By Javier Rodriguez    from Los Angeles    22 August 2012

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace and Justice with Dignity has crossed the border into the US and begun a tour of 25 cities culminating in Washington D.C., the heart of the Empire.  The historical caravan, loaded with war victims from Mexico and the US, is a major bi-national  push by over 100 social organizations of both countries to engage America, the largest drug consumer market and arms supplier in the world, on the failure of the 40 yea old drug war initially convened by the infamous Republican President Richard Nixon

The caravan is led by the well-known Catholic Sicilia whose son Juan Francisco was killed in Cuernavaca in March 2011,  and since he vowed not to write poetry at all, “Our purpose is to honor our victims,  to make their names and faces visible.We will travel across the United States to raise awareness of the unbearable pain and loss caused by the drug war and the enormous shared responsibility for protecting families and communities in both of our countries.”

In Mexico, the stark political reality of this war -supported, financed and armed by the US government- is the fact that Mexicans have provided 99.9% of the dead, over 70,000 and growing, an estimated 20,000 disappeared and hundreds of thousands more displaced, in addition tothe orphans, the widows, the maimed and a Mexican society immersed in a social psychosis of fear and terror. Moreover, at the start of the government’s declaration of war against the powerful drug lords, Mexico had a total of 6 cartels, today the count grew up to 25 cartels.

For the US, the drug war has resulted in the massive incarceration of Americans to the tune of 2.4 million people, making this country the largest holder of prisoners in the planet with 25% of the total prison population. The overwhelming majority is youth and astonishingly 2/3 of them are African Americans and Latinos and most are in for drug related crimes.  This leads us to the screaming fact that the contemporary version of Jim Crow politics and racism in the application of justice is targeted at people of color and the poor. At the same time, the drug war has provided the basis for the astronomical expansion of the prison industrial complex in the US, and its extension to the area of immigration.

As with other capitalists in the era of globalization, the war has also hastened the obscene enrichment of drug cartel members, in collusion with politicians and international financial institutions who facilitate the laundering of billions of dollars made in the illicit drug business. And with the long list of indicted, arrested and extradited politicos arises the indisputable fact “of the entrance of drug barons and mafias as the newest members of the political and economic elites in Mexico.” This wealth has also intensified the corruption of governments, police and armed forces, including hundreds of US border patrol officers.  Lastly, on top of this country’s politics of prohibition, orchestrated by a succession of American presidents, including our own Barack Obama, the president of change, the Mexican cartels have built a wide and deep network of distribution and production, however in contrast to the other side, with sublime peace.

The statistics and truths on thedrug distribution o drug war clearly show a complete fiasco:

  • Today the US accounts      for 5% of the world’s population, however, it houses 25% of the world’s      prisoners and also spends 10 times more public money on prisoners than on      students and public education.
  • More than      $51,000,000,000 are spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs and:     
  • The Number of people      arrested in 2010 in the U.S. on nonviolent drug charges is 1,638,846.
  • The number of people      arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2010: 853,838
  • The number of those      charged with marijuana law violations arrested for possession only is      750,591 or 88 percent.
  • The number of Americans      incarcerated in 2009 in federal, state and local prisons and jails was 2,424,279      or 1 in every 99.1 adults, the highest incarceration rate in the world.
  • 2/3 of the people      incarcerated for a drug offenses in state prison are black or Hispanic,      although these groups use and sell drugs at similar rates as whites.
  • The number of states      that allow the medical use of marijuana: 16 + District of Columbia
  • Estimated annual      revenue that California would raise if it taxed and regulated the sale of      marijuana: $1,400,000,000
  • Number of murders in      2010 in Juarez, Mexico, the epicenter of that country’s drug war: 3,111,      the highest murder rate of any city in the world
  • Number of students who      have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction:      200,000+
  • Number of people in the      U.S. that died from an accidental drug overdose in 2007: 27,658
  • Number of people      annually infected with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C by sharing contaminated      syringes: 32,000
  • Tax revenue that drug      legalization would yield annually, if currently-illegal drugs were taxed      at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco: $46.7 billion      (Stats published by the Drug Policy Alliance)

But the pain of death linked to drugs and gang violence is also a reality in America. Anywhere and just about everyone you talk to in our neighborhoods has had a family tragedy, or has relatives or friends in jails, prisons, in drug programs, probation or parole or in the business.

The activist Rodriguez Family, about 700 strong and growing in the Los Angeles region, my family, is no different. The spiral of violence rooted in both countries has meant the loss of our brother Jesus, my son Little Chuy and my nephew Jaramillo, all three brutally assassinated in LA. And in Mexico so far two cousins, a father and a son, from the state of Durango, where we originate from, were kidnapped and disappeared even though the ransoms was paid.

