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.

Elite Honduran Unit Works To Stop Flow Of Child Emigrants To U.S…Bortac In Honduras

Excellent report from Cindy Carcamo in Honduras for the LATimes below. She also gave an interview on THE WORLD:

Elite Honduran unit works to stop flow of child emigrants to U.S. (LA Times)

This special security unit went from targeting drug smugglers to spotting unaccompanied kids (The World)

For those who have read Todd Miller’s book, Border Patrol Nation, this story about US trained and funded border police in Honduras will not be a surprise.  I assume that the Obama funding request considers this kind of program in Central America a valuable contribution. There seems to be no awareness in US policy circles about the extreme levels of corruption in the military and police units we supply and train in Mexico and Central America.  Expect more violence–robbery, rape, beatings, extortion–toward the desperate people trying to flee conditions in their countries. But do not expect to see much coverage of it in the US press. -molly

Q & A with Erin Siegal McIntyre

Erin Siegal McIntyre is a photographer who also writes narrative nonfiction, produces for TV and web, and reports for radio. Her work has appeared in the various publications including New Yorker, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and O Magazine. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and was a 2012-2013 Soros Media Justice Fellow. Her award-winning book Finding Fernanda was the basis for an hour-long CBS special investigation. She lives in Tijuana.

For more info, visit her website

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Interview by Virginia Isaad

1. Having extensively covered the border, what has been one of the most difficult stories to cover and why?

Difficult can mean various things: a story can be hard technically, hard because of related security concerns, or simply because it’s not sexy enough to place with a media organization. But those kinds of obstacles are regular.

When I think about my three years on the border, covering the narcofosas related to El Pozolero was emotionally challenging. It was a combination of the graphic nature of the discoveries—seeing the actual pipes through which liquefied bodies were pumped, the makeshift holding tanks, the custom spigots, and the various site locations around eastern Tijuana: totally run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen poor neighborhoods— and then the immensity of strength and grace shown by the families in continual searches for kidnapped and disappeared loved ones. That awed me. I’ve been to a number of excavation sites, and came to understand the joy of finding a human bone fragment or tooth—a beacon of hope in the dark, a possible lead that could bring closure or answers.

I’m very protective over my own perception, and I intentionally avoid covering regular nota roja or crime in Mexico. I pay attention, but I don’t actively cover it. Quite simply, I want my instincts to remain as intact as possible; I don’t want to be one of those journalists who becomes deadened or desensitized. You can’t feel, perceive, write, and relay information strongly if you’re operating from a void of detachment.

There is something so intense and profound about the power of hope, civility, and basic human kindness in the face of such an unimaginable, ongoing hunt. I took this photograph of Fernando Ocegueda as he showed me around one excavation site before Mexican investigators arrived. He still hasn’t found his son, or his son’s body. It’s been six years.

fernando

 2. A lot is being reported on immigrant children crossing the border. What do you have to say about this issue?

You can read my latest here.

I also wrote a quick piece this week for TakePart, about abuse allegations related to child detainees under Customs and Border Patrol custody.

I’ve been working in Miami for the last month, and have felt really far from my beats—the border, and child welfare. It’s been frustrating being so far from home!

3. For our Q & A with Todd Miller, he mentioned Border Patrol youth programs and you recently did a story on teenage drug mules. Would you say that as the drug war progresses, youths are more susceptible to the violence than before? Why or Why not?

I’ve done a few stories on teenage drug mules, most recently for NPR’s Latino USA and for Al Jazeera America. I’m not sure you could make the argument that teens are any more susceptible to bad decision-making than ever before. But you might actually be able to make the case that heightened border enforcement leads to a heightened apprehension rate for teens working as mules.

There’s also something to be said related to the normalization of drug use in American society. (Medicinal) marijuana is legal in California, so taping a few pounds of it to your belly and walking across the border in exchange for a hundred bucks or a new cell phone might not seem like such a big deal if you’re a teenager clueless about the criminal consequences.

