krys méndez ramírez

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

a nyc series of moments

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, History on September 11, 2015 at 6:31 PM
(Left to right) Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens from the Pulaski Bridge. c. 2007

(Left to right) A sliver of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens from the Pulaski Bridge. c. 2007

Here’s a story few people know about me: My origin story lies in the Twin Towers.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t be here sharing this were it not for those drab, staples-like towers that rose into the sky like drab metallic beams.

For about a quarter century, during the span of the Towers’ very existence, my father drudged through the evening shift as a maintenance worker. His job was something of a rarity in contemporary times: a unionized job with benefits. During those years, he swept, mopped, organized and took out the thrash for America’s top financial elite.

But my New York roots really begin in the island of Borinquen (Puerto Rico). It was in his early teens, in those burning years of the late ’60s, that he joined the declining end of a massive wave of Boricua migrants that re-settled into, and helped shape, the many neighborhoods that make up Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.

Since history has a way of being forgotten or deliberately suppressed, and individual stories decoupled from the social contexts from which they emerge in our neoliberal age, I feel it necessary to underscore a particular history, which I argue has everything to do with what the World Trade Center was, how it functioned and why.


 

Viejo San Juan narrow cobblestone street

Viejo San Juan. Dec 2011.

Per many historians, critics, and activist scholars, the Puerto Rican diaspora to Gotham was far from incidental.

Pushed, in great part, by the economic failures of the Operation Bootstrap—a mid-century program that failed to produce the sought after industrialization-cum-prosperity in the island nation—as well as a much longer legacy of exploitative, colonial American policies tracing as far back as the island’s takeover in 1898*, the “invisible hand” that thrust many island Black and Brown folks into New York was far from an abstract market mechanism.

It had everything to do with post-war American global dominance and a prevailing Keynesian economy where suburbanization, white flight and systems of mass production fueled demands for cheap, disposable labor. Black and Brown poverty was the hidden, ignored underside to the glossy triumphalism of cultural modernism and industrial production.

By becoming the first substantial population of Latinxs to permanently reside in New York City, puertorriqueñxs ultimately built the foundations of Latinx urban life not only in the ‘Empire State, but across the country for generations to come.


Morazán Boulevard in San Pedro Sula. July 2014.

Morazán Boulevard in San Pedro Sula. July 2014.

Fast-forward to the (in)famous 1980s, when my genes were still split between a sperm and an egg. I can only speak of this decade as a distant historian (too bad, since I feel like I missed out), but when it comes to making sense of the political economic life of the United States in broad strokes, it can more or less be summarized as:

Reagan and Thatcher ruling the world. Perestroika, glasnost, and the final decade of the Cold War. The neoliberal turn. The AIDS crisis. The crack cocaine crisis. The war on drugs. The beginnings of mass incarceration. The beginnings of neoliberal gentrification. The beginnings of ‘colorblind’ liberal multiculturalism and the ‘new’ white supremacy. Rampant poverty and stunning inequality. Privatization, union busting and across-the-board cuts on state social spending. The demonization of “welfare moms,” urban “thugs,” “hood rats” and “bums.” Flashy Porsches and BMW’s for Wall Street and real estate gremlins, graffiti and scratchitti for everyone else.

And then, of course, the Central American crisis.

As various political economists, historians, and geographers have commented, the 1980’s were a time of financial experimentation and speculation. When our infamous Wall Street gremlins couldn’t figure out where to invest—now that Americans were faced with a crisis of overproduction that was viscerally felt in the decade prior—their decision to invest in foreign countries led to massive, cross-border state destabilizations.

When the civil wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador broke out, there was a common theme: the extreme inequalities engineered by years of local coffee oligarchies and foreign imperialist exploitation were countered with revolutionary resistance , however flawed. In that volatile chess game that was the Cold War, Central Americans were just pawns with a refutable humanity.

My mother was just one person in that mass exodus from this other part of the Caribbean Basin at the time. Unlike much of the approximately 62% of Central Americans suffering from ‘extreme’ poverty in the mid-1980s, she had sufficient resources to flee her native San Pedro Sula, the industrial capital of Honduras, the quintessential “banana republic.”

She left not because she was fleeing U.S.-trained paramilitary and counterinsurgency troops, or Maoist-Leninist guerrilla fighters, as many did in those years.

She left for the same reason migration perseveres as a forefront issue today, deeply enveloped within the discourses of the homeland defense: economic security.

She left because the economic situation in San Pedro Sula was simply impossible.

She explained it very succinctly to me recently: her job as a secretary gave her 400 lempiras a month in 1981—something tantamount to $20 in today’s exchange rates—and it was simply not enough to support herself, much less her aging parents.

Young, able-bodied, adventurous, with money saved up and a loose connection to a cousin in Brooklyn, why wouldn’t she go?


