Friday, January 20, 2017

Confronting racism and lies

     The billionaire real estate developer that just moved into government-subsidized housing in Washington, D.C. said during the campaign that Mexico was sending rapists and criminals to the U.S.  I’ve met with many people here in Nogales that have just been deported from the U.S.  They’ve told me, often with tears in their eyes, that they made the risky journey to the U.S. in search of work so that they could provide for their families back home in Mexico or Central America.
     Donald Trump’s racism and lies are very offensive and troubling, but racism and an inability to tell the truth have a long bipartisan history in the White House and congress.  He plans to continue, and expand, the border enforcement policies that were developed by his predecessors. 
     The spouse of the candidate that received three million votes more than Trump built the initial Nogales Wall in 1994 – the same year that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented.  Bill Clinton worked very hard during his first year in office to push NAFTA through congress.
     NAFTA enabled U.S. corporations to more easily establish assembly plants in Mexico where the minimum wage is now just $4 per day.  It also enabled U.S. agribusiness to sell subsidized corn at prices so low that Mexican farmers could not compete.  Two million farmers lost their lands in Mexico during the first 10 years of NAFTA.
     Landless farmers and impoverished workers crossed into the U.S. in order to provide for their families and the Clinton administration responded by creating the first national strategy for the Border Patrol: “Prevention through Deterrence.”  The goal was to “Raise the risk…to the point that many will consider it futile to attempt illegal entry… Illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing.”  The bodies of more than 7,000 people have been recovered along the southern border since that policy was implemented.
     The president that Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state replaced the initial Nogales Wall with a taller and stronger wall in 2011 – at a cost of $4.1 million per mile.  During that same time, the Obama administration spent $187 million to modernize the Mariposa port-of-entry to make it easier for hundreds of diesel trucks to cross daily with products made in the assembly plants of Nogales.
     “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA enable capital to easily cross borders in the search for higher profit but do not allow workers to cross those same borders in order to provide for their families.  There are nearly 100 assembly plants in Nogales that employ 37,000 workers.  It appears that the primary purpose of the Nogales Wall is to keep workers on the cheaper side of the wall and continuing to assemble products for U.S. corporations.
     The Obama administration also invested in the technology used by Israel to enforce borders on the Palestinian people.  Elbit Systems was paid $23 million to construct seven surveillance towers along the Nogales section of the border.  Those towers give the Border Patrol complete radar control of the border and feature long-range cameras and night observation systems to detect people that are attempting to cross into the U.S. to escape from poverty and violence. 
     “Because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we can not allow people to pour into the U.S. undetected, undocumented and unchecked,” said the previous president during his first campaign in 2008.  He went on to forcibly remove 2.7 million people of color from the country during his eight years in office.
     Donald Trump wants to surpass that record set by Barack Obama.  This makes it even more necessary now to confront racism and lies, and to act in solidarity with the people that are suffering from U.S. economic and immigration policies.   
My sister and me at the Trump National Golf Club of Los Angeles

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Border Convergence

     Hundreds of people gathered on both sides of the border wall that separates Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona on October 8 and 9.   The convergence was organized by SOA Watch to protest the militarization of the border that is causing so much suffering and death for our migrant sisters and brothers. 
     This militarization was started by Bill Clinton and has been further escalated by Barack Obama.  A “crisis” of unaccompanied minors that were fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and seeking refuge in the U.S. occurred during summer 2014.  The response of the Obama administration was to pressure the Mexican government to further militarize its southern border with Guatemala.  Millions of dollars were given to implement Plan Frontera Sur (Southern Border Plan) which placed more immigration agents and checkpoints in southern Mexico.
     Sister Guadalupe; of the Hermanos en el Camino shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca; told us that the militarization in southern Mexico has forced migrants to pass through more isolated, and dangerous, regions.  She said that nine of every ten migrants arriving at the shelter have been assaulted, and more than half the women have been raped.  Mexico is now deporting more Central Americans than the U.S., and this repression and violence have reduced the number of people arriving at the U.S. border. 
     “I very much appreciate Mexico’s efforts in addressing the unaccompanied children who we saw spiking during the summer,” said Obama in January 2015.  “In part, because of strong efforts by Mexico, including at its southern border, we’ve seen those numbers reduced back to much more manageable levels.” 
     The Nogales Wall was first built by the Clinton administration in October 1994 – just three months after he visited the site of the former Berlin Wall.  The Obama administration built a taller, and stronger, border wall in the summer of 2011.
     “We celebrate unity,” Clinton had said in Berlin.  “We stand where crude walls of concrete separated mother from child, and we meet as one family.  We stand where those who sought a new life instead found death.  Berliners, you have proved that no wall can forever contain the mighty power of freedom.”
     The Clinton administration created the Border Patrol’s first national strategy in 1994, “Prevention through Deterrence.”  The goal was to “Raise the risk…to the point that many will consider it futile to attempt illegal entry… Illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing.”  Since then, the bodies of more than 6,000 people have been found in the southern border region.  The actual death toll is much higher because many bodies are never found.    
     Last month, we commemorated the 15th anniversary of the attacks of September 11 and I found myself reflecting on how we define terrorism.  It seems to me that terrorism involves the use of violence, targeting civilians, to achieve a political objective.  Thousands of civilians have now died after being forced over hostile terrain along the border in order to deter people from entering the U.S.
     “No más, no more, tear down the border walls!” we chanted during the litany for those victims at the end of the convergence here in Nogales.
A deported mother and veterans, followed by Veterans for Peace, 
leading the march along the wall in Nogales,Sonora

