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We Come To Civilize the Big Players

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Earlier this year Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina reissued his call for all Central American nations to decriminalize drugs as a way to reduce the violence that is devastating the region. In 2001 Mexican President Vicente Fox expressed similar sentiments urging the United States to reciprocate. "Humanity will one day view it as the best in this sense," he noted. And just a few years before that Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's prime minister and Uruguayan President Jorge Battle issued similar calls for a humanitarian end to the so-called War on Drugs. Last week in New York City a delegation of Mexican notables, activists and families of murdered victims of this drug war --- numbering now a numbing 60,000 in recent years - called for an end to the War on Drugs and the gun trafficking and violence that it engenders. In their plea they ask for a substantive change in forging alternative mechanisms in dealing with drug use in the U.S., the largest consumer of illegal drugs on the planet. In short, they utter the L word: legalization.

Fancy that. Latin American nations are demanding an end to the very war that has devastated the hemisphere on both sides of the Rio Grande. Latinos in the U.S. have the highest proportion of incarceration due to non-violent drug crimes. Thousands of years of lives lost within Latino families all due to a mass incarceration punishment industry that is fueled by this selective war on drugs. While in Central and South America, and the Caribbean, the death toll attributable to the drug trade is unfathomable. Tens of thousands of guns, made in the U.S.A., make their way to Mexico and its drug warriors and exacerbate a deadly and violent way of life that is out of control yet barely mentioned in this country.

We've come to civilize the big players noted poet Javier Sicilia a leader of the movement Caravan for Peace that traversed 6,000 miles and 20 plus U.S. cities before ending in Washington D.C. this week.

In New York City, the marijuana arrest capital of the world, the Mexican delegation was denied an official, mayoral welcome. Their request for an audience was ignored. Instead, they were received on the steps of City Hall by an enthusiastic crowd of U.S. supporters who have courageously questioned our drug policies.

I say courageous because it is nearly impossible in the U.S. these days to question the efficacy of the trillion dollar drug war without being stereotyped as a drug user on a mission. You're not on drugs, are you? whispered one audience member to me in Queens after hearing my own call for revisiting the criminalization paradigm and its pernicious effects on Latino communities. No, I'm not. And nor are the multitude of policy makers, editorial writers, and humanitarians that seriously question the country's shift in the 1930's on drug use from a medical treatment framework to a law enforcement priority. And all without a shred of evidence to demonstrate that criminalization cures the insatiable American appetite for illicit drugs, then or now.

At City Hall the narratives of the Mexican mothers was especially powerful. It is the dead, the innocent ones caught in the cross-fire, that demand an end to this war, they intoned. Behind them the imagery was equally potent: photos of their loved ones with details of their last day on earth, banners that read "we need poets, not machine guns," and "until the day that peace and justice kiss."

When will we listen? Not anytime soon if the two U.S. presidential candidates have any say. Actually, the problem is what they did not say. Both candidates presented acceptance speeches that failed to address this multi-billion dollar investment in the drug war - one of the most egregious failures of domestic policy of our times.

Their silence speaks volumes. But it is dwarfed by the silence of the Mexican dead which along with American lives lost, ask us collectively, when will we listen?