Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This Gringa Chica Can Die Contenta

Forgive me for sharing some happy personal blogging events. If it looks like bragging, I apologize. Truth is: I'm simply thrilled and amazed, and I want to share this with you who come here and read. I think of you as my friends.

1) My "first love" as a blogger was Travelpod.com, the site I chose to journal my Bolivia trip (my very first blogging experience) in 2006. It was natural that when I started exploring the border that I'd turn to Travelpod. After a couple years, though, my posts were more issue-oriented and less travel-oriented. I switched to Blogger.

But I never forgot Travelpod; they were so good to me. They selected my "Border Explorer" (the original one with them) as a "top pick," bringing me lots of extra traffic. And this month they featured it again in a special email to all the Travelpod community, awarding me with a "bling" badge I've got in the sidebar. Que amable!

2) Thanks to Steev (remember meeting him?), when the Border Patrol sprung a plan to spray the Rio Grande River bank with defoliant at Laredo, my story about it was featured on the Houston Indymedia site...and from there it went to National Indymedia! That will probably be the pinnacle of my bloggy career. I die content.

3) It was not so long ago that this grandma had never heard of Reddit.com. As I type this, my story on the Israeli conscientious objectors is the top story on the "worldpolitics" subreddit. I just love when I can bring exposure to good people doing good things. This distinction will expire in two hours. Fame--so fleeting! But here's the screenshot (so I can look at it for a boost when my spirits sag):

I decided to put my name on the authorship of this blog. I've been inspired by some of you, e.g. Ruth Hull Chatlein and James Joiner. I want to own my words and take responsibility for them. While you can call me Billie, I also love B.E. and Border Explorer...my interior identity. Take your pick. :-)

I hope you all experience some spillover "feel-good" from this good stuff. You're a major component of Border Explorer--and, more importantly, my role models and blogging mentors.

Even though this world needs so much more...there's so much to be thankful for.
----lyrics, "Thankful"

Monday, March 30, 2009

New & Good: "US Focuses Internally in War on Drugs"

I'm reprinting/posting this article and highlighting the paragraphs in which an El Paso friend, who is an expert on borders, is quoted. This appeared four days ago.

"U.S. Focuses Internally in War on Drugs"

WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Barack Obama's plan to fight Mexican drug cartels in the southwestern United States acknowledges that a domestic effort is needed in the cross-border war on illegal narcotics, experts say.

The plan unveiled Tuesday includes sending more anti-drug agents to the region, cracking down on money laundering, adding more intelligence efforts to disrupt Mexican drug cartel operatives and new high-tech equipment to search for illegal drugs.

It comes in response to an increase in drug-related violence in Mexico, where more than 5,300 people were killed in 2008, many of them in border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.

US authorities have done little in the past to crack down money laundering or weapons smuggled into Mexico, said Oscar Martinez, a border expert at the University of Arizona at Tucson.

Washington "has to be an active partner" if Mexican President Felipe Calderon's effort to destroy his country's powerful illegal drug cartels is to succeed, Martinez said.

"You can't fight a drug war without both countries participating," he said.

The United States, the world's largest consumer of illegal narcotics, shares an often porous 3,000-plus kilometer (2,000 mile) frontier with Mexico.

The plan announced Tuesday is "a great improvement ... over arresting meat packers and sewing plant workers and calling that homeland security," said Josiah Heyman, a border expert at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Since the early 1990s US border policy has focused on "halting labor migration ... in an undirected way, and not paying attention to the flow of money and the flow of weapons back and forth across the border," Heyman said.

Over the past years billions of dollars have been allocated to raise walls along the border and bolstering the Border Patrol, doubling its size to 18,000 over the past eight years.

The Obama measures, which zero in on the drug cartels, tackle "a real focused security threat," said Heyman.

Trust between US and Mexican law enforcement officials, however, is a key stumbling block. Lawmakers fear aid money can be pocketed, and US agents have long said they are reluctant to share information with their Mexican counterparts out of fears of corruption.

"I think we have been overly critical of the Mexican government -- you have to allow for some corruption when you deal with these things," and cannot use that as an excuse to minimize cooperation, said Martinez.

And if some of the aid to Mexico is lost, "well, a huge amount of money going to Wall Street has been lost, so why are we being so hypocritical here?" Martinez asked.

Both Martinez and Maureen Meyer, with the Washington Office on Latin America, also noted that US agents have also been involved in corruption cases. "It's not just a Mexican problem," said Meyer.

For decades Mexico has complained that Washington is doing little about weapons sold on US soil then smuggled into Mexico for drug cartels use.

US officials have "never really made an effort" to follow traffic southbound, Heyman said, and local US border residents are not accustomed to southbound inspections.

Increased southbound inspections would likely increase border delays and could impact trade, Heyman said.

He suggested new areas at border crossings where suspicious southbound cars and trucks can be separated for inspection. "There is going to be some transition that's going to be a challenge," he said.

Mexico and the United States, along with Canada, are partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico is the second largest US trade partner, after Canada.

Every year there are some 4.5 million commercial border land crossings, mostly large trucks moving goods between the two neighbors, according to US government figures.

Meyer sees the US measures as "a complementary effort" to the Merida Initiative, the 1.4 billion dollar multi-year US assistance plan for Mexico which focuses on training and equipment of anti-drug forces.

Still needed on the US side: closing loopholes on the sales of weapons at gun shows that require no background checks, and closer cooperation among lower-level US and Mexican agents, Meyer said.

"It's certainly a long-term process," she said.

The Brady Campaign, a Washington-based group that supports stricter gun laws, said in a statement that border states like Texas and Arizona have "virtually non-existent gun laws" that "enable access to a ready supply of guns including assault weapons and .50 caliber sniper rifles."

Mexican criminals "cannot get the guns they need in Mexico because of Mexico's strong gun laws," said group president Paul Helmke.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Israeli Conscientious Objectors Give Army Salaries to Gaza

[for a real emotional uplift, watch this 3 minute video!]

Israelis who chose jail rather than complete their mandatory military service are now announcing that they will donate the salaries they received from the Israeli Defense Forces for the short time they served in uniform toward the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip. They are giving the several thousand shekels they earned to the Doctors Without Borders organization to purchase medical equipment for Gaza.

Maya Tamarin, 19, of Tel Aviv emphasized to ynetnews.com that their donation was symbolic: "We don't actually think that this sum could rebuild Gaza. We simply don't want the army's money. Instead, we will transfer it to where it should go. Instead of money to destroy, money to rebuild-from the ugliest place to the best place."

Taramin served for three months, spending a large part of that time in military prison before being discharged for medical reasons. During those three months, she received a salary from the IDF.

All nine young Israeli contributors are former members of the "Shministim (Twelfth Graders') Letter" group, high school graduates who published a public statement of refusal to serve in the IDF. Young Israeli men must perform three years of full-time military service [young women serve for two]. Barring an individual exemption, the military service is usually performed immediately after completing high school by all.

Refusal to serve in the military results in sentencing to military prison. Terms usually range from 21 to 28 days; those who refuse to wear a military uniform while in jail are sent to solitary confinement for the duration of their term, according to the Shministim's website.

After completing their initial jail sentence, the objector is then redrafted. If they refuse a second time, as most do, they face the same sentence. This can be a repeated process until they receive their discharge papers. A Shministi may never receive these papers, and although the Israeli military may tire of re-calling objectors into prison regularly, without these papers, an objector's fate is always uncertain. There is literally no end to the number of times youth might be sent back to jail.

Tamarin and her friends are still actively promoting refusal of military service among Israeli high school students. She told ynetnews.com: "The aim is to increase the next generations of objectors, prompt teenagers to think. I personally don't want everybody to refuse to enlist, but that the issues of militarism in Israeli society will be questioned."

The concluding quotations are statements from Israelis we need to support [quotations from ynetnews.com].

Sahar Vardi, 18, from Jerusalem spent five months of repeated detentions as a soldier, until she was discharged:

"We refused because of what the army is doing in Gaza, so clearly when we get the money we will give it to the people who deserve to get it."

