Kidnapped, raped, murdered: the migrant trail through Mexico

by Chris Bertram on November 9, 2013

Cormac McCarthy used to live in El Paso, just over the border from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. I kept thinking about this as I read Oscar Martinez’s book The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (Verso) because the parallels between Martinez’s non-fiction work and McCarthy’s novel The Road were sometimes striking and horrifying. Martinez is a journalist from El Salvador who has taken the courageous step of following the migrant trail that Central Americans would-be migrants to the US take through Mexico. “The Beast” of the (English) title is a reference to the trains that so many of them cling to through days and nights. Each chapter tells a different aspect of the story, from what makes people flee their homes in El Salavador, Guatemala or Honduras to the risky business of how to swim the Rio Grande at the end. Each chapter is different, yet each has the same essential theme: poor and desperate people who are the prey of criminal organizations in Mexico – the drug cartels – with police, the “polleros” and “coyotes” (migrant guides) and others being induced by a mixture of greed and fear (mainly the latter) to act as agents for the cartels (such as the Zetas) or at least to pay the tax they demand.

If you are a woman who undertakes the journey, you will almost certainly be raped, perhaps many times. Maybe this will happen when your are misdirected into an ambush in La Arrocera (near the beginning of the trail), perhaps it will happen on the train, perhaps it will happen when you are kidnapped and held on a ranch with hundreds of others whilst your relatives wire a ransom to the gangs, perhaps near the US border where a “bra tree” displays the underwear of victims as the rapists’ trophies. The stories of mass kidnapping and the warehousing of migrants by the gangs, with torture a regular part of the plan and summary death (in front of the others) for escapees are chilling.

The train itself is a frightening thing, with danger coming both from other people and from wheel and rail. Martinez talks us through a sequence of attacks on the train, with gangs in cahoots with the driver to stop or slow at convenient locations, with gang members disguised as migrants and with migrants prepared to defend themselves (and women as one of the reasons for attack). To ride the train you will need to cling to it for hours or even days and if sleep catches you, even for a moment you can fall, be crushed, decapitated, lose a limb.

When you get to the end of the trail, the US border, you have to face the problem of getting across. Since the nineties, but particularly since 9/11, US border security has tightened. If you are headed for Los Angeles (where many migrants have family) then the obvious place might seem to be Tijuana. No chance. So you are pushed eastwards, maybe as far east as Cuidad Juarez, until recently the most dangerous city in the world. Your problem is that the few places you might cross are the same few places that the drug mules can get across: everybody is funnelled into the same dangerous spaces, towards the Arizona desert where you can perish in the heat or the Rio Grande which may well drown you. And all the time: extortion and exploitation. You have to pay and pay and you may not get what you pay for: the coyote may load you into a trunk and release you on a beach in Mexico telling you are in the US or you may be part of a mass crossing that is staged as a diversion so the Narcos can get their drugs across in the next sector. You get picked up, they get through.

It is hard not to be in awe of what Martinez has done to write this book. Not only has he shared the physical risks that the migrants undertake, but the close presence of the cartels and their minions permeates the book. They were watching him and his photographer, and he knew it: this is reportage from a war zone. Martinez is careful to be dispassionate and objective: he lets the facts (and the migrants, polleros, US Border Agents etc) speak for themselves. Things are so bad that a moralistic gloss would be superfluous. He doesn’t draw any policy conclusions. But that is not a reason for the reader not to do so. These rapes, murders, limb-severings, drownings etc result from the system of closed borders, from the US demand for drugs and from the fact that many people need to flee dangerous environments (look up the murder rates in Central America) that are in part the result of US policy (the wars of the 80s, drug policy since). Many of those fleeing are not technically refugees: the first three characters in the book are three brothers, petty criminals, whose family are being systematically murdered by a gang and who know that they will be next. The US has in large measure caused their plight, and now claims the moral right to exclude them (and to deport long-standing migrants to dangerous environments), it is hard to see that it has such a right.

Though Martinez’s take is set in Mexico, it wouldn’t be hard to tell a similar story about migrants to Europe through Libya or to Australia through Thailand. Only yesterday there was news that the Lampedusa victims had been subjected to rape and torture in Libya. The system of closed borders exposes the desperate and vulnerable to predators on the road: it is a system that the democratic publics of the West have willed.

{ 123 comments }

1

PJW 11.09.13 at 2:44 pm

Chris, loved this post. I study McCarthy as a hobby (go to conferences, present papers, etc.) and I’d only note that he no longer lives in El Paso and hasn’t for years, and instead lives near Santa Fe, N.M., where he has an office at the Santa Fe Institute. Anyway, that’s an intriguing connection between the Martinez book and The Road. Thanks for this!

[CB: thanks I've amended the El Paso reference to the past.]