There is a picture of my Honduran abuelita sitting by this "Sphere," when it was still between the Twin Towers

There is a picture of my Honduran abuelita sitting by this “Sphere,” when it was still between the Twin Towers

Moving to New York, like for most immigrants who come here, was a pivotal life decision. She lived alone in New York City at a time it was undergoing what historian Kim Moody has called a regime change, a financial “coup” that emerged in the aftermath of the city’s near-bankruptcy the decade prior.

As Moody explains it, it was a city on the road to achieving its self-proclaimed status as the “real estate capital of the world.” And yet, like most of the over 8 million people who live in the city today, she wouldn’t have time to take note of that.

Wracked by loneliness and self-doubt, my mother wondered if moving to a city where she didn’t know the language was worth it. The calls to her mother required a good deal of psychic preparation, but disguising her New York discomfort was made easier by the money she could confidently send back home.

But between the late work shifts, the long commutes, she would sometimes look up. There were no stars. Skyscrapers were coming up everywhere. People would not stop hitting the streets, although at night they darted like shadows.

It’s a city whose transformations can be multiplicative, but it’s a city nonetheless. Cities are not built overnight, and pre-9/11, rarely changed from one day to the next. Like another, it continues to transform itself in an image cast by the movement and accumulation of capital—people, money, equipment, ideas, resources—and, as such, the changes can be slow and painful.

In 1983, however, it was clear that the city survived its financial doomsday. Some were even suggesting that it was thriving. And the Twin Towers still rose resplendent in the New York skyline, as if to obnoxiously proclaim the glowing triumph of a particular type of world trade. Still in Brooklyn, my father was one of the lucky ones spared from the economic calamities that struck many of his high school friends and family back home.

At this point, he had been working at World Trace Center 2 for almost ten years, which is where my mother found him. She had just finished an errand that took her downtown, and as she rushed home, somewhat lost and befuddled in that pedestrian traffic, she realized she didn’t have her watch. She asked the first staff person she found who looked like a Spanish speaker.


And that was that. I’m not much for personalized sentimentalism, so I’ll just say this: it was just another New York City moment. A cosmic convergence of sorts. Maybe.

Coming back to New York this week after a year-long hiatus, it was strangely like old times: my family and me hanging out by the World Trade Center, complaining about the tourists.

Then things started hitting me in the head like meteor shows, or what could have just been falling New York debris, I’m not sure: I am ontologically bound to this city because I could not have been any other way.

It also helps me understand why I am so driven to borders, the borderlands: I live, breathe, thrive at the crossroads. I am not whole when I am segmented into pieces that are then marketed and sold like tchatchkes on Union Square.

20170101_095632

Krys in Cabo Rojo, serenely smiling at a precipice at the southwest corner of Borinquén. Jan 2017.

I was incredibly exhausted from my long flight from the West Coast, but it kind of hit there as I tried to process the changes: it’s ground zero, stupid.

It’s where space-time contorts in ways my puny human brain will never understand, largely because it’s like approaching the event horizon of a vortex where multiple dimensions, histories and geographies converge…A surreal Dalí-esque world where clocks and maps collide and collapse into and around each other, fusing and melting under the star-lit Mayan sky.

An assemblage of different parts of my personal narrative, twisted and turned into a kaledeiscopic tapestry: Moca. The ’80s. Brooklyn. The ’90s. San Pedro. The “aughts.” San Diego. The present.

And then, of course, the future.

 

Originally posted Sep 11 2015. Edited May 5 2018.

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Wars on All Fronts: Why Solidarity Among People of Color Matters

In Decolonization, History, The Revolution on August 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM
Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

I was in San Pedro Sula when the first bombs from the latest Israeli offensive were dropped onto Gaza. I was already in bed, but my decision to jump into the Facehole kept me thinking.

It was my last night in the city that gave birth to my mother, and where a good deal of our family still lives. And having had the opportunity to experience—if only tangentially and precariously—life in what bourgie whites have dubbed “the most violent city in the world,” I tried to relate what I saw and heard to the news accounts coming out of my MacBook. Before I even had time to process my thoughts on this emotion-ridden trip, I saw (in one of those brief moments of Internet access) a post on my Facebook News Feed from the Electronic Intifada: an unmistakable cloud of dust over buildings in Gaza City. It was, supposedly, the culmination of a series of events that could be traced back to Nakba Day, when two Palestinian youths were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. It was a culmination of events that brought on a full-scale bombing by one of the world’s most well-equipped military regimes in the world. (As of 2009, Israel’s military was only second to the United States in terms of per capita spending)

It was already almost midnight as I read about it on my smartphone. Gang-based terrorism keeps most of the San Pedro Sula indoors by nightfall, so it was, for a New Yorker like myself, more solemnly dark and quiet than I was used to. I had spent a good part of the past week reflecting on something that has been making headlines for months, but now it felt all-too-real in its complexity: What were the factors that would propel people to flee a narco-run Honduras, risking their lives to avoid a destiny of insecurity, if not death? What was driving this renewed genocidal impulse against Palestinians? And in this latest show of force on a marginalized, Black community in a St. Louis suburb, I’ve been made to wonder again, now from the luxury of my Brooklyn apartment: what does it mean to be an American citizen and a person of color in a time of ongoing wars?


