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Mexico's slightly gentler war on drugs

May 05, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia leads a procession in Los Angeles to focus attention on the victims of the war on drugs.
Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia leads a procession in Los Angeles… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

This week, Mexican lawmakers passed a law that will recognize and compensate those affected by the drug war. The measure will establish a national registry to track kidnappings and forced disappearances. In addition, it will require the government to provide support and financial assistance to victims of violence, including abuses carried out by security forces.

It’s a significant and important shift in Mexico. Some 50,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared a war against drug cartels and gangs in 2006.

The law is unlikely to quell critics of the war, including human rights groups and poet Javier Sicilia, which have denounced the mounting violence and abuses committed against Mexicans and migrants. Last year, Human Rights Watch issued a report that concluded Mexico's security forces, including marines, were responsible for about 200 cases of serious abuses.

Sicilia also has repeatedly spoken out against the government’s failure to respond to the relatives of those who are killed or go missing. In an open letter to the country's leader, he summed up the feeling of many, saying: "We're fed up." Sicilia's son was killed last year, though he had no connection to the drug gangs. Since then, Sicilia has advocated for victims and for rethinking drug policies on both sides of the border. He's founded the Peace with Justice and Dignity movement in Mexico and led marches intended to focus on the violence and impunity there.

He's expected to launch a similar march in August that will take him from the border in San Diego to Washington, D.C. Sicilia's message is part of a growing call to rethink drug policies in Latin American and the United States.

In recent months, Latin American leaders, including Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina and even Mexico's Calderon have all said that it's time to look beyond the military strategies that have left tens of thousands dead in Latin America while doing little to rein in drug consumption in the United States.

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