By Keoki Skinner*
HAVANA TIMES – Here in the US/Mexico borderlands, policy and people have typically moved in opposite directions. Decisions come out of the north, from the government in Washington D.C. or from Corporate Headquarters elsewhere in the US and often, as a result of these policies coming down from the north, the people of Mexico and Central America are left with little choice but to move from south to north.
When NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the effects here on the border were almost immediate. Poor Mexican farmers, unable to compete with subsidized US corn, were forced off their lands, their only option was heading north in search of work.
Likewise, with out of control gang violence in Central America. In Raymond Bonner’s book, Weakness and Deceit: America’s and El Salvador’s Dirty War, we learned that it was the US intervention in Central America in the 1980’s that spawned a massive exodus of refugees heading north to the US border.
Decades later, Trump saw another opportunity to promote his border wall, claiming that the Salvadorans coming north are the heavily tatooed, violent gang members known as MS-13.
What Trump failed to mention was that the MS-13 has its origins in the US, in the barrios of Los Angeles. When these asylum seekers were turned back at the border and deported back to Central America, MS-13 was there to greet them at the airport with threats to kill their family members if they refused to join the gang.
While the numbers of people moving south to north fluctuates, the perception of this movement as a threat has been a source of anxiety in the US for years.
Going back to the 80’s, President Ronald Reagan was convinced that after the victorious Sandinistas rolled into Managua, their next stop was going to be the US/Mexico border. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on the US, President Bush feared that Arab terrorists were in Mexican border towns, looking for ways to sneak into the US.
Since 2016, President Trump has continually sowed fear in the Homeland through reference to, among other delusional fictions, large caravans of Hondurans making their way north through Mexico to flood our southern border with crime and disease. He has leveraged this fear into a towering thirty-foot-tall border wall.
An unforeseen use of the border wall
This past week the tables have turned to some extent. The fence is being used to keep people from the US out of Mexico. Though the decision to stop the flow was made in Mexico, it is, once again, the result of US policy: the gross mishandling of Covid-19.
Arizona shares over 300 miles of border with the Mexican state of Sonora and typically, over the 4th of July weekend, thousands of Arizonans travel to Sonora to celebrate the holiday. Recently though, Arizona, with its “business first, human life second” stance, has achieved the highest number of cases per capita of Covid 19 in the US.
Shutting down the border was not an easy decision for the governor of Sonora, Claudia Pavlovich. The consequences of thousands of potentially ill Arizonans spreading the virus in Sonora were obvious. Not so obvious was how a border shutdown might affect Mexican President Obrador’s visit this week with Trump in Washington. Before making her decision, Pavlovich consulted with Federal authorities in Mexico City, including Jeffrey Landau, the US ambassador to Mexico, and other business leaders.
On Thursday, July 2, perhaps emboldened by the EU closing the door on US travelers, Pavlovich announced that Mexico would shut three of its busiest ports of entry: San Luis Rio Colorado, Nogales, and Agua Prieta, essentially keeping out visitors from the north.
On Friday morning July 3rd, M-16 toting soldiers from the Mexican Army, Mexican National Guard, Federal Judicial Police, Municipal Police, and local health authorities, manned a checkpoint, or “filtro”, as it is called here, turning back cars whose occupants couldn’t prove that they were on “essential” trips. In 15 minutes, chatting with police, I observed three cars, all with Arizona license plates, turned around and heading back into Arizona. Two members from Mexico’s Civil Protection office were quick to point out that the US had been restricting Mexicans entering Arizona since March.
Ruben Sanchez Macias, a mariachi musician who has been unemployed since the pandemic began four months ago, said he was glad for the checkpoint, saying that President Trump’s refusal to wear a mask reflects some basic differences between Mexicans and US people.
“Generally, we believe in science and we respect health experts when they tell us to do something. We are able to put aside our personal freedoms for the greater good”.
President Trump’s 30-foot wall, which is almost completed here in the southeastern corner of Arizona, will be about as effective in keeping out asylum seekers as it will be at keeping the coronavirus from blowing into Sonora from Arizona. Nevertheless, the closing of borders to US residents shows that Mexico now sees the US as the global pandemic pariah.
*Keoki Skinner writes from his home in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico