10/04/09 - Beto O'Rourke

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Reports from the El Paso conference on the War on Drugs: UTEP president, mayors of El Paso & Ciudad Juarez, Councilman Beto O'Rourke, Terry Nelson of LEAP, & Mike Agar

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, October 4, 2009

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.


It's not only inhumane it is really fundamentally Un-American... "NO MORE" "DRUG WAR" "NO MORE" "DRUG WAR" "NO MORE" "DRUG WAR" "NO MORE" "DRUG WAR"

My Name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs - legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.


Dean Becker: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Today we are taking another listen to the recent drug war conference held in El Paso and Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico sponsored by the University of Texas, El Paso. And you may remember the voice you are about to hear is one of our guests a few weeks back, Kathy Stoudt, professor at UTEP.


Kathy Stoudt: …first ever two day conference global public policy forum on the war on drugs. We hope to make history here. I am the emcee for the event, Kathleen Stoudt, Kathy to my friends. I am professor of political science here at the University of Texas at El Paso.

It is now my great pleasure to introduce to you several important people who helped make this conference happen. The first of these people is President Diana Natalicio, the president of the University of Texas at El Paso. We are very grateful that she has lent her support for this precedent setting conference that once again we think will make history. President Natalicio.

Diana Natalicio: Well good morning everyone, buenos dias and welcome to the University of Texas at El Paso. We are delighted that you have joined us.

At the reception yesterday afternoon I was reminded that about ten years ago I and a number of others at UTEP were actively engaged in planning and promoting a museum that would celebrate immigration to the United States across the southwestern border - the Ellis Island of the southwest in El Paso - Juarez. It was a dream. We envisioned that there would be a facility that would have one foot in El Paso span the Rio Grande and have its other foot in Ciudad, Juarez. It was challenging but we certainly thought it was feasible at that time.

That was ten years ago. How quickly circumstances have shifted. Today UTEP is providing a platform for quite another conversation, more difficult than any we had imagined at that time and with far higher stakes for this border region and beyond. UTEP is very pleased to serve as one of the hosts for this important conference.

We are an institution that has for nearly a hundred years served the residents of this US Mexico border region and today more than ninety percent of our twenty-one thousand students come from this region with nearly one thousand five hundred of them commuting daily from Ciudad, Juarez.

I am especially pleased that so many UTEP faculty staff and students are participating in this conference. As engaged residents of this region we are major stakeholders in the issues that will be discussed over the next two days and we greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from and share our perspectives with all of you. We thank you for the time you have committed to these conversations and especially for sharing your expertise and insights with us.

Kathy Stoudt: I would now like to introduce to you our distinguished leaders on both sides of the border, Mayor John Cook and Municipal President Reyes Ferriz.

Reyes Ferriz: Thank you Mayor John Cook for giving me the first opportunity to speak. It is a pleasure to be here and I am very thankful for President Diana Natalicio’s leadership in sponsoring conferences like this to cover subjects that are of great importance to our region, to both our cities and I think to both of our countries.

Ciudad, Juarez and El Paso have always been a logistical center of North America, the most important logistical center of the flow of goods from Mexico to the United States. And of course being the logistical center of that flow of goods can also mean being the logistical center of the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico.

That has created a tremendous situation across the border in the city of Juarez that unfortunately has left three thousand two hundred plus dead within the last eighteen, twenty months now. A situation that for the most part has been focused on members of organized crime but that has affected innocent civilians and of course has affected the police department and everybody fighting crime in Mexico especially in the city of Juarez.

Here the efforts of the city government have been very large. Within the last twenty months we have been able to clean up half of the police department, half of the police department officers in Juarez were fired. Something we needed to do you saw twenty months ago, the former chief of police in Juarez being detained crossing the border in to El Paso with a ton of marijuana. Corruption was rampant from the top down of the police department and we had to do a tremendous clean up.

We also had to do a large recruitment effort that took our police department from sixteen hundred officers to double that number. We now have three thousand officers in the city of Juarez patrolling the city. They have been there for a week. We hope their efforts and their numbers will start to show an improvement in the situation in the city shortly and it will take a lot of work. There is a lot of work to do but I think that effort is going to be of great importance.