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Woman with gun used to recruit for border enforcement

This billboard of a woman holding erect a large gun could be Customs and Border Protection’s vision of gender equality or it could be aimed at young men with high levels of testosterone and blind patriotism.  The bodies of 49 people were found in the desert of southern Arizona in June and July – victims of this militarization of the border that forces migrants to the most deadly terrain for crossing into the U.S.  The woman and her gun are featured on three billboards located alongside I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix.  Using this image to promote “America’s Edge” on border enforcement illustrates the obscenity of current U.S. policy. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Vigil to close the School of the Americas moving to Nogales

     The movement to close the School of the Americas (SOA) training center for Latin American soldiers has held an annual vigil in front of the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia for 25 years.  This year, the convergence will be moved here to the Nogales Wall as an expression of resistance to the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.  The four-day event will conclude on October 10 – the fourth anniversary of the murder of 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez by a Border Patrol agent that fired into Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona on October 10, 2012.
     Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, visited Nogales in May 2013 and a vigil was held that evening at the site where José Antonio was killed.  He presented José Antonio’s mother, Aracely, with a photo of him holding a cross with her son’s name during the vigil at Fort Benning the previous November.  The Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC) was honored to host another SOA Watch delegation that came to Nogales from April 28 to 30 in preparation for the vigil this October.    
     The journey of SOA Watch from its beginning in front of Fort Benning to the border in Nogales parallels my own life journey over those same 26 years.  My first trip to Latin America was to the Mesa Grande refugee camp in Honduras in September 1989.  The camp was home to thousands of people who had fled from the U.S.-sponsored war and repression in El Salvador.         
     A group of 500 people were preparing to return to El Salvador the following month and we met with their “mesa directiva” (elected leaders).  Beto, Arturo, Isabel, Neto, Eulalio and Miguel shared their stories with us and transformed my life.  “We are willing to risk our lives, if need be, to bring our people back to El Salvador,” said Beto, the president.  “By claiming our right to live as a civilian community in the countryside we believe we will be contributing to the process of bringing peace to our homeland.”
     They returned to Guancorita in El Salvador on October 29 and found that most of the community had been destroyed by Air Force bombing.  A few weeks later, on November 16, soldiers went into the Central America University in San Salvador and murdered Father Ignacio Ellacuría (rector), five other Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.  Many of those responsible for the massacre had been trained at the School of the Americas.
     Then on February 11, 1990, Guancorita was attacked by the Air Force.  Planes and helicopters flew overhead for two hours and fired 15 rockets and 8 bombs around the community.  Four families that were living beneath sheets of plastic ran to seek shelter in a house made out of brick.  One of the helicopters fired a rocket that exploded inside the house – killing five people, including four children, and wounding 16.
     We visited the community the following month and Patrocinio leads us to “la casa de la masacre” (the house of the massacre).  We enter the house and there is a huge stain spread across the right wall.  The bricks are pockmarked with holes from the “esquirlas” (rocket shrapnel).  Five crosses with the names of the victims mark the sites where they died: “Isabel Lopez” and “Anabel Beatriz Lopez” (Patrocinio’s 10-year-old and 2-year-old daughters), “Jose Guardado” and “Blanca Lilia Guardado” (father and 2-year-old daughter), and “Dolores Serrano” (10-years-old).
     Patrocinio tells us about the attack and then takes out his bandana and carefully unrolls it on the ground.  Inside is a piece of the rocket, with the markings in English.  The rockets, the bombs, the helicopters and planes had been paid for with our tax dollars.
     We meet Patrocinio’s spouse, Maria, that afternoon in the neighboring community of Guarjila.  Tears stream down her face as she tells us about the death of her two daughters.  She is eight-months pregnant and shows us the shrapnel wounds on her chest and upper legs.  “It was a miracle I didn’t lose my baby,” she says.  Maria gave birth to a girl who was named Isabel Beatriz in honor of her two sisters that she never met.
     In July 1990, Guancorita was renamed Comunidad Ignacio Ellacuría in honor of the rector of the Central America University and in recognition that both the Jesuit community and Guancorita had suffered massacres.  In November of that year, Father Roy and a few other people held a vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning to commemorate the first anniversary of the massacre at the university.  The vigil would grow over the years with the participation of thousands of people every November. 
     Twenty two years after that first vigil, a Border Patrol agent fires his pistol between the bars of the Nogales Wall at José Antonio who is walking down below on International Street in Nogales, Sonora.  Lonnie Swartz empties the 13-round clip, puts in another clip, and then fires all the bullets in that one.  He shoots José Antonio once in the head and seven times in the back.
     I visited the site of the killing, on the sidewalk in front of Dr. Contreras’ clinic, ten days later.  The wall on the corner had seven bullet holes, up high, with red circles around each one that had been drawn by police investigators.  A few feet away, the side wall had three bullet holes down low, alongside the sidewalk where José Antonio died. 
     On November 2, Day of the Dead, HEPAC helped organize the first procession and vigil to protest the murder of José Antonio.  Other vigils followed to commemorate the six month, one year, year and a half, two year, and three year anniversaries.   
     We will gather together this October in solidarity with the family of José Antonio and all victims of U.S.-sponsored violence; including Isabel and Anabel Beatriz Lopez, Jose and Blanca Lilia Guardado, and Dolores Serrano.  We would be honored to have you join us.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Paris climate summit ignores the reality of Nogales

