Posts Tagged ‘Obama and Mexico’

Mass Graves, Mass Deportations and Blossoming of Big Hope in América

October 28, 2014

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Ever since machine-gun-wielding members of the Mexican military kidnapped, raped and then beheaded her daughter, forcing several members of her family to migrate, my friend Ana María (name changed to protect her) understands all too intimately the deep connection between mass immigration from Mexico and the mass graves that reside there.

Yet, more than most, Ana María is a source of old-fashioned hope. Threatened by her own government and hunted down by drug cartels aligned to that very same government, she was intrepid enough to disguise herself and sneak into a military installation to interrogate a military officer suspected of being involved in the disappearance. She fights on, for the love of her daughter. Ana María’s is the spirit that transforms policies and topples governments, the spirit of América the beautiful, América the borderless.

The murderers are in the palace. (CREDIT: PetrohsW)

When I read, mostly in Spanish (US media is failing us on Mexico), about mass graves and Mexican migrants, I often think of her.

When, as a journalist, I notice how the unprecedented mass mobilizations like last Sunday’s protest in Mexico get none of the media coverage in U.S. media that similar or smaller protests in Hong Kong, Venezuela or other countries with U.S.-funded opposition groups get, I think of her.

And when I wonder, “What happens in the heart of a mother whose child was beheaded by our ‘enemies in Afghanistan,’ ISIL or by our ‘allies” (Saudi  Arabia),” I think about my friend, who lives not in the far-off Middle East, but in Mexico.

Like Ana María, the millions of us who refuse to be walled off from our families, friends and stories just south of us are on the verge of bursting the border of the Washington Consensusthat has long defined both U.S. immigration policy and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Here’s why:

  1. Mass graves and mass deportations both impact Latin@ bodies and are both rooted in the same massive problem-posing-as-a-solution: militarism. Bodies in Mexicans mass graves are directly and unambiguously rooted in U.S. policy solutions, centered in U.S. military aid and political support for Mexican security forces. These multibillion dollar policies have failed so badly that even former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has joined former Colombian presidents and others to no longer support the “trillion dollar failure” they were once charged with implementing. Similarly, the millions of bodies deported, the hundreds of thousands of bodies jailed and the many bodies killed as a result of U.S. immigration policy under Barack Obama (and his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) are the direct result of a major militarization of migration policy. This “boots-on-the-ground,”  “border-security first” approach to policy makes the U.S. immigration bureaucracy a larger recipient of taxpayer dollars than the FBI, the DEA, ATF, the (very challenged) Secret Service and all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies—combined. As a result, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is breaking deportation, Latino imprisonment and other records of all previous administrations—combined. These colossal failures of policy, the bodies of our loved ones murdered, deported and disappeared, connect in the most intimate way.
  1. Failed U.S. immigration and failed drug war policies are both premised on the same cheapening of human life that Mexicans, U.S. Latinos and others cannot and will not allow to continue. Throughout the region, more are understanding what some of us understood in the 1980′s, when we saw U.S.-backed military dictatorships using media to perpetually dehumanize youth and other opposition: you can’t pass devastating policy against or kill those you see as human. But now this most social media so interconnected of generations will continue to aggressively to expose the role of too many media outlets: the dehumanizing attack dog that cheapens the lives of migrants, the disenfranchised and the student-led movements that defend the voiceless. The selective editing out and framing that defines who is human and who is hated will soon become apparent to others besides policy wonks. Especially problematic for Obama, Enrique Peña Nieto and the Miami-based “Washington Consensus” on Latin America is this troublesome fact: Mexico’s government kills more students in a few days than Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador & other U.S. “enemies” do in the entire year—combined. “Ayotzinapa” is IndigeSpanglish for “U.S. Latin American policy is an abomination that must end.”
  1. Student-driven, mass mobilizations will force the hand of Presidents Obama, Peña Nieto and the U.S military—industrial interests behind the failed immigration and drug war policies. Historians of the Obama era in the U.S. and in Mexico will highlight one major commonality shared by youth in both countries: a total lack of faith in existing political parties and political systems. Youth activism on immigration and around what —before the current “age of (small group) terrorism– we used to call “state terror” reflects the increasingly deep-seated belief in pursuing social change beyond ballot box and on the streets. As a result, students on both sides of the border will start connecting their issues, as seen in immigration activism of more left-leaning DREAMers or during the 2012 Caravan for Peace, in which students and others from Mexico and the U.S. traveled to 26 U.S. cities to make incisive and unprecedented connections between the “drug war” and immigration, incarceration, police violence and other issues.

“I never saw myself speaking out,” Ana María sometimes tells me , adding “but all that changed after what they [the Mexican government] did to my daughter.”

