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Caravan for Peace VIII: from NY City - Pepe Rivera, Gabriel Sayegh of DPA and Daniel Gershenson
Century of Lies / September 9, 2012
DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.
DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. This is Dean Becker and welcome to this 8th edition of our coverage of the Caravan for Peace, Justice and Dignity as they travel across these United States trying to enlighten and embolden you to help bring an end to this madness.
The following interviews were recorded during the caravan’s time in New York City.
DEAN BECKER: Pepe, tell us if you will a little bit of history of your work.
PEPE RIVERA: I’m a photographer right now who right now, as a coordinator for the documentation for the Caravan for Peace, Justice and Dignity, what I do is I document the stories of the War on Drugs in Mexico.
Currently I’m also the coordinator for the communications commission for the caravan along with Daniel Robelo from DPA.
DEAN BECKER: The thing that strikes me most is the upbeat nature of all those involved in this Caravan for Peace despite the horrors they might have witnessed or that may have been inflicted on their family. They want to awaken other people don’t they? They want people to know the truth of this matter.
PEPE RIVERA: Yes, I think the victims when I talk to them they state that just being with other victims and being with members of the movement is something that is uplifting for them, something that gives them energy and gives them power and that’s why they seem upbeat. But, also, some of them also say behind their faces there is sadness.
DEAN BECKER: I have seen that sadness. I have felt that sadness. Sometimes it sweeps over the crowd like a wave. It’s powerful isn’t it?
PEPE RIVERA: Definitely. We hope that it’s powerful enough to motivate and inspire other people to join the fight to end the drug war.
DEAN BECKER: Now this is not your first rodeo, so to speak. Take us back to the other caravans and how it played out in Mexico.
PEPE RIVERA: Before the caravans there were the marches, the peace marches. Specifically there was a march that was very significant that went from Cuernavaca to Mexico City which is over 80 kilometers. That was a march that was made completely in silence because there wasn’t much to say.
After that when they arrived in Mexico City Javier announced that we were going to march to Juarez – the heart of darkness, the heart of pain – because that was a place where maybe we could find some answers to understand what was going on. During the route we traveled to several states.
It started out with about 12 busses and by the end we didn’t really know how many busses were with us. That was the first caravan. We call that the Caravan Norte or Caravan Juarez.
Then we had a second caravan which went down Guatemala. The first one crossed El Paso. The second one crossed Guatemala. We wanted to see the dynamics of the southern part of the country.
There we crossed a bridge. Javier asked for forgiveness for immigrants and migrants because of the they were being treated in Mexico. We know that it isn’t just a problem at the U.S./Mexican border but also when migrants are crossing Mexico. They’re under threats basically because the migrants routes which are traditional which will never end just like the demand for drugs those are…the people get mixed with violence and the cartels and the drug routes and this makes it much more dangerous for them to travel and it’s something that has to be dealt with. That’s the responsibility of the Mexican government as well.
DEAN BECKER: My limited knowledge of what you’re talking about of the migrants coming into Mexico headed north most of them I suppose is that there is a prejudice we seem to have that prejudice of Mexicans coming north and within Mexico there is a similar prejudice. Am I right?
PEPE RIVERA: Definitely. People who know about the issue we can say that sometimes we treat Central Americans worse than the Americans do because we act as a buffer and sometimes that is a…we know that they’re traveling. We know that they have problems with our police, with our institutions who tend to be corrupt. They tend to extort the migrants. They tend to be aggressive towards them and to prevent their passage in order to make a profit from their hardship.
DEAN BECKER: The fact of the matter is we in the United States have a mindset, if you will, that doesn’t recognize what’s going on in Mexico. The 60,000 or more dead, the 10,000 missing – it doesn’t seem to enter the conscience as of yet and that’s what this caravan is designed to do – to wake us up, to make us realize the situation, right?
PEPE RIVERA: Yes. We said from the start that there are two main objectives to the caravan. The first one is to end the violence, to end the drug war. The second one is to give visibility to the victims.
