fabric, and a re-founding of the country through a social pact formed between the Mexican people.
But can such a movement, with decidedly lofty goals and ideals, truly succeed in Mexico’s current environment?
There are several factors working in the protestors’ favor. Historically, this is the first time that so many Mexicans have come together to publicly call for an end to President Felipe Calderón’s drug war and associated violence. There are currently 38 marches and rallies taking place on May 8th across Mexico, and some are also planned in the United States.
The El Paso Times reported that Mexican journalist and asylum seeker Emilio Gutierrez, along with a group of supporters, is encouraging people in the El Paso area to join a rally in Mesilla, Texas in support of the national marches in Mexico.
The Mexican people have already warmed up for this day, too. Media reports said that on April 7th, up to 35,000 people in 21 Mexican states and 26 cities took to the streets to protest corruption, push for changes in the government’s fight organized crime, and lament the deaths of thousands of innocents across Mexico. These people were inspired by an open letter penned by Sicilia shortly after the death of his son.
I’ve had the chance to speak with people who are passionately answering Sicilia’s call. Some are looking at May 8th as just a beginning, a precursor to a process that will likely take years to bear fruit. Others have used the terms “revolution” and “civil resistance,” invoking recent events in Egypt and historical figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King to draw parallels with this phenomenon.
Unfortunately, as well-intentioned as these protestors may be, it sounds like they’re forgetting about the number one cause of the drug war that is ruining millions of Mexican lives—American drug users.
Sicilia outlined several goals for this movement in a long open letter, but they’re all domestically oriented. Many of them are vague and idealistic, like the forming of a “social pact” and “rebuilding Mexico’s social fabric.” Others are practical, like eliminating corruption from the ranks of politicians, soldiers, and police. Some are outright unrealistic, like completely legalizing all drug trafficking in Mexico.
The anti-drug war movement seems to be using Sicilia’s letter as a manifesto of sorts, but it still comes across as unfocused. Are they protesting against the Mexican government, the cartels themselves, or US drug policies? Perhaps it’s all of the above, but they don’t appear to have a solid road map for how to achieve their ultimate goal—the end of the drug war.
Most importantly, they’re leaving out the biggest problem—the insatiable American demand for drugs. Millions of drug users in the United States couldn’t care less that their habit results in the loss of thousands of Mexican lives every year. The U.S. media is providing better-than-expected coverage of these marches. But even if millions of Americans learned about the rallies and their goals, most probably wouldn’t flinch, let alone change their daily routines.
The comparisons to Egypt and Gandhi and Martin Luther King also aren’t quite accurate. The protests and civil resistance in those cases were for political reasons dealing with purely domestic issues. If the anti-drug war movement only had to deal with the Mexican government, then they’d really be on to something. But no matter how many people take to the streets in Mexico—or even in the United States—to demand an end to the bloodshed and corruption, no change in Mexican strategy or policy or social outlook is going to affect the American desire for illegal drugs.
There is no question that the Mexican people are displaying an incredible amount of courage, fortitude, and determination by taking steps to get their country back. There are many changes that the anti-drug war movement is demanding that are necessary to have a positive impact on the drug war. Regardless of the U.S. role in the drug war, the Mexican people would no doubt benefit from less corruption, elected officials who weren’t working hand-in-hand with narco thugs, and diminishing national fear as a result of communities working together.
Those changes will take time, patience, and hard work. But the anti-drug war movement can’t succeed by confining its goals to Mexico alone. Without a component to galvanize the American people or the U.S. government to dramatically reduce drug demand or revamp U.S. drug policies, it’s unlikely the drug war and bloodshed will end through Mexican protest alone.