2

Matt 11.09.13 at 3:02 pm

Thanks, Chris- interesting and depressing stuff. It’s worth adding that there is good reason to think that at least some people fleeing gang violence, especially in the sorts of cases seen in Central America, should be taken to be refugees in the normal sense. Many have been so found by immigration officials in the US of various sorts, but not as many as I’d argue should be. (The particular case mentioned sounds a bit doubtful, but it’s impossible to make a real legal conclusion w/o more details.)

3

Ronan(rf) 11.09.13 at 3:04 pm

I’m reading this book at the minute, and it is eye opening. I think Matthew Carr wrote something similar (Fortress Europe) about migrants coming to Europe, though I havent read it yet. The film Sin Nombre deals with the subject as well, and is worth checking out afaicr

4

Chris Bertram 11.09.13 at 4:02 pm

Thanks Ronan, just ordered the Carr.

5

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 4:21 pm

These . . . result from the system of closed borders, from the US . . . The US has in large measure caused their plight, and now claims the moral right to exclude them (and to deport long-standing migrants to dangerous environments), it is hard to see that it has such a right.

The implicit vision of social causation here seems remarkably stunted and foolish to me. Maybe, it’s just distorted by the expression of hostility to the U.S. But, the core problem, here, is social cohesion, political solidarity and the quality of institutions, political and economic. These people are fleeing societies in civil war and social, economic and political breakdown. They cannot find safety and sustenance in societies and places, where they cannot cooperate within the society productively. The U.S. has certainly contributed to the breakdown of those societies; the history of the U.S. in central America is not pretty or defensible. But, surely the U.S. is not alone in possessing agency in these societies.

Is “the system of closed borders” at fault? First of all, it’s actually a system of controlled borders, and controlled borders are a necessary by-product of becoming a highly organized society and political economy. It’s a matter of establishing the jurisdictional writ of the state, of course, and some sort of normative, cultural cohesion. Relatively open borders between highly organized societies are the product of political organization and integration and trust; they are a collective accomplishment, not a right of individuals.

Mexico is a vast and enormously rich country, with a vibrant and vigorous culture, in which roughly 40 families of mostly European descent own everything, and, consequently, there’s very little spending on public goods and low levels of trust and institutional integrity, and a lot of violence, exacerbated by overpopulation as well as the scarcity imposed by plutocracy. The smaller countries of Central America have their own distinct histories, and have made a variety of political choices.

I don’t agree with the U.S. politics of right and left, which leaves the right to advocate and implement destructive interventions on the behalf of reactionary business interests, while the center turns a blind eye, pretending they (“we”) are all about free trade, human rights and being good neighbors. Nor do I take the view that the Left is right to argue on principle against all interventions, military or otherwise. Blaming the U.S. is such a central part of the post’s argument, and has such moral weight in it, that it’s hard not to get entangled with all that.

There’s something wrong, though, with an analysis, which redirects causation from the problems of political organization to the particular feature of controlled borders.

6

Chris Bertram 11.09.13 at 5:01 pm

It isn’t a matter of hostility to the US, Bruce, but of a realistic assessment of the consequences of US policies. The rise of the cartels is a consequence of the war on drugs and operating functional institutions under which people can be held properly responsible for political outcomes is very difficult against that background. In CA, the US has very recent and direct involvement in the internal politics of Guatemala and El Salvador. Further, functional states pre-date controlled borders, which are historically quite a recent development. Finally, re the “hostility to the US” canard, I make the point in the final para that similar stories could be told about Europe.

7

roy belmont 11.09.13 at 6:57 pm

Just got the Martinez book from local library but haven’t yet got to it. Though I have read some Charles Bowden. He’s been working at whatever that hot dry nightmare is for a while now.
See Exodus, and Juárez: The Laboratory of our Future , numerous articles for Mother Jones the Nation etc, and somewhere in his massive bibliography but where I can’t find right now, he walked the border from Mexico. To feel, like Martinez, the reality of it.
That people, whether men women or children in that final desperate nowhere loser position would be treated like expendable, useable things by base assholes should only shock the unaware.
Chris Bertram – “…result from the system of closed borders, from the US demand for drugs and from the fact that many people need to flee dangerous environments …”
The cliche, half true, is demand on the US side is fed by supply cartels on the other side. Simple economics.
But a little rational thought points up the absurdity of the power being south of the border. As though these huge organizations are essentially retail/wholesaling their products from “down there”, through a kind of mom-and-pop franchise outlet “up there”.
And American legal policy is simply a mistake compounded of vestigial puritanism and class-based disregard.
Try the hypothesis that truly enormous profits are leaning heavily on the US legal system, from above and behind. And within.
The consensus is some greasy criminals south of the border are doing it pretty much by themselves. That’s counterintuitive.
Illegality’s what keeps the price up, not demand.

8

Matt 11.09.13 at 7:23 pm

Further, functional states pre-date controlled borders, which are historically quite a recent development.

