Global Exchange has established a partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation’s leading organization promoting alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. DPA works to advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition. DPA works nationally to change U.S. laws and practices to ensure that our nation’s drug policies no longer arrest, incarcerate, disenfranchise and otherwise harm millions – particularly young people and people of color who are disproportionately affected by the drug war.

This year, leaders of Mexico’s peace movement will be headliners at the DPA sponsored International Drug Policy Reform Conference held from November 2-5, 2011 at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, CA. Javier Sicilia and others, including John Gibler, author of To Die in Mexico, will present at the “Spotlight Session” on “The Bi-National Movement to End the Drug War in Mexico”. The panel will address how the drug war leads to the criminalization and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. every year, creating extraordinary obstacles that often prevent full participation in community and civic life – for instance, gaining employment can often be nearly impossible when employers won’t hire people with criminal records. The Conference website states: “This important discussion will provide conference participants with tools to fight discrimination based on arrest or conviction records. Speakers will highlight numerous successful campaigns, led by formerly incarcerated people, which suggest new strategies and possibilities for removing barriers to employment, housing, and other vital components of community life.”

This biennial event brings together over 1,000 attendees, from more than 30 different countries, who believe that the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. This year’s co-hosts include the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Open Society Foundations (OSF), and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

DPA is actively involved in the legislative process and seeks to roll back the excesses of the drug war, block new, harmful initiatives, and promote sensible drug policy reforms. As a result of our work, hundreds of thousands of people have been diverted from incarceration to drug treatment programs, hundreds of thousands of sick and dying patients can safely access their medicine without being considered criminals under the law, and states like California have saved more than $2.5 billion by eliminating wasteful and ineffective law enforcement, prosecution and prison expenditures.

To sign up for the International Drug Policy Reform Conference learn more here.


The following was originally sent to the Mexico News list. Be the first to get latest news and action alerts from our Mexico program by signing up to the list

Mexican President Calderón has broken his public pledge made to Mexican peace movement representatives to evaluate steps taken by the government since an internationally televised dialogue held in the Chapultepec Castle, three months ago.

Contending that the president reneged on his promise, peace movement leaders have challenged him to honor his word by moving ahead with plans to convene, as agreed, at 10:00 AM on October 7 at the Chapultepec Castle with or without the President and his cabinet.

Calderón’s eleventh hour reversal came just a week after the “Caravan to the South” –organized by Mexico’s peace and justice movement — completed a two week, 3,900 kilometer loop through Mexico’s long-troubled and increasingly violent southeastern states. Led by Javier Sicilia and others who have lost loved ones in Mexico’s still expanding war, the 30 vehicle bus and car convoy plied the highways and back roads of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz.

Movement leaders, now back in Mexico City, had been preparing to meet with Calderón despite his stubborn insistence that his decisions to militarize the enforcement of drug prohibition is absolutely correct, or at least irreversible. Even with little or no visible progress, movement leaders were prepared to continue talks on a broad range of topics related to the war and its victims –until Calderón closed the door to dialogue.

Now the movement is planning an unprecedented gathering of war victims on October 7th. They will put their positions forward and announce new peace movement actions for Day of the Dead (Nov 2), Constitution Day (Nov 20), and beyond.

Please check the movement website for possible broadcast details for the Oct 7th events.

Also coming up in October is a month-long speaking tour with investigative journalists, John Gibler and Diego Osorno, on the political uses of the drug war. See the full listing of dates and locations of the tour.

Help us connect the dots to build a powerful movement for peace in Mexico north of the border. Visit our Mexico program page to see some of what we are doing and who we are working with to get it done.

See NYTimes’ recent profile on Javier Sicilia, “Can This Poet Save Mexico?”

The following piece was written by Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City at

The presidential meeting this week between Mexico’s Felipe Calderon and Barack Obama looked from the outside like a hastily arranged exercise in damage control. But while most analysts emphasized the tensions between the neighboring nations going into the meeting, the real crisis behind the visit was the failure of what the two leaders most strongly agree on: the war on drugs south of the border.

Following a lengthy closed meeting, the presidents stood before the cameras to reaffirm their mutal commitment to a war that has cost 35,000 Mexican lives since 2007, with the death toll rising by often 50 homicides a day. Obama affirmed the U.S. strategy of increased engagement in the Mexican drug war, stating “We are very mindful that the battle President Calderon is fighting inside of Mexico is not just his battle, it’s also ours.” He promised to deliver $900 million this year of funds appropriated under the Merida Initiative, a security agreement launched in 2007 by the George W. Bush adminstration and extended indefinitely under Obama.

