Maria Guadalupe Aguilar

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.”