This blog by Anyone’s Child Coordinator, Mary Ryder, was originally published by openDemocracy on 12 April 2017

“If we talk about the war on drugs we will win. They cannot silence our voices and hide our cries of pain, our anger, our fear, or our courage.”

So says Araceli Salcedo Jímenez, mother of Fernanda Rubi, a young Mexican woman kidnapped in 2012. Araceli’s voice was recorded as part of Anyone’s Child: Mexico, a brand new project telling the real-life stories of families and communities whose lives have been wrecked by the international drug war, and their fight for safer drug laws.

Anyone’s Child: families for safer drug control was formed 2 years ago, as families in the UK united to tell their stories, including Anne-Marie Cockburn whose 15 year-old daughter, Martha, died of an accidental ecstasy overdose in 2013.

Anyone’s Child aims to expose the human cost of the drug war and show that moving away from prohibition and criminalisation will better protect families and young people.

Why Mexico?

The Anyone’s Child campaign was initially built around domestic concerns but has since expanded internationally. We are building support in Belgium, Canada, Kenya and now Mexico, thus illustrating the collateral damage caused by failed drug policies at every stage of the drug trade across the world.

The official public UK launch of Anyone’s Child: Mexico will be on 19 April 2017 in London, as part of the global effort to change public opinion about the urgent need for reform, to bring drugs under government control.

Nowhere is the human tragedy of prohibition more evident than in Mexico, the front-line of the global drug war. Officially, over 150,000 people have been murdered and thousands more have disappeared since the Mexican state intensified its drug war in 2006. Every one of these casualties was someone’s child, sister, brother or friend. Their families are now fighting for a solution and their stories can be heard through this innovative campaign which connects a free phone line in Mexico with an online interactive documentary that can be accessed from all over the world.

This project comes at a time when Mexico’s Congress is debating a law which will further expand and normalise the military’s presence in public security despite evidence that more than a decade of military deployment in the country has failed to effectively reduce violence and organised criminal activity. This problem is not going away.

“…It is ludicrous to think that these drugs, which people have been using forever, cause more harm than the harms being inflicted upon us by prohibition. I am certain that not once did these plants make our children disappear. Never.” – María Herrera, mother to four disappeared sons

The stories expose the overwhelming harm that fighting the drug war is inflicting upon Mexican communities every day. Under prohibition, the illegal and unregulated drug market is controlled by violent criminal organisations rather than the government. The only way for disputes between rival gangs to be resolved is using force and violence, and ordinary families are caught in the crossfire.

“The ‘war on drugs’ is not a war on drugs, it is a war against human beings in Mexico.” – Araceli Rodríguez Nava, mother of Federal Police Officer, Luis Ángel Rodríguez, disappeared since 2009

Technology for social change

In March 2014, Maricela’s 19-year-old son, Gerson Quevedo Orozco, who was studying architecture at university, was kidnapped while in a convenience store with a couple of friends in Veracruz. Maricela’s family paid a ransom but Gerson was not returned. Her other son, Alan, and her daughter’s boyfriend, Miguel, immediately went to find him. A van followed them. The people it was carrying got out and shot them dead. Maricela’s family were from that moment displaced from their home in Veracruz out of fear for their lives.

Maricela Orozco Montalvo’s testimony highlights the extent of violence and corruption in Mexico, and the strength and determination of families to lead searches for the missing in the absence of government responses.

 “I want to go back, but I know that if I do, they will kill me. So I have to keep searching [for Gerson], but from a distance. And I keep fighting. Everyday I fight to find my son.” – Maricela Orozco Montalvo

Anyone’s Child: Mexico is a living documentary which will grow and evolve over time. Through a specially established phone line in Mexico connected to the website, the number of voices is expected to increase as more participants get involved. These families are desperate for their stories to be heard outside of Mexico, where they feel they are not being listened to.

The aim of the project is to develop an archive of stories from people whose lives have been negatively impacted by the drug war and to use innovations in digital storytelling to bring these unheard, often marginalised voices into reach of unexpected audiences. And then to achieve policy change.

The audience has two options: they can explore the real-life stories of these key contributors by scrolling through curated chapters which allow for more detailed explorations of their stories. Or, they can listen to the growing collection of unedited material in the phoneline archive and hear their stories and truths directly – to maintain the unique authenticity and power of individual storytelling.

As well as contributing to the exercise of collective memory that will result from the archive of testimonies, participants are also able to listen to other peoples’ testimonies through the phone line, creating an infrastructure of support and solidarity across communities in Mexico.

“Our message is this, we want peace, no more war. Because these collateral damages, the unbeating hearts, the bodies which are buried in clandestine graves, are all too frequent in Mexico.” – Araceli Rodríguez Nava

Do something

Anyone’s Child: Mexico is calling for the legal regulation of the drug market. We want governments, not criminal gangs to control the drugs trade. We want to promote health, reduce violence and protect families and vulnerable people. Our vision is that control of all drugs would be the responsibility of doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers.

Prohibition is a global policy, held in place at the UN, which is supposed to protect us. But clearly, fighting the drug war does not keep anyone safe. Prohibition in Mexico has largely focused on preventing illegal drugs from crossing its borders en route to Europe and North America. If drugs were regulated in the UK – and so sourced legally – there would be enormous benefits for Mexico.  That’s why it’s our responsibility to listen to these stories and to put pressure on our own political leaders to make the necessary change to end the drug war.

After years of being ignored it is time for the victims of this war to be at the heart of the drug policy debate, and to lead the campaign for legal regulation. These voices offer testimony to the ideal of a new society for younger generations to have a better future.

Please join us for the official launch event of Anyone’s Child: Mexico on Wednesday April 19 2017 in London.

“By sharing my life story I’m trying to mend the social fabric a little.” – Rosa Julia Leyva, tricked into trafficking heroin and imprisoned for 11 years