Oaxaca, Mexico:
An Expatriate Life

Writing by Stan Gotlieb
Photos by Diana Ricci


From: Weekly News Update [wnu@igc.org]
Sent: Saturday, February 04, 2006 11:46 PM
To: Recipient list suppressed
Subject: Blindman's Buff #106, 2/4/06

John Ross's BLINDMAN'S BUFF incorporates and expands on his weekly report from Mexico, MEXICO BARBARO, focusing in on global hotspots from Bolivia to Baghdad. Copyright 2006 by John Ross.
Please do not reproduce before end of period in head.

US Draws First Blood in Border War 2006; 11 Million Undocumented Workers Declared Felons; Israeli Hand Seen in Border Wall

Period: Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2006, #106
MEXICO CITY (Jan. 24)--The United States drew first blood in the
2006 border war with Mexico when 18-year-old Guillermo Martinez was gunned down by a Border Patrol ("Migra") officer on the Tijuana line Dec. 30. Headed for Fresno California to pack fruit, Guillermo and his brother Augustin were trapped between the double fences up at the rugged Zapata canyon in that city's Colonia Libertad. According to eyewitnesses, Guillermo was shot once in the back with an expanding hollow-point "dumdum" bullet fired by agent Faustino Campos as the two brothers ran towards Mexico.
Augustin was able to pull his grievously wounded brother through the rusting border wall and get him to the Red Cross hospital, where he died on New Year's Eve. Guillermo Martinez was the sixth victim of Border Patrol (now part of Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection, or CBP,
bureau) violence in the past 15 months. In one incident, the Migra reportedly forced a family of three back into the Rio Bravo in Eagle Pass, Texas, where they drowned in the swift current. A seventh victim, Ismael Mendez, 23, was shot and killed by Texas Highway Patrol officers during a high-speed chase on the border in Roma, Texas, Jan. 17. More than 2,000 Mexicans and Central Americans have died trying to cross the border into the US during the administrations of George W. Bush.
According to San Diego sector Border Patrol spokesperson Todd Fraser, the Martinez brothers were taunting and throwing stones at a Migra patrol stationed near the Canon Zapata. Fraser cited a total of 218 stone-throwing incidents in the sector in fiscal 2005, almost double that of 2004, but when asked for the number of undocumented workers who died from Border Patrol violence during that same time frame, the spokesperson could produce no numbers.
"So far as I know, Israel is the only nation where throwing stones is a capital crime," remarked Tijuana congressional representative Jaime Martinez Veloz.
Later, yet another Border Patrol spokesperson, Raul Martinez, would claim that Guillermo was a guia who guided indocumentados across the line for the people-smuggling gangs and that he had been detained by the Migra on 11 separate occasions.
Although his family denied the allegation (none of the detentions was for trafficking), it should be noted that up until now, guiding undocumented workers across the border has not been punishable by death under US law.
Touring the San Diego sector Jan. 5, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff refused to discuss the incident, which has triggered anti-US rage all over Mexico, instead issuing "zero tolerance" guidelines in situations where an agent feels threatened--"zero tolerance" is tantamount to shoot-to-kill orders in the tense ambiance on the border these days.
Since its creation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, Homeland Security has managed to turn the US-Mexican border into a war zone where every undocumented worker is adjudged a potential terrorist. The latest War-on-Terror wrinkle: the use of drones, unpersoned aircraft, to track and dissuade would-be border jumpers. The US uses Predator drones in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israeli Defense Force deploys the technology to carry out "selective assassinations" of Palestinian militants.
The Martinez killing was an inauspicious kick-off to Border War 2006 and the first death of a migrant worker since a draconian immigration "reform" bill (HR 4437) passed the US House of Representatives by a wide margin in December--all sides of the aisle concur that the bill is the most drastic immigration reform initiative since the immigrant exclusion acts of the 19th century.
The measure, guided through the House by a triumvirate of nativist Republicans--Tom Tancredo (Colorado), Duncan Hunter (San Diego), and the senior House member from Wisconsin, James Sensenbrenner--makes it a felony crime to be within the borders of the United States of North America without US government- approved documentation, a condition that affects an estimated 11 million current US residents. In addition, HR 4437 deputizes local, state and federal law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws and detain all undocumented workers pending imprisonment and/or deportation.
Other provisions of HR 4437 expand the definition of people smuggling to include multi-year sentences for any individual or group convicted of so much as offering a glass of water to an undocumented immigrant. Shanti Sells and Daniel Strauss, members of a church-sponsored border rescue team, are currently on trial in Arizona for violating state laws after they were intercepted by the Migra while driving three dangerously dehydrated indocumentados to a Tucson hospital. The two face up to 15 years in prison.
But the key feature of HR 4437 is the construction of 700 miles of border wall (the border runs 1,964 miles from east to
west) with the intent of discouraging a yearly average of 400,000 Mexicans and Central Americans from advancing into the US.
