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.

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)

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

 

Refugees Coming To El Paso, More To Arizona…

June 7: Below are several more reports on the current numbers of Central American refugees entering the US. Though the AP story from last night (second in list below) says that people will continue to be sent to Arizona, ICE officials as well as some workers with the Catholic diocese refugee services and others in the religious communities serving immigrants in El Paso have said that buses and planes will begin bringing some of these people to El Paso starting today…

As for the reasons these folks are coming in such numbers, I believe that we cannot discount fact that people talk to each other along the route and these communications (true and otherwise) have some influence on the decisions people make. As far as the dangers they face traveling through Mexico, there is ample evidence that many migrants are killed or go missing along the way. There is no safe route (other than in a commercial flight which poor people cannot afford) across Mexico for these people, yet we know that in recent years more and more have attempted the journey despite the dangers.

There have been other large-scale movements of people from Central America into the US in past years…the kinds of movements that make it difficult or impossible for ICE to detain them all and so they will be released on condition that they report to immigration later.  Hurricane Mitch in 1998 for example caused large numbers of people to leave the region and many were given temporary protected status in the US:

http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=ee5a15c67fb5ca48d49d489f0b0d375c

People are now fleeing war-like conditions caused by criminal activities in the region and the government malfeasance. Poverty is at the root of why most people migrate and that is true in the current situation as well. molly

http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_25916964/el-paso-may-see-an-influx-undocumented-immigrants

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/us-agency-flying-migrant-families-arizona-24036894?singlePage=true

UPDATE (June 8): There is a lot of in-depth information in the report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops trip to Central America in Nov 2013. This report was cited in a previous posting. I note that it does have links to some statistics from US authorities on the numbers of unaccompanied children apprehended in previous years. It is available here:

http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/Mission-To-Central-America-FINAL-2.pdf

http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_25921825/planes-carrying-130-people-land-el-paso

UPDATE (June 8): Apparently, there are at least 270–not 130–immigrants who have been flown to El Paso from the Rio Grande Valley. The situation is changing rapidly and according to a media person who wrote to me personally, the CBP officials are not giving many statements to reporters, but there should be updates tomorrow.

The Annunciation House press conference on the local faith community response will be Monday at 1:30 pm at CASA VIDES, 325 Leon Street in El Paso. molly

3 Congressman Oppose Trans-Pacific Partnership

Op-Ed

Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The TPP would have a devastating effect on jobs and America’s middle class.

By George Miller, Rosa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter

April 21, 2014

Many supporters of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade agreement are arguing that its fate rests on President Obama’s bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan this week. If Japan and the United States can sort out market access issues for agriculture and automobiles, the wisdom goes, this huge deal — in effect, a North American Free Trade Agreement on steroids — can at last be concluded.

But this view obscures the many seemingly intractable problems TPP negotiators are grappling with. There are other unresolved issues — such as intellectual property concerns that could limit access to affordable medicines — that have deadlocked the 12-nation pact.

And for every issue that is being intensely discussed, there are others that are being swept under the rug. For instance, bipartisan majorities in Congress have demanded rules in TPP against currency cheating, but the Obama administration has refused to include them.

But foremost among all these issues is the devastating effect the agreement would have on jobs and the American middle class. Americans were promised 20 years ago that NAFTA would bring an unprecedented economic boom and 200,000 jobs in the first year. The three of us doubted those promises and voted against it. The data on NAFTA’s outcomes make clear that the concerns we and other critics had were warranted.

In 1993, before NAFTA, the U.S. had a $2.5-billion trade surplus with Mexico and a $29-billion deficit with Canada. By 2012, that had exploded into a combined NAFTA trade deficit of $181 billion. Since NAFTA, more than 845,000 U.S. workers in the manufacturing sector — and this is likely an undercount — have been certified under just one narrow program for trade adjustment assistance. They qualified because they lost their jobs due to increased imports from Canada and Mexico, or the relocation of factories to those nations.

Even worse, NAFTA has been used as a model for additional agreements, and its deeply flawed approach has resulted in the outsourcing of jobs, downward pressure on wages and a meteoric rise in income inequality.

For example, to sell the NAFTA-style U.S. agreement with South Korea passed in 2011, Obama said it would support “70,000 American jobs from increased goods exports alone.” In reality, U.S. monthly exports to South Korea fell 11% in the pact’s first two years, imports rose and the U.S. trade deficit exploded by 47%. This led to a net loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in this pact’s first two years.

Now we are hearing that the TPP, as we were promised with other pacts, will mean prosperity around the corner…

Click here to read the rest of the story.