Chris, I’m sure you see why this won’t really do much work. First, this is only partially true- lots of states made efforts to control their borders for many years, and reacted violently when large flows came. Large flows were not as common, but when they came, states responded, for basically all of history. When large flows became common, border control came with it. Even when states sought large flows, this was often for particular reasons (sometimes semi-colonial, and so not obviously intrinsically praiseworthy) that don’t really exist anymore. Next, in times when border controls were lower, so were social services- no welfare state systems, barely and public eduction, little central provision of infrastructure, etc. So, comparing such societies and modern ones that attempt to provides these services is really, at best, misleading. It’s not a coincidence that societies that provide large amounts of services tend to have more controlled immigration, and to exclude immigrants from services (and citizenship) to a higher degree. None of this is a law of nature or anything like that, of course, and it’s worth thinking about how to work these things out, especially if one is, like me, generally in favor of more and easier migration, more generous refugee systems, and so on. But the canard of “border control is recent” really isn’t even a starter- even to the extent it’s true, it’s true about a world that is both gone and that sane people wouldn’t want to come back.

9

Cranky Observer 11.09.13 at 7:36 pm

= = = And American legal policy is simply a mistake compounded of vestigial puritanism and class-based disregard.= = =

And yet we have Mark Kleiman, self-described fellow member of the reality-based community, drug policy expert, and now with considerably influence over the implementation of marijuana de-criminalization in Washington State, who argues quite vigorously otherwise.

Cranky

10

ZM 11.09.13 at 7:38 pm

Bruce Wilder @5
“The implicit vision of social causation here seems remarkably stunted and foolish to me. …The U.S. has certainly contributed to the breakdown of those societies; the history of the U.S. in central America is not pretty or defensible. But, surely the U.S. is not alone in possessing agency in these societies.”

I think you would find lots of books about agency. I am not very good at geography, but if Brazil counts as being in Central America (?), there is one book I have read good recommendations of, and the author, as participant-observer over very many years, I think invented the name Campo Allegre to write about the place where the people lived, because it was dangerous for them and they could have suffered repercussions.

Ireland, Rowan. Kingdoms Come: Religion and Politics in Brazil. Pittsburgh: University of Pittburgh Press, 1991.

I often like to read the start and conclusion of a book to see if I think I would like to read my way through the middle. Although in this case they tell you a little about the author but not so much about the subjects –

The beginning:

“”Don’t write for just the eight of them,” was a commandment that one of my mentors urged me to display prominently on my desk as I drafted chapters for this book. Eight, she imagined, was the number of experts for whom I’d be tempted to write. And this would bring out the worst of the academic in me, so that, anticipating every criticism, I would dare nothing. I would keep my unruly informants severely in check and would write in the obscure argot of an elitist learned tribe.”

The ending:

“Much of the religious work we have reviewed builds the Kingdoms of the powers-that-be, within which the workers are to be contained by their conditions. But we have seen something too of the constructions of Kingdoms of challenge…Brazillians at the grass roots…are contestants in a continuing political transition….analysis should start again with the religious Kingdoms constructed at the grass roots.”

11

Chris Bertram 11.09.13 at 7:46 pm

Matt: I think this takes us to a discussion we may not want to have in this thread. The UK has had open borders with Poland, Estonia etc for several years now, and you could make the argument that migrants from those countries often play a similar functional role in the UK economy to that played by migrants from Mexico and Central American re the US. Re welfare systems etc: all the evidence is that these recent EU migrants contribute a lot more to making such systems financially possible than they claim from them. Of course, there have been tensions and politicians have opportunistically made statements suggesting that they are sponging off the welfare state, but the evidence points in the opposite direction.

You are much more pro-controls than I am, but I’d note that even according to Wellman’s view, which gives “legitimate states” discretion to exclude, exclusion of this group of migrants from the US looks problematic, since they are and have been subject to human rights violations for which the US bears heavy responsibility and the failure of the US to address that undercuts its right to exclude (at least until it does). So no need to argue, in general terms, for a Carens-style “open borders” policy here.

On earlier flows: one of the surprises for me from the Martinez book was to learn of the high ethnic Chinese population of Mexicali: the result of 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

12

Chris Bertram 11.09.13 at 7:52 pm

ZM: reading your comments on a couple of thread now, I’m afraid to say that they tend to be rather rambling, over-long, and not sufficiently focused on the topic at hand. You’ll need to change this, if you want to keep contributing here.

13

JW Mason 11.09.13 at 8:01 pm

I appreciate this post and sympathize its anger at the treatment of migrants. I will look for the Martinez book. But.

But, there is something curiously one-sided about your conclusion here. The suffering of the migrants is clearly the product of two causes — the poverty and civil disorder of the countries they are leaving, and the closed borders of the countries they are trying to enter. Early in the post, you give these two factors equal weight, but somehow by the end the first cause has disappeared and the whole moral weight falls on the second.