Yuval Oron, 20 from Neve Shalom served 45 days in military prison.

"Transferring the money comes from thinking of all the damage and pain caused by the army and specifically during the weeks of massacre of Operation Cast Lead. This is an attempt to show solidarity of young Israeli Jews, and maybe also an attempt to stick it to the IDF."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Clinton Says US Bears Blame for Mexico's Drug War. How's that play in El Paso USA?

caption: Hillary Clinton shares remarks while visiting Mexico. Source--Google images.

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade...Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians...I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility." --Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to reporters on her two day trip to Mexico City as US Secretary of State

This morning's newspaper blared the headline: Clinton takes drug-war blame. How did El Paso respond? Keep these factors in mind; they make El Paso's reaction significant:

  • El Paso voted overwhelmingly for the then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in her Democratic primary bid for the US presidency. Obama did not even bother to visit the city in that race.
  • El Paso is not known as a particularly progressive or leftist-leaning city.
  • El Paso has been a bewildered and distressed bystander to intensive levels of violence in her sister-city, Ciudad Juarez. El Paso is a secondary victim, economically and emotionally, to the Mexican drug war.

It is too soon to report El Paso's response definitively; early reports rest on inconclusive data. But early indicators do look positive for Clinton as El Pasoans consider her frank comments in Mexico.

The El Paso Times opinion poll question today, entitled "Blame for Mexico drug wars," asks the question: Is America's consumption of illegal narcotics partially to blame for the recent violence in Mexico?

As this report is written, the unscientific results from 1422 participants are:

376--Absolutely, which is why we should legalize drugs (26.4%)

639--Yes, but legalizing drugs isn't the answer (44.9%)

314--No, the U.S. shouldn't be blamed for Mexico's problems (22%)

093--No, and we've wasted tax dollars with our so-called war on drugs (6.54%)

Of 55 internet reader comments to today's Clinton banner headline news story, they sort out roughly into three categories:

Pro-Clinton = 16 [eg. "Finally, a high-level federal official has the courage to speak the truth. Now let's work on both sides of the border to fix what is a shared problem."]

Con-Clinton = 11 [eg. "Another Democrat blaming the U.S. for the world's problems. These people are so pathetic!"]

Neutral or off-topic = 28 [eg. "I guess I should feel guilty for smoking pot and contributing to the deaths of innocent Mexicans. I do but I will never stop buying Mexican Marijuana as long as I live..."]

This part-time El Pasoan feels congruent with Clinton's assessment. A quote from James Joiner's recent, timely essay is relevant in the context of the Secretary of State's comments:

"It seems to me that the drug war has spilled over the Border with Mexico. However it went north to south. It is our drug war that has spilled into Mexico. It is we who have made Mexico the narco State it is."

Other "person on the street" opinions in this brief vid from UPI.com:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

11th Hour Reprieve Today for 1 Mile of Planet Earth!

An 11th hour lawsuit against the US Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security buys time for creatures of 1000 living species that are slated for demolition along a 1.1 mile stretch of the US-Mexico border. Residents of local neighborhoods, whose homes are near the proposed Border Patrol pilot project site targeted to receive an aerial spraying by helicopter of the toxic herbicide Imazapyr, filed suit to impose an injunction on the action.

Yesterday officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol voluntarily agreed to temporarily delay aerial spraying of herbicide on carrizo along the Rio Grande River pending further international discussion of its cross border implications, according to this morning's report in the Laredo Morning Times. This temporary and indefinite postponement, subject to negotiations, now appears likely to be subject to court action in light of the lawsuit.

The Border Patrol wants to eliminate the tall invasive weed carrizo to improve visibility along the border, thus facilitating their duties. If this spraying project is successful, they hope to extend the spraying across hundreds of miles, from Big Bend to Brownsville, Texas.

Further information is available today at noon at a press conference scheduled to occur at San Francisco Javier Parish in the barrio de Colores, one of the affected Laredo areas. A copy of the lawsuit is available upon request from attorney Israel Reyna of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, according to information provided by Jay J. Johnson-Castro, Sr., Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Study Center.

