He tells us his story simply, but not without emotion. Julian Le Barón marches in the front of the March for Peace with Justice and Dignity, the section for family members of drug war victims.
Tall and fair-skinned, Le Barón lives in the Mormon community of Galeana, Chihuahua. A group of pecan farmers, relatively wealthy for the area, Colonia Le Barón became a target for kidnappings for ransom and extorsion two years ago.
Julian’s brother Benjamin started a movement in defense of the community after a younger brother, Erick, was kidnapped. The community refused to pay the $1 million ransom and got Erick released. They began to organize to protect the community and investigate and prosecute criminals. Benjamin Le Barón, a natural leader and Bishop of the local church, led the movement.
On July 7, 2009, men dressed as soldiers entered Benjamin’s house, tortured him and carried him off with his brother-in-law, who had come over to help. Both were brutally assassinated.
The murder was among the first to galvanize resistance to the drug war in the state of Chihuahua and later the nation. From the depth of his losses, Julian has become a national voice against the war on drugs.
We talked to him yesterday, at a rest stop on the long walk between Topilejo and the National University. Here are his words:
On Impunity and Government Negligence:
“Two years have gone by–we’ve made our declarations, we’ve done everything they asked us to on our part and there isn’t a single person sentenced for this crime. Or any other crime in my family–I have a brother-in-law assassinated, an uncle assassinated, another brother-in-law kidnapped, my brother was kidnapped, I was beaten by hitmen and my brother Benjamin was assassinated.”
The state government gathered the evidence then announced that the federal government was in charge. Since the funeral of his brother, state government officials have not returned to the community.
On the Drug War and Prohibitionist Policies:
“There are other institutions, I don’t think that you can use a rifle to assure morality in a society. It isn’t the way to confront the problem. It has been a disaster.
“They tried to prohibit alcohol in the United States for twelve years, from 1920 to 1932 and it was a total disaster. The most popular president in the history of the United States, the only one to be president for three terms, the first thing he did was to lift the prohibition on alcohol. It’s a huge business for many people.
“I don’t understand why in this society we have tolerated 40,000 of our brothers and sisters assassinated. We are here to move consciences, to begin to see the magnitude of the genocide, of the Mexican holocaust.
“You can’t use the army to have morality in a community. It isn’t the right institution. We need hospitals, schools and family; we need churches and other institutions.
“Trying to combat drugs with violence is turning Mexico into a graveyard.”
On Naming the Dead:
“Benjamin Le Baron was 33 years old when he was tortured and murdered. His death left five children behind, all under the age of seven. Luis Widmer went over to help him when he heard the noise… and he was brutally assassinated. My brother Erick was 16 when he was kidnapped.
“It’s monstruous that we don’t even know the names of our dead. We owe them so much. If we don’t recognize them at least as human beings, on that level, then we ourselves are dead.”
“Our organization ended when they killed my brother and I think that was one of the mistakes we made. Instead of increasing our efforts, we succumbed to fear. I think in reality the violent ones are the weakest always, because they wouldn’t use violence if they weren’t very afraid.
“There are no good arguments for promoting violence to [combat drug addiction] in society because there is no example of where this has worked.
“We are here today because we have to be–if we don’t participate, if we don’t protest, we’re accomplices. There are 40,000 dead in this war against drug trafficking. I, for one, think it’s totally wrong.
“Everyone with a conscience should join in. If we don’t participate, we are collaborating with crime–we’d be less hypocritical if we were criminals.”
Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City at www.americas.org.