Increasingly, many average Mexicans and even cross-border pop icons like the musical groupManá or soccer star Chicharito are following Ana María’s example, speaking out about immigration and mass murder. Sadly, Ana Maria and others say, U.S. policy continues to produce more Ana Marías.

The silver lining in this coming cloud is that more of us will encounter more voices that will remind us of what’s possible if we do the necessary and urgent work of linking the tragic dots of Latin American life in the region. And more of us will be inspired by people moved to transform and topple governments, people moved to do the impossible because they experienced the unimaginable.

Mass Murder in Mexico Demands Greater Awakening in US

October 8, 2014

NEWLOGO

Reading about Mexico reminds me of El Salvador. Older Salvadoran sensations —the smell of rotting flesh mixed with the sweet fragrance of almond trees, the sight of young faces burned into half skeletons that look like the masks our kids wear for Halloween, the unforgettably sad sound of a dead student’s mother screaming without ceasing—  insinuate themselves as I read other stories about the mass graves of Mexican students killed by their government. This news affects me differently from the nonstop reports about the more “sanitized” warfare of drone strikes against “terrorists.” One major difference: my stomach knots as I read the articles about this latest mass killing in Mexico, a country that barely had a military in the 1980′s, when those Salvadoran almond trees became the trees of the knowledge of good and evil.

The difference in reading experience mirrors the difference between our news and perceptions about Mexico and our news and perceptions about other Latin American countries. Even though no country is closer to us in terms of sharing both a border and a massive population of its nationals living here, mass murders by Mexico’s government are reported, read and treated far differently than real and alleged human rights violations in other countries in the hemisphere—all of which spells more terrible news for Mexico, and for many of us here.

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In Mexico, our failure to recognize the real dimensions the Mexican crisis means we’re blind to an equally disturbing fact: our government’s continued use of our tax dollars in the Drug War pay for the training, guns and bullets that slaughtered those students. This despite the fact that some of the same former Mexican presidents who received billions to fight that same Drug War now say that that war is a trillion dollar failure of titanic proportions. Less heard are the cries of the families of the students buried in the mass graves of Guerrero, who join Mexico’s more than 80,000 Drug War dead, thousands of whom were journalists, priests, human rights advocates and others whom like the students, were killed by government security forces we help fund. Viewed through a regional hemispheric lens, the children and young people migrating here from Mexico and Central America are walking, talking reminders of our utterly failed and extremely biased policies in the region.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Venezuela several times to cover the widely-reported conflicts there. I did so because I sensed something was not quite kosher about U.S. media reporting on students in Venezuela, who, instead of following the tradition of fighting U.S.-funded projects like those in Mexico, are actually the recipients of U.S. funding. After reading this week’s violence in Mexico, the journalist in me couldn’t  help but ask, “What would happen if police or other security forces of the Venezuelan government killed 43 students and buried them in a mass grave?” 

The journalist’s answer I came up with is informed by what we saw during last summer’s upheavals: high profile denunciations by global human rights organizations, interviews with Venezuelans in Miami and front page headlines with the word “Killings” as the operative verbs next to sentence subjects and objects like “Students” and “Maduro Government.”

On one September day just two weeks ago, an estimated 43 students are alleged to have been disappeared and killed by Mexican police linked to drug cartels. That is equal to the total number of people killed in Venezuela during the 2014 protests—at least half were allegedly killed by paramilitaries and students opposed to the Venezuelan government. All 43 in Venezuela were killed over the course of not one day, but 160 days or four months. Looking at the media coverage and the official responses from government and non-governmental institutions, one would think that Venezuela was Mexico or wartime El Salvador. Such a distorted understanding of regional realities among the citizenry of such a powerful country enables those perpetrating slaughter in Mexico to continue doing so.

Despite all this terrible news, I do think that the radical disproportion in both reporting and policymaking circles will soon face a major challenge: students themselves. In line with the Salvadoran and U.S. youth who altered U.S. policy in El Salvador and following the dynamic activism of students leading social movements around the world, the young people of Mexico are showing great courage before their country’s critical situation. With millions of DREAMers and other U.S. students and others engaged with Mexico through familial relationships, it’s only a matter of time before the same kind of activism that fought and exposed the two million deportations and other devastating immigration policies of the Obama Administration starts to inform Obama and the next U.S. president’s foreign policy in Mexico.

Such a combination —Mexican and U.S. youth joining forces to stop the madness— has the potential to change not just Mexico, but the United States, as we are witnessing with the decline and fall of traditional Republican and Democratic party immigration politics. Increasingly, Latinos are and will continue engaging far and beyond the ballot box, beyond the sterile, suffocating smell of the militarized border as the winds of the south awaken us with a deeper knowledge of the good and evil hidden in the smell of almond trees.