Coming back from Honduras, I didn’t know what to make of the relative lack of non-Arab people of color at the Palestine solidarity marches. Where are the people who came out on May Day to protest the Deporter-in-Chief? Where are the people who made their beautiful voices heard on Union Square—and in the spontaneous follow-up march—the day after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted last summer? Likewise, are the Arab youth who made their way to the United Nations some weeks ago also seeing an image of their brethren in the Brown children being deported at the border, or the unarmed Black youth gratuitously shot multiple times by hyper-armed, racist police?

This brings me to the point of this exercise: Solidarity. Lately, the most inspiring, hope filled moments in this time of War—in Gaza, in urban America, in the borderlands—have been during the courageous displays of crucial love and support, even when these displays were no more than symbolic. It has been demonstrated in protest signs, joint letters (examples: here and here), and countless alliances; here, too, social media seems to have played a role in at least making them more visible (if not also helping facilitate the exchanges).

So having, like many of my friends, absorbed most of my news media through my Facebook and Twitter accounts, my online Walls have forced me to home in on the linkages between the issues that matter to me. While we’re often inured into parsing issues by region (e.g. the Middle East, urban America, the Southwest), exhibitions of solidarity also have the potential to break down the dictatorial walls of rigid disciplinarity and news-mandated regionalism, and help us see common ground and common goals. After all, as frustrating as it is for me to choose between a march for affordable housing in Manhattan, and a concurrent march for Palestine in Brooklyn, or between a bus trip to Ferguson and a bus trip to Nogales, having to ghettoize the world’s problems the way we do our cities strikes me as counter-revolutionary. (This is not to argue in defense of large mobilizations versus smaller formations, but, rather, that when we make our way to our respective marches and rallies, we should have the plight of others in our heart as well)

Our data-drenched world also has the potential to facilitate a broader, more critical understanding of what has long been intuitively felt: the same multinational corporations, like Elbit Systems or Caterpillar, will be as involved in the destruction of communities at the US-Mexico border as they are in the construction of Israeli settlements and separation barriers that torment Palestinians in the West Bank. The back-and-forth exchange in surveillance and “defense” technologies, as well as policing tactics, between the states of Israel and the United States will end up producing analogous outcomes against Black and Brown people around the world. The flip side of this liberalized exchange, however, is the accessible, live action sharing of information between peoples struggling for liberation, as was seen in the Tweet suggestions between protestors in Palestine and Missouri, both of whom have faced the tear gas canisters manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc.

Shedding light on the crucial linkages between mass incarceration, militarized policing, immigration politics and the War on Terror is not merely an ideological exercise—it is a necessary part of the struggle for liberation. As the error-prone militant groups from the early ’70s themselves realized, tracing out the different ways in which oppressive neo-colonial logics and technologies work to ‘divide and conquer’ is part of the ongoing work against capitalist white supremacy. And so I put myself to work researching  three battleground areas: Gaza, criminalized/gentrified America, and the US-Mexico border.

And then the political economy crept back in again. I realized these issues, while rising in prominence in the last decade, had common roots in the 1980s—the same period most commonly attributed with the rise of global neoliberalism.

As made evident in David Harvey’s iconic A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the decade saw: the roll-back of the welfare state; the growth of austerity programs locally and abroad; the pummeling of poor (er, colonized and robbed) economies; the rise of civil wars in Central America and the concomitant migrant refugee crisis; the crack “epidemic” and the rise of the War on Drugs (and with it, the beginning of the rise of mass incarceration); and, lastly, the beginning of the first Intifada.

Recognizing the perverse capitalist incentives that enable for these common oppressions, and tracing the genealogies of colonial thought that make themselves manifest in the undying quest to destroy the livelihoods of people of color, one comes to see that solidarity is not only useful—it is essential. And resistance is not simply justified—if we are to survive, it is mandatory. That protestors in Ferguson and Gaza need even supply a rationale—that resistance under occupation is justified—already speaks to the heavy hand the State exerts in the colonized mind.

In speaking about solidarity with Palestine (or about child migrants or the gunning of black youth, for that matter), it’s not enough to talk about “humanitarian crises” and the condescending “poor people” of Gaza. This dispels actions abroad as something that is out there, when the reality is that they are just as much in here. If there is a message I would like to emphasize above all others, it is that this is not a “Middle Eastern conflict”—this is (for those of us in the United States, but also everywhere) just as much about us, and our complicity as purveyors of genocide, as it is about the people who are resisting.

And in directing this message particularly to the people of color of the United States (“people of color” being as problematic a phrase as any, but being useful in this context), the intent should be clear: a failure to show solidarity among ourselves is not merely a tactical error. It’ll be a perpetuation of the colonial divide and conquer strategy that killed off my ancestors in the Native American Holocaust. The tired ol’ adage of people not knowing their history will be ever more real in this context.

