The US government’s response to the migrant crisis is yet another round of militarization. Mexico will “restrict movement on its southern border with Guatemala to help curb the spread of COVID-19,” according to Reuters in mid-March. According to the same post, the US administration of Joe Biden will be working out the specifics of a deal to loan coronavirus vaccines to Mexico at the same time.
According to White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the timing was the product of “many layers” of conversations between the US and Mexico, and had little to do with a “quid pro quo” to stop so-called “illegal immigration.”
However, there is no better time than a pandemic to step up the crackdown on poor migrants heading to the United States. I’ve been in Mexico since the beginning of the health crisis last year, and no attempt has been made to “restrict the movement” of incoming visitors and other high-value humans arriving by plane – many of whom are from coronavirus hotspots like the United States.
Whether it was a quid pro quo or not, Mexico’s southern border reinforcement did not seem to provide the gringos with enough protection from the migrant threat. The Associated Press reported on April 12 that March saw a “record number of unaccompanied children” attempting to enter the United States, as well as the highest number of Border Patrol “encounters” with migrants on the US-Mexico border since March 2001.
Psaki announced additional steps the US had pushed to “increase border security” in the area in a press conference the same day. Mexico will keep 10,000 troops on the border with Guatemala, while Guatemala has dispatched 1,500 police and military to its border with Honduras, which has dispatched 7,000 police and military to disperse a large contingent of migrants.
The use of military jargon is not by chance. After all, we’re talking about a war on refugees, which Biden has dutifully continued to wage amid his ostensibly more humane approach to human misery than his fervently sadistic predecessor, Donald Trump.
And, as with other ways of colonial warfare, such as when we were led to believe, in 2003, that the successful annihilation of Iraq was somehow in the Iraqis’ own interests, US officials have engaged in a wave of criminal illogic.
Tyler Moran, the president’s special assistant for immigration policy, told MSNBC that the troop deployment agreements with Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras would not only “prevent the traffickers, smugglers, and cartels that take advantage of the children on their way here,” but would also “protect those children.
Given the proven track record of anti-migrant violence by the security forces of all three countries, it’s anyone’s guess how “security” could factor into the agreement.
Furthermore, it is common knowledge that erecting barriers to migration does not deter desperate people from fleeing to a place where they believe they would be protected physically and/or economically. It simply puts their lives in jeopardy.
I recently spoke with a young man in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca who had previously crossed “illegally” from Mexico into the United States and outlined the chilling experience of coming across human bones in the desert. The United States’ own frenetic border militarization programs, which cast migrants as enemy attackers and drive them into more perilous routes involving greater exposure to the elements, are directly responsible for the high number of deaths.
Let’s talk about battlegrounds.
Meanwhile, no discussion of the current border “surges” will be complete without mentioning that US-backed militarization in Mexico and Central America is largely to blame for the migration trends that exist in the first place.
For instance, the US spent years – in the guise of the “war on drugs” – pouring money into notoriously corrupt and violent security forces and politicians, many of whom were in cahoots with the cartels.
The ensuing bloodbath, as well as the economic destruction triggered by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 – a conflict in and of itself, with consequences that continue to this day – drove countless Mexicans to move north.
The 1954 CIA-backed coup in Guatemala in favour of US corporate interests set the stage for a 36-year civil war that killed or disappeared over 200,000 Guatemalans. The US was complicit in the atrocities of Guatemalan government forces, who were responsible for the vast majority of human rights abuses during the war.
The late Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt conducted a scorched-earth operation that obliterated hundreds of Indigenous settlements, not to mention the people who lived there. While the civil war ended in 1996, the world did not heal itself immediately.
Militarization supported by the US has also aided in the influx of migrants and refugees into Honduras. The right-wing coup of 2009 ushered in a period of apocalyptic terror and impunity, thanks in large part to US machinations on behalf of the illegitimate regime.
Following the coup, the Obama administration – which included Biden as vice president – increased assistance to Honduran security forces who were killing, raping, and terrorizing the local populace.
Nearly a decade later, the same security forces are being “urged” to the border to disband groups of migrants fleeing the harsh environment that these forces helped to create.
And, as the US continues to advocate military solutions to regional problems exacerbated in part by, well, the military, one fantasises about a surge to deconstruct an empire.
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