Activist: U.S. Guns, Government Failures Threaten Mexico's Future

Activist: U.S. Guns, Government Failures Threaten Mexico's Future

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While the Mexican and U.S. governments have squandered large sums of money fighting the war on drugs, the real crises are violent crimes fueled by American weaponry and Mexico’s failure to ensure the safety of its citizens and adequate education for future generations, says Mexican journalist and activist Javier Sicilia.

Sicilia, who was honored at Global Exchange’s 9th Annual Human Rights Awards in San Francisco this week, spoke at a press conference addressing Mexico’s future in the wake of the ongoing drug-related violence.

Reuters recently reported that the U.S. government spent $15 billion on controlling narcotics in 2010, while Mexico spent $4.86 billion on its armed forces during the same period and increased its defense spending by 25 percent over the past four years.

According to a press release from Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization, 84 percent of the arms seized at Mexican crime scenes from to 2004 to 2008 came from the U.S.

“Nearly 40,000 people have died since [Mexican President Felipe] Calderon assumed office in 2006, and the number goes up day in and day out,” Sicilia said.

“This is putting citizens in danger. The state is not securing the safety of citizens. People are being kidnapped, disappeared,” he added.

Sicilia’s 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco, was killed earlier this year in a massacre related to the drug war. Since his son’s death, Sicilia has focused his efforts on developing community activism.

Last month he organized a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, drawing nearly 20,000 demonstrators, demanding that the federal government abandon its military strategy in the war on drugs and calling on drug cartels to stop targeting civilians.

Sicilia has also forged a six-point National Pact for Peace and Justice with hundreds of Mexican grassroots organizations, which are expected to sign it on June 10 in Ciudad Juarez.
The six points are: Government transparency on kidnappings and assassinations; an end to military tactics and a new focus on citizen safety; an end to corruption; stronger efforts to fight money laundering; creation of emergency social and educational programs for young people; establishing a more participatory democracy; and democratization of media.

“Developing the country’s education system is key,” Sicilia said, suggesting that resources could be allocated to schools instead of the drug war.

“Our testing [scores] at international level are very low,” he noted. Sicilia said that without a strong education system and infrastructure, Mexico’s future will be no better than its present.

In April, Reuters reported that Mexican 15-year-olds ranked 46th in reading, 49th in mathematics, and 51st in science among 65 industrialized countries taking the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s standardized tests.

Approximately 45 percent of Mexicans complete high school, compared with 75 percent of Americans.
Yet Mexico is currently the world's 14th largest economy and is expected by economists to be the world's eighth biggest by 2050.

Sicilia stressed that it will take efforts from Americans as well as Mexicans to improve Mexico's "rotten state."

The first thing that would “benefit both countries” would be for the U.S. to end “its unconditional support for this [drug] war,” Scilia said.

“The American society plays a role, “ he said, "and they have to be aware of this, and act, otherwise they’ll be part of this crime.”

Last October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to San Francisco, where she outlined her visions for improving U.S. foreign policy. She expressed concern about the violence in Mexico and acknowledged that the United States shares responsibility in Mexico’s drug wars for its “unwillingness to crack down” on Americans’ desire for illegal drugs and weapons.

Recently, however, more American organizations have been criticizing the U.S. role.

“Our job here in the U.S. is to stop the flow of high-powered guns from the U.S. to the Mexican mafias,” said Ted Lewis, director of Global Exchange's Mexico program.

In partnership with several U.S. nonprofit agencies, Global Exchange sent an open letter to President Obama last month, calling on him to do whatever he can to stop the illegal trafficking of guns into Mexico.

The letter asked the president “to use his existing authority to immediately halt and permanently prohibit the importation of assault weapons into the United States, require arms dealers to report multiple sales of assault rifles to the same client in a five-day period to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (AFT) and increase AFT’s regulatory power in areas of the U.S. that sell large volumes of firearms on the international market.”

While Sicilia said that he hopes to see serious changes in Mexico when a new president is elected in 2012, he added that Mexicans need to reach a consensus on a vision for their country’s future.

"But more importantly," he said, "politicians need to change their corruption and logic and focus on the safety of their citizens and improving democracy first.”