It is only true that “The system of closed borders exposes the desperate and vulnerable to predators on the road” if we consider it just a fact of nature that Mexico and central America are ungoverned hellholes. There are plenty of borders that you or I can’t cross, but that doesn’t us to predation.

Like many people, your ideal vision of the world is one without nation-states, or at least one where their social weight is greatly reduced. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of cosmopolitanism. But it is wrong to imply, as this post does, that the misery described by Hernandez is a necessary consequence of closed national communities. In the past, you have argued very persuasively that the freedom to choose a different employer is neither a necessary nor sufficient solution to the problem of hierarchy and coercion in the workplace. Voice is important, as well as exit. It’s strange to me that you recognize this so clearly in the case of employment but then put an almost libertarian stress on exit over voice when it comes to states.

Personally, I would go a step further, and say that when it comes to the misery described in this post, voice is much more important than exit. Very few people want to leave their homes. Even in the best case, international migration is costly and disruptive of people’s lives. US policies that destroy people’s ability to achieve subsistence and security in their own countries would not be acceptable even if the we offered everyone whose homes we destroyed the right to come pick our vegetables and clean our bathrooms. On the other hand, if it were possible to achieve a reasonable standard of life in Honduras or Guatemala, then the human costs of closed borders would be modest.

The right to migrate, it seems to me, is something like the right to sleep on park benches: We should not further punishing people in awful circumstances, but our real goal should be changing those circumstances. Allowing people to build a decent life for themselves in their own country is more important than letting them to flee to ours.

14

Jacob McM 11.09.13 at 8:12 pm

I am not very good at geography, but if Brazil counts as being in Central America (?),

You could say that again…

15

christian_h 11.09.13 at 8:13 pm

JW Mason: Yes, but (another but!): I do not think it is right to say there two causes here, or two distinct US policies. The closed – sorry “controlled” – borders and the disruptive policies of the war on drugs, so-called free trade etc. are really one policy and part of one history, that of colonial domination (whether via direct political control as in European colonial empires, or economic and social hegemony as in the Americas). Today, the controlling of the borders is a necessary part of the neocolonial project – the externalization of violence and (to a decaying degree) exploitation that constitute the hegemony of the global North are only truly externalizations if the internal is delimited.

16

roy belmont 11.09.13 at 8:17 pm

Dear Cranky-
Not sure if you caught the quoted bit was a reference to commonly held beliefs as to the cause of dysfunctional drug policies. So not sure if I need to say that isn’t my take on the issue, at all.
Kleiman: “Well, any drug policy is a good policy if it reduces the total damage that drugs do.”
Uhm, killing illegal drug sellers/users would “reduce the total damage that drugs do” quite a bit.
Gabor Maté has a more experienced reasonable approach to the user side of the discussion. Maté’s work is widely available for perusal.
My point, which I can’t tell if you got, or if you did agree with or not, is that the approach of “mistake”, which is Kleiman’s posture completely, and subsequent discussions aimed at correcting the “mistake” are deceptive and ultimately enabling.
It’s like the canard of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and that wonderfully surreal multi-level oddness of “Mission Accomplished”. A mistake, and a foolish crowing of triumph.
Unless the idea was to wreck Iraq all along. In which case it was an accomplishment, clearly.
The legalization debate’s nice, and somewhat relieving to those of us who’ve done time for weed, but the legalized herb enters the economy at a price point astronomically beyond sensible value-addedness. And is thus, in my view, also enabling.
25% taxes on the sale of herb in Colorado, on a market value that’s so inflated it’s ridiculous. But tax money is money, and money’s what’s doing the talking, not morality.

17

Cranky Observer 11.09.13 at 8:44 pm

rob,
I’m having a bit of trouble following your 8:17 (which is my fault and I apologize). As a citizen it seems self-evident to me that the side effects from prohibitionist drug policy and related policing activity do so much damage compared to personal use of mood-altering substances that any cost/benefit analysis results overwhelmingly in favor of reasonably regulated decriminalization. [1]

But I’m just a guy; Mr. Kleiman is a recognized drug policy expert, author of academic and wonk-popular works on drugs and drug policy, and now a member of Washington State’s marijuana policy board. His view is quite different and he puts great weight on harm to the individual (even when knowingly incurred) and as I understand his work recommends continued strong regulation of mood altering drugs, only modified prohibition, and continued strong law enforcement action. Which would mean a continued market for high-profit illegal drug operations in lawless states exporting to the US, but apparently that’s to be someone else’s problem.

Cranky

[1] To include a drug license for 18 year olds with tough exam requirements requiring demonstration of understanding of short- and long-term affects on the user and very strong penalties for harm-to-other crimes such as driving under the influence, assault under the influence, etc.

