Javier Sicilia knows all too well about violent drug cartels in Mexico.
Sicilia’s son, Juan Francisco, was 24 when he was murdered by gangsters, reportedly because one of his friends had provided police with information about the criminals.
A poet and author in Mexico, Sicilia set out after his son’s 2011 death to push for new strategies and reforms to end the bloodshed. He created a movement known colloquially as Hasta la Madre! or “Fed Up!,” and more formally as the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.
That effort led Time magazine to name Sicilia a “Person of the Year” in 2011.
On Saturday he comes to Seattle as part of a 10-city “Voices of the Victims” tour.
Sicilia will speak at Seattle University School of Law at 1 p.m. and South Park Community Center at 6 p.m. The public is invited to both events, which are free.
Sicilia spoke with The Seattle Times, via translator, about his tour, which includes stops in Vancouver, B.C., and Washington, D.C. Sicilia said the thrust is to call attention to the 100,000 Mexican lives lost in his country’s drug wars.
The U.S. bears some responsibility, he said, because U.S. drug prohibition and our appetite for drugs fuel the Mexican cartels, armed with guns smuggled from the U.S., purchased with illicit profits from the drug trade.
“Without those elements of money coming from drug prohibition and the arms and easy money laundering,” he said, “what would be the source of the war?”
Sicilia lauded the state’s legal pot law approved by voters last November.
“It’s a first step. It’s a very tiny step,” he said. “My contention has been that there’s a need to legalize not just marijuana but all soft drugs, and put the distribution of drugs under the control of the state. If it were done then the drug trade would not be in the hands of criminals.”
Sicilia said he isn’t concerned legalization would create a nation of stoned zombies.
“The simple answer is no,” he said. From Plato’s time to the Beat Generation, drugs have been used throughout the history of humanity, he noted. “We have alcohol in our society and that hasn’t caused us not to have all the skills, the mathematicians, artists and poets. In fact, some drugs when used in an educated social way can bring out artistic impulses and add important influence in the arts.”
Sicilia said he hasn’t used marijuana, though, to inspire his own writing.
Four academic experts hired to help the state create a regulated marijuana system wrote a book last year in which they said legalizing weed would have little influence on Mexico’s cartels because the cartels get only 20 percent of their revenue from pot.
Legalizing pot is just a first step, Sicilia said. “One of things you would want to see over the long term would be the impact of legal availability (of marijuana) on people’s use of harder drugs. These are unknowns until you’ve lived them as a society. I do believe it would have an impact on the industrial size of the cartels eventually.”
A major challenge, he acknowledged, is convincing average Americans that they have a stake in ending Mexican cartel violence.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. The U.S. has lost its theological roots, he said, and has tended to view outsiders — such as Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos — as the “other.”
That’s partly why the tour ends in Jackson, Miss., where Sicilia will meet with Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” a book detailing disproportionate incarceration and other effects of drug laws on African Americans.
“It’s the same thing with a different narrative that’s happening to us in Mexico with our dead and disappeared. So our belief is if we can find a deep link between the African-American community here and the Latino community that will give us a strong base for pushing the kind of policies we need for peace,” he said.
As for Mexico‘s own attitude toward legalizing marijuana, Sicilia said, “The conversation is really just beginning and much of that is coming from drug-policy reformers in the U.S. That’s why the conversation and what we’re doing here is extremely important. It’s accelerating the process in Mexico.”