My AJAM story about Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo touches on that ignorance; Velázquez was a teen who died in Border Patrol custody after drinking from a bottle of liquid meth while being questioned. He took a gulp to prove to the agents that it was apple juice. He probably didn’t think it would kill him, but it was a painful, agitated death by overdose. He was writhing and crying for his family.

4. During your fellowship with the Open Society you focused on U.S. deportation policy, what did you learn during your time on this project?

This project was an experiment of sorts; I was awarded a Media Justice fellowship to execute a group project along with two other teammates, both of whom had no previous journalism experience. One of my partners was a law professor specializing in juvenile incarceration and immigration detention, and my other partner was a former gang member and deportee who’d served 14 years in American prison, from age 16 to 28.

Our focus was on “bad” immigrants, criminal deportees, and the gray area between. We worked around issues related to people who were deported after serving time for aggravated felony convictions. The definition of “aggravated felony” includes some misdemeanors under current immigration law, so it’s pretty broad. There’s a lot to unpack, and we had a busy year reporting for different platforms, from comic book graphic journalism to traditional TV pieces.

We aimed to tell stories that humanized deportees, specifically those considered “bad” or undesirable, with criminal records. Many people don’t understand that there’s no double jeopardy for non-citizens, green card holders (legal residents) and undocumented immigrants alike. That means after they’ve served time, and if their offense is considered an aggravated felony under U.S immigration law, then they’re automatically deported. There’s no guarantee to counsel, or appeal. They can’t fight it. They’re deported, and there’s no recourse for ever returning- they’re banned for life. This happens to many people who grow up in the U.S, and consider themselves American.

5. The adoption of immigrant children has been the focus of your books. In one article, you cite that around 5,100 children of undocumented immigrants were in state care, and in many instances, had been cut off completely from communicating with their families. One-fifth of foster care children are subsequently adopted. What can you tell us about the current state of foster care for immigrant children?

Finding Fernanda and the related special “Perilous Journey” focused on unraveling one Guatemalan organized crime network that was working with American companies to facilitate the international adoptions of Guatemalan children to the United States. That’s completely different than the question you raise about undocumented immigrant children, though there is some overlap.

My friend and colleague, reporter Seth Freed Wessler, is the author of the authoritative report, “Shattered Families,” which digs into the complicated intersection of child welfare and current U.S. immigration policy. His findings and statistics are based on years of research, and today in 2014, they’re actually getting old.

No one has yet to update them; this kind of endeavor takes an investment of time and money. A lot of news outlets just can’t afford to do that kind of serious investigative work.

 

6. What is an aspect of the violence in Mexico that you feel isn’t covered enough?

 I would argue that it’s not “violence in Mexico,” per se. The drug war isn’t a Mexican issue, it’s a shared responsibility. That’s nothing new.

I do think it’s always important to pay attention to discrepancies in crime reporting, especially contradictions between statistics from various government agencies and officials. There’s a lot of sugary spin (remember Mexico’s forecasted GDP growth last year?) and it’s easy for foreign reporters to devour it.

But in general, I don’t think the entire country of Mexico is covered enough! Then again, I adore mi hermosa patria adoptiva and I’m totally biased. So shoot, take my border reporting with a grain of salt, or ten. I love Mexico.

¡Y Tijuana rifa!

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)

U.S. Visas Helped Fuel the Juárez Drug Wars…Jason McGahan in The Daily Beast

There is more information about Julio Porras (the main ICE informant in the Daily Beast piece) in this 2012 article from Reporte Indigo. Apparently Julio Porras is also Ramiro Chavez and he worked as an informant for the PGR during the same time he was providing information on Juarez Cartel activities to ICE.

http://www.reporteindigo.com/reporte/mexico/otro-gobernador-en-la-mira?page=1 (Reporte Indigo) 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/01/u-s-visas-helped-fuel-the-juarez-drug-wars.html (Daily Beast)

