When I first shook hands with Felipe de la Cruz Sandoval this winter outside of the Mexican Consulate in NYC, images of my one of my favorite tios sprung to mind, creating an immediate sense of kinship towards the short, mustachioed Mexican professor. De La Cruz Sandoval, thousands of miles from his home in Ayotzinapa, Mexico where 43 of his students were forcibly disappeared by cartel gunmen and corrupt municipal officers, was doing exactly what my tio would do- travel the world in search of justice.
Sadly, his search for his missing students has uncovered more tragedy - 129 bodies unrelated to the case were recently uncovered in 60 unmarked graves across Guerrero, the same state where the students disappeared.
Omar Garcia, one of the survivors of the attack against the Ayotzinapa students, recently told the UK Guardian that: “[Mexicans are] living in a very serious situation where anyone can be disappeared and murdered, buried in a secret grave and be forgotten, unless their families look for them.”
Mr. Garcia’s prognosis is disturbingly accurate. A recently released report by the Mexican government showed that there were 165,000 documented cases of homicide between 2007 and 2014 in Mexico — “a period that accounts for some of the bloodiest years of the nation’s war against the drug cartels.” Compare this to the more than 26,000 civilians who are said to have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war in 2001 and the 160,500 who died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. The war on drugs is a war on people, on par with officially recognized military operations, where the majority of casualties are black and brown bodies.
While not all of the killings can be directly linked to the war on drugs, some counts have attributed over 55 percent to the failed drug war. Regardless, U.S. drug prohibition and American funding of the Merida Initiative, both abject failures, have only served to exacerbate, if not outright perpetuate, the violence in Latin America.
Most recently, cartel leader El Chapo Guzman’s recent escape from prison, and the international media attention that followed, only served to reinforce the silence that surrounds the destruction of brown bodies, something known far too well by Professor De La Cruz and Sister Consuelo Morales, a Mexican nun taking on the drug war by crusading against Mexican cartels and corrupt police.
While Latinos have the power to end the failed war on drugs in the ballot box, we have an obligation to speak out now against the violence enacted on our bodies by bad laws and misguided policies. As an incredibly diverse gente, I hope that you see how the drug war is a Latino issue permeating the core of our community and join the chorus of voices shouting No More Drug War.
Jeronimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.