     The neighborhood where I live in Nogales is called Bella Vista (“Beautiful View”).  The view disappears in the haze on these winter mornings as desperate impoverished people burn whatever they can to ward off the cold.  This toxic reality of corporate “free trade” was not addressed during the recent “Climate Change Conference” in Paris.
     The U.S. government demanded that the emissions reduction targets set by individual countries not be legally binding, and that countries harmed by climate change should not be able to take legal action for that damage.  As reported by Naomi Klein, that’s exactly opposite to the U.S. stance on “free trade” agreements which are legally binding. 
     The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that converted Nogales into a sprawling industrial city enables corporations to sue governments if the corporations feel they’re not being treated fairly.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that was signed by the Obama administration in October, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is currently being negotiated, both include legally-binding provisions for corporations to sue governments.
     Prior to the implementation of NAFTA, there were trees on the hills around Nogales.  Twenty years later, there are nearly 100 “maquiladoras” (assembly plants) and the trees are gone.  The products made in those plants can not be ones that are needed by the people of Mexico but, by law, have to be exported.  The largest plant in Nogales is Chamberlain which employs more than 3,000 workers that make garage door openers.  There is only one house in our neighborhood with a garage, and it doesn’t have a door.
     Chamberlain; Kimberly-Clark; Master Lock; Becton, Dickinson and Company; and other U.S. corporations have plants here to take advantage of the cheap labor.  The minimum wage in Nogales, Sonora is $4.25 per day as compared to $8.05 per hour in Nogales, Arizona. 
     The maquiladoras have access to all the water and electricity they need to make products that freely cross the border but the workers do not enjoy that same privilege.  The water in our neighborhood is purchased from tanker trucks that fill storage tanks located on the rooves of homes.  Drinking water is bought from pick-up trucks that drive through loaded with 5-gallon jugs.  The price of electricity explains the haze in the air and the occasional house fire in winter.
     The U.S. government recently spent $187 million to modernize the port-of-entry to make it easier for hundreds of diesel trucks to cross the border daily with products from the maquiladoras, and produce grown in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa.  The government also spent tens of millions of dollars to install a taller, and stronger, border wall to ensure that workers do not leave the maquiladoras in search of higher pay in the U.S.
     As long as “free trade” is protected more than the environment and workers, corporations will continue to warm our planet to dangerous levels.  However, as Naomi Klein writes in her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” “Climate change – if treated as a true planetary emergency – could become a galvanizing force for humanity, leaving us all not just safer from extreme weather, but with societies that are safer and fairer in all kinds of other ways as well…It really is the case that we are on our own and any credible source of hope in this crisis will have to come from below.”  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Gaza in Arizona