To understand the politics of the war on drugs in this country, it is imperative to look at the problem historically. Symbolically speaking, it began the same year when the empire set in motion the restructuring of the world’s economy into what is now known as Capitalist Globalization or as coined by left and progressives leaders “savage capitalism” because of its more intense predatory characteristics.  At the same time, the country was mired in a major losing conflict against Viet Nam, a small nation which previously  had defeated a French colonialist occupation of their land in 1954. As in Iraq and most US conflicts, that war was also shamefully fabricated. The US armed forces, using thousands of bomber planes with bombs and the chemical warfare Agent Orange, carpeted and ravished the land, destroying hundreds of villages “in order to save them” and killed over 2 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians and over 50,000 American soldiers also perished. Additionally, as in Afghanistan and Iraq the US installed a colonialist government. However, the Vietnamese people enjoyed the solidarity of the majority of countries including the help and arms of the old Soviet Socialist block and with the will, strength and the truth on their side, the Indochinese people defeated the “gringos” in 1975. With a progressive left government in place since then, the production of heroin in Viet Nam disappeared. However, throughout the 10 year occupation, thousands of Americans soldiers became addicted and brought the problem home.

In those years besides marihuana and pills, heroin was the drug of choice in America. The principal producers and that supplied the world’s markets were the drug lords and chieftains of the Golden Triangle, CIA allies, located in the mountainous area that bordered all three countries invaded by the US. However, and this has been documented by historians –see “The Politics Of Heroin” by Alfred McCoy- the US government tacitly condoned the smuggling of the heroin from Indochina and the tentacles of the C.I.A. and American mafias were also directly involved in the lucrative business. As in the Iran-Contra Affair, the spy agency used an airline fleet called “Air America” to airlift large shipments of the drug.   During that same period, from LA to New York, you could walk through the streets of urban America and observe heroin addicts walking literally like zombies, bending over or standing still for long periods of time, falling or asleep on the sidewalks and alleys, and downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and East LA were no exception.

Paradoxically, at the same time the country was going through a historical social upheaval and the civil rights and anti war movements in white, black and Latino communities were the order of the day, and once more, Boyle Heights and its vast sectors of public housing projects was no exception. It was here in Pico Gardens and Aliso Village Projects, the Flats area, located 1 ½ miles east of downtown LA, where in the late sixties, the radical Carnalismo-Brotherhood Community Organization was born. From the beginning it was consisted of home grown intellectuals, college and law students and members of the Fourth Flats Gang, all with deep family roots, friendship and loyalty in the neighborhood. After approximately five years of struggles and experience that included the High School Walkouts of 1968 and the Chicano anti war movement the organization gained a national reputation in the Chicano Movement, especially around the sensitive issues of police brutality and the unfortunate, but in self defense death of a Hollenbeck Division police officer in the same year, for which two Carnalismo members were imprisoned for a short time.

Two years later, in March of 1971, inspired by the legendary epic 1966 film “The Battle of Algiers,” by director Gillo Pontecorvo, I convened a late night meeting of the organization, which was held on the roof top of the three story building of Casa Carnalismo, on the corner of Fourth and Pecan Sts. There, with a spectacular panoramic view of the city as a background, I presented the idea that in order to stop the continuous flow of smack into the barrio, we had to directly confront the heroin pushers and drive them out or further underground. And so it was done. Immediately the word spread like wildfire into the barrios well beyond Flats. Early on we learned to work the limited Latino media and we publicized the radical venture massively as well as distributing hundreds of flyers in the community. Of course by that time we were on all the local and national police lists and the police surveillance was intense at the Carnalismo community center and the homes of the members, in addition to infiltration attempts through informants. The police was well aware of the anti pusher campaign and they made plans to stop it.

Sometime in May of the same year an informant for the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Department-ATF, by the name of Frank Martinez was assigned to infiltrate Carnalismo. He did visit La Casa de Carnalismo, but to his credit, after ascertaining the legitimacy of the anti drug effort, Martinez refused the task and quit working for the federal police. A former soldier and veteran of the Viet Nam war, he was recruited as an agent provocateur in Texas and had infiltrated the Chicano social movement in Houston. Subsequently, he was brought to Los Angeles where he did infiltrate the Brown Berets and through them gained the chairmanship of the National Chicano Moratorium and of course he did cause havoc in both organizations.

In early July of that same year, as the community anti drug effort gained ground, the ATF made a second attempt and sent to the neighborhood an undercover agent by the name of Canales posing as a drug buyer. Unfortunately for him and the department, Canales was shot in self defense by three Carnalismo members who in time became the national political prisoners known as “Los Tres del Barrio.” During the federal trial, Martinez the informant opened up and publicly, in a national press conference, he revealed the federal government knew about the Carnalismo anti pusher campaign in Boyle Heights because he personally informed them. Additionally, he provided a detailed account on all his assignments as an ATF informant, but the republican appointed Federal Judge Lydick refused the testimony. Although we built public support, at a disadvantage inside the courtroom, Los Tres were railroaded and were found guilty by an all white jury and sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.  The case was appealed and the three were bailed out and in 1975 the higher courts eliminated 25 years from their sentence and they were freed after seven and a half years.

Javier Rodriguez is an independent journalist and a media and political strategist. A
long time activist, he was the initiator and as part of the March 25 Coalition directed the making of the 1.7 million historical immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006 as well as the May 1 Great American Boycott of the same year .