Javier Sicilia

Javier Sicilia, a Mexican writer and peace activist, speaks on the failures of the Mexican state to protect its citizens at a talk on campus Monday. He referenced the situation in Iguala, Mexico, where 43 college students have gone missing, allegedly at the hands of Mexican government.

Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

The disappearance of 43 students in Mexico shows the Mexican state is in crisis, Javier Sicilia, Mexican writer and peace activist, said at a talk on campus Monday. 

At the event, sponsored by the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, Sicilia spoke on the failures of the Mexican state to protect its citizens and to control widespread violence, referencing the recent abduction and suspected murder of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico. 

Sicilia, formerly a poet, founded Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity in 2011, after his son was murdered by gang-related violence in Mexico. Sicilia and other members of the group traveled by bus, advocating for the legalization of drugs as a way to reduce cartel violence in Mexico.

According to the Mexican Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, the mayor of Iguala and his wife allegedly ordered Iguala police to kidnap the students and deliver them to a local gang.

This alleged act of collusion between authorities and organized crime demonstrates a problem that has existed in Mexico for years, according to Sicilia. During the search for the 43 missing students, local authorities found nine graves containing 20 bodies in the outskirts of Iguala. Early DNA tests show the bodies do not belong to the missing students. 

“The Mexican state is in crisis, but we don’t want to accept it,” Sicilia said through a translator. ”This is a corrupt state that is showing what will happen if we do not reform.” 

Sicilia said this crisis stems from the state’s economic priorities and the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs. Sicilia said he believes that legalizing drugs in the U.S. would reduce violence in Mexico. He contrasted the threat of drugs with guns, which he said were more harmful. 

A panel followed Sicilia’s talk, in which Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, a panelist and associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, said he believes the first step to ending the violence and corruption in Mexico is to jail corrupt politicians. Dominguez-Ruvalcaba said Mexicans should work toward an end to impunity rather than burning down the presidential palace in Mexico City, as protesters attempted to do last week. 

Panelist Yoalli Rodriguez Aguilera, a Latin American studies graduate student, said she believes Mexicans should dismantle the state and create a new form of organization. Rodriguez Aguilera said Mexicans should follow the example of the Zapatistas, who started an autonomous movement in the 1990s. 

“We need to imagine another way of organizing,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

Editor’s note: Quotes from Javier Sicilia and Maria Guadalupe Aguilar Jáuregui were translated from Spanish by a translator at the rally.

Hundreds of members of the Austin community gathered at City Hall Saturday to call for an end to drug violence in the U.S. and south of the border.

Saturday marked the Austin stop on a two-month, cross-country tour by the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, a grassroots initiative started by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia after his son and six of his friends were killed in 2011 in drug-related violence. According to an article on Sicilia in Time magazine, the drug war in Mexico has been responsible for at least 10,000 disappearances and 60,000 deaths since 2006.

The caravan works to find solutions to the drug violence problem in both the U.S. and Mexico, specifically advocating a change in drug policies in both nations. Representatives of multiple human rights organizations, including the UT chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens and Students for Equity and Diversity, attended the rally.

Joshua Tang, history senior and co-director of Students for Equity and Diversity, said decriminalizing drug use is the main goal of the caravan, a move that would decrease drug-related violence and ultimately get people off drugs.

“Instead of criminalizing drug use, we would treat it as a medical condition,” he said. “We would enroll people in health care programs and so forth, where they could be treated for their drug use as opposed to throwing them in jail.”

Tang said the U.S. and Mexico are strongly connected on this issue.

“Most of the weapons that drug cartels use are made in the United States, and U.S. buyers are major buyers of drugs grown in Mexico, so both sides need to work together to solve this issue.”

Sicilia said the current war on drugs has been a futile effort, ultimately ending with a racially disproportionate prison population receiving reduced freedom instead of the treatment it needs.

“It’s a completely failed and erroneous war, and it has opened the doors to hell.”

More than 100 Mexican citizens who have seen an innocent family member either die or disappear because of drug-related violence are traveling with the caravan to share their stories of loss.

Maria Guadalupe Aguilar Jáuregui displayed a picture of her son, José Luis, who has been missing since January 2011.

Jáuregui said she thinks about her son every day and searched for him every day before joining the caravan. She said she is traveling with the caravan to help shed light on drug violence so other families will not end up like her son, with two small children who now have no father.

“I want the disappearances to stop,” she said in Spanish.

Sicilia said he believes UT students can make a difference in their world by simply making a greater effort to participate in political life.

“You have to participate in social life, not only as students, but as citizens,” he said. “You have to come out to the streets, organize and push for
policy change.”