Thursday, October 6, 2011

Questioning spillover violence along the U.S.-Mexico border

An editorial in the New York Times slams Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry’s dire warnings about spillover violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Texas Governor Perry is a long-time advocate for tougher measures to secure the border, and in the lead-up to Republican primaries has argued that the region is “not safe,” and called President Obama an “abject liar” for suggesting otherwise. 

As the NYT editorial, penned by Judge Veronica Escobar, argues, Perry is not the only one guilty of playing on U.S. fears about Mexican violence to win political capital. An example of this was offered last weekend, when Perry expressed support for the idea of sending U.S. troops into Mexico, a suggestion that was roundly condemned by most onlookers, not least the Mexican government. Joining the chorus was Perry’s biggest rival for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, who criticized the idea of deploying troops, offering instead the suggestion "Let's build a fence first."

As Escobar puts it:
Many Republican politicians — and not a few Democrats, too — use the bogeyman of border violence to justify exorbitant security measures, like the ever-lengthening border fence that costs $2.8 million per mile (for a total of $6.5 billion, including maintenance, over the 20-year lifetime of the fence).
Escobar argues that, rather than higher fences staffed by more guards, border cities like El Paso need smarter investment from the government, for instance, by training and appointing more customs agents to clear the backlog of cars trying to cross the frontier each day. For the judge, “a focus on a quasi-military approach ignores the need for real solutions to our economic and social challenges.”

While Mexico’s raging drug conflict does constitute a serious security concern for the U.S. government, there is evidence that counts against the idea of a “spill-over” of violence into the neighboring country. Violence actually fell in many border cities between 2008 and 2009, a time when Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s assault on the cartels had entered into full swing. In El Paso, just across the border from Mexico’s most dangerous city, Juarez, the number of murders fell from 17 in 2008 to 12 in 2009, and down to five in 2010. Juarez, in contrast, saw more than 3,000 murders last year.

Meanwhile, as a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, arrests on the border have declined to their lowest level in 40 years. This is due in part to increased security on the border, with more patrol agents, but the WSJ places more emphasis on the role of the declining U.S. economy, which is attracting fewer job-seeking migrants.


News Briefs



  • Honduran President Porfirio Lobo had his first meeting with the U.S.’s Barack Obama, held at the White House on Wednesday. Obama praised Lobo as having helped to restore democracy in the wake of the 2009 coup. Both men emphasized the issues of organized crime and drug trafficking, as well as human rights, which the Honduran leader admitted was an area “we need to work on.” Some 16 journalists have been murdered in Honduras since the coup, according to the country’s National Commission for Human Rights, many linked to opposition groups, but the authorities have failed to resolve the vast majority of the killings, and blamed them on personal vendettas and common crime. To mark the visit, the WSJ published an opinion piece under Lobo’s name, which welcomed the end of the country’s “international isolation” and noted that the drug trade has contributed to the country having the highest murder rate in the region.
  • The approval rating of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez climbed to 58.9 percent in September, according to the latest poll by Datanalsis, representing a 10 percent rise from the last poll, in July. However, six out of 10 Venezuelans do not want him to be re-elected for another term, according to the pollster. This suggests that Chavez’s popularity has been boosted rather than harmed by the news of his ill health, despite or perhaps because of reports in foreign newspapers such as Miami-based El Nuevo Herald which have for months been saying the president is at death’s door. Luis Vicente Leon, head of the polling firm, which is linked to opposition groups, said that the administration had handled the president’s cancer well, and that it had become an asset rather than a negative for his image. The site of Chavez playing ball to prove his vitality, and surrounded by supporters who have shaved their heads in solidarity with his hair loss from chemotherapy, could well have aroused an outpouring of affection for the president, who has been in power for 12 years.
  • An opinion piece in the LA Times calls for the U.S. to return documents seized during its 1989 invasion of Panama, in light of the likely return of former leader General Manuel Noriega. The ex-dictator is set to be extradited from France to serve a prison sentence in his home country, and the editorial argues that the files will be needed by lawyers in the upcoming legal proceedings, as well as by researchers and historians. According to the article, the U.S. Army is still in possession of the many boxes of documents.
  • BBC Mundo highlights the trend of Central American countries spending more on their militaries, driven by increasing violence brought by drug trafficking organizations that the region to transport their product from South America up to the U.S. and Mexico. This marks a departure for the region, where the end of the Cold War and the resolution of various civil conflicts led to a general demilitarization, saying analyst Adam Isacson.
  • In contrast, Plaza Publica points out that more people die each day in Guatemala from hunger than from violence. The newspaper criticizes presidential hopefuls Otto Perez and Manuel Baldizon for proposing ever-tougher measures on crime while ignoring food security. Eighteen children die of malnutrition each day, while between 15 and 17 lose their lives to the wave of violent crime hitting the country, says the report. Luis Enrique Monterroso from the government’s human rights body told Plaza Publica that the country’s elites do not see hunger as a threat to their interests, due to the lack of a social contract between these elites and those who are starving; predominantly rural, indigenous people.
  • Mexican security forces captured Noel Salgueiro Nevarez, alias “El Flaco” (the skinny one), who is thought to lead a group which works for the powerful Sinaloa Cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. He was reportedly captured, with no exchange of fire, in Sinaloa state. Salgueiro’s alleged group, the Gente Nueva, work as an armed wing of the Sinaloa, and are behind much of the violence in the contested border city of Juarez. More recently, their name was signed on a note left with the 35 dead bodies dumped on a Veracruz street, which threatened to clean the Zetas drug gang out of that southern state.
  • Meanwhile disturbances continued in the Mexican resort city of Acapulco, as some 5,000 teachers marched to demand that the government protect them from exortion by criminal gangs. Some schools reopened Monday, following weeks of strikes by the teachers over the issue of security.
  • Haiti’s Senate has approved Garry Conille, a former aide to ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton, as the new prime minister. The appointment follows a damaging five-month delay following the election of President Michel Martelly, with two previous nominations to the post struck down by Congress, and the absence of a full government blocking reconstruction efforts from moving forward. TheMiami Herald profiles Conille, a development expert with the UN, noting that some are suspicious of his international pedigree, seeing him as a man who may serve the interests of the international community rather than those of Haiti.
  • Chile’s student protesters broke off talks with the government, with leader Camila Vallejo declaring that the authorities did not want to guarantee free education for all. President Sebastian Piñera has argued that fully state-funded universities would mean that the poor were paying for the education of the rich.
  • Following in the footsteps of politicians such as George W. Bush, who was threatened with legal action for using Tom Petty’s “I Won't Back Down” in his 2000 presidential campaign, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been asked by Sony Music to stop playing his version of Ben E. King’s hit “Stand by Me” at campaign rallies, according to the Associated Press. In the lead-up to the November 6 elections, Ortega’s campaign has been using a song titled “Nicaragua will Triumph,” set to the tune of “Stand by Me,” with a video including archive footage from the 1979 Sandinista revolution.