 

The Espionage Act and the War on Whistleblowers

In History, The Revolution on July 30, 2013 at 11:13 PM
if you see something_war crimes

The image of Bradley Manning has become iconified as a symbol against criminal government secrecy.

Although Bradley (aka Breanna) Manning was found ‘not guilty’ of the worst offense of “aiding the enemy,” the young private was nevertheless found guilty of 7 out of 8 espionage charges (not to mention a number of lesser charges, including theft and computer fraud). Given the public outcry, numerous articles, and various organizational press releases pertaining to the government’s harsh penalization of whistleblowing, I’ve been intrigued by what has thus far received little attention from the press: the very meaning of espionage.

Undeniably, the charges used against Manning this month, some three years after his initial arrest, have become more important to the Amerikan people in the aftermath of the NSA scandals. However, the history of the legislation under which he and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden have been charged has been poorly discussed. So has the fact that this law has been sparsely used since the end of the Vietnam War.  Sparsely used, that is, until President Obama.

Collateral Murder: This video of a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad against mostly unarmed civilians (published by Wikileaks in 2010) made Julian Assange’s news site famous while alerting millions around the world about the newest, video game-like predilections of war.

The “espionage” charges of which I allude to actually trace back to a piece of legislation passed nearly a century ago: the Espionage Act  of 1917 (currently under U.S.C. §794). Passed a few months after the united states’ entry into World War I, the Act builds upon the myths of the nation-state in penalizing anyone held to jeopardize “national defense.” It was based on an earlier Defense Secrets Act (1911), the British Official Secrets Act (1911, 1889),  and has its earliest roots in amerikkka’s Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). The Espionage Act also has, in its relatively short history, been utilized to persecute individuals who have strongly questioned or opposed military activities in a country that has perfected the art of “rationalized barbarism.” This, of course, included revolutionary socialists, communists, and anarchists, such as Eugene V. Debs (Socialist Party presidential candidate and co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World), Victor Berger, Emma Goldman, and Alexander Berkman–all of whom protested the country’s participation in the first World War.  And following a bombing attributed to anarchists (the Palmer Raids supported by J. Edgar Hoover), the Act and a now-repealed amendment, the Sedition Act of 1918, was used to deport several hundred foreign-born residents, including Goldman and Berkman. Espionage was also the charge used to justify capital punishment for the Rosenbergs.

Since the 1950s, however, the Espionage Act was rarely ever used by government prosecutors (and even more rarely used in a successful conviction). In a case that has since drawn many parallels to Manning and Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo were charged with espionage for leaking classified military information they first examined in 1969. The Pentagon Papers, published as a front page article in the New York Times in 1971, detailed the Department of Defense’s involvement in Indochina during the Vietnam War, including previously unreported Marine Corps attacks and bombings in Cambodia and Laos. Fortunately for them, the two men were freed after a judge declared a mistrial given court “irregularities.”

Yet since the release of the Pentagon Papers, and perhaps because of the end of the Cold War, high-profile cases utilizing the Espionage Act have been less publicized. And for reasons that are not all-too-clear, we’ve seen, since Obama’s ascendancy in 2009, nine cases of espionage –more than under Bush, and perhaps more than any other president. (Two news sites, Slate and The Week, report that the Obama Administration has charged more people under the Act than all other presidents combined. This may be referring to charges against whistleblowers specifically, but does not seem to be true in general). Among those charged with espionage under Obama:

  • Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive who leaked to a Baltimore newspaper against the government waste within the agency’s use of the Trailblazer program.
  • Shamai Leibowitz, a contracted translator for the FBI who released information about a potential Israeli attack against Iran to a blogger.
  • Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a nuclear proliferation specialist working as a contractor for the State Department, charged with leaking information about North Korea to Fox News.
  • Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with leaking information about Operation Merlin (an alleged, covert u.s. operation to provide Iran with a flawed design for building a nuclear  weapon) to a journalist.
  • John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst who was charged for disclosing classified information connecting waterboarding to other CIA officials, particularly in the infamous interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.
  • Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton contractor working for the NSA, was charged with espionage on June 14, 2013.

As can be noted in all of these cases–which also have little or nothing to do with an endangerment of Amerikans’ safety–the defendants were punished or harassed some time after leaking to a news agency. That is, not only have there been an unprecedented number of charges under the Espionage Act, but these charges were also distantly removed from what the legislation was originally intended to prosecute against: an infringement upon national security.