     I saw heavy machinery up ahead as I parked on the ridge road a few miles north of the border with Mexico.  When I got out of the car, I could see a tower in the east and another one in the north.  None of that had been there the last time I was on that ridge just three months ago and I was curious to get a closer look when I returned from the hike.
     The machinery was at a construction site on top of a hill with an extensive view.  “Do not enter.  This site is under video surveillance,” read the signs, in English and Spanish, along the perimeter of the site.
     The northern tower was surrounded by a fence and had the same bilingual warning.  Two cameras were mounted on top of the tower, a microwave dish extended from the side, and a large solar panel was at the base – an imposing image set against the desert sky.  
     While I was taking that photo, Todd Miller and Gabriel Schivone were posting an excellent article entitled Gaza in Arizona  I saw the article the next day and I was startled to read, “Customs and Border Protection (CBP) contracted with Israel’s giant military manufacturer Elbit Systems to build a ‘virtual wall,’ a technological barrier set back from the actual international divide in the Arizona desert...CBP has tasked Elbit with creating a ‘wall’ of ‘integrated fixed towers’ containing the latest in cameras, radar, motion sensors, and control rooms.  Construction will start in the rugged, desert canyons around Nogales.” 
     I sent a message to Todd with the photo and asked, “Could this be part of the ‘wall’ of ‘integrated fixed towers’ that Elbit is building for CBP?”  He responded a few minutes later, “Very interesting!  I’m going to check it out.”  He and Gabe drove to Nogales the next morning and we went out together to see the tower.  
     We were greeted by an armed security guard and one of the construction workers who told us, “You can’t go any further because there’s moving pieces and equipment.”  Todd mentioned that we had seen the tower from the road and we were wondering what it would be used for.
     The foreman came over to check us out and the worker asked him, “Should we put them in contact with Elbit?”  “You have to talk with the public information office of Customs and Border Protection,” quickly interjected the foreman.  “Are you working for CBP?” asked Todd.  “You have to talk with the public information office of Customs and Border Protection.  That’s all I can tell you,” was the response.
     In “Gaza in Arizona,” Todd and Gabe describe how the University of Arizona is recruiting Israeli security companies to set up operations at the Tech Parks Arizona campus in Tucson.  The program is called the Israel Business Initiative.  The Department of Homeland Security designated the University of Arizona as the lead school for the Center of Excellence on Border Security and Immigration in 2008 and the university has received millions of dollars in federal grants.
     President Obama strongly supports “free trade” policies that enable corporations, like Elbit, to easily travel around the globe in search of increased profit but he opposes providing that same freedom of movement for workers.  The minimum wage in Nogales, Sonora is now $5.20 per day while the minimum wage in Nogales, Arizona is $8.05 per hour.  Elbit’s virtual wall will help ensure that the women and men who assemble products for U.S. companies in Nogales, Sonora stay on the lower-wage side of the border.
     Todd and Gabe quote Roei Elkabetz, brigadier general of the Israel Defense Forces, at the beginning of their article.  “We have learned lots from Gaza,” he said.  “It’s been a great laboratory.”  That laboratory is now being extended to Arizona.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Migrant Posada

     Mary was riding on a burro, and Joseph was walking beside her, as they traveled by the Nogales border wall in search of shelter during the Migrant Posada.   A cold rain was falling, but for a brief moment, the sun came out and a rainbow appeared. 
     Posadas recreate the journey from 2,000 years ago as Mary and Joseph are refused lodging at various stations along the way and finally welcomed in at the end of the procession.  The Migrant Posada was organized by the Kino Border Initiative and Dioceses without Borders as an act of solidarity with our undocumented sisters and brothers.
     The first station was at the Nogales wall which was built by the Clinton administration in 1994, just four months after he visited the site of the former Berlin Wall.  “Wherever there’s a wall, there’s a closure of the heart,” read a banner attached to the wall.  Those were the words spoken by Pope Francis last month on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
     At each station, the people outside in the procession sing to ask for lodging.  The people inside sing in response that there is no room.  “In the name of justice, I ask you to let me in.  I will not cause you harm, I just want to work,” sang the people on the south side of the wall.  “We have thousands of agents that protect our borders, and you won’t get across even through the cracks,” responded the people on the north side.
     Separation of families was the theme of the second station.  “In the name of justice, I ask for your support and solidarity.  Separated from my children, my heart is broken,” sang the deportees.  “I don’t care about what you’re going through, stop you’re crying.  The children that you left behind, you are not going to see again,” was the response.
     There was a moment of silence at the third station to remember the thousands of people who have died in the desert.  “We’re half a family, deported without pity.  The children are left crying, lamenting that they are orphans,” sang the people outside.  “We don’t want you to come here, stay over there.  The purity of the race could become contaminated” replied the people inside.
     Mary and Joseph were finally welcomed at the last station which was the Kino Border Initiative dining hall where recently deported migrants receive two meals a day.  There we all sang, “Let’s celebrate without borders or barriers, people who thirst for justice.  Today we will work and struggle together for justice and dignity.”