Peace Pact In Juarez…Cleanup To Come…Proceso 1960

Two reports by Jesus Esquivel from PROCESO #1960… An anonymous source in Juarez says that La Linea is still in control (or back in control) in Juarez and that professional sicarios are operating in the city to clean up the malandros–the young wannabes (los malandros que se sentían narcos)… So that the people being killed now are only those that need to be killed…  and that the city will be a good place for the good people of Juarez again… as in the days before the Calderon project turned Juarez into the most violent city in the world…  The police in Juarez, especially the municipal police, will be cooperating more than ever with this new/old regime to make sure that life gets better in Juarez and also ensure that the real  big time drug crossing business functions properly–generating more money and less violence…

The Sinaloa Cartel people have withdrawn from Juarez and the new objective (is this new?) is to get the business done as it should be done.  The real shipments to the US will continue to cross in big cargo trucks, not carried over by little guys… All those little guys trying to do business on their own (hormigas carrying loads in private cars or on foot) will be cleaned up if they haven’t been already…

DEA tells Proceso that Juarez is again (was it ever not?) a major crossing point for drugs, including more meth, though the city is less violent… -Molly

En Juárez, Paz Pactada…Pero Viene Una “Limpia” (Proceso)

See Borderland Beat’s translation of the story below.

Juarez Is Peaceful…But There’s A Clean Up Coming (Borderland Beat)

Menos Violencia, Más Anfetaminas (Proceso)

See the Frontera List post for a Google translation of the articles.

 

WikiLeaks Highlight Concerns About Juárez Drug Abuse, Mexican Drug Wars…EPTimes

Many of the Wikileaks revelations about Juarez were detailed in earlier reports (from 2012) in the Narco News Bulletin:

Mexican Diplomat Traded Secrets with Private Intel Firm Stratfor, WikiLeaks Documents Reveal

Mexican Special Forces Employed as Death Squads in Drug War, Email Records Released by WikiLeaks Reveal

This current info is from the El Paso Times.

WikiLeaks Highlight Concerns About Juárez Drug Abuse, Mexican Drug Wars

Drug addiction in Juárez represents a daily drug-trafficking market of about $2.3 million, according to files disclosed by online whistleblower WikiLeaks.

The leaked file cites a Mexican official who is referred to only as “MX-1.” During a meeting with U.S. and Mexican officials, the official identified as MX-1 said “that Juárez has a drug abuse problem which amounts to about 30 million pesos a day.”

“It’s a 30 million peso a day market for Juárez, with anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 individuals,” MX-1 said. “He (MX-1) added, for example, they know that most of the people that are participating in the kidnappings are addicts,” according to the leaked file…

Mexico is not Colombia (and other things you didn’t need the RAND Corporation to tell you)

Guest Post Series: Dawn Paley

Dawn Paley is a contributing editor with The Dominion, Canada’s only independent news cooperative, and a co-founder of the Vancouver Media Co-op. She’s been featured in a variety of publications including The Guardian, The Nation and NACLA. A listero, she’s written quite a few articles on the drug war in Mexico which have been featured on Frontera List.

To learn more about Dawn, visit her website.

Every Friday we will have a new guest post so stay tuned!

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The RAND Corporation recently released a report entitled “Mexico is not Colombia: Alternative Historical Analogies for Responding to the Challenge of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations.”

If you thought Mexico and Colombia were the same thing, think again! They are actually two different countries. Thanks to RAND for getting that sorted. Ahem. So let’s say you feel like reading beyond the somewhat silly title of the report, you’d learn a few things. There’s often hidden gems lurking for those in the mood to scour these types of reports. I’m going to elucidate, in broad strokes, my overall impressions of this one.

First, this report proposes an even more convoluted acronym for what are commonly called drug cartels, or Drug Trafficking Organizations (also known as DTOs), and which I refer to in my work as paramilitary groups. RAND would prefer that we now call these groups VDTOs, as in, Violent Drug Trafficking Organizations. It’s not clear to me why that distinction is necessary, other than simply to make everything more confusing, which I would argue is a key function of mainstream think tanks.

According to the report authors, “The full scope and details of the threat posed by VDTOs are not well understood, and optimal strategies to combat these organizations have not been identified.” So we’re meant to believe that even after billions of dollars of US funding for the war on drugs in Colombia, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, there’s still no optimal strategy?