Local news film footage of the controversy, including aerial photography of the Rio Grande, river bank photos of carrizo, reactions from concerned local environmentalists and Mexican political leaders is available at http://www.valleycentral.com/news/video.aspx?id=277287. [sorry, I can't embed it...but if you're interested in this, it's a good spot.]

The March 2008 photo (above) shows the effects of an aerial spray conducted six months prior on a test site near Laredo. The toxic herbicide Imazapyr is a substance which begins to kill all vegetation immediately upon application. It persists in the soil while its properties make it likely to contaminate the water of the Rio Grande, source of drinking water for Nuevo Laredo.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Mexican Drug War Zone--a citizen-report, from Texas USA, March 2009

Photo Caption: Miguel Tovar / Associated Press Federal police arrive in Mexico’s most violent city, just across the border from El Paso, as part of a security buildup that includes thousands of additional soldiers.

Tracking the drug war is like following a moving target, if you'll forgive the pun implicit in a weaponry analogy. Constant change makes it hard to get a fix on truth. These bullet points show how the drug wars (there are three of them!) affect life in El Paso-Juárez this month:
  • Nearly 11,000 soldiers and federal agents now patrol the streets of Juarez in a massive and unprecedented show of force aimed at drug cartels and hit squads (as well as corrupt members of the police). Mexican authorities want to restore peace to the beleaguered battleground border city, the gateway of the lucrative Juárez--El Paso smuggling corridor. Nearly 2,000 people, including several police officers and commanders, have been killed in Juarez in the past year.

  • Further militarization: The Juárez mayor appointed a retired Mexican army general as the new secretary of public safety. An infantry colonel with the Mexican army is the brand new police chief. And the federal government sent a national defense department official to Juárez as the public safety adviser.

  • The Mexican army took even further control of Juárez by disarming 380 transit police and taking over their department. Now armed soldiers accompany (unarmed) traffic police on patrol. Meanwhile transit police undergo exams intended to weed out corruption.

  • The Mexico attorney general's office loaned about 20 bulletproof vehicles to the Juárez city government for the heads of the police department. Last month the police operations director was assassinated when ambushed in a regular patrol truck.

  • The death toll has slowed. Three hundred homicides, or about five a day, occurred in Juárez in the first two months of 2009. But this month the death toll has fallen to one or two a day. However, the border is braced for the drug cartels' retaliation. When will that shoe drop?

  • We look to top leadership. President Barack Obama plans to discuss the increasing drug violence with Mexican President Felipe Calderón next month during his first visit to Mexico. Meanwhile Calderón offered a $2 Million reward for information leading to the arrest of 24 top drug lords.

  • Public Awareness. When I first began issuing these reports, readers reacted with surprise, expressing little awareness of the severity of the problem. Now mainstream media cover the story. I mention two notable recent stories: CBS's 60 Minutes "The War Next Door" brought the situation onto the US's longstanding popular news magazine program. A lesser known Democracy Now program, "Obama Signals Readiness to Further Militarize Drug War...," wove a layer of excellent commentary and analysis into the coverage. Both links are worthy of your time.

The words of Bruce Berman, El Paso resident/artist/author sum up the heroism of the common person in Juárez, as they continue undaunted:

"One thing for sure: Juárez has got the stiffest upper lip I have ever seen. Defiant. Life goes on. No matter how this ends, life goes on, and, it will end. Juárez is defiant. Desafiante.

Juárez will not end."


Links to Previous Citizen Reports in this series: Early January 2009; Later January 2009; Early February 2009; Late February 2009.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Border's "Agent Orange" Controversy

[Message from Border Explorer: I cut and pasted this important article. It is long. I'll bold some important points, so skim on down and at least hit the highlights.]

by Frontera NorteSur Posted on March 21, 2009

With the clock ticking, a growing network of activists on both sides of the border are lobbying high officials to prevent aerial spraying of chemicals meant to destroy Carrizo cane between the southern Rio Grande twin cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.

