Critical dialogue about the War on Drugs at the Global Public Policy Forum in El Paso, Juarez
by Kent Paterson
Posted on September 11, 2009
[Editor's note: NPT Editor Sito Negron is on the planning committee for this conference. For information on the panels and other conference details, click here.]
On the front line of the so-called drug war, the border city of El Paso will be the site of what could be a lively, timely exchange of opinion and analysis of four decades of narcotics control strategies in the Americas.
Convened by faculty from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the Sept. 21-22 "Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs" gathering will feature presentations by academics, journalists, government officials, and members of non-governmental organizations. Attendees from as far away as Finland, Spain and the United Kingdom are expected to attend, said Dr. Kathleen Staudt, UTEP professor of political science and conference co-coordinator.
Calling the upcoming meeting “a kind of a precedent-setting conference,” Staudt said that the aim of organizers was to bring together people with diverse viewpoints to dissect and debate a 40-year-old substance control policy that “hasn’t reduced drug consumption.”
To consider the drug issue in all its different dimensions, Staudt and other members of the conference planning team have organized panels to address a wide range of issues flowing from the drug trade and government responses to it. “All points of view are welcome,” Staudt stressed.
Continued drug prohibition, legalization and everything in between are likely to be hot topics of discussion in El Paso.
Confirmed speakers include Mexican drug war expert Dr. Luis Astorga, United States Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence chief Anthony Placido, Chihuahua state lawmaker and rural activist Victor Quintana, Ciudad Juarez history scholar Dr. Oscar Martinez, and National Public Radio border reporter John Burnett, among many others.
As part of the meeting, conference participants will take a short trip across the Rio Grande to neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, for a September 21 speech by Dr. Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin, Colombia.
The mayors of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez have been invited to help deliver opening remarks to the conference.
For Staudt and other UTEP professors, the drug war is not just an academic exercise. Located on a bluff overlooking Ciudad Juarez, UTEP has a bird’s eye view of the drug-fueled violence that’s claimed more than 3,100 lives in the Mexican border city since January 2008. An estimated 10-15 percent of the school’s students are commuters who live in Ciudad Juarez and travel back and forth across the border.
In a phone interview with Frontera NorteSur, Staudt said that she sometimes asks her students to share direct experiences they have had with crime and violence. A student, she added, once related how family members had been car-jacked three times.
Dr. Joe Heyman, conference co-coordinator and UTEP professor of anthropology, told Frontera NorteSur that the tremendous escalation of violence in El Paso’s sister city motivated faculty members to organize a far-reaching public dialogue. “It’s a wake-up call to not only Mexico but the United States as well,” Heyman said.
The border specialist contended that drug cartels are a North American rather than just a Mexican phenomenon, and that criminal violence is also a real if largely hidden by-product of the drug business in the United States in addition to Mexico.
The UTEP administration and the City of El Paso have been generous in helping support the event, Heyman said. The conference will end with a panel dedicated to discussing alternative strategies and policy proposals for the drug war.
“What we want to do is rise above kind of bland, official policy statements or pure academic research into the public discussion of drug policy,” Heyman added.
The conference events will be held on the UTEP campus and at the Plaza Theater in downtown El Paso. The public is invited, and all persons interested in attending the conference can find more information at the following website: http://warondrugsconference.utep.edu/
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces,New Mexico
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