On Wednesday night the thirty day Caravan for Peace concluded in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C. Participants shared their reflections on the historic journey, and hope was in the air. In addition to making headlines and waves in cities across the United States, the Caravan has created a web of individuals and organizations that recognize the immense toll of the drug war both financially and in terms of human rights and development. This network has the potential to change the policies of violence and incarceration. It is clear to me that those of us advocating for changes to these unjust policies are on the fabled ‘right side of history.’ As I listened to Javier Sicilia give his closing remarks though, I wondered if change would come in time to spare Nicaragua the violence to its north and south, where Mexican and Colombian cartels and government forces continue to clash over the profits of providing North Americans with drugs.
Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have already experienced the newest expansion of the drug war, with cartels using the countries’ sparsely populated zones for drug trafficking with impunity. The United States has deployed the same failed strategies in the region: American soldiers and commando squads from the Drug Enforcement Administration have been stationed in Honduras for months now, with the high-profile killing of innocents connected to US personnel in the remote Atlantic region of the country. According to a recent report, several hundred Marines, along with four attack helicopters, have been deployed to Guatemala for counter-narcotics operations, “the first major U.S. military intervention there since the CIA ran a covert operation nearly 60 years ago that overthrew elected leftist President Jacobo Arbenz.”
Nicaragua has, however, consistently been cited as a relative success story. It is Central America’s safest country, and its National Police force has been credited with curbing the growth of criminal syndicates. This optimistic assessment was called into question on August 20 just south of the Nicaragua/Honduras border. The Nicaraguan press, and many observers in Nicaragua, were scandalized by the discovery of six trucks filled with $9.2 million in cash (this amount varies from report to report) that crossed from Honduras to Nicaragua. An anonymous caller from Honduras alerted the police, and the trucks (marked with forged insignia of a Mexican television station Televisa) were intercepted. The people inside the trucks have been arrested, and are awaiting trial after Televisa confirmed that they were not employees.
Nobody is sure why the cash was sent to Nicaragua. Some say that the money was to pay for drugs purchased elsewhere and already delivered to the United States via Mexico. Others believe that the seizure is evidence of significant cartel operations in the country that have yet to be discovered. According to recently released information, many of those detained have made several trips through Nicaragua to Costa Rica, which would mean that for these traffickers Nicaragua is a transit country. Whatever the reason, this case is an indicator of things to come unless we can find the courage and the will to wind down the drug war and replace it with policies that deal with drug problems realistically. No more military solutions to the public health problems caused by drug use.
The Caravan for Peace built important relationships between advocates in the US and Mexico, but we need to deepen and expand those relationships if we want to keep the violence and corruption from being pushed south. Central America is on the brink of repeating Mexico’s recent violent past. We need smart, effective, and rapid change to the policies of the drug wars to reverse the trend. The best consolation for victims of the drug war would be knowing that there will be no new victims.