“Border Violence Spillover to the U.S. Needs to Be Acknowledged”


This article: “Border Violence Spillover to the U.S. Needs to Be Acknowledged” has me thinking.

Sylvia Longmire, the author of the article over at Fox Latino, is a former senior border security analyst for the State of California and author of Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug War. I’ve seen her around the internet in my research on the drug war, and I know two things about her work: we have different perspectives on this issue, but, as far as I can tell, she knows her stuff.

Longmire generally writes from a security perspective while I advocate a peacebuilding perspective. So when I read her article on border violence spillover, I felt compelled to point out a couple of things.

First of all, wherever we disagree, she’s likely right about this. Longmire is raising a red flag about the escalation of drug-trade related violence and our lack of a framework for addressing incidences in the U.S. She writes:

“DHS officials have even stated in Congressional testimony that the agency doesn’t keep track of crime statistics involving cartel-on-cartel attacks in the U.S. … There is no standardized definition of spillover violence, and this is part of the problem.”

It’s unacceptable that our government would send women and men in uniform and over a billion dollars in taxpayer funds to aid a militarized law enforcement effort in a neighbor state and have no framework for accounting for incidences of related violence inside our borders. Many analysts, myself included, argue that the militarized response to the drug markets is increasing violence and failing to reduce the trade in illegal drugs. And Americans have long feared that this violence would enter our own territory. But how can we know if our government doesn’t define and measure it?

This is where Longmire and I agree – definitions and data matter. We need to use them in our efforts to create a safer society.

But I also have an issue with her article. Much of her article focuses on a bombing incident in Brownsville, Texas, for which police have not yet apprehended any suspects. Presenting as evidence only the fact that the bombing victim was charged with marijuana trafficking, Longmire writes, “There’s no proof the bomb was sent by a drug trafficking organization, but all the existing evidence is definitely pointing in that direction.” She intends to take various U.S. authorities to task for failing to account for possible spillover violence, and does so with the following phrases:

  • “Heads can literally roll in the streets of El Paso or Nogales…”
  • “Mexican cartels and their minions…”
  • “an innocent five year-old was burned to within inches of her life…”
  • Etc.

This sensationalized writing style earns internet clicks and sells papers, sure, but it isn’t objective journalism and it isn’t helping us understand and manage the nuance of drug-trade related violence. It does make people scared, and fear is one of the greatest drivers of violence and conflict. Fear is why we have to take our shoes off in the airport, why we stop and frisk, and why Americans have formed militias on our southern border. None of these tactics have reduced the economic insecurity that leads people to migrate or to engage in illegal economic activity, and none of them have mitigated the fear or the violent choices of those outside our borders. Talking about “minions” and “heads rolling” doesn’t make us safer, it just makes us scared.

We do need to take border violence seriously. And we need to have a calm and honest conversation about why it’s happening. We’re spending billions of dollars each year, in the U.S. and México, shutting down businesses and prosecuting individuals for economic activity that could be legalized, taxed, and safely regulated. Approximately 70,000 people have died as a result of drug-trade related violence since 2006 – some of which comes from the U.S. and Mexican governments – but in that time no one has been directly killed by the use of marijuana. We don’t need to be afraid – we need to be smart. We need to speak responsibly about these issues.

Longmire is not a judge or a law enforcement agent, and she doesn’t know who committed that bombing or why. She does, however, have a large platform from which to speak and a responsibility to choose her words carefully. With yet another double-digit shooting in our country today, on Mother’s day, this is no time to be cavalier in how we discuss violence. This is exactly the time to put our fear, and our guns, away and to get smart about how we make this country and this region safer and more prosperous for everyone.


Business & Peace: The End of the Zero-Sum Game

Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Talia Hagerty at the recent Peace Metrics conference in D.C.

I’ve been trying to debunk the “zero-sum game” since I first heard of it. Last month I had the opportunity to write a blog post for the United States Institute of Peace’s International Network for Economics and Conflict, and one of the points I came to was that the zero-sum game rests on conflict. If we’re fighting, the pie is limited; but if not, we can grow it for everyone. Find the full post below, originally published here.

The international movement to end apartheid in South Africa is a valuable example of the success of nonviolent social change. Activists regularly cite the success of the divestment campaign, boycotts, and other domestic acts of protest within South Africa as proof of the efficacy of these tactics. But, it turns out, there is actually more to this story. Not only did the private sector in South Africa react to activist pressure, but, as Yale doctoral candidate Tumi Makgetla demonstrates, business leaders took a proactive role in the peace process and contributed to both the critical mass and the practical resources needed for change. While we are accustomed to the narrative of social activism pitted against the joint-enemy of big business and unjust government, the case of South Africa shows that business can be a collaborative actor in social justice – and can be better off because of it.

