Innocent Children And Voracious Oligarchs…Joaquin Villalobos In El Pais

There is a lot to argue with in this opinion piece by Joaquin Villalobos published in El Pais (Spain). I recommend a close read and I’ve provided a quick translation below the original posted here. -molly

Niños Inocentes Y Oligarcas Voraces (Joaquin Villalobos – El Pais)

The story below is translated without permission by Molly Molloy.

Innocent children and voracious oligarchs

Joaquin Villalobos 12 jul 2014
El Pais

The prolonged social and security crisis in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has already become an unprecedented humanitarian emergency. Tens of thousands of children are fleeing north along a route 3,000 kilometers long and plagued by dangers. The fundamental cause of this crisis resides in the brutally extractive economies that dominate in these countries. Six million migrants from these countries—making up 12% of Guatemalans, 14% of Hondurans and nearly 40% of Salvadorans—live in the United States. In the last 20 years, these Central Americans have sent the fabulous sum of $124 billion dollars in remittances to their countries. Exporting poor people has become the most lucrative business of the local oligarchs.

The debate over this crisis has focused on its consequences rather than its causes. There is talk about Mexico’s responsibilities for the threats along the route, or the delays in Immigration Reform in the United States and of organized crime generated by Colombian cocaine. But the problem is that remittances have strengthened the extractive economic model and created an artificially financed consumer economy whose earnings end up in the coffers of the dominant/ruling families of each country.  Just as petroleum profits generate wealth with little effort, remittance income deforms economies, undermines incentives to produce, multiplies the riches of the oligarchs, creates inequality of tragic proportions, destroys families and communities and generates social and criminal violence on a grand scale.

Imports to El Salvador are valued at about $8.5 billion dollars annually and remittances pay for half of these imported goods and services. Giant shopping centers multiply while agriculture has been abandoned. The economy has not grown in 20 years resulting in chronic unemployment and massive emigration of the population.  Coyotes (people smugglers) drive the economy and criminal gangs govern poor barrios. Honduras and Guatemala have joined this model. The rich capture the remittances, using them to supplement their consumption and then send the profits out of their countries, transforming themselves into regional and global businessmen.

The wealthy families of these countries have investments in Florida, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Just one of them invested $250 million dollars in a tourist complex in the Dominican Republic. There are no objective reasons for the Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran rich to invest in their own countries, nor to strive to reduce emigration. The dangers of the journey and the massive deportations of migrants are simply transportation risks for them and the (temporary) return of their merchandise. Remittances have made them much richer than when they were only landlords.

According to statistics from the consultant Wealth-X, in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador there are 610 super-rich individuals possessing $80 billion dollars. Among them they control most of the $12 billion dollars in remittances that come every year from the United States. In comparison to the wealth of these oligarchs, the $3.7 billion dollars proposed by President Obama to confront the emergency looks absurd.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are falling into a vicious circle connecting remittances with violence. More emigration, more remittances; more remittances, less productivity; less productivity, more unemployment; more unemployment, more violence; more violence, more emigration. Criminal gangs grow out of the exponential multiplication of dysfunctional families and the destruction of the familial, social and communal fabric, leading to emigration. Gangs dominate many neighborhoods and communities and affect the poor almost exclusively with extortion rackets on everyone, even newspaper sellers. According to the small-business guild in El Salvador, 90% of micro-businesses pay extortion. In the capital of Honduras, 1,600 small businesses closed due to violence in 2012 alone. Emigration is a violent social catastrophe for the poor and a big business for the rich.

Public security doesn’t matter to the rich in these three countries because they protect themselves with private security—the police are few and poorly paid. The rich have created their own private city in Guatemala called Paseo Cayala. It is a walled-in area of 14 hectares with all services provided inside the walls—a world apart from crime and insecurity. Private security firms in Guatemala employ 125,000 men while the police have just 22,000. At the same time, it is the Latin American country that sells the most armored cars per capita. Guatemala has 406 registered private airplanes and 142 private helicopters—one of the largest private air fleets on the continent.

The rich of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have become completely insensitive to the reality around them. Protected by their own security guards, they pay hunger salaries, they do not invest in their own countries and they resist paying taxes. They are fans of the idea of weak and rickety states which can rely on external investments to resolve problems. In 2011, Honduras created a program called “Honduras Open for Business” that was supposed to give away land in exchange for foreigner managing the state’s business. Three years after the initiation of the program no investors have arrived since Honduras happens to be the most violent country in the world. Salvadoran businessmen now want to copy this failure.

We cannot blame the United States, Mexico or cocaine for this crisis. Why are there no Costa Rican, Nicaraguan and Panamanian children fleeing to el norte? Despite their own problems of inequality, revolutionary Nicaragua, Keynesian Costa Rica and Torrijos’ Panama based on the recovery of the Canal, have continued to grow their economies, attract tourists and foreign investment and suffer no great security crises. And in the cases of Panama and Costa Rica, they do not expel, but rather have a demand for, workers. Panama receives remittances of $214 million dollars and pays out $374 million. If China moves forward with canal construction in Nicaragua, the three southern countries of Central America will become a powerful center of development while the three of the northern triangle will end up drowning.

