University of Texas scholars and Mexican officials gathered to brainstorm ideas for community development in Mexico during a two-day summit Monday and Tuesday.
The Puentes Initiative, led by Ricardo Ainslie, director of the Mexico Center and educational psychology professor, brought together Mexican government officials, non-governmental organization members and University professors to discuss issues such as community development in areas with violence and the betterment of state institutions.
“In the University, we are accustomed to creating theories but never actualizing them,” Ainslie said. “These people have worked to confront these problems in communities and cities. For me, the challenge is reducing the barriers between the academics and the people who are working in the world.”
The combined field work of the Puentes Initiative’s members distinguishes it from other collaborations between UT and Mexico, Ainslie said.
Carlos Cruz, the founder of Cauce Ciudadano, an NGO that addresses youth and violence, said collaboration between scholars and governments helps find solutions to violence.
“Organized crime has a triad: corrupt enterprises, organized crime groups and corrupt politicians,” Cruz said. “This is a way of constructing another triad: academics, civil society and governments that are committed to resolving violence and crime in our communities.”
On Tuesday, a panel discussed Mexico’s current administration and its proposed reforms: an empowered national guard, increased investigation of civilian disappearances and effective violence prevention.
Panelist Adriana Obregon, an independent counselor in social prevention of violence and social development, said a significant challenge to implementing the changes is a lack of funding and political will.
“Violence prevention has its effects in the long term,” Obregon said. “With politicians, they ask you to have results in the short terms. We are still lacking to communicate the importance of investing in violence prevention.”
All speakers discussed re-establishing Mexican citizens’ trust in the government and involving civilians in security reform. International relations and global studies senior Carlos Dinkel, who lived in Mexico for 17 years, recognized some of the issues that plagued his hometown.
“The police weren’t very trusted, as they were saying,” Dinkel said. “You never knew what you where going to get, like ‘Would they ask for a bribe? Or will they let us go?” It is much better for the community to be involved with its own security, but I guess that is something we will just have to wait and see in the term of this new administration.”