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Roberto Lovato is a writer and a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. You can follow Roberto on Twitter @robvato.

U.S. Immigration Policies Bring Global Shame on Us

February 26, 2009

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As one of the five full-time media relations specialists working for Maricopa County Sheriff and reality TV star Joe Arpaio- “America’s Toughest Sheriff” – Detective Aaron Douglas deals with the world’s media more than most. Though he is a local official, his is often the first voice heard by many of the foreign correspondents covering immigration in the United States.

“We talk to media from literally all over world: New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Chinese and other parts of the Orient,” Douglas drawled in a Southern accent. “We just did a series with a TV station from Mexico City about the isolation of illegal immigrants and why we’re putting them in a tent.” He was referring to a controversial march reported and discussed widely by international media and bloggers last week.

Alongside reports on Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement in Phoenix last week of his plan to revive the American Dream by fixing the U.S. housing crisis that led to the global economic crisis, millions of viewers, listeners and readers around the world also got stories reminiscent of the American nightmare Obama was elected to overcome, Guantanamo. “Immigrant Prisoners Humiliated in Arizona,” was the title of a story in Spain’s Onda Cero radio show; “Arpaio for South African President,” declared a blogger in that country; an op-ed in Mexico’s Cambio newspaper denounced “the inhuman, discriminatory and criminal treatment of immigrants by Arizona’s radical, anti-immigrant Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.” Stories of this week’s massive protest of Arapaio will likely be seen and heard alongside reports of Obama’s speech to Congress in media all over the world, as well.

The proliferation of stories in international media and in global forums about the Guantanamo-like problems in the country’s immigrant detention system- death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards; prolonged and indefinite detention of immigrants (including children and families) denied habeas corpus and other fundamental rights; filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; denial of basic health services – are again tarnishing the U.S. image abroad, according to several experts. As a result, reports from Arizona and immigrant detention facilities have created a unique problem: they are making it increasingly difficult for Obama to persuade the planet’s people that the United States is ready claim exceptional leadership on human rights in a soon-to-be-post-Guantanamo world.

Consider the case of Mexico. Just last week, following news reports from Arizona, the Mexican government, which is traditionally silent or very tepid in its criticism of U.S. immigration and other policies, issued a statement in which it “energetically protested the undignified way in which the Mexicans were transferred to ‘Tent City'” in Maricopa County.

David Brooks, U.S correspondent for Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, believes that immigrant detention stories hit Mexicans closer to home because those reportedly being abused in detention are not from a far off country; they are family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. In the same way that Guantanamo erased the idea of U.S. leadership in human rights in the Bush era, says Brooks, who was born in Mexico, practices in immigrant detention facilities like those reported by global media in Maricopa County may begin to do so in the Obama era if something does not change. “Mexicans have never seen the U.S. as a great model for promotion of human rights. But with Obama we take him at his word. We’re expecting some change,” said Brooks. “But that will not last long if we see him continuing Bush’s [immigration] policies: raids, increasing detention, deportation. Regardless of his excuse, he will quickly become mas de lo mismo (more of the same) in terms of the experience down south.” If uncontested, the expression of such sentiments far beyond Mexico and Mexican immigrants could lead to the kind of American exceptionalism Obama doesn’t want.

In a March 2008 report, Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, concluded that “the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country a national priority, using a comprehensive and coordinated national policy based on clear international obligations.” Asked how his report was received in different countries, Bustamante said, “The non-governmental organizations have really responded. In the United States and outside the United States- in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Indonesia and other countries- NGO’s are using my report to frame their concerns and demands in their own countries- and to raise criticism about the United States.”

For her part, Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, fears a global government “race to the bottom” around immigrant detention policies. “My concern is that as the rest of world sees the United States practices, we increase the risk that this will give the green light to other governments to be just as abusive or more abusive as the United States.”

If there is a positive note to be heard in the growing global chorus of critique of and concern about U.S immigration policy, it is to be found among those human rights activists and groups doing what W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and other civil rights activists did in previous eras: bring their issues to the global stage. Government documents from the civil rights era, documents that were released just a few years ago, illustrate how members of the Kennedy and Johnson State departments and even Kennedy and Johnson themselves were acutely aware of and sensitive to how denunciations in global forums of racial discrimination in United States had a devastating impact on the U.S. prestige abroad.

Such a situation around the rights of migrants today, says Oscar Chacon of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a Chicago-based global NGO run by and for immigrants, creates an opportunity out of the globalization of the images of both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Barack Obama. “The world will be able to see him as the rogue sheriff that he is” said Chacon, who was in Mexico City attending a conference on immigration at which U.S. detention practices were criticized. “And it will be up to the Obama Administration to show the world that Arpaio is not a symbol of the rest of the country when it comes to immigration.”