In the Vietnam War, the United States sprayed vast tracts of land with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange as part of a counter-insurgency strategy aimed at removing forest cover for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. Although the toxic dioxin released by Agent Orange was later blamed by US veterans’ groups and Vietnamese officials for illnesses and diseases that struck thousands of former US soldiers and upwards of four million Vietnamese citizens, the US Supreme Court recently refused to consider a case by pursued by Vietnamese plaintiffs against the manufacturers of Agent Orange.

Four decades later, on the US-Mexico border, the US Border Patrol intends to employ a chemical herbicide in order to eradicate stands of the Carrizo cane, an invasive plant that grows as tall as 30 feet and provides convenient cover for undocumented border crossers and smugglers. The variety of Carrizo cane that is common in the Laredo-Del Rio borderlands is from the region of Valencia, Spain.

Possibly beginning next week, the US Border Patrol could commence aerial herbicide spraying along a slice of the Rio Grande between the twin cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. The experimental spraying would cover an area that stretches 1.1 miles between the Laredo Railroad Bridge and Laredo Community College directly across from Mexico, said Roque Sarinana, public affairs officer for the Border Patrol’s Laredo sector.

In addition to aerial spraying of the herbicide imazapyr, the Border Patrol will employ hand-cutting and mechanical methods that involve applying the killer chemical at ground-level, Sarinana told Frontera NorteSur in an a phone interview. Getting rid of Carrizo cane should "improve the Border Patrol’s “line of sight up and down the river,” Sarinana said.

Depending on weather conditions, the first dustings of imazapyr could begin March 25, Sarinana confirmed. “As of now, that’s the plan,” he said.

Concerned about risks to public health from possible herbicide spray drift, runoff and leaching, officials from the city government of neighboring Nuevo Laredo are steadfastly opposed to aerial spraying. “I’ve always been respectful of the law and sovereignty,” said Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza Barrios. “But herbicides that affect health in both countries can’t be sprayed.”

Mayor Garza’s stance is supported by other elected and appointed officials in Mexico. On Thursday, March 19, the Tamaulipas State Legislature issued a statement requesting information about the proposed spraying from the Mexican and US sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission as well as Mexican federal agencies.

The zone targeted for spraying is across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo’s Hidalgo neighborhood and only hundreds of yards from the Mexican city’s public water intake system.

Carlos Montiel Saeb, general manager for Nuevo Laredo’s water utility, said the Border Patrol advised his office to turn off water pumps a few hours prior to spraying. “If there is no problem, why are they asking us to do this?” Montiel questioned.

Border Patrol spokesman Sarinana said he had not seen a written objection from Mayor Garza, but stressed it did not mean other US officials had not received a letter. “This is all in the works, so we’ll see what happens,” Sarinana said, adding the Border Patrol plans on releasing a more detailed statement about the future of the Carrizo cane project.

Opposition to the Border Patrol’s aerial spraying plans is likewise growing in Laredo, Texas. The two sides turned out to a March 16 meeting of the Laredo City Council in which elected officials narrowly approved by a controversial 5-4 vote an easement for the US government on city property targeted for spraying.

Jay J. Johnson Castro, Sr., executive director of the Rio Grande International Studies Center at Laredo Community College told Frontera NorteSur the planned aerial spraying caught residents off guard. The aerial applications could threaten more than 1,000 bird and other species at a time when spring hatchings begin and migratory birds are still in the area, Johnson said by phone from his office. The Border Patrol’s Carrizo Cane Eradication Project abuts a nature trail running near the community college, Johnson lamented.

“Nobody knows the impact of imazapyr,” Johnson contended. “It’s no different than Agent Orange.” Citing the program’s environmental assessment, Johnson said aerial spraying could eventually extend along a strip of river bank 16 miles upriver from the pilot project zone. Despite the potential magnitude of the project, the Border Patrol did not gather local input as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, Johnson charged.

Like virtually all chemical pest control agents, lack of complete public information and multiple, contradictory reports surround the history of imazapyr, a substance first registered in 1984 and currently manufactured under the trade name Habitat by the multinational BASF corporation.

A fact sheet prepared by the Washington State Department of Agriculture reported imazapyr was “low in toxicity to invertebrates and practically non-toxic to fish, birds and mammals.” Still, the fact sheet reported imazapyr was highly mobile and persistent in soils.

