When advocates for drug policy reform look back upon 2012, they are likely to regard it as a turning point for drug policy in Latin America—as the year when the “war on drugs” paradigm began to be seriously and publicly called into question. Starting with the Summit of the Americas in March, when Latin American presidents began to publicly critique the current strategy, to the audacious proposal of President Mujíca of Uruguay to control and regulate the marijuana market, to new proposals for decriminalization in Brazil, there is now a thriving debate on international drug control policies. In the search for alternatives, however, it has become clear that much more research is needed to understand the dynamics of the drug trade as well as the collateral impacts on security and violence.

To that end, the Drugs, Security, and Democracy Fellowship program was created in 2010 by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), with support from the Open Society Foundations. The ultimate goal of the program—which supports doctoral and post-doctoral research on drugs and security issues for up to a year—is to develop a concentration of researchers who are interested in achieving policy-relevant outcomes, participating in a global interdisciplinary network, and serving as public intellectuals on drug and security issues in their respective countries. 

Currently, there are only a few academics and scholars who have studied these issues, and very little new scholarship is being developed particularly by a younger, new generation of scholars. The Drugs, Security, and Democracy Fellowship aims to develop a new group of scholars to begin to fill this gap. Their research and policy proposals will be essential for shaping new and innovative policies. While helping researchers who can have an impact on policy is a long-term aim of the program, fellows are already participating in major drug policy conferences (at Brown University and a Google Ideas conference), briefing policymakers in government (in Mexico and the United States) and international organizations (e.g., for UNDP), and leading workshops for journalists (Central America). 

Thus far the fellowship program has supported two cohorts of doctoral and post-doctoral fellows, with 20 fellows in the 2011–2012 cohort, and 26 in the 2012–2013 group. Collaborating with the SSRC are two Latin American universities in this enterprise, both of which have begun new drug policy research centers, one at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota and the other at CIDE (Region Centro) in Aguascalientes. In addition to providing funding for field work, the fellows are brought together—at the beginning and end of their fellowship year—to a seminar in which they discuss their work with other fellows and senior academic mentors. In the first two years, this meeting was held in Colombia, while in 2013 the seminar will take place in Mexico.

In the video above, the Open Society Latin America Program and the SSRC asked some of the first-year fellows to share their thoughts on their experience with the fellowship program. The new call for applications for the 2013–2014 fellowship is now online, where a list of the 2011 and 2012 fellows and their topics can also be found.

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