Stripped from the measure at the last minute was a proposal to eliminate immigrant birthright for the children of undocumented parents born in the US. Tancredo, the provision's sponsor, has vowed to attach the anti-birthright rider to every bill that comes to the House floor until it passes. In the past, the Colorado nativist has sought the deportation of an undocumented university scholarship candidate and tried to cut off funds for public libraries that have Spanish-language reading rooms because undocumented immigrants could be using them.
HR 4437 also raises the number of Border Patrol agents from 12,500 to 15,000 and obligates all government contractors to manufacture BP uniforms in the US. Since 2003, the Justice Department has contracted VF Solutions of Nashville, Tennessee, to supply both the Border Patrol and the Customs Service with uniforms. As is standard in the industry, VF Solutions (Vanity Fair, Wrangler brands) went bottom line and subcontracted assembly of the uniforms to a Chihuahua maquiladora. How many US Border Patrol uniforms were sold out the back door to narcos and terrorists has not been determined.
When, in late November, President George Bush toured the border to talk tough about "keeping child molesters and terrorists out of America" (sic), he was much photographed in a green Migra windbreaker with a "Made-in Mexico" tag on the label.
The security gaffe has proven an embarrassing one for Homeland Security's Chertoff and provoked complaints from his agents. "It's shocking enough that I'm guarding the United States border in a uniform that was made in Mexico, but the darn thing doesn't even fit right," J.T. Bonner, a 37-year veteran of the Migra and president of the National Association of Border Patrolmen, told the French news agency AFP.
But, of course, the Wall is the real star of the 4437 show.
Although the border wall is often compared here to the Berlin Wall, the allusion is "personally offensive" to US ambassador and Bush crony Tony Garza. "The Berlin Wall was constructed by an authoritarian regime to confine its people. The United States has a democratically elected government. The proposed border wall will keep our citizens safe. We have a right to protect our borders," Garza wrote in a diplomatic protest to Mexican foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez.
Perhaps a better comparison is between the border wall and the nearly 700-kilometer, 20-foot-high Separation Wall that Israel has been building along the West Bank to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel--the "apartheid" wall, as it is called on its other side, has absorbed 12% of Palestinian land and prevents farmers from tilling their fields.
Given the close ties between the US and Israel, "it wouldn't surprise me if Israeli engineers built the wall" along the Mexican border, Martinez Veloz predicts. Costs of the new border wall run as high as $3 billion, but even that astronomical estimate may be conservative. Fifteen years ago when a pilot- project 14 miles of wall--really Desert Storm helicopter landing pads soldered together and stood upright--was built in the San Diego sector, the New York Times investigated costs for a wall that would run the almost 2,000-mile length of the border.
Reporter Sam Howe Vercovac came up with two different sets of
specs: $851 million for a standard 10-foot prison chain link fence topped by razor wire--for another $362 million, the fence could be electrified. A more upscale 12-foot tall, two-foot-thick concrete wall painted on both sides would run a modest $2 billion--although a half billion could be sliced off the cost if the wall was only painted on one side. Much more could be saved, the reporter did not fail to point out, if undocumented workers were hired to build it.
The Senate is expected to take up HR 4437 in the first months of 2006, and the popular wisdom is that the more egregious features of 4437 will be toned down by the sober solons of the upper house. Nonetheless, Bush himself favors construction of the border wall, which, emulating his almost-brain-dead partner in crime, Ariel Sharon, the president euphemistically terms a mere "fence."
The Senate will most probably keep the tough provisions of HR 4437 intact and attach a guest worker provision to temper the impact on Mexico. "Let them work here temporarily at jobs Americans don't want and then go home to their country," the president told a Louisville, Kentucky, town meeting in January in lobbying for a six-year program that would bar the workers from obtaining legal status in the US. A proposal by Democrat lawmakers that would grant "earned citizenship" is also in the hopper, and both initiatives are backed by the hotel, restaurant, and meat packing industries which cannot survive without cheap Mexican labor.
But given the anti-immigration malaise that plagues Washington, a guest worker program is unlikely, particularly in a congressional election year. An alarmed US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donahue told reporters in Washington that a cut- off of undocumented workers would sink the economy. "I don't know what they're smoking over there [in the House]," Donahue laughed, "but it smells suspicious."
Last year, a record 454 Mexicans and Central Americans died trying to cross the border to take a job no North American will work. Given increased resistance by undocumented workers to hard new legislation and a trigger-happy Migra that acts with impunity, the number of victims of the 2006 border war could come close to the 700 Americans who each year lose their lives in Iraq.

[John Ross is prowling North America for the next month. These dispatches will be issued at 10-day intervals until he returns to Mexico City. Ross's Making Another World Possible--Zapatista Chronicles 2000-2006 will be published by Nationbooks this autumn.] =======================================================================
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