What we say is…and this is not something that happens only in the U.S. A lot of the crimes, a lot of the violence is happening outside Mexico City, for example…people from the outside tend to criticize people from Mexico City because they say we don’t understand what’s going on outside.
We feel that’s exactly what the purpose of the other caravans were – to give visibility, to let people know what was happening.
I think eventually it’s a greater challenge here in the U.S. because people outside Mexico City aren’t aware or are so insensitive to what is happening. We feel it’s harder for people in the U.S. to understand that.
But we also understand that there is victims in the U.S. …to understand that it is a low intensity conflict. We know there’s people especially in vulnerable communities – traditionally African-American communities and the Latin communities that tend to be the victims of the war as well but they’re not seen or recognized as such.
This is something that has to change. We need unity and solidarity between everybody because we’re all hurting from this and what we say or what we are thinking when we arrived here in New York is that the only ones that are benefiting are the 1%s.
We’re all being hurt. We’re all at risk. We’re all in danger. People missing their children and losing their families and disapperances besides all the mutilations and the beheadings and all these things that you hear about on the radio.
Sometimes…talking to one of the victims, for example, she was saying that what happens is…the sad part is some of the communities who are under siege tend to become desensitized.
There was another beheading and they don’t really react to it. Sometimes the consolation for them is, “Well, at least you got a head back or you got a hand back.”
That’s sad. That’s terrible.
DEAN BECKER: The stories tend to blur a bit over the weeks we’ve been doing this caravan. I do recall hearing one mother asking, hoping that her daughter was a sex slave rather than just disappeared. That in itself just tears my heart just saying it. It’s an outrageous situation isn’t it?
PEPE RIVERA: Eventually what happens to you and your family is horrible but there’s always hope.
DEAN BECKER: Well, we’re in New York. We’re going to Baltimore – another major drug chaos town here in these United States – and in a couple days we’re going to Washington, D.C. to hopefully motivate, awaken some of these politicians to this horrible situation in Mexico. Closing thoughts?
PEPE RIVERA: I think this has been a learning experience for a lot of people. I think the people are much more aware of what is happening and motivated to do something about.
We’re calling for a World Day of Action on the 12th of September so that people can organize their own events, their own vigils to call for an end of the drug war. When we reach Baltimore we hope to learn about a very specific case of the drug war which is the crack wars. We know that Baltimore has been affected by this and it’s, again, the African-American community that’s affected there.
We’re looking for solidarity. We’ve said from the beginning that if this caravan remains only something about Mexicans that we’re not going to get anywhere. It’s got to be something that included all races, all people, all communities.
By the time we reach Washington we hope we’ve made enough noise so people will put the spotlight on us and not forget that this is important. This is an issue that has to be dealt with.
Recently it was mentioned that the Democratic and Republican conventions have not talked about the drug war and I think it’s fundamental. We thank, for example, Shadow Conventions, who talked about it. They posted a report saying that about 14 billion dollars could be saved every year if the drug war ended.
We know that the drug war can’t be justified economically, morally, nor socially in any way or form and what we ask for is a dialogue. We’ve had the drug issue is always taboo.
On the busses with the victims we’ve had discussions. We’ve tried to open up their understanding to how this all came to be. One of the things that we say there is that it’s something that there is no logic to it and a lot of them think that when we start talking about something about the history and prohibition and talk about human rights their hope is that this will help them make sense of the violence and why things happen to them.
We have to explain to them that it is not their fault. There is nothing rational about war. Nothing makes sense. The sad thing is that it is a policy that nobody seems to take seriously or think that it’s an actual war because it’s being fought by police officers – the people who, in our case in Mexico – by the military.
We can’t have another 70,000 people dead during the next presidency. We need to change this.
CROWD: Alive they took them….Alive we want them…Alive they took them….Alive we want them.
DEAN BECKER: The following interview was also recorded in New York City. It’s with Gabriel Sayegh. He’s with the Drug Policy Alliance.