494,000 Juarez residents live in poverty or extreme poverty

A study from the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) has found that Juarez now has nearly 500,000 residents living in poverty or extreme poverty.

The figures from the study show 432,000 poor and 62,000 extremely poor. This represents at least 37 percent of the population of the city who are unable to meet their basic needs. The poorest sector of the city is the southwest (el surponiente). These figures are based on the population of the city estimated at 1,335,000. Cesar Fuentes, the economist who conducted the study, said that since 2000, the levels of people living in poverty in the city have increased.
For a long time, Ciudad Juarez was not considered a zone of poverty due to the high levels of employment, even though most of the jobs in the city pay very low wages. The majority of the workers are in factory production lines and they earn only 700 to 800 pesos per week (between $57 and $66).

5 out of 10 minors in Mexico live in poverty…UNICEF

I was struck by this paragraph in the Foreign Affairs piece I posted by Shannon O’Niell:

“As a result, modern Mexico is a middle-class country. The World Bank estimates that some 95 percent of Mexico’s population is in the middle or the upper class. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also puts most of Mexico’s population on the upper rungs, estimating that 50 percent of Mexicans are middle class and another 35 percent are upper class. Even the most stringent measurement, comparing incomes alongside access to health care, education, social security, housing, and food, finds that just over 45 percent of Mexicans are considered poor — meaning that almost 55 percent are not.”

Many studies I have seen from Mexican agencies such as CONEVAL in recent years say that 50%+ of the Mexican people are “poor or very poor.” So how is it possible for 95 percent to be middle or upper class?? In any case a new study from the UNICEF says that 5 out of 10 children in Mexico live in poverty.

The figure of 90% in the middle class in Mexico is just preposterous. INEGI figures, corroborated by various secretariats put the number living in poverty at 54 million. The report mentioned here by the World Bank from Nov. of last year is very detailed but this news account highlights Mexico as being one of the countries of Latin America with the LEAST upward mobility since 2000. See the chart depicting movers and read the last paragraph. “Just two other countries — Guatemala and Nicaragua — had less economic mobility than Mexico.”

Also, the World Bank uses a figure of $10 US/day as its lower threshold for measuring membership in the middle class. This is about 130 Mex pesos/day. If you know anyone who works in the informal sector here, ask them how much they make on a good day, think about that figure and ask them if they consider themselves middle class.

Commentary on “How Mexico Got Back in the Game” T. Friedman

Yes, just what we have been waiting for! Economic Flat-Earth-Society guru Thomas Friedman says Mexico is ALL RIGHT! No mention of 125,000 murdered people and 27,000+ more missing in the past 6 years…  Why mention it when the outcome and outlooks (according to Friedman) are so rosy?  I would love to know what PR bill-of-goods Mr. Friedman is buying and who is selling it.  I hope there will be an investigative report soon on the Mexican government’s rebranding campaign and how it is being run.  I have no doubt that it is growing bigger and is getting more and more success every day as business reporters and columnists swallow the happy pills.  Thanks to Ed for sending this one…

Meanwhile, killings continue this weekend in Ciudad Juarez.  At least 2 more today since my early morning report…
WAIT WAIT THERE’S MORE!!! Tony Garza is a former US Ambassador to Mexico and now a big investor, profiting from free trade… Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But, to be fair, there is something wrong with all this economic jingoism completely ignoring the human toll of more than 100,000 murdered Mexicans in the past 6 years…  And the increasing rate of poverty in the country. What kind of economic success leaves more than 50% of the country in poverty or EXTREME poverty? molly

El Pasoans Take Risks to Keep International Bonds

An article found on the KFox14 website brings to light the necessity for El Pasoans to cross the Juarez border:

EL PASO, Texas — The U.S. Department of State is keeping Ciudad Juarez listed as a specific concern for those who need to cross the border, but many El Pasoans need to keep going.

They go for family and businesses, so they make adjustments and take their chances. For some, the price is high.

The familiar border aroma of onion, cilantro and jalapeno rise in Rosemary’s kitchen in El Paso – the same way they once did in her home in Juarez.

“I still imagine myself cooking, cleaning,” she said.

For 17 years, the El Paso-born American rose at 4 a.m. to make the trek back and forth across the international bridge, and she did it all for a man.

“It just gives me a great sadness because I sacrificed so many things. I sacrificed a lot of things being in Juarez,” Rosemary said. I sacrificed family; I sacrificed friends because I wanted to be with the man that I loved.”

