When Mr. B.E. and I decided to relocate to the U.S.-Mexico border as volunteers in the immigration arena, I braced for confrontation, based on the image I had of the border. I thought I'd experience hot opposition to Mexican and Latin American immigrants. I was largely wrong.
Of course, there is dissention. And, yes, there are some fearful people. But I learned immediately - and much to my surprise -- that the border is a community. Growing up on the Mississippi River, I could relate. I knew that cities in Iowa and Illinois, although perhaps located on opposite banks of the river, are more alike than different. And so are El Paso and Juarez: sister cities on opposite sides of the same river, the Rio Grande.
In my El Paso neighborhood, four out of five people are Latino. Spanish is the predominant language. Everyone has friends in Juarez; most have relatives there. Commerce is done on both sides of the border. People appreciate what each side has to offer. But, in the three years that we've been part-time border residents, militarization has escalated. The border has morphed into a drug war zone. Unprecedented violence has spiraled out of control. Fear and horror take hold.
Our border community now is painfully divided. It's a microcosm of our hemisphere, our world embroiled in a war on drugs. The violence is a wake-up call, not only for Mexico, but also for the US.
So, to open up a continental-wide conversation on 40 years of US drug policy, faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso are convening a precedent-setting two day conference this week, "Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs." It will look at alternatives to the status quo, in light of the war both in Juarez and across Mexico. The presenters will be key experts with diverse viewpoints from the entire North American continent.
A parallel event simultaneously occurs in Juarez, featuring the mayor of Medellin, Colombia, a city that has significantly reduced drug violence.
The conference is directed at organizing a far-reaching dialogue, engaging you, the public. Dr. Joe Heyman, an event organizer, told El Paso's The Newspaper Tree: "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."
From the event website:
We would like to invite you to participate in an honest and critical dialogue on the successes and failures of the U.S. ‘war on drugs' at the 40th anniversary of the policy. Please share your important perspective and expertise to develop better policies that fit the new social, economic and national security realities that we face in our globalized world. This dialogue is crucial, as nation-states all over the world like Mexico and Afghanistan are faced with tremendous consequences of U.S. drug policies. In a highly interconnected world, we must endeavor to create policies that take into account the subtle nuances of relationships among countries. As such, we must also structure policies that will better aid communities that are affected by drug use and drug violence. Your presence is essential for this dialogue.
The event's promotional video, found at the top of this page, sets the tone. For those unable to attend the conference, viewing that short video is educational in itself. [Viewer discretion is advised.]