Numbers alone cannot capture their brutality. Enemies are beheaded with impunity and hundreds of dismembered and mutilated bodies can be found on roadsides and in mass graves. Women and children are targeted to intimidate communities. And young people are recruited and abducted to join them.
For many Americans, these horrific stories will remind them of the violent attacks carried out by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. But these murders and kidnappings are part of another war that is taking place in the shadows of Mexico and the United States - and the biggest victims are Mexican families.
“El Poeta” describes how acclaimed Mexican poet Javier Sicilia became a symbol and spokesperson for the families of many innocent victims. His 24-year-old son Juan Francisco became one of the “collateral damages” of a drug war that has claimed over 100,000 dead or missing since 2006.
According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 22,732 homicides were reported in 2013, and Human Rights Watch has estimated that over 70,000 people were murdered and another 26,000 disappeared between 2007 and 2012 as a consequence of Mexico’s drug war.
After his son’s death in 2011, Sicilia called on fellow Mexicans to protest government policies that support the drug war. And with the help of victim families and human rights activists, the poet rallied over 100,000 people in Mexico City to demand justice.
This movement organized into different caravans that would later cross over to the United States. Sicilia hoped to gain the support of American citizens and lawmakers to change drug and gun control policies that impact Mexico’s drug war.
“Mexico and America are in this together,” says Senator Dick Durbin in the documentary. “And there’s enough blame to go around.”
In 2013, the Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recovered 10,488 guns from Mexico that could be traced back to U.S. manufacturers and sellers.
Even though many Americans see the U.S.-Mexico border as a battlefront for important issues like immigration and crime, others prefer to see it as an enormous mirror that reflects the shared reality of two neighboring countries.
“El Poeta” reminds viewers that tragedies elevate people emotionally and spiritually to make meaningful connections with each other. And Sicilia channeled this communal spirit to plant the seeds of a peaceful movement in Mexico and the U.S.
Now, other caravans tour nationwide with the hope of pushing forward drug and gun control reform that could end organized crime and violence in both countries.
Last Sunday, almost 200 people at Washington Square Park in Lower Manhattan chanted “No estás solo” (You are not alone) in solidarity with the 43 indigenous students who disappeared in Guerrero, Mexico last September.
And like Sicilia, the families of the missing students shared their tragic stories to remind both Mexicans and Americans that behind every drug deal and gun sale is the pain and suffering of thousands of people.