In 2011, Guatemala hosted a summit of the presidents of Central America with the United States, Mexico and the European Union. On this occasion, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the businessmen of the region: “The rich of each country should pay fair taxes. Security should not be financed by the poor.” It is clear that the main generator of the current emergency is the voracity of the Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran oligarchs. This humanitarian emergency is not an earthquake producing dead and injured victims. It is the extractive economic model that is creating refugees. Without a doubt we must act in solidarity with these innocent children who are fleeing, but the oligarchs must be pressured and sanctioned. Mexican and U.S. donors should not have to assume the costs of this emergency—this would be the equivalent of subsidizing the mansions, yachts and private jets of those guilty of causing the crisis.

Joaquin Villalobos was a Salvadoran guerrilla and is currently a consultant in international conflict resolution.

Obama Aides Were Warned Of Brewing Border Crisis…Washington Post

The first link is to a long report in the Washington Post detailing earlier warnings that an immigration crisis involving child migrants was coming. It also suggests that as many as 90,000 unaccompanied children could arrive before the end of this year. The link to the UTEP study will open a pdf document (41 pages). The third link is to the US conference of Catholic Bishop’s Report on unaccompanied children.

Honduran President Wants a ‘Plan Colombia’ for Central America…Panamerican Post

By all means, let’s INCREASE military and security payouts to corrupt military and police in Central American countries.  Remember that the murder rate in Ciudad Juarez exploded to nearly 300 homicides per 100,000 people AFTER the Plan Merida inspired military surge into the state of Chihuahua…  Honduras already has a murder rate of 100… And the city of San Pedro Sula’s murder rate approaches 200.  More guns, helicopters and training for police who already are experts at torture thanks to US military advisers and they may surpass Mexico in murderousness. The victims?  Poor people. The result? An ever greater EXODUS of refugees showing up at the border. -molly

Honduran President Wants a ‘Plan Colombia’ for Central America (Pan-American Post)

Media Visits Artesia, NM Detention Center For Children And Families

There is a slightly more detailed report below from El Diario de El Paso. I believe that the administration thinks it can lock people up and send them back very quickly and that will stop the flow.  It will probably be true even though many of the people coming do have a credible fear of persecution if returned. It is unlikely that the people in these kinds of detention centers will have adequate access to legal counseling and/or representation and thus their deportation will be carried out quickly. Putting these people in prison facilities and shutting them away from media and community humanitarian efforts will help the government to carry out the policy of fast deportation… It is harder to think this process is justified when ordinary people come face to face with the people who make this dangerous journey.

On the other hand, there must not be enough prisons (yet) because some women and children are being released with documents notifying them of their court dates–usually in about a month from the time of their arrest and initial processing.

Volunteer groups in El Paso and Las Cruces continue to provide temporary housing, food, clothing, medical screening and assistance with travel and family reunification continues. “All I see is that here’s a human who needs help,” he said. “They’re just here, so we should help them.” (Leonel Brisen~o, Director of Project Oak Tree, Las Cruces)

Community Pitched In For Weary Immigrants (The Las Cruces Bulletin)

Our Whirlwind Response To Huge Releases Of Migrants (Annunciation House)

DHS Secretary Visits Artesia N.M, Facility; Warns Immigrants ‘We Will Send You Back’ (El Paso Times) 

Deportar Indocumentados En 15 Días, Plan De DHS (El Diario)

Lauren Villagran from the Albuquerque Journal provides some valuable context from immigration attorneys. Also note the restrictions faced by the media at the media event:

“On Friday, ICE provided a tour of unoccupied areas of the Artesian detention center to local and national media. ICE has denied media access to any of the detained migrants at Artesia.”

‘We Will Send You Back’: Immigrants Face Deportation As DHS Talks Tough (Albuquerque Journal)

Border Reflection & Debunking Myths

Listera Kathy Nicodemus sent this reflection (posted with permission) on the current border situation and below is an excellent article by David Bacon published in IN THESE TIMES with details on how US economic and security policies have exacerbated the situation that forces people to flee their homes in Central America. -molly

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Border Reflection – Support Non-violent solutions in Central American Countries. My thoughts on the Central American immigrant-refugee situation at the moment.

We need to deal with the immediate need, however, if we don’t deal with the systemic issues, the situation will only continue. First we need to stop contributing our (US) part- Corporations that use the land, cheap labor (including Maquilas), our cheap products sold to these countries (taking away their ability to make a living). Need to stop-Selling weapons, supporting bad leaders, US need for drugs. I know there are many other issues. What might be of help–The US supporting these countries to be self-sustaining economically and non-violent.

Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating (In These Times)

Maybe Pope Francis Should Visit The Border?