18

ZM 11.09.13 at 8:51 pm

@ Jacob McM , I really am awful at Geography unless I look at a map. I just wanted to point out to Bruce Wilder that there are works looking specifically at individuals’ agency and identity in various ways, which he may or may not have already been aware of, I couldn’t tell from his previous comment.

@ Chris Bertram @12 “ZM: reading your comments on a couple of thread now, I’m afraid to say that they tend to be rather rambling, over-long, and not sufficiently focused on the topic at hand. You’ll need to change this, if you want to keep contributing here.”

Um, I do genuinely try to comment on things directly related to issues raised by reading the OPs or other people’s comments, I find there are usually a lot of various things to consider so I guess that may appear unfocused and rambling. I suppose I would approach the comments as more like dialogue/thinking aloud etc rather than making a conclusive statement. I can try to make them sound more compact and conclusive I suppose, although I don’t know how I’ll fare at it, or if my heart will be in it.
In terms of shorter comments I can try to do this also. It’s just I prefer to have quotes in addition to opinions rather than only opinions, but I can try to be briefer. It’s really that i find direct quotes anchor things in a way that a person’s opinions without quotes doesn’t so much, and it encourages me to be more accurate, because I can misremember what a book said. So I am sorry that you find my comments so poor you would exclude me.

19

Cranky Observer 11.09.13 at 8:52 pm

= = = christian_h @ 8:13: The closed – sorry “controlled” – borders and the disruptive policies of the war on drugs, so-called free trade etc. are really one policy and part of one history, that of colonial domination (whether via direct political control as in European colonial empires, or economic and social hegemony as in the Americas). = = =

Certainly part of it, but in fairness one has to include internal US cultural factors including [1] the neo-Puritan urge of some cultural factions and individuals to control what pleasure others take from their bodies in this life and to use the State to enforce that urge [2] the authoritarian desire of some cultural factions (and not small ones any more) to dominate and control other persons and the convenient use of drug laws as vehicles to do so (including the racist implications of the 1920s marijuana laws) [3] the recent but rapidly growing tendency toward Spartanizing US society including worship of the military and military force and the militarization of the personnel, weapons, tactics, and attitudes of local police forces.

These three factors all contribute to both the maintenance of prohibitionist drug policy and the closed, guarded border policies in the US, and can’t really be attributed to imperialism.

Cranky

20

Josh G. 11.09.13 at 9:06 pm

Like some of the other commenters, I think the Latin American elites are being let off far too easily here.

Why should Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Salvadoreans have to leave their homes in order to live a decent life of working/middle-class prosperity? Why shouldn’t they be able to enjoy that at home? The answer is that the Latin American elite class is even more rapacious and predatory than the North American elites (who in turn are more rapacious and predatory than the elites of western Europe). In Latin America, the neoliberal project has, by and large, been completed, and the middle class has been completely squeezed down.

Consider that the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, is a Mexican. Has he invented anything of note? Founded his own company? No. He purchased Telmex, the already-established Mexican telephone company, in a rigged privatization auction in 1990, with the help of his good friend President Carlos Salinas. Since then he’s made his colossal fortune by overcharging Mexicans on their telephone bills.

Immigration to the U.S. acts as a safety valve: people who are unhappy with their situation in Mexico find the border crossing a more realizable dream than a revolution to overthrow the corporatist government. As long as the immigration flow from Latin America to the U.S. continues, the Latin American elites will be able to squeeze more and more money out of the working class of their own countries without things exploding.

21

mattski 11.09.13 at 9:06 pm

I suppose I would approach the comments as more like dialogue/thinking aloud etc rather than making a conclusive statement.

As they say in Vermont:

Talk less, say more.

22

Chris Bertram 11.09.13 at 9:23 pm

@JWMason No I don’t accept that there’s that shift in what I wrote. The final para emphasizes closed borders, but the penultimate one didn’t. I agree that it would be better if people could make a good life where they are, but as things are, many of them can’t.

Why is that? Some commentators say I’m letting the local elites off the hook and that people should stay and overthrow them (@JoshG). Well WTF! What has happened in Central America when people have tried to overthrow those elites? The United States has intervened to stop them (1950s Guatemala, 1980s Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador anyone?). And those conflicts have left a legacy of violence within those societies too. Add to that the massive obstacle the drugs trade poses to securing good governance in those countries … again a result of US policy, especially prohibition and the war on drugs (yes, I agree with you @roy_belmont). So while migration may not be a great solution, I can’t see that the US has, given the shared recent history, a moral right to exclude them, and border control policies do make things worse and make migrants more vulnerable to the cartels that the war on drugs has spawned.

23

christian_h 11.09.13 at 9:26 pm

Cranky, of course – I did not mean to imply otherwise, merely pointing out that border policy can’t be separated from wider policy choices in the Americas.

