Oct 17, 2011

Drug Policy Reform: BASTA - Border Activist Summit for Teaching and Action Held at University of Texas at El Paso

Americas Program director, Laura Carlsen and your MexicoBlog editor just returned from attending the Border Activist Summit for Teaching and Action  (BASTA) conference at the University of Texas in El Paso. The conference, held on October 13 and 14, was organized by a group of students, faculty and staff from the University who were concerned about the sustained and widespread violence in their 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 conference was 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 affected by US citizens and residents taking charge of their own country's politics.

Local, national and Mexican experts addressed the participants in a bi-lingual format. They included Josiah Heyman, Chair UTEP Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Chair of the Border Network for Human Rights, Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, Oscar Enriquez director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos of Paso del Norte, John Lindsay Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, Colin Goddard of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Victor Quintana, former state legislator and professor of political science, Chihuahua.

The conference explored 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 and policies to remove profits from drug cartels. Control, regulate and decriminalize marijuana; 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. 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.

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