Earlier this month graduate students from around the world gathered at the Kogod School of Business at American University (AU) to present groundbreaking work on business, economics, and peacebuilding in a conference, co-hosted with the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), entitled Peace Metrics, Peace Economics, and the Role of Business. IEP founder Steve Killelea opened the weekend by recognizing the student presenters for our participation in the first-ever conference of graduate student work on peace economics. The role of business in building peace has often seemed unclear, if existent at all. Kogod professor Jennifer Oetzel reiterated the challenge of private sector engagement in peacebuilding by noting that business schools are not currently training professionals for this role in the countries in which they operate. But examples given over the course of the weekend demonstrated that some businesses are increasingly and effectively engaged in peacebuilding.

Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Talia Hagerty at the recent Peace Metrics conference in D.C.

Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and Talia Hagerty at the recent Peace Metrics conference in D.C.

Unfortunately, we are more familiar with the ways business negatively impacts peacefulness. Misty Seemans, an AU student, raised the example of Shell’s alleged abetting of human rights abuses in Nigeria; Elizabeth Armstrong from the University of St. Andrews discussed ways in which businesses in Colombia may prove counterproductive to the peace process there; and, to include illicit businesses, I spoke about the ways drug trafficking organizations in México use violence in their business models. Additonally, Jonathan Kolieb, a doctoral student from the University of Melbourne, noted in his presentation on international regulation that any institution that shapes behavior is a regulator, and so in this sense economic elites and/or violent actors may be acting as market regulators by maintaining the unpeaceful status quo. However, we also learned that business actors in South Africa, the Philippines, the Caucasus, Lebanon, and Kenya specifically, and in the technology sector globally, have aided peace, and that possibilities exist for businesses in Colombia and Mexico to do so as well.

The key questions, of course, are why is business important in peacebuilding and how can businesses engage in this process? In an environment of political instability, international sanctions, and domestic acts of protest, the private sector in South Africa had a strong incentive to work for peace. As activists know from this case, this shift in incentives was crucial to ending apartheid. Businesses faced considerable risks in getting involved, but other social actors demonstrated that the risks of the status quo were greater. Today, civil society organizations like IEP are working to show that our present violence is costing us – in lives and wellbeing, but also in economic growth. IEP estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of the U.S. GDP is spent on violence or its containment.

Robert Schlehuber, of Operation Respect and the AU School of International Service, challenged us to find the private sector’s place using the framework of collective impact theory. Successful collective impact relies, among other things, on infrastructural support – coordination, logistics, and resources from a central source. Given that the private sector excels at leadership, publicity, resource management, logistics, and communication, infrastructural support can be one ideal role for businesses in building peace. This support is the success Makgetla identified in South Africa and what Armstrong sees as possible in Colombia. South African firms engaged in and convened a number of peacebuilding initiatives, including engagement with black unions for labor reform, negotiations support, technical support, behind-the-scenes shuttle diplomacy, and the involvement of international actors. Businesses were able to share power with political and labor leaders in a positive-sum – rather than zero-sum – way. In situations of oppression, injustice, and violence, we find ourselves fighting over every slice of the socio-economic pie. But when we work together for peace, the whole pie grows.

Peace Economics at UNDP


If you’re in New York City, please join me for a presentation of my research next week! Continue reading

It’s September – Back to Work!


Summer is definitely my favorite season – it’s play time! But fall feels like the most productive time of year. In the next few months, in addition to writing my thesis and finishing my master’s degree, I have a lot of good work coming up. A few exciting updates for the fall:

I’ve begun an exciting partnership with the social justice organization Disarm to keep all of our readers updated on peace, justice, and economic development in México. Disarm has generously supported my current trip, during which I’m investigating the status of economic opportunity in a small part of central México. Huge thanks go out to the Disarm team for making this possible! During and after my travels, you can read updates and see photos on the From the Field section of Disarm.org. Continue reading

Wikipedia, meet Peace Econ


Exciting news today: Profs. Jurgen Brauer and Raul Caruso have published the first Wikipedia entry on peace economics, bringing the field more firmly into the sphere of public and accessible knowledge.

