Conference takes aim at border drug violence


Border Activist Summit for Teaching and Action was organized by  a group of students, faculty and staff from the University of Texas at El Paso who were  concerned about the sustained and  widespread violence in our sister city of Juárez, Mexico, and in particular with the lack of attention given to the role that US policy plays in creating and sustaining conditions in which that violence  flourishes.

The core philosophy behind the organization of the BASTA conference is that the violence in Mexico is not just something that starts in Mexico, stays in Mexico, and is a Mexican affair. Rather it is something that is as much a part of the United States as it is a part of Mexico, and that positive change can be effected by US citizens and residents taking charge of their own country’s politics.

Local, national and bi-national experts have been invited to address US policy in the following areas:

Why Should I Care: Victim’s Voices from the Drug War; Impacts of US Policy on the State of Chihuahua; Plan Merida; Asylum and Immigration; Drugs and Guns and a Legislative/Policy panel in which local politicians discuss and debate border perspectives. The conference has been structured to encourage an informed exploration of the following five broad policy initiatives proposed by BASTA organizers:

(1) An end to the Mérida Initiative and a dramatic change of US involvement in Mexico. The Mérida Initiative reinforces trends toward militarization, violent confrontations, and authoritarian governance in Mexico. Funds currently directed towards the Mérida Initiative, should be redirected towards community development efforts and NAFTA compensation in Mexico, and to fund and address the US policy issues highlighted below.

(2) Change U.S. drug laws & policies to remove profits from drug cartels. Control, regulate and decriminalize marijuana and explore similar avenues with other drugs; significantly increase funding for drug overdose prevention, public education and treatment programs.

(3) Eliminate access of drug trafficking organizations to guns and money, in Mexico and the United States. Recent public scandals like the “Fast and Furious” operative in which ATF agents allowed illegal buyers to purchase and export more than 2,000 firearms into Mexico, many of which turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, point to the need for a complete overhaul of that bureau and of current policies relating to the trafficking of drugs, guns and money. This should include a significant increase in financial crime operations that identify and prosecute financial institutions, businesses and individuals that enable the transfer and laundering of money.

(4) Reform U.S. asylum policy vis-a-vis Mexicans. The U.S. government should make a clear policy statement that some Mexicans do face a well-founded fear of persecution and the asylum process for Mexicans should be humane, efficient, non-discriminatory and not punitive.

(5) Use comprehensive immigration reform to reduce the profits and human harm of border criminals and trafficking organizations and end U.S. militarization and criminal enforcement at the border.

(6) Employ comprehensive immigration reform to reduce the number of undocumented border crossers and undocumented U.S. residents by creating legal channels, paths to citizenship and processing the backlog of applications; take resources spent on massive border patrol operations, military deployment, infrastructure, and border walls against immigrant flows, and redirect those funds toward operations focused on halting southbound movement of guns and money.

Some talking points provided by conference participants:

Josiah Heyman, chair, UTEP Department of Sociology and Anthropology and  chair of the Board of Directors of the Border Network for Human Rights

• The violence in Mexico is not  just something that starts in Mexico, stays in Mexico, and is a Mexican affair. It is something as much a part of the United States as Mexico and can be affected by US citizens and residents taking charge of their own country’s politics. This is most clearly illustrated by thinking of the criminal situation as a triangular trade: money; guns and munitions; drugs. All three involve the United  States and the first two originate largely in this country. US  money drives the violence, and the money is fundamental to the whole system; US guns and bullets kill people. We need to take ownership of and responsibility for these facts.

 John Lindsay Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation

• U.S.  policy in Mexico and Central America is feeding the fire of violence, based  on conditions of rural divestment and trade policies that values commerce over people, with:

a) U.S. drug use and prohibition,

b) promiscuous sales and policy on increasingly lethal guns, and

c) a military response to the crisis.

• The military response doesn’t address the successive causes of the crisis of violence, and supports forces with a history of abuses and no accountability to the population.

• The Central America Regional Security Initiative -­ initially part of the Mérida Initiative -­ is aiding Guatemalan special forces, known as Kaibiles, that are a recruiting ground for the Zetas in the Petén region of Guatemala.

Adam Isacson, Washington Office on Latin America

• Instead of declaring ‘war’ on drugs or anything else in the Americas, we need to clean our own house first. Treat addicts like sick people who need help, not criminals. Minimize the harm that addiction does to our society. Stop the uncontrolled sales that let guns end up in cartels’ hands in Mexico. Confront the banks that launder illegal money. Then, instead of handing out packages of mostly military aid, we need to help countries govern their territory and punish wrongdoing.

• These policies offer a possible way out. But they are hard to implement. They cost money, and they require real political courage. As long as both are in short  supply, we are condemned to sending helicopters to countries like Colombia and Mexico as the hyper-violent drug-traffickers remain several steps ahead of us.

Laura Carlsen, Director, Americas Program

• In times of budget cuts, spending billions of dollars to support Mexico’s disastrous drug war is not only unjustifiable, it is wrong. The drug war strategy has been a direct cause of the explosion of violence in Mexico, with nearly 50,000 drug-related deaths and counting. The Mérida Initiative supports the failed model, providing millions of dollars in contracts to US defense and private security industries while increasing insecurity for Mexican and US citizens,

• Transnational organized crime must be attacked within our own borders, with focused, non-violent approaches including demand reduction through treatment and education, cracking down on money laundering, and drug policy reform, especially opening up debate on legalization of marijuana to eliminate the lucrative black market.



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