24

novakant 11.09.13 at 9:57 pm

It’s funny how many people insist on defining migration in a negative way and cling to the notion of nation state as if it was god’s gift to humanity:

“Stay home and change things there!”

Are you f@cking kidding me?! Why should anybody follow this unbearably patronizing advice? People have one life on this earth and want to make the best of it – is that so hard to understand? Without this urge the US wouldn’t even exist.

25

js. 11.09.13 at 10:27 pm

The United States has intervened to stop them (1950s Guatemala, 1980s Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador anyone?)

As well as this, I think it’s worth adding less direct but nevertheless significant forms of intervention: who/what the US funds, e.g., with respect to the Mexican drug war, how the US responds to a coup in Honduras, and on and on.

26

Chris Bertram 11.09.13 at 10:38 pm

It might be helpful to distinguish three questions wrt migration policy:

1. What policy would a just or fully legitimate state be morally entitled to pursue?

2. What policy is actual state X morally entitled to pursue, given its nature and history?

3. What policy is politically feasible for state X, given such factors as the attitudes of its citizens?

Obviously, the answers to these questions will not always line up neatly. It is wrong to answer 1 and then to assume you have the answer to 2. It is wrong to take 3 as providing an answer to 2.

27

alex 11.09.13 at 11:00 pm

The first chapter is here: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/17684/1/riding-the-beast-to-el-norte

It is a difficult book to say you liked or enjoyed, but it’s very good.

The equivalence of Central American imigration to the US with Eastern European migration to the UK is misinformed. UK migrants are more educated/skilled than natives, US migrants less. They’re very different phenomenon.

As for the War on Drugs, I’m all for the freedom of adults to use things like mdma and lsd. But the drug warriors do have a point. Drug use shot up in the 60s and 70s, non-cannabis drug use was touching 40% among 12th graders in the 70s. It’s half that now. On it’s own terms – maintaining soberity, particularly among the young – the War on Drugs has been a great success. You can disagree with the aim, but I don’t see successfully reducing drug use among kids as fundamentally immoral or an illegitimate objective for the government to pursue.

28

mattski 11.09.13 at 11:51 pm

I’m with JW Mason. The situation is indeed horrific, but that lends itself to overreaction.

The US has in large measure caused their plight, and now claims the moral right to exclude them

“The US” is not a monolithic, unchanging entity. Clinton & Obama aren’t responsible for death squads in El Salvador. And the “right” to exclude the US claims, ISTM, is not primarily moral but economic.

As gross oversimplifications go, “the system” makes a poor target. Better by far to rail against human nature. It is less a straw man, and the fact that we all share in it promotes a helpful humility.

29

LFC 11.09.13 at 11:55 pm

Basically I agree w CB @26, but in the case of the US I might amend his question (3) to read:

3. What policy is politically feasible for state X, given such factors as the attitudes of its citizens and the number of ‘undocumented’ immigrants already in the country?

The 11 million (or whatever it is) figure of undocumented immigrants is small relative to total US pop., but in the best political scenario ‘comprehensive’ immigration legislation that gives those already in the US a path to citizenship will have to maintain the controlled-border regime (which I would favor loosening, I just doubt it’s politically feasible).

Picking up on JWMason’s remark that “if it were possible to achieve a reasonable standard of life in Honduras or Guatemala, then the human costs of closed borders would be modest,” I suppose ideally the US would take a lot of the money it now spends on the ‘drug war’ and border policing and put it into a serious development effort in central America focused on raising living standards and bypassing, if at all possible, uncooperative local forces (incl. govts). The memory of the 1980s Reagan-era mil. interventions no doubt lingers and might be hard to overcome, but the more immediate problem is there doesn’t seem to be a big constituency in the US for such an effort. (Trade agreements (such as CAFTA-DR) and going back to the Caribbean Basin Initiative are certainly no substitute for this. If anything they may have been counterproductive, though I’m not sure, tbh.)

30

Peter T 11.10.13 at 12:05 am

A flow of desperate migrants is an opportunity for predation unless some state intervenes in protection. Instances include the Vietnamese boat people of the late 70s, who were preyed on by Thai fishermen until warships were stationed offshore, or the Indian/Pakistan experience at independence, where the worst calamities befell when the few reliable troops were exhausted and could no longer maintain order. The state can be both the cause and the solution, at both ends of the problem.

The drug trade comes in for a lot of stick, and rightly so. But the key to the drug trades criminal lure is not that high prices at the retail end create large amounts of money. It’s that even drugs that are cheap at the retail end are very profitable because they cost so little to produce, and very little money is tied up in capital. It’s basically pure cash flow – so much so that criminals are frequently embarrassed by their inability to use up the cash generated (they lose lots, mislay lots, splurge on the high life, throw it at relatives and friends and still have lots left over). Doesn’t fit the standard economic models, but there it is. It’s hard to conceive of any regime that would alter this.

