Posts Tagged border
Apr 2nd 2009 | EL PASO
But still pretty safe—on the northern side
IS MEXICO’S drug war moving north? In Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, officials are alarmed by a spike in kidnappings for ransom and “other Latin American-style violence”. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, wants the federal government to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops and six helicopters in his state. A spokeswoman for the governor said that the request, which the administration is considering, is to prevent the situation worsening.
But many mayors along the border say that troops are not needed, at least not yet. They dismiss such talk as alarmist. “The sky is falling? Well, here comes more funding,” says Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass. He says that his town, on a rugged stretch of the Texas border, is fine. He crosses the border to Piedras Negras daily, even though his sister in Los Angeles called and warned him not to go to Mexico.
On March 30th the United States’ Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on border violence at the campus of the University of Texas in El Paso. Jaime Esparza, the El Paso district attorney, said that he had not seen an increase in violence and nor had his colleagues in other Texan border cities.
El Paso’s Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juárez, is a different matter. With 2,000 killings since January 2008 it has become notorious (though the violence has abated since Mexico’s government sent 8,000 troops last month). El Paso itself had only 19 murders during the same period. Local leaders point out that their city is one of the safest in the United States, with a far lower crime rate than Washington, DC, the nation’s capital.
Downtown Ciudad Juárez has a forlorn air. The red-light district, a few blocks from one of the international bridges, was knocked down a few years ago and the area has not been redeveloped. Along the main pedestrianised street many shops are shuttered, windows are broken and pavements are crumbling. Heavily armed troops are stationed throughout the town.
El Pasoans say they feel safe at home, but nowadays make fewer trips across the border. Trini Lopez, the mayor of the suburb of Socorro, says that people have disappeared from his town and later been found dead in Mexico. For the time being, he is advising people to stay safe by staying in Socorro.
By Ioan Grillo / Mexico City Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009
It was the last image the Mexican government wanted from one of its sunny seaside resorts. In the heart of Acapulco, soldiers fought a blazing battle against drug-cartel thugs who sprayed bullets from Kalashnikov rifles and hurled more than 50 grenades. After hours of the warlike scenario, 13 gunmen, two bystanders and two soldiers lay dead on the concrete. Worst of all, the shoot-out happened in the middle of a sweltering Saturday night less than 100 yards from Los Flamingos Hotel, which in its heyday saw Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller party until dawn.
Last weekend’s Acapulco firefight was the latest episode of close urban combat in Mexico as cartel militias fight one another and the government for the bounty of the drug trade. But its time and place could not have been more unfortunate. After tourism was shattered by the swine flu scare, Mexico just two weeks ago launched a campaign to try to lure holidaymakers back to its paradise beaches. Under the slogan “Vive México” (Long Live Mexico), the $90 million effort is using such stars as Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and soccer ace Rafael Márquez to show off the golden sands. But while Vive México has yet to have much international impact, the wild seaside shoot-out grabbed the attention of TV stations from Long Beach to London. (See pictures from Mexico’s drug war.)
Until early 2009, it was difficult to gauge exactly how many foreigners were scared away by the drug war and its piles of headless corpses. The global economic crisis may have done just as good a job of keeping potential visitors at home. In any case, while tourism was hit in the first months of 2009, it was not devastated; for example, the Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific coast reported hotel occupancy of 83% in February, compared with 90% in the same month of 2008.
But then came disease. While the drug war may have given a few people the jitters, the swine flu sent many more running for their lives. As news of Mexicans sputtering to death on hospital beds shot round the world, tourists fled resorts in packed planes while many more upcoming holidays were canceled. At the Riviera Nayarit, hotel occupancy in May plummeted to 33%, compared with 70% in the same month of 2008. In some other resorts, it was down to single figures. And most of the visitors who came were Mexicans, not foreigners. “It was like first getting a cough and then getting hit over the head with a shovel,” says Marc Murphy, director of the Riviera Nayarit tourism board. (See pictures of swine flu in Mexico.)
Like most tourism officials in Mexico, Murphy complains the media showed the country in an unfairly bad light. He is quick to point out there have been no documented cases of any holidaymakers being directly affected by the Mexican drug war. “Somewhere like Los Angeles has many more gang members and killings than the places the tourists visit here,” Murphy says. “But Mexico has got more negative coverage than most countries. There has also been some irresponsible and incompetent reporting.”
President Felipe Calderón is also critical of the media spotlight shining on Mexico. He was particularly incensed when Forbes magazine included Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzmán on its richest list — he was put at No. 701, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. “Magazines are not only attacking and lying about the situation in Mexico but are also praising criminals,” he said in March, following the Forbes choice. (TIME later went on to include Guzman in its TIME 100 list, noting that criminals are, unfortunately, influential in today’s world.) (See pictures of America’s gun culture.)
Calderón is particularly concerned about the nation’s image because of the bottom line. In 2008, foreign tourists spent $13.3 billion in Mexico, the third biggest source of foreign income after remittances and oil exports. This year all three of these moneymakers are being clobbered. While the price of petroleum nose-dived with the crisis, the recession north of the border pushed Mexican remittances down 18.6% in April compared with the same time last year. To add to these woes, Mexico’s manufacturing sector has been battered by a drop in spending in the U.S. In total, the Mexican government predicts the economy will shrink 5.5% this year. But some private analysts speculate the decline might be more than 8%, the worst dive since the Great Depression.
