Caravan for Peace Makes Stop at Mason

by Rashad Mulla and Jo-Marie Burt

Caravan for Peace Makes Stop at Mason

The George Mason University community got an in-depth look at the conflict caused by the drug war in Mexico, meeting Mexican citizens and hearing their stories firsthand.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, four members of the “Caravan for Peace” organization gave a presentation at Mason. Caravan for Peace is a traveling speaker series organized by The Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity (MPJD), a non-profit peace advocacy organization based in Mexico. The speaker series consists of dozens of Mexican citizens who travel the U.S. to discuss how they are affected by violence in their country. 

More than 50 students, faculty and staff attended the event, according to organizer Jo-Marie Burt, director of the Latin American Studies Program, co-director of the Center for Global Studies, and faculty member in the Department of Public and International Affairs at Mason. The event was organized by the Latin American Studies Program and co-sponsored by the Washington Office on Latin America.

“The testimonies at the event were so moving,” Burt said. “People want to learn more and do something to help. These personal stories helped our students open their eyes, open their hearts and understand the suffering.”

Mexican drug violence has led to more than 60,000 deaths and 10,000 disappearances in the country since 2006, according to the Caravan for Peace website. The violence engulfs innocent civilians, cartel members, new recruits, state officials, members of the military and police officers, Burt said. 

At Mason, the organization was represented by four Mexican citizens who were either personally affected by violence in their country, heavily involved in peace advocacy, and in some cases, both. Two presenters, Victor Garcia Zapata and Eliana Garcia, were peace advocates; Garcia was a former congresswoman in Mexico. The other two presenters, Maria Gonzalez and Araceli Rodriguez, are mothers whose sons were kidnapped or had disappeared.

The presenters impressed the audience with their strength to tell their difficult, shocking and sobering stories.

“I chose to turn my pain into strength,” Rodriguez explained. “So I joined the movement for peace and justice.”

Washington, D.C. was the last stop on the Caravan for Peace’s month-long 27-city tour, which started in Tijuana, Mexico, and made stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Baltimore, as well as several other cities.