(I know that this is something Prof. Brauer finds important, as his forthcoming book called Peace Economics, co-authored with Prof. J. Paul Dunne, is a handbook for practitioners to access and utilize the findings from our field. Look out for my upcoming review of it on the US Institute of Peace site.)

In sharing the article, they write: “Apologies to colleagues in the field if your work is not (yet) mentioned. We had two objectives: (1) to put up something simply to get the topic on the wiki record and (2) to conform to wiki standards in terms of wiki structure, style, and content. We passed the wiki editors’ test, and the page was made “live” on 17 August 2012. For the story behind the wiki entry, see http://stonegardeneconomics.com/blog/?p=2043.”

In the story behind the entry, Prof. Brauer notes that, as Wikipedia is a shared space, the definition and examples of peace economics could very well change by the time you have a chance to read the entry. I’m looking forward to checking out the contributions from the Wikipedia community. But whether you have something to add to the article, or just wonder what the heck I’m going on about over here, take a look at the new entry. Prof. Brauer is a prolific author on the topic, a generous teacher, my one-time co-author at the Institute for Economics & Peace, and a Visionistas supporter. The Wiki post, and his blog, are definitely worth a read.

Violence in the streets: It’s real, but who started it?


I had an interesting conversation with a colleague the other day, and in light of a recent Adbusters article I think it is one we should all consider.

I mentioned that I was upset about Obama’s recent Executive Order that could allow martial law in a time of peace. He hadn’t read about it, but he said that, abstractly, he understands why we need martial law. In a time of crisis, if there’s violence in the country we need a mechanism for rapidly restoring order.

Ok, I said, maybe, abstractly, I’ll concede that point. That may be arguable in a time of civil rest. But let’s consider reality. At this moment America is in a time of civil unrest and there is violence in the streets. Our current crisis may very well get worse before it gets better. And we know that once violence starts, it can get out of control really fast. So I asked him: if, right now, we’re going to give someone legitimacy to stop the violence, should it be the same people that started it? If there is violence in the streets and we want to end it, we have to ask where it came from.

Continue reading

Nonviolence from the Inside Out


Ah, so much to say and so little time. A few updates and things to look out for: I just returned from a trip to Havana! I have quite a bit to write about… But as I attempt to condense my thoughts on life without markets into 15 accurately sourced pages, in one week (eek!), and prepare for the UMass Social Thoery Forum, I haven’t many moments to put the finer points in writing. However, I wanted to throw up a quick post with something to think on.

In some ways I can’t believe I haven’t already shared this. I’m attempting to edit down my 60-page study on OWS to a 15-page manuscript for UMass, and then publication. As I was just working on that, I came across this paragraph, which effectively summarizes my findings:

The desire most consistently expressed within the OWS community and by OWS actions is for a system of decision-making and a governance structure, and a system for meeting the needs of society, or in other words, an economy, which manifests compassion, egalitarianism, and democracy. As Freire would argue, the only way to create these things is for everyone governed by them to build them. The working groups and assemblies of OWS are building a governance structure, and an economy, which has been described by many there as a community of care. The work at OWS is driven by creativity and care for meeting each other’s needs, rather than by profit. The idea that the manifestation of these principles – compassion, egalitarianism, direct democracy, inclusion, horizontalism, and nonviolence – in every social interaction will build the society participants envision is the Occupy Wall Street theory of change. A theory of change is an understanding of how and why a set of actions will lead to a particular, intended change.[1] OWS is attempting to rebuild the foundations of society without structural violence so that what results from these foundations will be nonviolent. This is not to say that OWS has realized a complete positive peace (a society without direct, structural, or any other type of violence), or even a complete negative peace (simply the absence of direct violence). But the working hypothesis is that practicing an even distribution of power at the most basic levels will develop the technology of nonviolence and egalitarianism needed to create nonviolent, egalitarian structures.

In conversation, I’ve called this an organically radical process. I thought this section was particularly relevant for Theory of Change, and that you might have some thoughts on it. There is so much more to say here. For example, the profit motive is real, inevitable, and in many ways useful. But it is also incredibly destructive. Extinguishing it would be like trying to rebuild human life without fire. So what do we do? Is power distribution the answer? What do you think?
More to come, of course…

[1] John Paul Lederach, Reina Neufeldt, and Hal Culbertson, Reflective Peacebuilding: A Planning, Monitoring, and Learning Toolkit. Joan B. Kroc Institute for Interantional Peace Studies, 2007.