Ilustración - Florencia Merlo
Daniela Rea
México -
August 05, 2021

A war that is lost to the south and north of the Rio Bravo

In 2015, a caravan of relatives of victims of homicides, kidnappings, imprisonments and disappearances in Mexico crossed into the United States to demand the American government and citizens assume their responsibility for the political and social consequences of the so-called “war against the drugs ”.

Their task in the United States was not easy: it was about making themselves heard before a society that learned to look at them through the political and police speeches that erased the humanity of the people behind its walls, illegal, wetback who come to take away their rights. They learned to name them through television series in which Latino people are always thieves, rapists, those who sell drugs; centuries of history accumulated in their eyes and ears about those who inhabit the south of the Rio Bravo as savages who make human sacrifices and eat the hearts of their victims, who kill each other, who do not become people.

But there were the mothers, the wives, the daughters; stubbornly repeating what they had said over and over to their fellow citizens and their governments; there they walked in public squares, in forums, on street corners, with loudspeakers, with shouts, with tears:

I’m here for the kidnapping of my son Gerson and the murder of my son Alan and the murder of my son-in-law Miguel. Gerson was kidnapped on March 15, 2014 in Medellín, Veracruz. It was paid ransom and he was never returned. His brother Alan, 15, and Miguel, 25, went looking for him and they killed them. After that I had to leave Veracruz, displaced, because the authorities said that my life, my daughter’s and my husband’s life were in danger.

The war on drugs brings militarization and instead of ending the cartels, it is killing our youth. Here we have met many mothers who have lost their children to the war on drugs. I join that pain, I know what it is like to lose a child, we want more education about drug use, instead of being imprisoned or killed.

Maricela Orozco, Mexico

Those mourning mothers and families in Mexico found themselves in the United States with something they did not expect: other mothers and families from there and from other countries who were also trying to make themselves heard, who also shouted the names of their dead or imprisoned children.

My daughter died two years ago. She left my house on a Saturday morning, took a powder, and died two hours later. She was my only daughter. We learned that she took ecstasy at 91 percent purity, enough to drug 5 or 10 people. Since then I work for illicit substances to be regulated, I think that if Martha had taken something with quality and purity regulated, she would still be alive.

She wanted to take drugs, but she didn’t want to die. No parent wants either, but you can’t recover from death. I am here because I want the representatives of the UN to hear our cries of our losses. I don’t want the world to lose another Martha.

I wrote the book 5,742 days which are the days that my daughter lived. I started it six hours after she died and finished it 102 days later, when she would have turned 16. It is the story of my loss. I loved being Martha’s mother and now I am putting this energy into ensuring that other families do not have to live this loss. She was a student, it was the fourth time she had consumed ecstasy, hers was not a death by addiction, she was death by curiosity.

Anne-Marie Cockburn, United Kingdom

Our son is Dylan Bassler. He was 21 years old when he died of drug use on April 4, 2014. He used a mixed drug, street oxy, that was combined with fentanyl. That day he went to sleep and did not wake up.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate, similar but much more powerful than morphine. It is usually used to treat patients with severe chronic pain, but the pain associated with recent overdose deaths is produced in clandestine laboratories and mixed with heroin or cocaine in powdered form. This increases its potency, the level of addiction and lowers its cost.

The drug policy is not working. The combat is not to attack, but to educate people in consumption. There is a very strong stigma towards young people and people who consume are criminalized, thus inhibiting the search for support and medical attention. Our son did not know that he was consuming this. He was a painter, an artist, and his existence was cut short.

Jennifer and Steve Woodside, Canada

I’ve had a lot of losses from the war on drugs. In my community, the anti-drug policy focuses on the poor, those who don’t have a home, those are the communities attacked by that war and the consequence is more criminalized people. Most Latinos and African Americans are incarcerated, to benefit a private industry in prisons. It is unfair that this criminalization, this racism in our communities, is a vicious circle. In daily lives the presence of the police has grown and that makes the division bigger, people do not believe in the police and the police do not believe in people.

I want the UN to know that incarceration is not the correct answer to the drug issue, but must be lowered into compassion for the human being, in science, in public health.

Elizabeth Ollins, Brooklyn, NY.

That meeting showed that the prohibitionist policy against drugs has left victims here and there: people who die from overdoses or from consuming contaminated drugs due to the non-regulation and clandestine manufacture of drugs, those who die due to lack of treatment, those who are displaced from their territories that are used for planting, those who lose their freedom by submitting to the sowing of drugs, those who are killed and disappeared in that struggle for control of land and transit routes, those that feed the small armies for the control of these routes, those that are imprisoned for consumption, those that are imprisoned for producing, those that are imprisoned in private prisons to make us believe the governments that are taking care of the security of the country.

The governments of the region launched a war saying that they would eradicate drug production and trafficking because drugs caused death. However, these have not been eradicated and deaths have multiplied and the ways of dying have diversified. The prohibitionist policy has left more victims than drug use itself would: in Mexico between 2007 and 2018 -since Felipe Calderón resumed prohibition- 5,545 people lost their lives due to ingesting prohibited substances and 278,771 were murdered in a violent way.

The UNODC World Drug Report 2020, the latest published on the subject, revealed other contradictions of this prohibitionist policy that has plagued the region for 50 years: it is a policy that punishes poverty. Pharmaceutical opioids for medical uses are concentrated in rich countries: more than 90 percent of the world’s availability is in the 10 percent of the population with the most resources. The report also noted that poverty, limited education and social marginalization increase the risk of drug use disorders and limit the possibility of accessing treatment due to discrimination and stigma.

The prohibitionist policy has multiplied the ways to die and a war is lost north and south of the Rio Bravo.