The binational relationship suffered some serious blows in the weeks preceding Calderon’s Washington visit. The release of thousands of Wikileaks cables between the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and the State Department revealed U.S. officials’ deep concerns regarding the Mexican government’s capacity to carry out its high-risk war on drug cartels and wavering public opinion. Cable 10MEXICO83, for example, states that “the GOM’s (Government of Mexico’s) inability to halt the escalating numbers of narco-related homicides in places like Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere… has become one of Calderon’s principal political liabilities as the general public has grown more concerned about citizen security.” The cable cites “official corruption”, inter-agency rivalries, “dismal” prosecution rates and a “slow and risk averse” Mexican army.

In an interview with El Universal, Calderon responded angrily, calling the statements exaggerated, the ambassador “ignorant” and citing a lack of inter-agency coordination within the United States. Continued releases of the cables by the Mexican daily La Jornada promise more embarassments for both governments in attempting to portray a confident and united front in the drug war.

Tensions also followed the assassination of Jaime Zapata, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in San Luis Potosí on Feb. 15. Although the Mexican government has arrested the alleged attackers–members of the Zetas drug cartel–the incident highlighted the risks of the drug war cooperation and the power of the cartels. The Mexican government’s contradictory statements on what happened and the army’s absurd hypothesis that the assassins did not know they were attacking U.S. agents (the agents’ car bore US diplomatic plates) only deepened perceptions of a lack of transparency. Within Mexico, the incident heightened fears that the U.S. government would demand more direct involvement, in particular a lifting of the ban on foreign agents bearing arms within Mexican territory.

A recent spate of comments from high-ranking U.S. officials served to fan the flame of distrust of the U.S. government. Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s speculated out loud of possible links between Mexican drug cartels and Al Qaeda, and Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal characterized organized crime in Mexico as an “insurgency”, while openly raising the specter of US troops being sent in. Mexican columnists and anti-miliarization activists have intensified criticism of U.S. growing involvement in the country’s national security.

These tensions arise from the commitment of both governments to deepen and reinforce a military alliance based on a drug war that is rapidly losing the support of their populations and proving itself counterproductive. The central concern of the presidential summit wasn’t the relatively superficial frictions between the countries, but the desire to bolster the beleaguered drug war.

Despite talk of a deteriorating relationship, in fact the Calderon and Obama administrations are overseeing the birth of historically unprecedented cooperation between the two nations.

The problem is that nearly all of that cooperation centers on the severely flawed approach to confront transnational drug-trafficking. The Mexico City US Embassy has expanded into a massive web of Washington-led programs and infrastructure. The controversial Merida Initiative, up for another round of funding in Congress, has allocated more than $1.5 billion to help fight Mexico’s drug war with devastatingly negative effects. In addition to the rise in violence, the binational relationship, which should be multi-faceted and focused on peaceful co-existence, has been hijacked by proponents of a war model to reduce illicit drug flows to the U.S. market and confront organized crime where it is most powerful—in brutal battle. The Pentagon is thrilled with its open access to the Mexican security apparatus and the Calderon government—entering election mode—needs the political and economic support for its flagship war policy.

But the new relationship forged in war rooms is bad news for the Mexican people. Polls now show that the majority of the population does not believe its government is winning the war on drugs and feels the social costs are too high. A new movement called No More Blood has taken hold throughout the country and regions like Ciudad Juarez, where militarization has been heaviest and not coincidentally violence has taken the highest toll, have seen the rise of grassroots movements to defend human rights, call for an end to militarization and put forward alternative strategies. Among their demands is to rechannel scarce resources away from the attack on cartels to address social needs, restore the armed forces to their constitutional mandate of national defense, and end impunity for crime by fixing the judicial and public security systems and attacking government corruption.

It’s also bad news for the U.S. public. Opening up a war front in Mexico has not only destabilized our closest neighbor, but also drains resources needed in U.S. communities. The government-funded contracts granted Blackwater and Blackhawk to fight Mexico’s war could be used for schools in crisis. With an on-going econimc crisis and two wars across the ocean, the prospect of long-term involvement south of the border hurts all but the flourishing war economy.

Presidents Obama and Calderon could have used this meeting to rethink the strategy. Both have at times indicated a need to defuse the drug war by turning more to health-oriented approaches to drug consumption and backing off the cops and robbers persecutions by adopting more sophisticated methods of dismantling financial structures and carrying out more focused intelligence operations.

A wide range of alternative policies exist to supplant the endless drug war. Human rights concerns, along with longterm effectiveness, should dominate in considering which of these to adopt. Mexico’s drug war has generated death, an erosion of rule of law, increased gender-based violence and has significantly altered daily life in many parts of the county. This crisis should have elicited a modicum of self-criticism and willingness to consider reforms from the leaders who developed the strategy.

Instead, the presidential summit made a show of putting the binational relationship back on track—in precisely the wrong direction.