DEAN BECKER: Gabriel, we’re here in New York City. We’re attending a movie premier. It’s a gathering of caravaners who have been across the country trying to promote peace, justice and dignity in Mexico and in the United States as well.
This is a time for focus to be brought to bear on this issue of drug war, its ramifications, what it is doing not just in the United States or Mexico but, truthfully, around the world. Am I right?
GABRIEL SAYEGH: That’s right, yeah. This is a really remarkable event that’s taking place. The fact that folks from Mexico who have lost family members, their loved ones, husbands and wives and children, that they have decided to come to the United States as part of this caravan to demonstrate through their stories, through their witness the harms and the horrors of the drug war in Mexico and to link that with what’s going on here in the United States – this is a pretty remarkable event.
There’s a lot of people from the U.S. like you, Dean, as a reporter going along as a reporter and the others who have been directly impacted by the war in the United States so this is a pretty amazing experience to have these folks here – the caravan here in New York City tonight.
DEAN BECKER: It’s been quite a journey – some 7,000 miles by my odometer. The fact of the matter is we, as Americans, pretty much run this drug war. It is our mandate to the world. Am I correct?
GABRIEL SAYEGH: Yeah. What’s going on in Mexico and many other places is a fairly direct result of some of the policies that we have here and the policies that we either put upon or strongly encourage with a significant amount of influence on other countries to maintain.
Mexico drug war is directly linked to U.S. policies. So those of us living here in the United States not only need to consider the impact of this, the meaning of it but also need to discuss with ourselves and with our North American sisters and brothers what we’re going to do to change it.
DEAN BECKER: I was quoted in El Paso as “The U.S. runs the drug war much the same way that the drug cartels do.”
We offer money to Mexico and Colombia and Bolivia if they will participate and enforce these drug laws in the way that we think appropriate and if they don’t we take them off the ‘favorites’ list, refuse to trade with them, punish them…it’s “plato o plumo” – Take the silver or the lead. Your thoughts on that, please.
GABRIEL SAYEGH: That’s one of the biggest problems we have. You’re exactly right that U.S. foreign policy has really contributed significantly to these scenarios. Just last night President Obama was at the Democratic Convention and neither President Obama nor Governor Romney, the Republican candidate, have mentioned anything about the drug war. It’s not even a topic in these elections and yet we have in Mexico a crisis of extraordinary proportions. The Mexican state itself is at risk. It’s sustainability is at risk as a result of this horrendous war that is going on there that the United States is funding.
The United States pursued these faulty and failed policies for far too long.
DEAN BECKER: From my perspective over the years I’ve tried to refine it, boil it down as much as possible to simplify it for my listeners for a better understanding. At this point in time I think many people understand it. They recognize it but because of the taboo that’s been associated around the topic for so long they can’t share this understanding with their friends, family, co-workers, etc.
As you said the Republican and Democratic Conventions did not address it. Again, it’s a taboo subject that must be addressed. Your thoughts?
GABRIEL SAYEGH: That’s one of our greatest challenges right now that we’re not even talking about this. I think any of us who have in our own families experienced the family member who has an alcohol or other drug problem and the family doesn’t like to talk about it. It’s kept “hush-hush.” It’s painful to us. We don’t like to see our uncle or brothers or sisters or children have those kinds of problems. Often times families will ignore it.
A very similar thing is taking place at the national level. The relationship that we have with each other as a society that we’re simply not discussing these issues in a meaningful way. We’re very sick as a society to continue to practices.
Our incarceration rates are way too high. The racial disparities are just deformitive, frankly, to any type of democracy. I think a lot of us are greatly concerned with the type of challenges we all face with the economic crisis – schools being closed, hospitals and these sorts of things.
A big reason that there’s no money for these things – aside from issues around taxation – is we’ve invested so much of tax money into this drug war, into the prison industrial complex. We can’t fund a school but we’re funding a prison.