Of course, “national security” has been used to justify a panoply of governmental misdeeds, from border militarization to indiscriminate wiretapping. Should we be surprised that whistleblowing, surveillance, immigration, racial injustice, and “national security” were all significant news-making themes this summer? After all, the states of the world–amerikkka in particular–can only maintain their power through intricate, inter-meshed systems of governance that rely on information and knowledge production as much as (if not more than) military arsenal and weapons of mass destruction. And in trying to assess what is happening in our world, what source is more important for civilians than news media? After centuries of empire-building, the united states has acquired a considerable skill set in the art of manufacturing consent.

fahrenheit_451Although many parallels have been drawn with respect to Orwells’ 1984, there is another novel with dire, futuristic implications that is relevant here in the war against whistleblowers. In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian Fahrenheit 451, a fascist regime is able to maintain power by literally setting books–all books–on fire. It is a very simple, well-recognized fact: regimes of control depend most importantly on a regulation of knowledge. And in Bradbury’s grim future, civilians are coerced into obedience using various forms of shallow, technologically-based entertainment, created and deployed to sedate the masses away from critical reflection and engagement. This is not much different than what we see in contemporary amerikkka. Much ink–or, to use a more up-to-date example, ‘gigabyte storage’–has already been used in describing Amerikans’ lack of interest in world events or popular struggles. And there is indeed a correlation between this political apathy and comprehensive oppression through labor-based dehumanization and the ‘need’ to utilize mass technologies of distraction.

Whistleblowing is particularly dangerous in a heavily militarized, faux-republican state like the united states, where all sorts of war crimes need to occur without mass resistance. Whistleblowing is akin to giving books to the people of Bradbury’s world. It punctures the intricately fabricated world the elite have fabricated for the rest of us. And when the damage is beyond repair (as when Manning gave hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks, or Snowden to the Guardian), seek to distract, vilify, or make examples of.  Should we be surprised that the masterful, rhetorical regime that is the Obama administration has been able to conduct atrocities under the aegis of national security–with the masses being none the wiser? Should we be surprised that Manning and Snowden have been vilified, turned into the pariahs of news chicanery at the expense of the actual issue of state violence against civilians? And who ingenuously believes that these two whistleblowers were actually attempting to aid an “enemy” (unless, that is, we interpret the state as considering us, the people, its ‘enemy’)?

Much like with the anti-war activism during World War I, the government is implementing ‘espionage’ to punish anyone who poses a threat to the growing war machine. If history has anything to teach us, it’s that the war against a ‘foreign’ threat is actually a war against something much closer to us than we realize. It’s a war against truth.

Striking Back from Below and to the Left*: U.S. Spying Angers All of Latin America

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Latin@ Politics, The Revolution on July 24, 2013 at 8:30 AM
CIA interventions_latin america_since world war II

CIA and military interventions in Latin America since World War II. Countries highlighted in red were targeted by the u.s. military; explosion symbols indicate where u.s. bombings occurred; and black tics reference where the us government executed assassination plots. See additional graphics below.

 

*”Below and to the left” refers to a quote from Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. For more on its meaning, click here.

This past month we have seen a number of showdowns between the united states and Latin America with respect to the issue of the former’s covert global surveillance. Interestingly, while mainstream u.s. media outlets have focused largely on the messenger (Snowden) as opposed to the actual message, countries like Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia have demonstrated a merciless anger towards the united states, including harsh words relayed at a Mercosur summit over a week ago. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa not only rejected a u.s. offer for monetary aid,  but he made a counter-offer to pay for the country’s much-needed human rights training.

Although we have gotten snippets of a Big Data state developing in the u.s. before (and certainly, many justifiable suspicions given the legacy of the FBI’s COINTEL program and secretive CIA operations), the leaked documents reveal an unprecedented surveillance that crosses national borders and infringes on the sovereignty of other nations–most particularly those of our South and Central American neighbors. As Greenwald put it, whereas the privacy of amerikkkan communications has been severely impugned, the rights of non-u.s. citizens are simply completely ignored. And as many people have pointed out, we are eerily headed in the direction of a transcontinental super-state with jaw-dropping technologies of manipulation and surveillance a la  Orwell’s 1984.

With respect to Latin America, three nations (Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia) have essentially, if not officially, been blacklisted by the amerikkkan government for accepting asylum requests from Edward Snowden. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader to become president in Latin America, had good reason to be furious at the united states and western europe for their blatantly patronizing behavior. Venezuelans are still stoked about a possible u.s.-directed plot that led to Hugo Chavez’s strange death. And from what we know about the NSA’s surveillance of countries outside the u.s., everyone is more or less pissed, including  the citizens and leaders of Brazil [the original O Globo article co-written by Glenn Greenwald] and the European Union. They may be more pissed, in fact, than many of amerikkka’s own citizens. (A Pew Research Center poll from last month indicated that 58% of American respondents were against spying on ‘ordinary citizens’–a majority, but a rather small one.)

Unfortunately, Latin Americans are not new to amerikkkan interventions. Since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when the u.s. asserted a patronizing governorship over the Americas, all sorts of diplomacies and tactics have been used to develop an empire. CIA-directed coups toppled socialist and communist governments and fomented  mass violence and genocide in some states. (This obfuscation of history in amerikkka is intriguing, given how much u.s. imperialism and unilateral economic policies have essentially forced many Latin Americans to migrate north.)

