The Santa Fe World Affairs Forum aims to broaden and deepen understanding of world affairs through small, interactive, professionally led sessions on international issues for a membership of informed individuals.

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Evolution of the Mexican Drug Cartels Including Trafficking of the Latest Synthetic Drugs – Fentanyl and Methamphetamine

March 16, 2023

Mike Vigil

Mike Vigil grew up in Espanola and was an undercover DEA agent in Colombia and Mexico infiltrating Pablo Escobar and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s drug cartels.

He was the former Chief of International Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, one of the most highly decorated agents within the agency and responsible for numerous multinational operations, the largest involved 36 countries. Vigil was made an honorary General by the government of Afghanistan and given the key to the city of Shanghai by China. He was given an Admiral’s sword by the former president of the Dominican Republic, Hipolito Mejia. He was also responsible for developing global intelligence sharing platforms.

After graduating from New Mexico State University, he joined the DEA academy in Washington, D.C., in 1973 at the age of 22.

For most of his 31 year career, his job was to infiltrate Latin America’s drug cartels, posing as a Mexican drug trafficker. During his time with the agency, Mike Vigil never told his Española family about his dangerous work. But in a 370-page autobiography titled DEAL, he described some of his riskiest missions. In addition to DEAL, he has written Metal Coffins: The Blood Alliance Cartel, Narco Queen, and The Land of Enchantment Cartel.

In the 1980s, he said that he sat next to Colombia’s drug kingpin Pablo Escobar at soccer games. “The reason I wrote the book is to leave a legacy behind for my family,” Vigil said. “It’s also, secondarily, an education tool for people to see what the drug trade is really all about.”

DEAL starts with an anecdote of an undercover operation in the Mexican state of Sonora in the 1970s, when Vigil went undercover to meet two drug traffickers who worked for Guadalajara cartel leader Rafael Caro Quintero. In 1985, Quintero tortured and killed a DEA agent. As Vigil waited to exchange his fake money with the traffickers for three tons of marijuana, a Mexican federal agent with


Thursday April 13 and Friday April 14, 2023

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SFWAF - 2023 Symposium

When Ukraine Meets Russia Head-On

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, no one believed that a supposedly weak Ukraine could maintain its independence. As for Vladimir Putin, he expected to topple the Zelenskyy government in a matter of days—or less. And so, flagrantly violating the norms and laws that had promoted world peace and stability for 70 some years, a heavily armored column of Russian troops headed for Kiev. They never got there.

How could Putin have got it so wrong? Hubris, of course, but mostly miscalculation. Putin never expected to confront a brave and fervently patriotic population, a revamped military and the ingenuity and bravery of Ukraine’s civilian and military leadership. Nor did he anticipate a rejuvenation of NATO (Turkey and Hungary excepted) united in support of Ukraine, thus enabling a massive flow of Ukraine-bound weaponry from its arsenals. Or that his invasion would result in neutral Finland’s and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership.

It’s too early to predict the shape of a post-invasion Ukraine. Nor can we be certain that Russia will never again seek to roll back history by invading apparently weak neighbors. But one thing is certain. Putin and his army are being humiliated. He won’t get what he aimed for in Ukraine. Moreover, this conflict’s international ramifications – testing the foundations of the world order – are massive.

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Past Event

Annual Symposium 2018

April 9 – 10, 2018


Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?

This year’s symposium on April 11 and 12 will address an issue of especially vital concern to us all: “Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?” Taking place on the campus of Santa Fe Community College, the Symposium will bring together six specialists who will speak individually, introducing a global overview of the underlying causes of authoritarianism and of countervailing measures against its rise, followed by sessions focusing on the specific circumstances in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.

Also included will be a student panel of foreign and dual-national students studying at colleges and universities here in New Mexico. As in the past the Symposium will offer all attendees ample opportunity for questions, discussions, and informal exchanges with speakers.

For more than two centuries, America has advocated for democratic principles starting with its Founding Fathers who proclaimed our nation to be created by and for the people, to joining with the liberal world to fight for our beliefs in two world wars. Following those wars, the United States was in the forefront of international efforts to create global institutions dedicated to peace, prosperity and justice. Our leaders have sometimes badly faltered or made poor decisions in seeking to preserve American leadership and universal values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But we have for the most part tried to move forward towards such aspirational goals throughout our history. Other nations have not always agreed with our individual policies, but no one doubted the American example of strong democratic institutions, a robust civil society and a desire to build a world based on common values and interests.

Now, as a new era of international strongmen emerges, are America’s traditions and institutions capable of ensuring that democratic principles continue to push back on the tyranny that has threatened every generation? The symposium examines this moment with open eyes, asking tough questions about the global authoritarian threat, its underlying causes, and how it can be, and is being, countered.

When strong democratic institutions and civil society perform their essential functions, society enjoys a good faith debate about the best way to advance global and national interests. However, when rule of law is eroded, nationalism politicized, alliances strained, the press demonized and society fractured by rising hate crimes and attacks on electoral integrity, the norms that promote and preserve a resilient democratic society become frayed. International institutions based on shared democratic values can also be undermined and weakened when the U.S. government appears to question their continuing relevance.

Can the U.S. continue to be a leader that holds others to account when we ourselves falter in meeting these challenges? What causes the authoritarian impulse to break out of the democratic norm, and why do so many here and abroad find these demagogic appeals so attractive? Has a decline in American global leadership inadvertently given other nations permission to erode their own democratic institutions? Will a fractured and divided America be able, or willing, to work with other democracies holding others accountable when we fail to do so at home?

Focusing on Europe, Latin America and the US, the symposium will examine these questions in order to better understand not only the causes and symptoms that bring us to this moment, but just as importantly, to explore what can be done to meet these authoritarian challenges to democracy.

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