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16th annual Hispanic Leadership Conference welcomes prominent leaders including a filmmaker, tackles tough issues

Former Mayor of Ciudad Juarez speaks in Ohio on the U.S. and Mexico’s war on drugs

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

ELYRIA, OH, (April 15-16, 2011): Former Mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, José Reyes Ferriz visited Ohio to speak about the U.S. and Mexico’s war on drugs and cartels. He came to discuss the possible causes and solutions.

José Reyes Ferriz

The violence between drug cartels in “the most dangerous city in the world” Ciudad Juarez claimed the lives of 7,000 of its people among those 150 city employees and police officers during Reyes Ferriz’s most recent term as mayor from 2007 to 2010.  Reyes Ferriz said the violence was fueled by his attempts to clean up a corrupt police department involved in drug distribution and cartel-ordered killings.

An emboldened Reyes Ferriz arrived in Ohio and said “We're going to take back our country,” to nearly 600 people at the 16th annual Hispanic Leadership Conference at Ramada Inn of Elyria and Lorain County Community College April 15-16, 2011.

Michael and Dina Ferrer have co-organized the Hispanic Leadership Conference for 16 years with one major goal: to shed light on the often ignored but very important issues affecting the Latino communities.

This year the conference speakers tackled several hot-button issues through speeches and workshops ranging from immigration to human trafficking and its impact on Latinos, to injustices within the courts due to language barriers, and Latino health disparities.

While serving his country, Reyes Ferriz and his family received numerous death threats, forcing him to sleep with a gun under his bed and to be escorted by armed men, Ferrer said.

When asked about the fear, Reyes Ferriz could not speak. He shrugged his shoulders. After a brief pause he said “You have to put yourself out there.”

Reyes Ferriz and his family left their beloved Mexico and are now residing in Washington, D.C.  But he knows he could never return to his homeland.

As a special tribute for his efforts to fight the war on drugs in Mexico, organizers of this year's Hispanic Leadership Conference brought a piece of Mexico to him.

While sitting on a chair on stage, Reyes Ferriz watched a cultural performance in his honor that included dancing by members of the Ballet Folklorico Imagenes Mexicanas, and music by Son de Oberlin college students. Karen Paz Labra, dressed in a Mariachi dress, concluded the special tribute as she sang.

The conference was hosted by the Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP) and with the help of 68 other organizations and 44 sponsors including La Prensa.

New this year was a business workshop section, and young leaders led social media workshops.

“This conference is for the front line worker, that every day worker that is overworked and often goes underappreciated,” Mike Ferrer said, adding he hopes the conference will inform, inspire, and rejuvenate those workers.

Cleveland Clinic provided free health/medical screenings, and Empleos and Employment offered résumé reviews. Plus the conference provided a student art show, vendor games, and dance workshops. Guests enjoyed a gala Saturday evening at DeLuca’s Place in the Park.  Friday evening, the guests were able to watch Jesus Nebot's film “No Turning Back,” that told the story of an undocumented immigrant.

Mexico’s war on drugs and cartels

President Felipe Calderón's stronger stance against the violence and corruption within Mexico since taking office in 2006 has helped fuel the violence between cartels.

But Reyes Ferriz said the drug and cartel-related violence in Mexico has increased since 2008 for several other reasons as well.

Citing a 2010 United Nations “World Drug Report” Reyes Ferriz said the demand for cocaine production has decreased as consumers have turned to amphetamines, thereby reducing the cost of cocaine.

What results is greater violence because the cartels in Mexico are fighting for a piece of an even smaller pie, Reyes Ferriz said.

He has criticized the U.S. for having “inconsistent attitudes” toward the war on drugs, and has called the U.S. to take a stronger role in prosecuting cartels.

Reyes Ferriz said Mexico's drug gangs could become a problem in the U.S. because Mexican cartels control the drug distribution in 252 cities in the U.S.  He said the recently deported migrant workers to Mexico negotiate with Mexicans remaining in the U.S.