Having a strong police department is not necessarily the only effort that needs to be made. We also have to have social policies that address the drug problem in a way that we can lower the crime rates in our city. And in order to do that we have been following Sergio Fahardo’s project which was able to actually lower the amount of crime in the city of Medellin. So I think it is very important that Sergio will be here in this conference and I congratulate you for having him come and talk and show us that there is hope for what we are doing.

One of the things that the city of Juarez is doing is that we are starting the first nationwide, national - in the country the first forced treatment center for drug addicts. There are unfortunately no treatment centers operated by the government in Juarez and we have a facility that we are about to open for three hundred people. A hundred of them will be committed by courts to get treatment and get off drugs. That is how far we need to go.

We will also start a very large effort against drugs with parents, with schools with civil society involved in getting drugs off our streets. That has to be very comprehensive and we are very glad to have the Inter American Bank of Development Bank helping our efforts in the city of Juarez.

Ten years ago Plan Columbia was developed in coordination with Inter American Development Bank and it was very successful. We are now in the process of starting Plan Juarez. The Inter American Development Bank has people in my government in Guatemala today looking at how Guatemala has handled the [ ]. They will be in Colombia a couple of days from now. Four of my top staffers are going to be there and will have a major conference in the middle of October to be able to set the plan in motion.

But I think the most important part that we need to do between the governments, the US government and the Mexican government and the state governments along the border and the city governments along the border, is to have a joint policy. And that is why I think this conference is very important.

We have to have a policy that goes across borders. I think the present administration recognizes, the federal administration of the United States, recognizes that this is a joint problem and they are addressing this as a joint issue. But I don’t think that we have a cohesive policy right now.

The policy in Mexico is to fight the flow of drugs into the United States. That policy has killed many officers fighting drug dealers in Mexico including over sixty city employees in the city of Juarez not limited to police officers but also attorneys and judges and administrators, all because we are fighting the flow of drugs into the United States.

And it is very sad to see the day your chief of police gets killed, the United States issues a statement saying they won’t prosecute a drug user like Michael Phelps which sends a message to the United States that drug use in the United States is OK, drug flow is not. We have to have a cohesive policy whatever it is; we have to make a decision between both countries as to what we are going to do with drugs in our countries and with our society.


Dean Becker: Alright I am going to interrupt here. Juarez mayor Ferriz sounds like a reasonable guy but heck in Mexico Mr. Phelps wouldn’t even be prosecuted because possession of minor amounts of drugs is now decriminalized nationwide.


Kathy Stoudt: Thank you municipal president Reyes Ferriz. And now we have Mayor John Cook and his guitar.

John Cook: Well, I wanted to join Mayor Reyes Ferriz and president Natalicio in welcoming you, bienvenidos El Paso. I also wanted to tell Mayor Reyes Ferriz just how much I admire him and his courage. When you have people putting out rewards and bounties on you and your family, Mayor, and for you to have the tenacity and the courage to stand up for what you know is right I think you deserve a special round of applause from this audience here.

It is very easy for those of us on this side of the border who live in relative safety and are not threatened by the cartels to have the courage to stand up but for you to stand up when you know that your life and your family’s life is being threatened it takes a lot of courage. Traditionally I try to end all of my public speaking engagements with a little song to welcome people to our city so today will be no exception to that.

El Paso is your land, El Paso is my land…


It’s time to play Name That Drug by Its Side Effects!

Dry mouth, constipation, rash, increased heart rate, blurred vision, glaucoma, uninary retention, chest pain, vomiting, arthritis, myalgia, apiphtaxis, laryngitis, rhitinitis, sinusitis and respiratory infections.

Time’s up!

The answer: The answer from Boehringer Ingelheim pharmaceuticals, Spiriva – to breathe easier.


Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Abolitionist’s Moment.

We must stand, we must speak, we must demand an end to the madness of drug war. This ninety-four year old prohibition of non fortune five hundred drugs must be brought to an end. This prohibition has no basis, no dignity, no embrace of reality, no reason to exist. As did the abolitionists stand against slavery and alcohol prohibition, so to must we stand for truth and reality itself. Do your part, join forces with other abolitionists. Please visit endprohibition.org. Do it for the children.


Dean Becker: You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio, broadcast on scores of independent college and pirate stations worldwide providing the unvarnished truth about the drug war. We are tuning in to a recent conference in El Paso to recognize the forty year anniversary of the drug war as declared by Richard Millhouse Nixon.