Calderón argues that the ability of Mexicans to deal with this challenge will be crucial to luring tourists back. Personally launching the Vive México campaign in his presidential palace, the President focused on selling Mexican character. “Let us tell the whole world that we are a strong nation with a unique unity and identity,” he said, “that no matter how hard or difficult the tests we have to face, particularly at the present time, Mexico is united and will overcome them.”
By David Von Drehle Thursday, Jun. 19, 2008
The smuggler was surprised to see us. It’s his business to monitor traffic along his stretch of the border, and he had just watched from his hiding place as a white-and-green patrol truck rolled slowly past on the U.S. side. The day shift was ending for “la migra,” the border patrol, so it was time for him to move.
He urged his clients–11 illegal aliens–to get over the fence quickly. Within minutes, all were safely across the border about five miles (8 km) west of Naco, Ariz.–roughly the same spot where Coronado and his conquistadores made the first recorded crossing in 1540. The smuggler was brushing their footprints from the border road when our four-wheel-drive rental appeared unexpectedly over the hill.
He did what smugglers always do when spotted: he bolted. In an instant he was safely back on the other side, leaving his customers to their fate. They followed him, bewildered, only gradually realizing that we were journalists, not federal agents. In this way, we had a chance to see how a group of ordinary Mexicans–one a grandmotherly woman, another a 10-year-old boy–cope with the U.S. government’s new $1 million-per-mile border-security fence.
First they tossed their day packs over the 12-ft. (3.7 m) barrier of steel mesh. They had chosen to cross at a spot where the fence made a small right-angle jog, because there was a supporting post extending about halfway up the angle. This gave them a foothold, and from there, the strongest members of the group boosted the others to the top. It was no easy transit. One young woman froze in fear, a leg on either side of the fence, her face a mask of panic as she looked at the long fall into one country or the other. Her companions quickly and efficiently coaxed her over. Then the little boy–who wore a knockoff New York Yankees cap–went over, dangling by his hands from the top and dropping bravely into waiting arms. The old woman glared at us as a companion pushed her back up the fence she had just come down. Within three or four minutes–minutes freighted with visions of broken bones and heart attacks–all of them were safely back in Mexico. They would surely try again once we were gone.
A Barrier in the Eye of the Beholder So the new border fence must be a failure, right? If a billion-dollar barrier can’t stop children and seniors in broad daylight, what’s the point?
That would be one way to tell this story–but the truth is more complicated. At the Berlin Wall, guards fired live ammunition, and still an estimated 5,000 people managed to cross. And why shouldn’t the fence be a complicated subject? Everything else about immigration and border security is complicated. The border has become the rice, or maybe the potatoes, of American politics; it goes with just about everything on the menu. It’s an economic issue: Are illegal immigrants taking jobs from American citizens and driving down wages? It’s a health-care issue: Do uninsured aliens in emergency rooms push up the cost of premiums for the insured? It’s an education issue: Are local school districts across the country overtaxed by the needs of immigrant children? It’s a crime issue: Are U.S. cities plagued by Central American gangs? And it’s a national-security issue: Could bomb-toting terrorists cross into the U.S. undetected?
Presidential candidates in both parties have learned this year to be wary of a subject that shows up in so many guises on so many different plates. What tastes like common sense to one voter–cracking down on illegal crossings–smacks of xenophobia to the next, and the same rumble of helicopters and border-patrol Jeeps in the Southwestern desert sounds to some people like America standing up for itself but to others like Emma Lazarus, poet of the Statue of Liberty, rolling over in her grave.
Passions don’t shake out neatly along party lines. Republican John McCain wove frantically through last winter’s debates trying to avoid the scarlet A-for-amnesty. His sin was promoting a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented workers. Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, tripped on a debate question about driver’s licenses for illegal aliens. Senator Barack Obama has stepped carefully with the issue, voting for the fence and for more agents on the border while saying that this covers “only one side of the equation.”
In this cloud of intangibles, the fence is something solid. After years of talking about it, Congress last year put $1.2 billion into the project, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promptly started hiring posthole diggers. DHS aims to complete more than 650 miles (roughly 1,000 km) of barrier by the end of the year, built in sections by National Guard units and private contractors. That represents only about one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border; on the other hand, the fence clearly delineates, for the first time, a frontier that was previously just a four-strand cattle fence at best.
New fence goes up every week in Arizona and California, mile after mile of posts and plates and screens and rails marching across sun-blasted deserts and up rugged, rock-strewn hillsides. No one seems able to keep track of it all. Even agents of the newly reorganized Customs and Border Protection (CBP) department find themselves coming upon sections they’ve never seen before. The work is less advanced in New Mexico and stalled in Texas, where fierce local opposition has delayed construction–a coalition of border-town mayors and chambers of commerce has sued DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, alleging he is trying to seize land at inadequate prices. But Texas already has more than 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 km) of well-marked border in the form of the Rio Grande.
The fence is not likely to win any architecture awards. It’s a hodgepodge of designs. The best–sections of tall, concrete-filled steel poles deeply rooted, closely spaced and solidly linked at the top–are bluntly functional. The worst–rusting, graffiti-covered, Vietnam-era surplus–are just skeevy walls of welded junk. Whether you think it’s a sad necessity or a crude brutality, the fence is not a sight that stirs pride. The operative question, however, is not What does it look like? but How does it work?