Today, the Caribbean Basin is the most violent region in the world. Governments in the Americas have centered their attention on prosecuting, and dismantling drug cartels and criminal gangs. Their goal has been the overall improvement of their security forces. Unfortunately, other public and private initiatives aimed at reducing conflict and advancing reconciliation and human rights have received less consideration.
With a clear purpose of bridging the gap between the study of crime and violence, and the promotion of a culture of peace, El Colegio de México (colmex) started in 2013 a Seminar on Violence and Peace focused on Mexico and the other countries of the Caribbean Basin. This was the first of a series of on-going initiatives that have brought academics, civil society, and decision-makers of the Mexican Government to explore together, through an interdisciplinary approach, the origins, evolution, and current state of violence, and, most importantly, to identify solutions to current challenges and to prevent further violence and crime.
From conferences to policy interventions in the Public Prosecutor’s Offices (or Ministerios Públicos), we have come up with innovative solutions to the current violence pandemic. In that process, and with a clear understanding that the current wave of violence is not a problem only for Mexico but for the entire region, we have established contacts with national, and foreign universities. Our aim has been to create a regional network able to do applied research across Mexico, Central America, and Colombia to identify, and share best practices. We have taken a two prong-approach: first, a perspective that seeks to understand broad patterns across different countries, and second a micro-level search to identify precedents. Hereunder is a description of each of the ongoing initiatives.
From August 2013 to July 2015, we invited to speak at our seminar the most important decision-makers, activists and thinkers on crime prevention and the study of violence. Among the topics presented were: national security, kidnappings, the role of journalists, freedom of speech, and the presence of organized crime in Mexico (for a thorough list of the guest speakers, and their lectures, see appendix I).
Conferences were open to the public, and received, on average, 100 attendees each time. We were fully committed to disseminating information to the public and maintaining the highest standards of rigorous academic analysis. For that reason, we devoted resources and time to publicize materials through the use of traditional and social media. We received considerable coverage by outlets such as La Jornada, Once TV, MVS, Excélsior, El Universal, and Reforma, and also made recording of the conferences available through our online platform (violenciaenmexico.colmex.mx/index.php/conferencias). Last August, we started a Facebook page. Today, less than one year after we launched the site, we have over 1,900 subscribers. There is no better strategy to fight the current wave of violence than shedding light on it.
After each conference we held a private lunch where the permanent members of the seminar, and the main speaker could candidly share information and statistics. Intimate conversations have sometimes turned into new projects, thus making the seminar a platform not only to exchange ideas, but also to breed solutions.
In June 2015, El Colegio de México in close collaboration with the Under-Secretary for Human Rights at the Secretary of Interior (segob, Spanish acronym) started working on a program to improve attention provided to crime victims in the Ministerios Públicos. We are currently in the process of designing the type and scope of our program (we are in the midst of raising funds, too). The aim is to sample a random group of federal, state and municipal agencies to, first, understand the problems they face, second, plan an effective capacitation to improve the services they provide, and finally, evaluate the impact of such intervention. We are seeking to develop evidence-base interventions that can be measured, and if proved successful, be replicated nationwide.
In addition, we are also working with the Attorney General's Office (pgr, Spanish acronym) and the National Human Rights Commission (cndh, Spanish acronym) to design focalized courses and training to raise awareness among public servants of victims, and journalists’ rights. The initiative seeks to cultivate empathy and public service motivation among officials, to stress that, despite their constraints and lack of resources, better treatment to those that have suffered the effects of violence is one of the steps needed to improve the situation in Mexico.
El Colegio de México, through the Seminar on Violence and Peace, is in the process of consolidating formal alliances with the above mentioned government branches—segob, pgr, and cndh—and also with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Additionally, we are also in talks with Amnesty International, and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to identify areas of cooperation. These partnerships are invaluable to implement innovative programs that can lead to new solutions.
The rapid expansion of the project has also pushed us to fine-tune our research agenda. Thus, we are preparing a conference in November at El Colegio de México to understand the types and causes of violence in different parts of Mexico, as well as to shed light on why some other regions are peaceful. As part of the same project, we are working on an international conference in Harvard University to compare experiences between different countries. The goal is to build a coalition of actors regionally not only to survey the state of the art in this matter, but to co-ordinate efforts in order to achieve better results. We seek to identify patterns, similarities, and differences among the experiences of Colombia, Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Our main partner in this endeavor will be Harvard University, which in February of 2015 signed a memorandum of understanding with colmex to jointly collaborate in projects relating to violence prevention in the Caribbean Basin.
As part of our on-going efforts, we are considering becoming one of the key Latin American partners for the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA), an international association of universities that enhances professionalism in the humanitarian sector. The idea would be to create a master’s program in our continent dedicated to fostering peace initiatives with a sound understanding of the economic, social, and political particularities of the region. As one of the key members in this enterprise, we would be uniquely positioned to build regional alliances, identify experts, and push forward a new research and educational agenda.