Kathy Stoudt: Now I would like to ask Representative Berto O’Rourke to come up and tell us a little bit about the history of this conference. He was after all the inspiration for the conference. Berto?

Dean Becker: Berto O’Rourke was our guest on the Drug Truth Network earlier this year when we heard about his proposal.

Berto O’Rourke: It is really great to see so many people here today talking about and thinking through and listening to important speakers on a subject that could be, there could not be any more important subject frankly for El Paso and Ciudad, Juarez than the drug trade, the drug wars and national policy on both sides of the border.

So I also want to welcome you to El Paso and Juarez and want to thank you for being here. And lastly in terms of the thanks I want to thank Mayor Cook and Mayor pro tem Emma Costa, Suzy Bird and Morgan Lily, for being here all members of the city council, all of whom probably have different views on the war on drugs and what brought us to the situation that we are in here in El Paso and Juarez.

But who all chose to be here today and listen to each other and listen to the experts and fellow Paseneos who are here so mayor, thank you for being here. And I know we don’t always agree but that you are here means a lot to me and I think to the community so thank you.

I wanted to as Kathy suggested just hopefully briefly talk about how I arrived here at this conference and at the position that I promoted at the city council which was to have an open honest debate on our country’s drug laws and in that amendment to that resolution that later became famous or infamous to have an open and honest debate about ending prohibition of illegal drugs in the United States.

Like many in our community and that is why I want to tell this story I kind of maintain this willful ignorance about the drug war and the drug trade and the killings that would erupt from time to time in Ciudad, Juarez. And I was born and raised here and you almost, at least those who feel like I do, you almost kind of considered it an act of nature, something that with due course would pass and you could go back to life as normal.

So you maybe stayed on this side of the border for a few days or weeks until things passed and got better and went back to business as usual. And an important component of that was that you probably felt as I did and it sounds awful to say this but this is think was working in the back of my head that the people who were killed were not necessarily innocent so what place was it of mine to get involved or worry about it.

Like many in El Paso and Juarez that changed for me in 2008 when the killings simply did not stop and the horror and the violence and the terrorism reached such an unprecedented level that it shook us out of the apathy that I think we had been lulled in to after so many years of this cyclical drug violence.

And we realized that what we were seeing was a result of something that had gone deeply wrong. And we began to ask ourselves I think as a community a series of questions. What was it or what is it that has gone so wrong? What is that the result of? What can we do to change the situation? And we also asked a question and it was eloquently asked in a recent edition of newspaper by Vanessa Johnson, who deserves to die?

And that is the question I forced myself to ask and you have some uncomfortable answers when you think through them. It led me and others on the city council in fact it led all of us unanimously to the conclusion that the cataclysmic violence that we are witness to in our community is not a natural disaster. It is not fated. It is not inescapable. It is not preordained.

In fact every aspect of what we are witness to is man made and to that there is a man made solution. So when Doctor Stoudt, Doctor Payan, Lino Ortega and others of the Border Affairs Committee of the city proposed a resolution to city council for us to adopt in January of this year that expressed our sympathy and our empathy for the victims of the violence in Juarez and urged sensible policy changes on both sides of the border.

We unanimously supported it with the added amendment calling for the US to engage in an open and honest debate about ending the prohibition of illegal drugs. That all eight of us and it’s an eight member council - nine including the mayor – but that all eight of us who voted on this each of whom represents a unique geographical district, each of whom brings their own point of view and political preferences to the table and each of whom, myself included, have a hard time finding common ground on even the most mundane municipal issues.

That all eight of us could unanimously vote on such a politically charged topic says something very significant. It says more than just the, that we wanted this debate and that we wanted to look at drug policy. It basically said to our leaders in Mexico City and Washington DC that we are literally dying here and you owe us a better policy than the one that is currently in place.


Dean Becker: Long term listeners to the Drug Truth Network surely remember Mister Terry Nelson the gentleman with thirty-two or thirty-three years of experience as a Customs Border and Air Interdiction officer. A man who had mud on his boots up to his knees I would suppose from his involvement in the drug war. He has been working in Iraq the last couple of years helping them set up their border patrols if you will. But he was in El Paso to speak on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Dean Becker: Back from Iraq, our good friend Terry Nelson - reported on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition many years. And we are here in El Paso attending a major drugs conference. Hello Terry.

Terry Nelson: Hello Dean, how have you been?