I call bullocks on that. More on why here. The report parrots the myth of spillover violence. More on that here.

The report also insinuates that the social cleansing that has taken place as part of the drug war in Mexico is capricious, as in “given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior.” I quote: “Then, there is the capricious, inexplicable violence: ‘The massacres of young people and migrants’ and ‘the use of torture.’”

It is morally outrageous that this violence can be written off as random and beyond understanding. Fundamentally, that stance means that this report, like so many others, misses the point entirely. Violence against young people, migrants, workers in the informal sector, prisoners, drug users, and others is not just a capricious side effect of the drug war. It is an integral part of this war, as are the systems that allow it to carry on in near total impunity. But don’t expect to learn about that from RAND.

In short, the report analyses the comparison of the conflicts in Mexico and Colombia, and finds that what happened in Colombia is not an acceptable analogy for what is happening in Mexico. RAND’s exact words: “Mexico Is Not Colombia, Nor Is It Any of the Other Cases.” (Yeah, just in case you thought maybe Mexico was, in fact, Tajikistan).

I don’t know enough about how the drug war has played out in other parts of the world to say whether or not RAND’s conclusions in that respect are accurate. The overall recommendations in the report regarding security in Mexico, however, are tried, tested and true, representing a continuation of current US policy.

I must say I found the last recommendation particularly interesting: “Increase policymakers’ willingness to accept international support, especially from the United States.” That brings us to the crux of things, which is that the comparison between Mexico and Colombia isn’t based on comparing the domestic circumstances in both countries. Where the Mexico-Colombia comparison gains a foothold is in comparing US involvement in both places.

Just ask Hillary Clinton.

“We know from the work that the United States has supported in Colombia and now in Mexico that good leadership, proactive investments, and committed partnerships can turn the tide,” then Secretary of State Clinton told delegates to the Central America Security Conference in Guatemala City in 2011. The US transition to funding militarization in Colombia to funding it in Mexico was nearly seamless, as the first phase of Plan Colombia ended in 2006, and Plan Mexico got off the ground in 2008.

So, RAND, thanks but no thanks. The VDTO label deserves to be relegated to the trash can. And critical thinkers, journalists and scholars can remain on solid footing knowing that hundreds of pages of RAND research don’t do much to counter the validity of comparing US policies in Colombia and Mexico.

Drug Dealer’s Daughter Recalls A Luxurious Life On Both Sides Of The Border, Before It All Crashed…Borderzine

Drug Dealer’s Daughter Recalls A Luxurious Life On Both Sides Of The Border, Before It All Crashed

Nadia Rivas on May 2, 2014

EL PASO — Luz relaxes in a chair and taps the table with her fingertips as she begins to reveal startling details about her unique life as the child of a powerful Juarez drug cartel member.

Reminiscing about her childhood brings a smile to her face. She lived a life that was close to perfect, she says, full of luxuriesexpensive clothes, cars, parties, entertainment, and any wish she desired.

“You get used to having a lot of stuff, good stuff,” says Luz, 24, who asked that her name not be revealed. “I never remember hearing my mom say, ‘no we can’t get that because we don’t have money.’”

At the same time, she admits, it was difficult for her mother to teach her and her younger brother strong ethics and values because of her father’s criminal activity.

“We weren’t following any of the rules, any of the laws,” said the petite 24-year-old with light-brown shoulder-length hair and brown eyes. “I was always told I couldn’t talk about what my dad did, which involved the drug cartels.“

Read the full article here.

The Hunt For El Chapo: How the world’s most notorious drug lord was captured…New Yorker

The Hunt For El Chapo: How the world’s most notorious drug lord was captured

By Patrick Radden Keefe

One afternoon last December, an assassin on board a K.L.M. flight from Mexico City arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. This was not a business trip: the killer, who was thirty-three, liked to travel, and often documented his journeys around Europe on Instagram. He wore designer clothes and a heavy silver ring in the shape of a grimacing skull.

Click here for the full article.