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roy belmont 11.10.13 at 12:12 am

Cranky 8:52- Agreed 1-2-3, right there with ya, but missing 4.
The insistence on prohibition by fraidycat moralists is brought forward, along with budget-chauvinism per DEA etc.
And the children! Don’t forget the children! Unless they’re 14 yr old corner boys flogging dope in the ghetto, or 16 yr old crack whores.
Kleiman has nothing r.e. the people now doing hard time for weed, or low volume sales of the powder drugs, except “Let’s not do that anymore.” He comes across to me as an exemplar of the cliched deleterious effect of herbal over-indulgence, a cheery fantasist.
Nowhere ever is there any discussion around the likelihood that the money’s not going to the cartels exclusively, but through them on the way to somewhere in the US or elsewhere, somewhere other than Sr. MuyRico’s hardened compound in the hills of Michoacan or Medellin.
Read about the Opium War in 19th c. China, its cause, prosecution, and result. Afghanistan is now the world center of opium production after ten years of NATO occupation. Why, how?
It is a huge business, drugs, with umpteen billions moving entirely outside taxable traceable channels. Otherwise inexplicable policy decisions start making lots of sense if the money’s going to somebodies with big influence over US politicians and their policy-making, foreign as well as domestic.
-
Chris Bertram 10:38- These questions are central, not just to border issues, but the climate refugee problem looming too. Not to mention that austerity crap.
1. A just state would needs gird its loins in this world. Legitimacy’s another thing entirely. Surely there’s some philosophical word problem around lifeboats and the sinking of after too many equally desperate rescuees scramble aboard.
2. Lots of folks outside the mainstream discourse consider the US to be a rapacious genocidal clot whose prosperity and might came directly from a history of deeply immoral practices. First thing would be not do that stuff anymore, then feel it, the conflicting shame and pride and privilege,the combined guilt and innocence of the heirs.
Let the policy come from an enlightened electorate with access to just and responsibly accurate information. So all we need to do is enlighten the electorate.
3. Political feasibility in the US?
There would appear to be serious and extensive truth-filters at work in the US political process, both in the electorate and in the elected.
In the elected, in my view, there’s immense pressure toward dishonesty and hypocrisy, and probably including, in some cases, extortion.
In the electorate the pestering goad of induced fear shapes the attitudes of the majority, that and a kind of hyper-seduction toward material gratification that’s never consummated. How can a bunch of frightened selfish assholes direct a state toward compassionate and wise behavior?
As well, the artificial polarities of things like abortion, and gay rights, and drugs, and immigration, as political/cultural litmus tests are useful in keeping the citizens’ attitudes locked in intramural hostility.
The manipulative tyranny of Murdochian info-gurge needs toppling before the majority attitude can even be considered genuine, let alone just.
First systemic change then policy.

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roy belmont 11.10.13 at 12:31 am

Peter T 12:05 am-
” drugs that are cheap at the retail end” That would be which drugs exactly? Cheap compared to what?
When I first encountered marijuana, back in that infamous decade of yore, an ounce cost $10. Last I heard it had inflated considerably. Cocaine and heroin for an evening’s use are both more expensive than a quality dinner for two, far more expensive than a bottle of excellent wine.
And regardless of the exact figures the price is nowhere near a rational value-added formula, from producer through supply chain to retail consumer.
I could grow enough weed for the year in a suburban backyard if allowed, but Kleiman et al want to tax that based on a parity with the illegal marketplace.
Cocaine and heroin would probably, I don’t know the figures exactly,be as cheap, without the tariffs of criminality and risk, to bring to the retail endpoint as ibuprophen.

33

Peter T 11.10.13 at 12:48 am

Well, a bit of quick google tells me an evening with friends and hash in the UK will cost GBP10 – same as 3 pints of lager. An ecstasy pill for an evening at the club will cost GBP5. Here in Australia an ecstasy pill will cost $5 – a reduction from around $25 a decade ago – less than the price of a sticky drink. That looks cheap to me.

A hit of crack or a deal of heroin used to be both around $5 on the streets in the states, IIRC. Again, that looks cheap to me. But my point is that, even at these prices, criminals were awash with money. It’s not that they charge so much, it’s that they spend so little to earn it.

34

JW Mason 11.10.13 at 1:08 am

It’s not that they charge so much, it’s that they spend so little to earn it.

I’m curious what your basis for this claim is. I am very far from an expert, but my impression was that most of the retail price of illegal drugs was accounted for by distribution costs.

35

JW Mason 11.10.13 at 1:13 am

The more I think about it, the more I think Peter T’s claim cannot be true. We know that there are very large markups in drug prices from import to wholesale to retail. But surely the market power in the industry is at the import end of the chain, not at the retail end. (This is not Wal Mart.) Since most of the price is markups close to the retail end, and since the profits certainly are not mostly at the retail end, I think we can say confidently that overall margins are low.