PanAmerican Post has a brief analysis of the issues today with links to several good articles. And NPR Morning Ed. covered the Washington politics pretty well (also posted below). The irony (not quite the right word) of Obama’s proposal for more immigration court funding is that people will most certainly be processed and deported more quickly.  I find it unlikely that the US will ever agree to treat these people as refugees. Even during the height of the Central American civil wars of the 1980s, only a tiny percentage of Guatemalans and Salvadorans were granted political asylum.  The current refugees are less of a fit for the asylum criteria as they now stand. Eventually, some Central Americans rec’d Temporary Protected Status (TPS), but I don’t see the political will in Congress or the White House for this to happen now.

The environmental disaster of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 created another refugee crisis and it seems that the US responds better to natural disaster crises than to those involving war, drugs and gang violence. And hardly ever a mention of the economic disasters wrought by free trade policies.

I am not advocating for the way the administration is responding to the political hysteria drummed up by the right wing in Congress and in the country, simply trying to report.  I have followed the politics of immigration, asylum and military/security involvement in Central America and Mexico for several decades and I think it is unlikely that there will be a positive policy outcome from this situation. What we can hope for is continued humanitarian response from people. I wish Pope Francis would weigh in.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if he decided to visit the border?  Right here, right now? -molly

Border Crisis: Migrants or Refugees? (Pan-American Post)

Obama To Ask Congress For $2B To Ease Immigration Crisis (NPR News)

The Refugee Option Obama Will Ignore (Huffington Post)

Q & A with Fronteras Desk Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe

Mónica Ortiz Uribe is a native of El Paso, Texas, where she works as a reporter for the public radio network Fronteras. She covers a range of topics from politics, to industry and environment in New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico. Previously she freelanced for National Public Radio on the drug-related violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Her first reporter gig was for the Waco Tribune Herald in Waco, Texas. Mónica graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in history. Follow her at @MOrtizUribe

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In all your years covering the border, is there any story that stands out to you?

The story of the disappeared young women of Ciudad Juárez. These are young women who vanished without a trace during the height of drug violence in the city. They lived in poor neighborhoods and rode the bus to school or to work. One day they didn’t come home. They left devastated families behind whose lives were transformed. Unsatisfied with the police’s response, the families tried doing their own investigations. As of today none of the women I tracked have been found and the families still have no answers.

What has been the most difficult border-related story to write about? Why?

The same story as above. It’s difficult because there is no resolution, no answers, no rest. The families’ lives can never be the same.

In a recent story, you mentioned that apprehensions have risen 74 percent since last year. With so much controversy surrounding the border, what changes have you noticed in the last year?

I can say that the hot spot on the border now is south Texas. I visited that region last year and saw for myself the incredible amount of traffic coming across. Border Patrol is overwhelmed. At night their radios are non-stop. I witnessed two apprehensions. One woman was traveling alone from Guatemala with two toddlers, she was coming to meet her husband in the United States.  The other was a Mexican teenager and his 70-something year-old grandfather. It’s a humanitarian crisis, people are trying to come across every single day. When they are caught they need to be processed, fed, housed, etc. The federal government has only recently acknowledged their inability to keep up.

What do you wish more people knew about the border?

There is so much. I think we all need to reconsider how we spend our tax dollars on the border. The amount of money we spend on border enforcement is more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And still we can’t keep up. Meanwhile legal traffic coming across the border is bottle necked. Our immigration system is backed up beyond a decade in some cases. It will take some bold thinking and brave decisions to change the status quo.

First Central American Immigrants To Arrive Thursday In Las Cruces…Sun News

A friend and I went by yesterday to volunteer. It is gratifying to see Las Cruces respond this way…and in contrast to some of the media-grabbing protests other places. Las Cruces is not a wealthy town, but in terms of helping those who have a hard road, we seem to come together. As someone said to me yesterday: “We have to respond to the moral issue now…”

I also recommend NPR’s reports from California and Guatemala on Morning Edition today. -Molly

First Central American immigrants to arrive Thursday in Las Cruces (Las Cruces Sun News)

Why Are Kids From Central America Risking Solo Travel To The U.S.? (NPR)

Dramatic Surge in the Arrival of Unaccompanied Children Has Deep Roots and No Simple Solutions

This is the single best explanation of the complex issues involved with the increase in unaccompanied minor children in migration. It includes data and a discussion of push and pull factors and the convergence of factors relating to the current situation. The explanation of the differing treatment of Mexican vs. Central American minors is the best I have seen, as is the explanation of the US laws pertaining to these groups. I really encourage everyone to read it: http://migrationpolicy.org/article/dramatic-surge-arrival-unaccompanied-children-has-deep-roots-and-no-simple-solutions 

Also below is a brief report from Colorlines: http://colorlines.com/archives/2014/06/us_has_no_plans_for_leniency_with_unaccompanied_migrant_children.html