He said back in 2006, 90 percent of the weapons used by the cartels in Mexico came from the United States, and that 90 percent of the cocaine within those 252 cities in the U.S. came from Mexico.

Today, Reyes Ferriz added, that amount has been reduced. Roughly 60 percent of the cocaine in the U.S. comes from Mexico, as other countries in Central America gain control of the drug flow including Venezuela, according to the same U.N. World Drug Report.

Melissa “Cha-Cha” Figueroa

“The hub for producing cocaine for the U.S. is no longer Mexico,” Reyes Ferriz said “It has moved to the Caribbean. Those countries don't have the economy like Mexico to beat the gangs, and the gangs  could take over those small countries. The U.S. should place its attention on those smaller countries,” he said.

But he praised the U.S. legal system for its efficiency in prosecution, and added the Mexican legal system could learn from it.

When Mexicans felt their government had failed them, they would turn to La Familia cartel for justice instead of the government, he said.
Reyes Ferriz said another mistake the Mexican government made was in legally preventing the Mexican Army and police from purchasing assault weapons while the drug cartels had full access to them.

He said Juarez was the first city to allow authorities to have assault weapons.

 Reyes Ferriz said in order to win the war on drugs and take back the country, the root causes need to be addressed: the lack of education and lack of jobs.

Mexico needs to create jobs, fix its legal system, educate its leaders and young people, and further cooperate with the United States, Reyes Ferriz said.

Ann Marie Woltman, of Sheffield Lake, a licensed social worker and audience member, said she visited Juarez, Mexico over 40 years ago and felt safe there. But even though she would love to revisit Mexico, she is hesitant to return to a country that now has great drug-related violence among cartels with some of that violence even directed toward women, she said.

“The thing that surprised me was when (Reyes Ferriz) said that the trafficking of women (by cartels) was under control; that's not what the media are saying in the United States,” Woltman said.


Award winning filmmaker presents movie on undocumented immigration

The movie “No Turning Back” by award winning director and independent filmmaker Jesus Nebot was presented Friday evening.

“No Turning Back” is based on a true story of a man, who after losing his wife and home to Hurricane Mitch in Honduras in 1999, migrates without documentation to the U.S. with his 3 year-old daughter. But while borrowing his employer's truck for a trip to the movies with his daughter, the man accidentally runs over and kills a young girl. The man is torn between doing what is right with the law and doing what is right for his family, Nebot said.

“I didn't want to make a film about an illegal immigrant that is a good person by traditional standards. I wanted to really push some buttons,” Nebot said of his film.

Nebot himself at one point was an undocumented immigrant in the United States so the topic is very personal for him.

Nebot was born in Spain and after living in Venezuela for some time, decided to migrate to the U.S. in hopes of landing an acting career. He reached that goal but his other great passion was to make films about real issues. In the process of financing his own movie, he ran into debt and became homeless.

But Nebot went from homeless to financially stable in just 5 years after starting his real estate business.

Today he is also a lecturer, inspirational speaker, and social entrepreneur.

“When I push the buttons ultimately what I want to do as a filmmaker is to show how important it is for all of us to let go of our judgments that we have of one another, and regardless of the circumstances to live peacefully in a society as diverse as ours,” Jesus Nebot said.

Nebot continued “I'm not condoning in any way, shape or form people crossing the border or doing anything illegal for that matter. I'm saying we need to look at it from a place of compassion,” Nebot said.

Melissa “Cha-Cha” Figueroa performed the U.S. National Anthem on Saturday morning and performed her own single “Puerto Rico en Mi,” at the Saturday night gala. As an LCCC student majoring in licensed social work, she said getting an education was always something important to her in addition to pursuing her singing career.

As a Latina proud of her Puerto Rican heritage, she said it feels “monumental” to have performed at this year's Hispanic Leadership Conference. She added she loved the conference and learned so much. “The new education every year. They come up with new information that needs to be told of Hispanics around the world,” she said.

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Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/12/11 20:52:49 -0700.





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