Writer, activist, and international anti-drug war icon Javier Sicilia is coming to tell us at two events tomorrow, the first at Seattle University (at 1 pm) and the other at the South Park Community Center (at 6 pm). In 2011, after his son and six others were killed in a drug-war crossfire, Sicilia—a poet, journalist, and novelist—began leading estamos hasta la madre (or “we’ve had it”) protests across the country. He became the face of public indignation about corruption and the drug war. Both events are free and highly recommended.
This week, I asked Sicilia some questions over email about his thoughts on the drug war, Washington's legalization of marijuana, and what he'll be sharing with us tomorrow.
The Q&A is below. (It was partly translated by Sicilia's people and partly by me. I wanted to preserve his cadence and phrasing as much as possible, so please forgive any strange constructions.) After his first talk tomorrow, I'll interview him in person, so look for more on that.
What are your thoughts on the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado? Will it have some effect in Latin America?
It is a very important step that will serve as an example in Latin America. However, we must put the issue in perspective so we don't lose track of what is at the bottom of this first legalization—I think we should legalize all recreational drugs, but it has to be for peace and justice that the war on drugs be destroyed.
The recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been too much about recreational use and the dividends that legalizing that business will bring to those states. I don't dispute that. But to argue this doesn't really help. For me, as well as for victims in Mexico, the US, Colombia, and many parts of Latin America, the legalization of marijuana should be seen as a small step to end a senseless war in Mexico which has cost us 100,000 dead, 30,000 missing, and a generalized state of terror. Talking about legalizing and regulating drugs shouldn't be in reference to recreation or business, but to the search for peace and justice.
Drug regulation is a part. The other parts are controlling the sale of assault weapons and a comprehensive policy against money laundering. If you all don't see this and think about this holistically, the legalization of marijuana won't really help.
Some activists in the United States say that legalization and regulation of all drugs is the only way to end the cycle of drug violence. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Just recall the '20s and the prohibition of alcohol in America. During that time, corruption, crime, and extortion grew exponentially and did not reduce consumption by a single liter. Legalization by President Roosevelt ended that atrocious cycle. The same situation—but more brutal, because the issue is global—is happening with the prohibition of drugs and what Roosevelt did with alcohol has to happen in the drug world. It is a matter of public health and civil liberties and not, as the authorities have treated it so far, as a matter of national security.
I'll give you a figure: In Mexico, 400,000 people die annually of all sorts of things. The number attributable to drug deaths is 400 people. To prevent these deaths in Mexico, in the past seven years, 18,000 people have died or been disappeared annually. Many of them did not even have a relationship with a drug [which is to say, they were not drug users]. That simple fact should, by common sense, lead to the regulation of drugs and end this criminal absurdity.
Were you surprised by the international reaction to your writings and protests in 2011?
I never understood that myself, unfortunately.
As you know, journalists have been threatened and killed for writing about drugs and crime in Mexico. Have you been contacted, directly or indirectly, by any person in the narcotics world as a result of your writings and protests?
What can the US do to help alleviate the drug-related violence and suffering in Latin America?
I think put pressure on the state to regulate all drugs or at least soft drugs—if the US doesn't lead this regulation, the rest of the world will not follow—and exercise strict control of automatic and other weapons. The latter, in contrast to drugs, are unrestrained and forceful. The nearly 100 deaths in Mexico are a result of American weapons. [I'm not sure which 100 deaths he's talking about, but the original reads: "Los casi 100 muertos en México son producto de armas estadounidenses."] We can say the same about the extortions and kidnappings. They would not have happened if they didn't have the force of arms.
What do you hope the American public will learn from you on this tour?
That they can understand that their policies about guns and drugs are affecting us hard in Mexico. Our dead are on the other side of their prohibition of drugs and their guns. These policies also are contributing to the proliferation of crime in Mexico and the greater corruption of our state.