SOUTH 2008 carried a strong message during its first day of public sessions--everyone here has a drug problem. In fact, all of the Americas has a drug problem. Countering that problem is a matter of national and international importance and security, especially because the drug trade has finance links to terrorism. Speeches and presentations mainly focused on cocaine and its growth and effects. Lt. Gen. Glenn F. Spears, USAF, deputy commander, U.S. Southern Command, stated in his welcome address and featured speaker introduction that, "The scourge of illegal drug trafficking...unfortunately is alive and flourishing in the Americas today."
Gen. Gene Renaurt, USAF, commander, U.S. Northern Command, gave the plenary address and stated, "This isn't like somebody else's people we are talking about. These are our own children, our own coworkers, our own families." The general went on to say that drug traffickers are violent, organized and dangerous, and that agencies and countries must work together to combat the threats they pose.
The first panel of the day continued Gen. Renaurt's themes, focusing on the topic "Narco-Trafficking: What is the Nexus with the War on Terrorism?" Panelists spoke of the connections between drug money and terror financing and ways that terrorists could use drug and human traffickers' tactics to smuggle weapons and people into the United States. Though some connections are loose, these threats are ones the United States and its partners need to be aware of and prevent.
The two afternoon panels focused on cooperation, with themes of "The Global Impact: Where is the Unity of Effort to Combat Trans-National Threats?" and "How Do We Build Capacity for Joint and Combined Counter Narco-Trafficking Operations?" Both sessions addressed the critical need for countries and agencies to work together across organizational and cultural boundaries to counter the worldwide drug threat. Already, nations are working together to disrupt drug runners, as the narcotics problem spreads across continents.
The luncheon speaker, Nicholas Negroponte, chairman, One Laptop Per Child, offered a break to conference attendees from the focus on drugs to a focus on ways to positively influence children in developing nations. His non-profit organization provides inexpensive, kid-friendly laptops to children in those countries to improve education and quality of life. Beginning in November, One Laptop Per Child will start for the second year its "Buy One Get One" program where people can pay approximately $400 to send a laptop to a child and receive one themselves, or pay about $200 and send a computer without also receiving one.