I am writing from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city with 1.3 million residents right on the U.S.-Mexico border adjacent to El Paso. Mexican drug cartels are engaged in violent conflict — among themselves and with Mexican security forces — for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border. Juarez is one of the focal points for President Felipe Calderon’s aggressive and courageous efforts to fight back against drug cartels who sow fear and violence on an everyday basis in the local population. The cartels are willing to use any means of communication at their disposal to disseminate their messages of fear — from as basic as hanging a banner across an interstate overpass, to glorifying their lifestyle through traditional songs known as “narcocorridos,” to more savvy means like uploading violent videos to YouTube. State is sponsoring the visit of representatives from U.S. new media and telecommunications firms, as well as an academic to look at how new media and technology tools can help Mexican citizens amplify their voices against narco-violence.
This “tech.del” is the first that we have organized in the Western Hemisphere. We arrived yesterday in Juarez and kicked off our visit with a night border tour organized by Customs and Border Patrol agents. The idea was to give tech.del participants an idea of the breadth and depth of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship. Our border is characterized by an enormous amount of trade in goods and people, both licit and illicit. Today, we will have the opportunity to meet with NGOs, journalist associations, business associations and academics from Juarez and the surrounding region who are working with local citizens to improve the security situation on the ground here. Our goal will be to listen to their objectives and the challenges they face, and review how existing technological applications can provide a venue for citizens of Juarez and beyond to better organize, share information on criminal acts and overcome personal security concerns to take a proactive stand against drug cartel violence.
After a full day of meetings in Juarez today, we will fly to Mexico City later this evening. On Wednesday, the tech.del participants will meet with Mexico City-based mobile providers, federal government representatives, NGOs and academics to hear the view from the capital. Working with the Mexican government, our starting point is that any long term solution to the challenge of drug violence in Mexico needs to include a grassroots, citizen-based response. Our goal is to identify real deliverables, partnering with the various Mexican institutions we will meet to create a space for the citizens of Mexico to feel secure in finding their voice against the cartels.
I will continue to blog on this visit over the coming days and hope you will check back for updates.