We’re not discussing these issues at the level that we should be. That’s one of our hopes with the film that’s coming out, “The House I Live In” by Eugene Jarecki. If this film gets wide distribution maybe it can help spur some of this debate and dialogue at the national level. That would be my hope with this documentary.
DEAN BECKER: There is information out there. You guys have it on your website. Many others, LEAP and others, have the information necessary to begin this discussion, to open up that dialect with friends, family and elected officials. Your thoughts on that?
GABRIEL SAYEGH: Yes. Our website, http://drugpolicy.org, has a lot of this information. There are many others out there if people are doing searches.
I think in terms of action one way that we can all work to spread this information…we have reporters like you Dean who are so dedicated to getting the word out on these issues and creating a variety of media including online and podcasts and so forth. Sometimes when we share things person to person they often have greater impact so those of us who listen to your show, for instance, finding one or two people amongst our friends or family that we could say, “Hey, listen to this show. It’s important.”
Or share other articles that we read. It’s a tedious process sometimes but until we are in a situation where we’ve got large, multi-national corporations dumping billions of dollars into a marketing campaign to say “End the War on Drugs” we’ve got to do the old fashioned way of organizing and getting the word out.
Fortunately we have the internet so we have to make great use of it. We have a long road ahead certainly. With this caravan as an example…the stories that are coming out. The people sharing their stories and the dialogue with each other. The transformative effect that that’s having on people both in the caravan and in the cities that they visit. That is helping to build an energy of momentum and an energy that will foster change. We just have to keep building that.
DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Gabriel. As I’ve toured this country I’ve tried to talk to every person I’ve had the opportunity to. I’ve talked with cops, security at each location and so on. I’ve only found one person that wanted to continue this drug war. He was a hot dog vendor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His neighbors were growing and smoking pot and the smell of it offended him so bad that he wanted it to last forever. Everyone else thought, “Yes, there is need for change.”
GABRIEL SAYEGH: One of the hard truths of this is that drugs can be very problematic. Nobody who’s the thinking person is going to suggest marijuana is harmless but it’s far less harmful than a lot of other things.
Even so we are faced with the challenge of dealing with substances in our lives and needing to find a way to have those substances do the most good for us and cause the least harm to us simultaneously. Right now we’re dealing with a situation where our responses to these substances are causing enormous harm. They’re disfiguring our democracy. They’re destroying us as a people. In Mexico is a very real, a very bloody and a very terrifying war that’s being fought between organizations seeking to reap billions of dollars in profits. The army that’s down there…
We’re not going to solve this by some easy decree. We do have to find ways to come together. So for that hot dog vendor in Santa Fe we need to say, “You don’t like your neighbors growing marijuana or smoking it. We need to find a way to respond to that as a community so that you can feel safe, so that your neighbors can be respectful but that we’re not calling upon police officers to swoop in and round people up and stick them in cages for years on end with absolute no public benefit and at a great cost to us fiscally and in terms of our humanity.”
But we haven’t figured out those solutions yet and I don’t think can until we start to come together and acknowledge that some people are terrified of drugs and that’s fine. That’s OK. Others like to use drugs and you know what?! That can be fine, too.
It’s very complicated and that’s part of the point here. These things are not going to be easily solved. What we’re doing right now is destroying ourselves with this drug war. We’ve got to find a way that we can come together across a range of different challenging distances and come together and say, “We have got to work together to figure this out and it’s not always going to be easy but we can sure as heck do a whole lot better than what we’re doing right now even if we don’t always get it right.”
I’m not surprised to hear this thing from the hot dog vendor. In our community I can’t tell you how many times we hear people say, “I don’t like what’s going on with all these marijuana arrests. I don’t like what’s going on here with this mass incarceration. I don’t like the way the police are treating me or my community. I don’t think we should wasting this money but I’m also deeply concerned about my son or daughter and that they’re experimenting. I don’t like the feeling of walking pass people selling drugs on the corner. I’m afraid to go out at night.”