McCain and Obama Ignore Abuses in Colombia and Mexico

July 4, 2008

McCain and Obama Ignore Abuses in Colombia and Mexico

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Jul 04, 2008

Editor’s Note: When it comes to Colombia and Mexico, Presidential candidates Obama and McCain don’t sound much like an agent for “change,” or a maverick, writes NAM writer Roberto Lovato.

In the jubilation around the sensational release of Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages from the FARC guerillas in Colombia, it’s easy to ignore Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba. But with her reddened brown eyes bubbling with tears she tries to contain, Cordoba provides a unique view into the effects of U.S. military policy in Latin America. But it’s not clear if either John McCain fresh from his Colombia tour or Barack Obama are listening.

During one of several public events she participated in during her visit to New York, Cordoba, an outspoken critic of the administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, did not, unlike Senator McCain, laud the effects of U.S. military aid to her country. “The (U.S.) aid is being given to a corrupt democracy, a democracy that governs through fear and terror,” said Cordoba, a former president of both the Colombian Human Rights Commission and Congress. She was herself kidnapped by 12 heavily-armed paramilitary operatives as she left a medical clinic in 2004. “The (Colombian) government uses the money and arms from Plan Colombia (PC) not just to combat drug traffickers,” she said, adding, “It’s also used to silence those of us who speak out against the government. They try to silence us by kidnapping, disappearing and even killing many of us.”

In a hemisphere that, with increasing frequency, rejects Washington’s free-trade and drug war policies, Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama would do well to listen to denunciations by Cordoba and other critics of U.S.-backed governments like those of Colombia and Mexico, where McCain just voiced his support for that country’s equivalent of the drug war, Plan Merida, also known as “Plan Mexico.”

Candidates McCain and Obama’s failure to denounce the exponential increase in atrocities committed by the governments of Colombia’s Uribe and of Mexico’s Felipe Calderon may signal that neither will be the “change” candidate when it comes to U.S. policy in Latin America. For example, though McCain did discuss human rights during his meeting with Uribe, he did so in soft tones that lacked the stridency and urgency heard with regard to other human rights abuses discussed on the “straight talk express,” where the candidate regularly references his imprisonment and torture. For his part though, he opposes the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia (FTA). Senator Obama has been generally supportive of Plan Colombia, a policy that has yielded little to inspire “hope” in the hemisphere.

In the past seven years, the more than $700 million that Colombia, which has one of the worst human rights records in the Americas, receives in mostly military aid each year under PC, has done little to deter drug flows and lots to foment fear and terror. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, at least 28 trade unionists have been killed so far this year in Colombia, making it the country with the world’s highest rate of killings of trade unionists and increases in extra judicial executions. Four million Colombians have been internally displaced since the commencement of PC, and most of the four million Colombians living outside their country migrated during that period also.

In a letter sent to McCain earlier this week, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, reminded the Senator that “more than 60 members of President Álvaro Uribe’s coalition in the Colombian Congress – representing approximately 20 percent of the Congress – are under investigation for rigging elections or collaborating with paramilitaries, considered terrorists by the United States.” Neither candidate has raised the alarm on the atrocities of the Uribe government.

As he toured Mexico, McCain said nothing about the fact that U.S. military aid under Plan Merida contributed to the record 468 civilians that were killed in Mexico because of drug wars between the government and cartels in the month of June. That month saw 509 civilians killed in Iraq. Neither McCain nor Obama –both of whom support Plan Mexico — discuss publicly how our southern neighbor, a country with no previous history of the militarization seen in the rest of the hemisphere, has witnessed what some are calling “Colombianization”: 25,000 troops and police deployed throughout the country; illegal detentions and unlawful searches; corruption linked from local officials to the highest levels of government; increased internal displacement and migration out of conflicted areas.

Ninety-six members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to the governor of the State of Mexico and the country’s Attorney General calling for an investigation into the case of 26 female detainees who were physically, sexually and psychologically abused in San Salvador Atenco. In the first five months of this year there were 300 human rights claims – double the rate from the previous year, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. And as McCain toured Mexico, he acted as if he was blind to the most recent scandal in the country: revelations of a “training” video showing police officers in the city of Leon forcing a fellow officer to crawl through vomit and injecting carbonated water into the nose of another. An instructor identified by Mexican officials as the employee of a U.S. security firm yells out commands in English.

Should they continue to support deadly military policies, hiding under cover of anti-drug policy, McCain and Obama threaten to continue policies that increase migration flows and repression against civilians, something no candidate who is about being a “maverick” or a “change” agent should be silent about.