Together, the couple built a house from one room and a thriving little enterprise.

“He built his business starting with nothing but a shovel and a little truck,” she said.

While Rosemary commuted to El Paso for her job, her husband worked seven days a week building their future.

Then, in 2009, cartel violence consumed the city.

“A lot of my husband’s friends who had the same types of businesses had all been killed already,” she said.

Rosemary’s extortion nightmare began and everything about the couple’s future was threatened.

“That put our life, his life, the life of our family in danger,” Rosemary said.

The couple starting handing over $200 a week from his business.

“I begged him and I pleaded with him to move here to El Paso and he refused. He said he was not going to give in to anybody and that he came to this life with nothing, and he was going to leave with nothing,” Rosemary said.

The nightmare went on for a year, and then, the extortionists wanted more.

“The day that he was shot, I was at my job here in El Paso and they told me that they had shot someone inside the business of my husband. It was all over the news,” she said.

In an instant, Rosemary’s husband’s life was over. Her life was over and she knew it. In a matter of hours, with the help of family in El Paso, Rosemary packed up everything she could and moved back home.

American business owners by the dozens would follow suit.

“It was us, it was our neighbors, our neighbor got shut down for a year, and then, our neighbor next to him – they assaulted him twice,” said Luis Gallegos, who owns a staffing company.

In 2009, an extortion threat arrived at the door step of Arias and Associates, Gallegos’ company.

“I got a call in the afternoon, we were right here and they called us that all our employees are locked in,” Gallegos said. “They wouldn’t let them out because the federal police had just gotten executed a just 10 feet from our door.”

Soon after, the Gallegos family would be trapped in a gun battle while stuck in Juarez traffic. Their teenage son witnessed a man shot to death by automatic gun fire.

“We were panicked,” Gallegos said. “We were shocked, but our employees were like, ‘Well, it happened to me when I worked over there at the liquor store.'”

But they were not so cavalier about cartel crime. Their thriving staffing business provided a workforce to some of the 150 “maquiladoras” (factories) in Juarez, and it immediately went into stealth mode.

“The business, everything, is all being handled over the phone,” said Hossana Gallegos, Luis’ wife and business partner.

Luis said that they would not conduct business at night and would avoid staying late in the afternoon.

“If we go, we don’t even call our employees,” Hossana Gallegos said. “We don’t tell them that we are going to be there.”

Hossana and Luis, who are Americans, operate their business in Juarez as though they are phantoms. They are doing as many Americans commuting to Juarez now must do. They drive modest cars and constantly change their routines.

Although security measures are not openly discussed, these business owners say it’s an adjustment being made by all, including maquiladoras.

“You see a lot of increase to the security,” Luis Gallegos said. “They’re shutting streets down. The access to the plants is more difficult.

The Mexican chamber of commerce reports more than 10,000 businesses have shut down since 2009.

It’s unclear how many of those businesses were American-owned, but Mexican business owners by the hundreds have sought refuge relocating to the U.S. side of the border. Most of them move their businesses revenue to the states.

They represent a growing social and professional network that meets at a restaurant on a regular basis.

Statistics from the state department show that there may be no going back to a prosperous pre-cartel Juarez anytime soon.

The state department warnings remain in place in Juarez calling it a specific concern.

The number of non-immigrant visas to the United States has increased steadily since 2009 and continues to rise. State department numbers show Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in Mexico.

Immigration and human rights attorneys representing those seeking asylum in the United States agree that safety remains a rapidly deteriorating concept in Mexico despite what its politicians push to the public.

Meanwhile, Americans trying to run their business with one foot in each country wistfully wish for days past before commuting got crazy.

“I would still commute every day, but it was not the same as before. I would always have to look behind my back. My husband would always be waiting for me as soon as I left for home and would lock the gates as soon as possible,” Rosemary said.

There seems to be no predictability factor as to whether Juarez can ever return to the days before blood began running in the streets.

“I was happy living in Juarez; I had everything I needed around me,” Rosemary said. “I had a Sams, Walmart, and all the stores.”

Those in El Paso creating a booming bi-national community on the border say they are adjusting.

“As soon as you crossed the border, you would see the soldier and then there was one after the other, patrols, the trucks,” Luis Gallegos said. “They would pull you over, and you don’t see that so much anymore. And oddly, you feel safer now.”

As far as the economic impact in El Paso is concerned, given the businesses and business people and families who have moved here from Juarez, every indicator from numbers gathered by the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation show that all the stability and growth of the city’s economy is coming from our military base, and not from beyond the border.