“The United States should stop producing so many weapons, which cause us so much harm. That country also suffers from so much violence, as billions of dollars go into manufacturing guns.”
That is the message that anti-crime activist Fernando Ocegueda will take to the public in the United States, during a one-month visit to that country by the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, made up of 70 family members of victims of violence in Mexico.
“We are feeling hopeless because we are ignored,” said Ocegueda, who sells electronic goods. “Our mission is to raise awareness about the indiscriminate sales of (assault) weapons, which flow over the border into our country, where they generate so much violence.”
Ocegueda, the founder of the human rights group Unidos por los Desaparecidos de Baja California (United for the Disappeared of Baja California), is still searching for his son Fernando Ocegueda, who was taken from his home in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in February 2007 by men wearing uniforms of the Agencia Federal de Investigaciones, a federal police agency.
The caravan will set out from San Diego in southern California, near the border, on Sunday Aug. 12, and will visit Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta before reaching Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12.
The activists, who will meet with some 80 NGOs in the United States, are calling for the discussion of alternatives to the prohibition of drugs, such as regulation or decriminalisation; effective measures to curb cross-border weapons smuggling; and concrete measures against money laundering, including holding financial institutions accountable.
The caravan is also demanding an immediate suspension of U.S. aid to the Mexican armed forces, a reorientation of the funds, with a priority on human safety, and an end to the militarisation of the border and the criminalisation of immigrants.
“We want to tell the U.S. people that behind their addictions and their weapons are the deaths of our loved ones and a crisis in our democracy."
“We want to tell the U.S. people that behind their addictions and their weapons are the deaths of our loved ones and a crisis in our democracy,” Javier Sicilia, the poet who founded the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which brings together the families of victims of drug-related violence, told IPS.
Sicilia’s son Juan was brutally murdered in March 2011 along with six other young victims.
The caravan’s visit to the U.S. coincides with the campaign for the November presidential elections, in which the question of gun violence has only become an issue in the wake of mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin.
The trip will cost around 300,000 dollars, financed by donations from NGOs.
This is the third caravan headed by Sicilia. The first drove from central to northern Mexico in June 2011, and the second from central to southern Mexico in September 2011, to gather testimonies on the violence in Mexico and draw attention to the plight of victims.
“We expect to open a new broad conversation on what’s needed for peace in Mexico, that goes beyond the failed approaches to the war on drugs. We need to have stricter mechanisms on the flow of assault weapons,” Ted Lewis, director of the Mexico Programme of the U.S.-based Global Exchange, which is supporting the Caravan, told IPS.
Violence in Mexico has spiralled since conservative President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched a military-led war on drugs shortly after taking office on Dec. 1, 2006.
Nearly six years later, this policy has been tarnished by the statistics: at least 60,000 people killed, 250,000 people displaced from their homes, 10,000 missing and 8,000 orphaned, according to human rights organisations.
And the criminal bands have no lack of high-powered weapons smuggled in from the United States.
There are some 100,000 licensed gun dealers in the U.S., 12,000 of which operate along the border, according to the Mexican government.
But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reports that there are 6,700 federally licensed gun stores along the border, of a national total of 55,000.
In the United States, which has a population of 313 million, there are an estimated 270 million guns. Between 1994 and 2004, a federal law banned the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons. NGOs are calling for a reinstatement of the ban.
“What hurts us the most is the indifference,” said Guadalupe Fernández, an activist with Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en México (United in Strength for Our Disappeared).
“The authorities don’t want to assume their responsibility; they should compensate us, with justice,” said Fernández, who is taking part in the caravan.
She has been searching for her son José Robledo, a civil engineer, since he went missing in January 2009 in the city of Monclova, in the northern state of Coahuila.
In 2011, the ATF reported that some 62,000 firearms went missing from the inventories of gun dealers between 2008 and 2010, without any record that they had been sold.
The guns may have been stolen or sold on the black market.
Calderón has repeatedly criticised U.S. gun policy. But that rhetoric has not translated into concrete measures by the Mexican government.
“If there is political will and social pressure, Obama could curb the flow” of guns across the border, said Sicilia, who stopped writing poetry after his son’s murder. “The Mexican government has favoured a war agenda. They have created a war that has affected us; now we are demanding that they build peace.”
“If the Mexican government wants to be serious, it should be specific and conclusive. The next administration can make a non-negotiable demand on the issue, it can raise the level of pressure,” Lewis said, referring to Calderón’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, who takes office in December.
In late July, the United Nations suspended action on an international arms trade treaty, which would be the first of its kind, after the U.S. government said it needed more time to consider the proposed agreement.