Writing about the NSA scandal in Latin America, Benjami Dangl from Toward Freedom describes the extent of the aggressive spying:

“The [leaked NSA] articles pointed out that data collection bases were located in Bogota, Caracas, Mexico City and Panama City, with an additional station in Brasilia which was used to spy on foreign satellite communications. The NSA gathered military and security data in certain countries, and acquired information on the oil industry in Venezuela and energy sector in Mexico, both of which are largely under state control, beyond the reach of US corporations and investors.”

Given the complacency towards surveillance among Anglo- North Americans, the liberation of our diasporic peoples–angry still over the injustice of the Zimmerman acquittal–may just require the guidance of an indignant Latin America. As always, I’ll be looking South for revolutionary inspiration.

Galeano_quien es este asesino

Galeano, one of Latin America’s most preeminent historians and critic of U.S. imperialism, writes: “But who is this serial killer, who kills everything he touches? It occurs to me that we’ll need to put him in jail. But it turns out we can’t incarcerate him because he is a SYSTEM, a universal system of power that has turned the world into an asylum and slaughterhouse. We are governed by an invisible dictatorship.” [English translation my own]

U.S. Interventions in Latin America Since 1945

Reasons To Oppose the Latest Immigration Reform

In Class Politics, Geography/ Spatial Justice, History, Identity Politics, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics on July 7, 2013 at 8:40 PM

WHY BORDER (IN)SECURITY IS A THREAT TO ALL OF US

Border_Patrol

We can expect increased border militarization to result in more deaths, incidents of violence, racial profilings, and a “locking in” of the Surveillance State.

As with many people on the so-called Left in this country, I am against the further militarization of our borders and what would inevitably amount to more violence, death, and destruction in and around our southern borderlands. This criticism, however, has been mollified by arguments in favor of the bill, with many groups hesitating to reject it outright and choosing to simply acknowledge that there are both good and bad provisions.

In a nutshell, I want to argue that such a concession is unacceptable: the bill is egregiously flawed in all respects, including, but not limited to, its failure to go far enough in its “good” provisions, its jeopardization of the security and lives of current and future immigrants, and its hazardous implications in locking in the surveillance state. Indeed, whether or not you are undocumented, an immigrant, a person of color, or simply a resident in fortress America, this bill—if ever enacted—has dangerous implications for all of us.

The bill of which I speak, of course, is the one that was passed with bipartisan approval in the Senate last month—S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (what I’ll dub the ‘Border (in)Security Act” for short). We are told, most especially by the Democratic Party establishment, that the militarization provisions of the Corker-Hoeven amendments were necessary if we were to at all have amnesty in the foreseeable future. We are told, explicitly or implicitly (by such liberal organizations such as the National Council of La Raza or the National Immigrant Justice Center), that although increased border enforcement is a shame, the much-sought immigration reform makes it ultimately worthwhile. And, indeed, the liberal arguments in favor of adopting the bill (warts and all) are compelling:

  • it ensures that many people will no longer live underground, in terror, or under the most heinous exploitative conditions
  • it ensures that many children won’t be heart-wrenchingly ripped away from their parents
  • it promises much-needed relief to undocumented students who face harsh difficulties in applying to colleges and jobs
  • and, if issues regarding the federal deficit matter to you, then it might please you that the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the bill will actually reduce it by a sizeable $56 billion between 2014 and 2018 (and $197 billion between 2014 and 2023). (2)

I am deeply in favor of many of these things. In fact, people’s livelihoods depend on it. But if we are to work towards liberation, towards a world not wagered on the lives of future generations, we also need to think strategically, being mindful of longer-term consequences and global ramifications. For even if this bill doesn’t move forward (as many analysts doubt its approval in the House), what we have here is nonetheless a perfect example of how the sheer illusion of bipartisan consensus can insidiously manufacture consent in favor of state violence. It is not so much about this particular bill as it is about its implications for any future legislation, and the real consequences for the people of this country (u.s.), of Mexico, and throughout the globe.

Proposed immigration bill

A widely-circulated meme from Culturestrike & Presente.org.

What We Can Expect From S. 744 [the Border (in)Security Act]:

More Death and Physical Violence

–          We can count on more deaths. If there is any reason whatsoever to reject the concessionary attempts to further militarize the Mexico-u.s. border, it is this. If you are wondering what mechanisms will allow this, read on:

–          Walls force migrants to travel through difficult terrains. Every year hundreds, if not thousands, of people die in attempting to cross the border—often because checkpoints and doubly-fortified walls necessitate alternative routes through the desert, which many people traverse on foot. Others face dangers in being smuggled inside cramped trucks, vans, and shipping containers (7). The increased security measures will make it easier for coyotes, black market merchants, and unscrupulous employers to exploit the fears of the undocumented—often with physical or lethal repercussions.

–          More Border Patrol killings. The enforcement-first policies of recent years have already considerably increased the power of the Border Patrol, which has been documented to kill innocent people with little, if any, prosecution (19). Doubling the agency—especially under time constraints that will ensure hasty employment practices—could likely worsen the situation.