In 2007, BASF spokesman Joel Vollmer told the press his company’s imazapyr product was widely used in wildlife refuges across the US and along the Pecos River and its tributaries to control salt cedar, another troublesome, invasive plant species afflicting the US Southwest.

Public controversies over imazapyr applications have previously erupted in Alaska, California and Colombia, where experimental use of the herbicide to control illegal coca plantings was approved in 2000. A report on the chemical’s history developed for the non-governmental group Alaska Community Action on Toxics said evidence existed that identified imazapyr as a contaminant of soil, groundwater and surface water. Imazapyr also contains an acid that can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory system, the report stated. According to the report’s authors, additional evidence linked the herbicide to Parkinson’s Disease-like symptoms.

In developing its Carrizo cane aerial spraying project, the Border Patrol ignored studies by Laredo Community College researchers that examined different means of killing off the invasive species, Johnson charged.

“We are not opposed to the eradication of Carrizo,” he affirmed. “We think it has to go because it consumes about 500 gallons of water per meter and chokes out native vegetation.”

At the federal level, Department of Homeland Security-sponsored researchers earlier explored using biological controls, including wasps, to control Carrizo cane.

US officials have been urging a Carrizo cane eradication program for some time. In 2007, US Representative Henry J. Cuellar (D-Tx) called the tall, thirsty plant a national security issue. Quoted in the news media, Rep. Cuellar said then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had been to the border to get a first-hand look at the Carrizo cane foe. The Laredo Congressman assured the press officials were “looking at what is the fastest, safest way to address the effectiveness of addressing this issue of Carrizo.”

With the clock ticking, Johnson and a growing network of activists on both sides of the border are lobbying high officials to prevent aerial spraying before it occurs. In an e-mail, longtime border environmental advocate and Sierra Club activist Bill Addington contended spraying would violate the 1983 La Paz accord between the United States and Mexico that requires mutual notification in the event of projects impacting the environment within a 60 mile radius on either side of the border.

“We considering all democratic options-court actions, political protests, media attention,” Johnson added. “We expect our message to be heard by the environmentally-friendly Obama administration. This is too unprecedented to aerially spray a toxic chemical in a densely-populated area.”

Meanwhile, word of the planned herbicide spraying is spreading fast in the two Laredos. Interviewed on the banks of the Rio Grande, a 26-year-old Honduran migrant told the Mexican press he intended to cross into the US without papers before spraying commenced. “They say they will put poison into the river,” said Walter Hernandez. “That’s why I want to cross before then.”

Mario Garcia, a Mexican national who frequents the Rio Grande on the Nuevo Laredo side with his sons, also expressed concern to a Mexican reporter. “I frequently come to fish in the area,” Garcia said. “With what degree of confidence are we going to eat a fish if we know it is contaminated?”

In response to an article about the imazapyr controversy in the Laredo Morning Times, several readers sent pointed e-mails to the news publication that proposed solutions to the Carrizo cane issue or, as is increasingly the case with border news web sites, used the immediate topic at hand to vent ideological broadsides on issues of race, the environment and US-Mexico relations.


Additional Sources:
-- Enlineadirecta.info, March 19, 20 and 21, 2009. Articles by Gaston Monge and Hugo Reyna.
-- Laredo Morning Times, March 19, 2009. Article by Miguel Timoshenkov.
-- Lider Informativo (Nuevo Laredo), March 17, 2009. Article by Ericka Morales.
-- El Diario de Juarez, March 16, 2009.
-- Commondreams.org/Inter Press Service, March 16, 2009. Article by Helen Clark.
-- La Jornada, March 8 and 11, 2009. Articles by Carlos Figueroa and editorial staff.
-- Rio Grande Guardian, November 8, 2007.
-- Homelandsecurity.org/journal/, April 2007. Article by Gail Cleere.
-- Panna.org (Pesticide Action Network) August 1, 2000 and April 11, 2008.
-- Akaction.net (Alaska Community Action on Toxics.)


Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico. For a free electronic subscription email fnsnews@nmsu.edu


Contact the office of US Attorney General Eric Holder to protest the impending spraying: http://www.usdoj.gov/contact-us.html

It only takes seconds to email this article to AskDOJ@usdoj.gov

Department of Justice Main Switchboard: 202-514-2000;

Office of the Attorney General: 202-353-1555.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Feds Move to Defoliate Rio Grande River Bank

Photo used with permission.
In a major setback to the environment last night, the Laredo TX city council voted to allow the Border Patrol to aerially spray the US-Mexico border with the toxic herbicide Imazapyr, a substance which begins to kill all vegetation immediately upon application. Many residents at the meeting opposed this move, citing the environmental impact and potential health side effects, as well as the likelihood that the chemical could contaminate the water supply for Nuevo Laredo, their Mexican sister-city.

The accompanying photo (above) shows the effects of an aerial spray conducted six months prior on a test site near Laredo. Federal officials considered the results "successful" in efforts to eradicate the invasive plant carrizo; however, the site now slated for defoliation contains 1000 living species, including four endangered species. This photo was taken on the Zachary Ranch in March 2008 by Dr. Jim Earhart of the Rio Grande International Study Center.

Local activist Jay J. Johnson-Castro Sr. of the Rio Grande International Study Center stated in a telephone interview that federal agents intend to eventually spray the extensive border river area, from Big Bend to Brownsville Texas. "Why would they make the initial spray in a populated area?" he queried. Clearing 1.1 miles of border between the cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo will cost $2 Million.

Activists on the Yahoo group "No Border Wall" urge the public to contact the office of US Attorney General Eric Holder to protest the impending action: http://www.usdoj.gov/contact-us.html; Department of Justice Main Switchboard: 202-514-2000; Office of the Attorney General: 202-353-1555.

The detrimental effect of toxic air pollutants is documented on the US Environmental Protection Agency website.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Drug War Doublespeak" or Why We Must Question US Sources that Call Mexico Unstable

When the U.S. government and its military talk about Mexico of late, they seem to use both sides of their mouths. While repeatedly stating that Mexico is ripe for "sudden collapse" and poses a "national security threat" to the US, they simultaneously praise Mexico President Felipe Calderon for restoring order and winning the war on drugs.

This is simply "drug war doublespeak," says Laura Carsten from the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy this week. Its purpose? To "assure funding and public support for the military model of combating illegal drug trafficking, despite the losses and overwhelming evidence that current strategies are not working."

A war rhetoric benefits US "doublespeakers" because it:

  • Promotes the further militarization of the southern border
  • Insures lucrative contracts for private defense and security firms
  • Harvests federal aid for local politicians
  • Justifies the Bush administration's Merida Initiative spending ($1.4 Billion)
  • Promotes fear among US citizenry, greasing the wheel for more military spending.

By declaring the success of Calderon's offensive against organized crime as making great progress against illegal drug trafficking and the power of cartels, the Pentagon and US government sources are designating it as a program the US must support.

What would a viable response to this drug war look like?

1) The violence requires both the US and Mexico to recognize that the growth of transnational crime is not the subject of a blame game, but is rather a byproduct of globalization.

2) Further, both countries need to cut off defense contractors and private security companies' contracts.

3) Finally, both countries need to consider public health and treat drug addicts as patients, not criminals, and to deal with the illegal drug trade through rehabilitation, prevention, and harm reduction programs in local communities.

If we continue to rely on a military approach, which is ultimately a violence-based approach, to address the drug violence in Mexico and the US, then what we can expect in return is simply more violence.

For Democracy Now segment (3/13/09) featuring Laura Carsten, click here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Step Closer to Truth in the Death of "The Rainforest Martyr"

Sr. Dorothy Stang, a 74-year-old US nun, read the Bible aloud when the men came to kill her. They listened for a moment. then fired--there in the Amazon rainforest she loved enough to protect with her own life. She had lived among wealthy enemies for 30 years in the Amazon jungle, trying to preserve the environment and defend the rights of poor settlers against powerful ranchers eager to steal their land. Her corpse, lying face down in the mud just over four years ago in 2005, was shot pointblank six times: in the head, throat and body.

