What happened when INPUD and members got together in Portugal for CLAT 5; (the harm reduction conference for Latin countries of Europe)
CLAT is the harm reduction conference for the Latin countries in Europe. Given the historic, language and cultural
connections between the Latin European countries and Latin and South America, the conference also attracts participants from this region. This year the conference takes place in the beautiful port of Porto in Portugal, a town proud of its heritage as a produce of fine red wine and port. Portugal still had a dictator up until 1968, which makes the current system of democracy and progressive drug policy all the more impressive. The conference is held somewhat appropriately in an old Customs House, which has been beautifully restored. The CLAT Conference arose after Latin countries became frustrated with the inaccessibility of the Harm Reduction Conference to non-English speakers.
The Latin Flow
I had been warned that the CLAT conference was a chaotic event, however, I now realize that this is a very Anglo-Saxon perspective. To take part in CLAT you have to get into the Latin flow. Firstly, you have to understand that session start and finish times are only a very rough guides and speakers take allocated speaking slots pretty loosely. I chaired a session which started three quarters of an hour late so I asked speakers to stick to time, agreed an end time for the session, and then brought the session to close at this time. The conference organizer thanked me for chairing the session and noted my ‘interesting, Anglo-Saxon approach to chairing
The Latin Groove
The coffee room and display area is also an integral parts of the conference and CLAT recognizes and creates a space for the informal dialogue that is an important function of these types of specialist gatherings. In the coffee breaks, the Anglo-Saxons (Germans, Dutch and English) gather in slightly bemused groups acknowledging our initial discomfort with such a fluid approach to conferencing. One UK participant quipped that while Portugal is actually on the same time zone as the UK, the Portuguese people tend to operate on Spanish time (which is an hour later). However, as the event has gone one, we are slowly learning to chill out and get into the Latin groove. We now realize that the event is actually working very well and somehow we are getting to hear the right speakers and take part in right sessions even if they don’t always happen exactly when scheduled. It’s a good experience to come to this conference and to see the different way, different cultures do their work.
Vive la difference!
Mat Southwell Friday, 3 July 2009