–          Barriers to life-saving services. Currently, draconian state laws and local policies create barriers to immigrants trying to access basic human services, such as health care. While some claim that more Border Patrol agents may help deal with any issues that may arise (such as instances of injury, abuse, or sexual/physical assault), there is little precedent to support this. Victims to crimes of human trafficking, domestic violence, bias crimes, and even physical abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents will likely be left in the lurch.

–          The federal government has a dismal human rights record. Amnesty International (7) recently chastised the united states for its poor track record of abiding by international human rights laws, including ensuring the safety of migrants and the right to due process. Given this fact—true under the current regulations—what would make us think that S. 744 will improve the situation for (im)migrants who do not qualify under the amnesty regulations?

Image

From the Alliance for Global Justice. Contrary to what amerikkans are often taught, violence at the man-made “border” is a recent, largely state-initiated, phenomenon.


The Pros Aren’t As Great As They Might Seem

–          The route to citizenship will take 13 years. The bill currently calls for the creation of a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) program, which is essentially a work authorization program that is not equivalent to a green card.  Under a best case scenario, undocumented immigrants will have to wait 10 years to become lawful permanent residents, and an additional 3 to apply for citizenship. (5, 14)

–          Documentation for 8 million, not 11. Rather than the much publicized 11 million, the bill is likely only to aid in the documentation of 8 – 8.5 million people. (20, 2)

–          There will be heavy prohibitive fees. In order to apply for RPI status, immigrants will have to pay $500 penalty fee, any unpaid taxes, and application fees. As such, the program will be inaccessible to the poorest undocumented immigrants.

–          “Little dreamers” will not benefit.  While the long-fought war for the DREAM Act will be passed with this legislation, it does not confer similar protections for younger siblings who do not turn 18 within 5 years of enactment.  Instead of the “fast track” to legal permanent residency given to DREAMers, they’ll be forced to take the longer route of waiting a minimum of 10 years.


Expansion of the Military-Security-Industrial Complex

–          The bill will double the number of Border Patrol agents in less than a decade.  It’s hard to imagine the enormity of such accelerated increase—from approximately 20,000 agents today to 40,000 within less than a decade (by 2021).  (4, 5, 9, 11).

–          Financially, this bill is extremely costly. The militarization aspects of the bill are expected to cost $30 billion—on top of the $18 billion annually already spent on border enforcement. This is more than any other federal law enforcement agency (4, 15).

–          Expect the worst and newest military technologies. This includes 24/7 surveillance systems, unattended ground sensors, infrared scopes, Predator drones and Blackhawk helicopters.

–          Requires that at least 90% of border crossers are apprehended in “high risk border sectors.” [Section 3(a)(3), p.9]

–          The DREAM Act provision encourages youth enlistment. Under Section 2103 (p.110), DREAMers will be able to apply for documentation status if they spend four or more years in the Armed Forces. Such an option perversely incentivizes involvement with the u.s. war machine while exploiting students unable to attend/afford college.


Racial Discrimination and the Persecution of Indigenous, Immigrant, and Latin@ Communities

–          There will be increased racial profiling. This one is a no-brainer: having more armed, federal military agents in the borderlands will exacerbate an already documented trend that terrorizes non-whites (7). One can expect more unjustified stops and detentions—not only of the undocumented, but of immigrants with federal status, Latin@s, Natives, and other communities of color.

–          Draconian state laws will prevent access to basic services. There’s every reason to believe that the terror and intimidation posed by S. 744 will force many undocumented immigrants further into the shadows—and thus, prevent them from accessing services that are sometimes completely legal (such as seeking health care or Food Stamps for U.S.-born citizen children). The potential law also legitimizes the growth of local military-police states borderlands that will heighten the structural and physical violence perpetrated against Latin@ and indigenous communities.

–          The English requirement is for mere documentation status, not citizenship. While the English requirement has been enforced in the citizenship exam, this could become the first time the English requirement is necessary for a federal legalization status that does not confer voting rights. Added by the Latin@ Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), this requirement is meant also enforces the sort of “assimilation” Rubio sees as necessary. In making no separate provision to include funding for adult education/ESOL courses, this requirement will negatively impact English language learners who are poor, ability-varied, and/or time constrained. (p.103, 1; 20)

–          S. 744 threatens indigenous sovereignty.  Amnesty International’s report, In Hostile Terrain (2012), devotes its third chapter to abuses against Native Americans. Although there are over 26 First Nations in the areas around the Mexico-u.s. border, the wall has already gravely threatened the rights and livelihood of inhabitants who have proper claim to the land. In addition to cutting through Native lands, many Native residents have been repeatedly accosted by Border Patrol agents while trying to access areas of their community. This is in direct violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1853), wherein the united states and Mexico both affirmed the rights of indigenous people.


Prison Expansions and the Criminalization of Immigrants

–          Amnesty excludes immigrants with convictions, including misdemeanors. Undocumented immigrants with prior felonies would be ineligible for RPI status, as are folks convicted of three or more misdemeanors, and those caught voting unlawfully.

