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Professor Donald Wagner Helps Build Bridges to Strengthen Democracies

Date: Feb. 4, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photo by Colleen Kelley
Archive: Profiles

Donald Wagner, professor of health promotion and director of the Center for Prevention Studies for the University of Cincinnati College of Education, is all too aware of how fledgling democratic governments need support from their friends. He's one of the leaders of an organization that was created as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Donald Wagner After attending a Washington, DC conference shortly after Sept. 11, top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, stressed to Wagner and other international representatives how important their work was in building solid relationships around the world.

Wagner is chair of the inter-American board of directors for Partners of the Americas. Founded in 1964, Partners of the Americas is the largest international development organization of its kind in the western hemisphere to initiate and nurture relationships between the United States, Latin American and Caribbean countries. The state of Ohio is a partner to Parana, a state in Brazil that has similarities to Ohio, says Wagner. "Both Parana and Ohio have large German and Italian immigrant-based populations and Parana is very active in soybean and pork production, like Ohio.

During the past five years, as the Brazilian economy has flourished, there has been a shift in disposable dollars among the middle and upper class youth, which is building the early stages of drug use among these young people."

Wagner is currently working with a Brazilian university to develop a program in Brazil that's similar to the Ohio Prevention and Education Resource Center under the College of Education (OPERC). OPERC distributes funding and resources statewide for programs to prevent violence, substance and alcohol abuse in Ohio's schools.

Wagner says improving U.S. relationships has been a topic of discussion at other meetings such as the one he attended in November, but the tone and urgency of this particular conference quickly changed as a result of Sept. 11. "Secretary Powell's comments were very focused on the need to examine globally not just the events of Sept. 11, but also the future of diplomacy and humanitarian programs for the 21st century," Wagner says. "The conference agenda was also changed to include Francis X. Taylor, who heads the Office of Counterterrorism."

As a result of the conference, Wagner says Partners of the Americas is now exploring how to support nongovernmental organizations that work in the Middle East and in Afghanistan by building positive relationships with the United States. "We've been doing public diplomacy since the inception of this organization. Also, our work in citizen participation and civil society is a model that can be shared and utilized as well."

Wagner adds that terrorism is not confined to the Middle East, pointing out there have been Al Qaeda cells reported in several regions of South America. "I think the State Department is very conscious of that. My hunch is we'll see some new U.S. led initiatives to prevent relapses in fragile South American democracies and to promote development and prosperity throughout the hemisphere."

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