Dean Becker: I have been good. Good to see you made it back safe and sound once again. This is an amazing event that is beginning to unfold here. People from all around the western hemisphere to talk about this drug problem. What is your perceptions thus far?

Terry Nelson: I am excited about being here and I believe it is going to be a very productive conference. Unfortunately we had a couple of cancellations of our drug czar and our border czar have cancelled out. We were hoping that they were going to be here with an open mind to listen to an open dialogue. But we have been told that they won’t be here but we’ll just have the meeting without them.

Dean Becker: Well I am not surprised to tell you the truth because the fact is that there is no way to defend this policy. It has no legs, does it?

Terry Nelson: Well I don’t believe so. I think forty years of failure speaks for itself. You know in the old axiom if something doesn’t work you try something different and instead of trying the same thing over and over once it has been proven not to work you need to change your strategy after forty years.

Dean Becker: Right. Now there is some talk of a bus load of folks going to Ciudad, Juarez tomorrow - one of the most well I think the most violent city in the western hemisphere.

Terry Nelson: I believe - I would love to go but I believe I am going to have to pass on that one…

Dean Becker: Now your most recent stint in Iraq has been to help them seal their borders better understand how to protect themselves. How is that going, Terry?

Terry Nelson: That is going very well. The people are standing up well and they are beginning to take the responsibility and seeing some good success this trip.

Dean Becker: Right. Now over the years you and I have seen kind of a switch. Maybe not one hundred eighty degrees but it has made a big swing in the last couple of years. People’s perceptions even government officials understanding of this problem, has it not?

Terry Nelson: I believe Ethan Nadelmann said it best for years we had the wind in our face and now we have the wind at our back. We are actually starting to make some good progress and the people are getting in to the argument and listening to both sides of the argument and making their minds up. And I am glad to say most of them are making their minds up the way we think instead of saying the government should continue doing what they have been doing that hasn’t been working.

Dean Becker: Alright Terry as I understand it you are going to be coming to the Houston area in the near future here. I hope to extend our interview at that time and maybe we can better summarize what we have learned here at this conference.

Terry Nelson: That is exactly right. I plan to come down in a week or so and I will be happy to stop by the studio and chat with you.

Dean Becker: Mister Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, on the web at leap.cc.


Dean Becker: Next we have up Ph.D. Mike Agar to close things out. He has forty years of experience dealing with this drug war.

Mike Agar: Mike Agar, I have my Ph.D. in linguistic anthropology. Been in and out of academics, got in to the drug field because in 1968 I was offered a commission in the public health service and they sent me to Lexington Kentucky which at the time was the central institution for treating narcotics addiction in the United States.

And that was the beginning. So I wrote a dissertation that became my first book, Ripping and Running. Since then I have flipped back and forth between academic and non academic settings. Done drug work off and on over the years for more or less forty years, quit during the Reagan era. Therein lies the tale.

Dean Becker: Forty years of experience, forty years of observing this situation – what is your analysis? Where are we at now?

Mike Agar: Well actually at the moment it is a little more hopeful than it has ever been to tell you the truth. A lot of us in the field I mean I have a had a very personally rewarding career and an interesting career and a very frustrating career trying to articulate not just criticisms of the war in drugs but alternatives that are not being seen because of that frame of reference – ways to do things better and then having no response whatsoever from the main drug field that provides the support to conduct those experiments.

Dean Becker: Now we are here in El Paso just about a mile and a half away from a bloody war down there in Juarez in Mexico and the two czars, the drug czar Kerlikowski and the border czar have both declined for some reason to attend this conference. What’s your thoughts on that?

Mike Agar: The first thing is that I lived in Washington for twenty years and I am not surprised. The second thing is that colleagues here that I was chatting with said that in fact they were never really on board. So I think part of the problem here is that first of all it is a scary issue. It is a conference that is taking a critical look at you know forty years of drug policy in the United States and obviously it failed. I mean if the war on drugs were a company we all would have been fired in 1970. So I am not surprised they didn’t show up.


Dean Becker: All of this begs the question, just how long will you sit silently and ponder this situation? How long will you allow these academics and scientists and doctors to stand and proclaim the utter failure of this policy of drug war while the exalted leaders the drug czars and the border czars remain silent, remain fearful of discussion in this regard? How long? I have got a cash reward for any person on the planet who can put forward a legitimate societal benefit from this drug war. And as always I remind you that because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, please, be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.