–          Expect more detentions, prosecutions, and prisons. Under Operation Streamline, a program implemented in 2005 to boost federal prosecution of unauthorized migrants along the Texas-Mexico border, we have seen a record number of detentions and arrests. In fact, in 2011, unlawful entry and unlawful re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system—with a concomitant expenditure running in the billions of dollars.  We can only expect more such prosecutions and expenditures under this bill. According to its estimates, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the cost of this extra criminalization to be around $3.1 billion from 2012 to 2023. (2; 18)

–          Increased profits for the private prison industry.  Private prison companies like the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America have received extremely lucrative contracts from the federal government to house detained immigrants. In essence, record profits are being made on the backs of immigrants—and is likely one of the sources fueling the militarization debacle. (17, 18)


Expansion of the Surveillance State

–          The creation and expansion of a federal employment verification program. Whereas now the existing verification program, E-Verify, is online and optional for many businesses, the program that would replace it would be mandatory for all businesses over a few years (p. 424). The CBO predicts an implementation cost of $1.4 billion over five years. Unclear, however, is what information (such as fingerprints) will be collected by the federal government. (2)

–          More funding for non-stop surveillance technologies. The border will be flooded with 24/7 surveillance, and a biometric exit system will be put in place in the 10 busiest airports within two years of the bill’s enactment. (9)

–          Expect more surveillance justified under the aegis of “national security.” Immigration was officially made a national security under the Bush Administration, with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. Increased funding for border militarization could easily extend into resources being devoted to a heightened criminalization of people of color and immigrants. Similarly, increased surveillance funding and equipment could fortify the Surveillance State for everyone residing here.


Considerable Costs at the Expense of Social Welfare & the Environment

–          Underlines a tragedy of government priorities. All sorts of reasoning are given to justify the country’s considerable defense spending. As it stands, the united states spends the most of any country on its military, and is responsible for 42% of total global military expenditures. Additionally, 20% of the FY13 federal budget was on defense (second only to Social Security), and about half of “discretionary” funds were allocated to this sector. These very same funds—instead of being allocated for killing and harassing people—could be used to build up our underfunded educational system, create new public housing, or develop scientific research. In the end, the costs of immigration enforcement and border violence benefit no one but the super-rich. (21, 22, 23, 24)

–          Poses irreversible threats to endangered species and fragile ecosystems. The bill’s threat to the environment is one of the most glaring examples of how the consequences can become irreparable. The construction of the current wall, in conjunction with the vast deployment of military vehicles and equipment, has already occurred at a severe cost to wildlife and endangered species—and all in shameless violation of numerous environmental protection laws. The lack of federal oversight has already resulted in significant landscape changes, such as when DHS filled in Smuggler’s Gulch (south of San Diego) using earth captured through mountaintop removal. We can only assume that this same trend will multiply under the proposed changes. (4, 8)

As if all of these cold facts aren’t enough, there are also the implications that come with accepting a bill that solidifies the power of an imperial nation-state—all while failing to deal with the root causes of oppression.

Sources:
1)      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s744is/pdf/BILLS-113s744is.pdf
2)      http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/s744.pdf
3)      http://www.natlawreview.com/article/border-security-economic-opportunity-and-immigration-modernization-act-2013

4)      http://www.nomoredeaths.org/Updates-and-Announcements/no-more-deaths-calls-on-congress-to-start-over-on-immigration-solutions.html
5)   http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/06/senate_passes_border_militarization_amendment_with_bipartisan_support.html
6)      http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/6-23-13%20Immigration%20Release%20Final.pdf
7)      http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/usa-in-hostile-terrain-human-rights-violations-in-immigration-enforcement-in-the-us-southwest
8)      http://www.no-border-wall.com/environmental-impacts.php
9)      http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/2013/S_744_Summary.pdf
10)  http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/SouthwestBorderSecurityOperations.pdf
11)  http://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/2013/06/derechos-opposes-hoeven-corker-amendment-new-immigration-bill-is-a-step-backward-for-border-communities-and-many-immigrant-families/
12)  http://www.presente.org/press/releases/2013/6/27/moveon-credo-presenteorg-18-million-rising-stmt
13)  http://www.presente.org/press/releases/2013/6/24/largest-online-latino-advocacy-group-opposes-immig
14)  http://www.immigrantjustice.org/immigrationreform/s744analysis#.UdeOFPmsim4
15)  http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/20/democrats-let-gop-name-their-price-on-immigration/
16)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/us/politics/2-gop-senators-reach-deal-on-border-security-plan.html?hp&_r=1&
17)  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/27/private-prisons-immigration_n_1917636.html
18)      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-libal/immigration-reform-must-end_b_2537547.html
19)      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/us/shootings-by-agents-increase-border-tensions.html
20)      http://prospect.org/article/broken-english-requirements
21) http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/2012_topline_global_defense_spending/
22)    http://useconomy.about.com/od/usfederalbudget/p/military_budget.htm
23)    http://www.cfr.org/defense-budget/trends-us-military-spending/p28855
24)    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts/

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