“Every one of these was someone’s child, sister, brother or friend.”
Launched in April 2017, Transform’s “Anyone’s Child Mexico” campaign enables victims of the country’s devastating drug war to tell personal stories via a free telephone line. Voices of pain, anger, fear and courage pervade the poignant anecdotes, captured in the innovative documentary by campaign coordinator Jane Slater.
The extent to which the campaign can be regarded as a success, however, will depend on its ability to influence public opinion. Can the “Anyone’s Child Mexico” campaign engender a judicial rethinking in which policymakers begin to design a progressive drug policy grounded in science, compassion, and human rights? And can we begin to realize the shared goals of improving public health, protecting young people, reducing crime rates, and enhancing the effectiveness of governmental expenditure?
Slater’s documentary begins by providing relevant political context and shocking statistical evidence of the devastating effect of President Felipe Calderón’s catastrophic misjudgement in militarizing Mexico’s domestic drug policy in 2006. Reminders of the 150,000 murders and the 310,000 victims of forced displacement highlight the indelible damage caused by insistence on a feckless “tough on crime” approach that, since its inauguration at the UN convention in 1961, has not come close to its stated aim of a “drug-free world”.
The documentary then, in a passage titled “Waiting With Love”, introduces viewers to phone recordings of accounts from families of drug war victims. Strikingly, the callers’ use of collective pronouns, such as “us”, “our”, and “we”, underline the film’s most prominent theme of “shared responsibility”. Whilst the accounts come from callers of different genders, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds, the most severely affected are society’s most vulnerable and marginalized people. Testimonies are situated against a backdrop of contrasting images, including a heat map, crime scenes, excavations of mass graves, depictions of family unity, and photos of absent sons and daughters. The especially evocative sight of the Mexican flag, which elicits contrasting feelings of pride and shame, reminds viewers of the nationwide scale of the crisis.
The poignancy of the audio clips is accentuated by the inclusion of the names, ages, interests, professions and, most harrowingly, final locations of the countless murdered, kidnapped, and disappeared. This realistic characterization works on two levels. Firstly, for victims’ families, the online identification of missing persons provides a sense of renewed hope for the closure and dignity that they desire and deserve. Secondly, the online campaign provides victims’ families with a powerful platform from which to awaken a global audience to a domestic injustice. Pained and plaintive voices of those directly affected by Mexican drug policy provide a contrasting rhetoric to the populist “war on drugs” message which pervades current policy.
“We are reminding the Mexican government that they have a debt,” says Araceli Rodriguez Nava, who lost her 24-year-old son, a police officer, before she declares that there is a “humanitarian emergency”. By the penultimate chapter of the film, victims’ families are elucidating the causes and consequences of Mexico’s punitive, prohibitionist approach. Widespread institutionalized injustice manifests itself as sordid police incompetence, brutality, and impunity. The witnesses attest to endemic corruption, the most significant obstacle for seekers of justice, which leads to a debilitating and poisonous mistrust between civilians and law-enforcement that obstructs the goal of community cohesion.
The conclusion of the film, “A Perfect Solution”, generates space for families of victims to speak out and frame the debate for future drug policy reform. They highlight the reality that, by removing black-market profit incentives, regulation is tougher on crime than prohibition. Careful examination of the issue encourages public engagement in sensible discussions about legislative reform and construction of appropriate regulatory models for harm reduction, increased public health, and stronger communities.
Ultimately, the outcome of the debate must guarantee a safer world for everyone, but especially for young people and families so fewer parents have to count the years since they last hugged their daughter or celebrated their son’s birthday. In a subtle but deliberate return to the theme of “shared responsibility”, the documentary ends with an invitation to join the campaign, the conversation, or both. On the campaign’s home page, viewers are implored to tweet a politician to persuade them that now is the time for a meaningful, evidence-based regulatory approach that controls drugs, and to find a legal solution that genuinely guarantees the safety of everyone’s family members.
The Anyone’s Child Mexico campaign is a simultaneously emotive and provocative platform against disingenuous policymakers who continue to eschew a common-sense approach to drug policy reform. The timing is significant: during next year’s Presidential election, more than 3000 local and governmental positions could change hands. From 2018 to 2021, there is a window of opportunity for incremental legislative progress, a belief strengthened by the fact that, at present, 36% of the Mexican public support cannabis regulation. The true mark of the success of the ‘Anyone’s Child Mexico’ campaign will be the proportion of the remaining 64% of Mexicans who can be persuaded to countenance drug policy reform by recognizing that it could be anyone’s child.