"Death in the Amazon" (4:20):

A rancher accused of ordering her murder is now charged with trying to fraudulently obtain the plot of Amazon rain forest she died trying to defend, a prosecutor stated yesterday. Rancher Regivaldo Galvao previously testified he had no interest in the property that 73-year-old Dorothy Stang protected, but prosecutors say Galvao presented documents to Brazil's Incra land reform agency in November asserting he owns the disputed land and demanding its return.

Federal prosecutor Felicio Pontes denies Galvao's claim that the land where Stang was killed is public. It is possible that Galvao's attempt to take the land will help convict him of killing the Dayton, Ohio nun.

"It will help the case of Dorothy's murder," Pontes stated, according to Associated Press Writer Bradley Brooks. "The case is still open and we can use the facts from this land case in Dorothy's. He is going to be found guilty, I have no doubt."

Prosecutors contend Galvao and another rancher hired the gunmen who killed Stang. Although he was arrested in 2005, he was freed on bail in 2006 and has since avoided trial through various legal maneuvers.

An acclaimed HBO documentary film, "They Killed Sister Dorothy," will air on HBO2 pay service Wednesday, March 25, 8-9:30 p.m. EDT. It treats the life and mission of Sister Dorothy, who admirers called "The Angel of the Amazon," in her quest for sustainable living practices.

"They Killed Sister Dorothy" trailer (3:28):

After she received several death threats Sister Dorothy commented, "I don't want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fighting for Truth, Justice and the Jedi Way

I found the wonderful site "The Hero Factory" over at Nick's Bytes and spent a delightful five minutes creating my hero avatar. Even in my prime, I never looked like this, but---who cares.

I remember when I was a kid and Superman fought for "truth, justice and the American way." I actually believed that those three things went together back then.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

How Are Things on the Border? [3/2/09 Edition]

CNN report: February 27, 2009
[Thank you for caring about this situation enough to read this report. Images can communicate where my words fail. The CNN report attached above contains graphic images. Viewer discretion is advised.]

With so much happening in this Border war zone, I'll keep this report to the main bullet points. (No pun intended!)

* Mexico will send 5000 more soldiers to Ciudad Juarez. Meanwhile a prominent Mexican civil rights activist told a forum in El Paso that the military is involved in unlawful detentions, torture and other abuses while failing to stop the killings. Oops.

* Mexico's President Felipe Calderon felt the need to deny that Mexico is a "failed state." The next day a US State Department report on narcotics control praised Calderon, saying his efforts against the cartels have "proven to be effective." Hmm.

* Meanwhile rampaging organized crime syndicates thumbed their noses at reinforced security measures in northern Mexico, killing 20 people overnight Wednesday. Six of those murders occurred in Juarez.

* The US State Department did not tell spring breakers not to go to Mexico, but it did advise them to avoid areas of prostitution and drug-dealing. (!!!) More than 6,000 people were killed last year in Mexico.

* Texas Governor Rick Perry visited El Paso this week. He wants 1,000 troops to help guard the Texas-Mexico border. "I don't care if they are military, National Guard or customs agents....We must be ready for any contingency." Our local representative responded: "No one in El Paso supports militarization of the border."

* Police are investigating threats against Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, who moved his family to El Paso for safety, El Paso police announced Monday.

* After several officers were slain last week, the Juarez police chief resigned. Drug war operatives threatened to murder one of his officers every forty-eight hours until he quit. Since last year more than 60 police officers have been killed in Juarez.

* A Homeland Security official affirmed that Mexican drug cartel violence has spilled over into Texas. Later in the week the US attorney general announced a drug cartel roundup that netted over 750 apprehensions from across the nation.

But, from the Good News Department:

Mexico's federal attorney general said Thursday that more than 1,000 people have been killed in drug violence so far this year, but that he believes the worst is nearly over. We certainly hope he has some insider information to substanciate his belief.

And, despite the chaos, millions of ordinary good people in Mexico continue their lives, battling the odds and finding meaning and happiness in small events of ordinary life.