Those are very real concerns also. What we’re doing is not working. It’s costing us a lot of money and it’s creating a great deal of long-term problems that go beyond just the policy issues and relate to our very humanity. We’ve got to find ways to address these concerns meaningfully, respectfully, with an eye towards the overall economic cost and, frankly, with some degree of a relationship with science and fact.
We do of some things that work. We know a lot that don’t but at our policy level our elected officials seem immune to the truth. We’ve got to work together to change that. That’s the only way that we’re going to get out of this alive and with our humanity intact.
DANIEL GERSHENSON: My name is Daniel Gershenson. I’m a social entrepreneur. I’m a member of the Movement for Peace, Justice and Dignity. I’ve accompanied different caravans, different events practically since its inception.
Right now we are in New York waiting for Javier Sicilia and the rest of the crew. We’re going to have a press conference and this is probably the crucial leg of this tour. We’re going to be in New York, Baltimore and, finally, we will reach Washington, D.C. where we hope and pray that some of these issues can be brought to the table.
DEAN BECKER: Seems that we need more media to recognize… a lot of cameras but not a lot of coverage yet. Your thought on that.
DANIEL GERSHENSON: I think it’s an incremental process. It’s going to take some time. We’ve obviously had a great deal of interest coming from local media in Mexico, from Hispanic media here, some Afro-American outlets, radio stations and what not. This is a process that is going to take a long, long time.
I think the mere fact that we can be openly discussing some of these issues without people chasing us out of town is a huge advance over what we had before. These misguided policies have to be reoriented.
Most public opinion in this country, I believe, doesn’t really know what’s going on south of the border or within the borders of the southern border of the United States. It’s going to be a long haul. It’s an educational process. This is a seed that’s being planted but I’m sure that by the time we reach Washington, D.C. a few more national media outlets will be on board if only because you’re in the political center of the country, elections are just around the corner. It might be of some interest to the folks at the Washington Post or some of national television stations just for the fact that this is something that hasn’t been done before.
DEAN BECKER: You mentioned coverage by some of the African-American media and it brings up the point that there are dozens of organizations in support of this Caravan for Peace and prime among them has been the involvement, the speakers from the NAACP. Your thoughts, please.
DANIEL GERSHENSON: I think it’s terrific. There’s a unity in purpose that has probably been overlooked over the years. Problems affecting African-Americans are also savaging the Hispanic community here in the United States. I believe this visit has highlighted the fact that what happens to one community also can happen to the other.
I would also like to point out that the churches have been extremely friendly and they’ve expressed their solidarity in a number of ways. We’re talking about a broad range of churches – black, Hispanic, white, Mennonites, Baptists, Episcopalian, Catholics.
There’s a kernel of goodness in this country. There’s a kernel of decency and what we have to do is exploit it in the best sense of the term. I think that bridges of knowledge and bridges of understanding have been established but this is going to take some time.
I not overly worried over the fact that perhaps coverage hasn’t been as extensive as we might have wished for. After all, the country is obsessed with elections. We’ve just had the Democratic convention, the Republican convention. The fact that the reception in practically all of the cities has been a very friendly one, a very open one, a very tolerant one even coming from people who do not necessarily share these views but who are willing to discuss them, are willing to iron out differences is a very positive sign.
DEAN BECKER: Even on the American side of the border I heard the stories of those whose loved ones had just gone into an excursion into Mexico, running an errand or something, and they end up killed or disappeared.
DANIEL GERSHENSON: It’s true. Some of these nightmares that people normally associate with horror movies, with gore movies are an everyday occurrence in Mexico. Unfortunately some Americans, American kids, young people have been directly affected by this atrocious violence.
We will be here. The caravan will physically land on the 12th of September. I think we’ve establish a beat so to speak and we’ll be coming back. The truth eventually will win out.
DEAN BECKER: Please visit http://caravanforpeace.org
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
The James A Baker Institute
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