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JW Mason 11.10.13 at 1:27 am

For example, <a href="http://www.cicad.oas.org/main/policy/informeDrogas2013/laEconomicaNarcotrafico_ENG.pdf&quot; this report says that of $35 billion in “gross profits” in the US cocaine trade, $25 billion accrues to retailers and another $5 billion to US wholesalers. Since the wholesalers have limited market power and the retailers have none, it is safe to say that these “profits” are really costs of distribution. The actual surplus will be further back in the distribution chain, and with $30 out of $35 billion already accounted for, there can’t be that much of it. (Especially given that manufacturing cocaine and getting it to the US border are not costless.)

37

roy belmont 11.10.13 at 1:28 am

Peter T-
Ecstasy per tab from $1.70 Poland
to $57.50 Russia
US at $25 and yes,
UK $5

Cocaine per gram from $3.50 Bolivia
to $300 Australia
https://tinyurl.com/3q6ptxs
Somehow that disparity validates my asseverance but I’m late for dinner and can’t figure it just now.

38

Andrew F. 11.10.13 at 1:38 am

I don’t disagree with much of the post.

But there is a mix of two different types of narratives, which Bruce Wilder mentioned above, which I’m not sure makes for a coherent whole.

On the one hand, the US state is ascribed moral agency and a unitary character. The US state chooses to do this, and it chooses to do that. It makes decisions, and blame or praise attaches to the US state for those decisions.

On the other hand, the decisions of CA institutions (and individuals composing them) are primarily described as the effects of historical and external causes. Laws against the production, transportation, and sale of various substances are in Mexico and elsewhere the result of US funding and influence, and are not the choices of law-making institutions in those countries. Corruption is the result of history, especially the historical decisions of the US state, but not the result of decisions by the corrupt institution or individuals – these are primarily controlled by historical and external forces. Even criminal organizations are described as the result of “US demand” and weak/corrupt foreign states, all caused by historical and contemporary decisions of the US state.

The effect of this mixture is to make the US seem both almost omnipotent and of course unitary, and every other actor nearly powerless and/or non-unitary. Given such a context, it is easy to ascribe responsibility for the actions of third parties to the US state; it becomes natural to speak of the US state as causing those actions.

But it is just as easy to describe US policy causally. It is just as easy to describe US policy in non-unitary terms – that is, in terms of individual parts and forces. And it is just as easy to describe the actions of others with a primary degree of moral agency. If we do that, it becomes much more difficult to ascertain what level of blame attaches to the US state in general.

It becomes even more difficult to ascertain the level of blame to attach to the US state for the actions of third parties many decisions removed.

And more difficult still would be an attempt to ascertain the level of blame to ascribe to current individual actors who make up the US state, for the actions of other individual actors who once made up the US state, in turn for the actions of other individual actors who once made up other institutions and for such individuals today.

Start from the view of someone who neither views the US state as a unitary actor nor views the actions of others as lacking primary moral agency. How to explain to a young resident of Texas that she is responsible for the foreign policy of the Eisenhower Administration in Guatemala, and for the various decisions of so many other individuals to acquiesce, aid, or initiate criminal/unethical activities in CA, and she has therefore no moral right to control access to her country? That she is, by the same reasoning, “in large measure” responsible for the plight of Central Americans being targeted by criminals? Her answer is likely going to be one that flows from her own experience of the “US state” and the decisions of other individuals: “I didn’t do that, and the criminals in question make their own choices. My vote should take into account how a given policy will affect all human beings, and there are good humanitarian and practical reasons for changing current policy. But moral culpability for criminal gangs, whose decisions in turn supposedly derive from those of US policy-makers dead before I was born?”

I think the post is on solid ground insofar as current US drug policy is short-sighted and harmful to just about everyone affected. But the claim that the US state bears moral responsibility for all of (most of? a large number of?) the corrupt/criminal decisions of others is difficult to defend without removing moral agency entirely from the latter and removing causal explanation entirely from the former.

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JW Mason 11.10.13 at 2:20 am

Back to the topic at hand, the distinctions @26 are helpful. I fully agree with you on number two.

40

Ronan(rf) 11.10.13 at 3:24 am

re economic and political development in developing countries. Emigration is a substantial part of it, (through remittances, relieving demographic/economic pressures,diffusion of political ideas etc .. )
There are obvious problems associated with that (brain drains, for example) but the benefits (afaict) are still substantially greater than ‘hang around and foment revolution’
If the aim is lessening global economic inequality and developing poorer countries, then I cant see how migration is a negative

41

William Berry 11.10.13 at 4:01 am

Excellent post and (mostly) interesting thread.

I am haunted by the memories of the faces of the ragged “cholitos y cholitas” I have seen in their thousands on the streets of my wife’s hometown of Lima. They haven’t left the country, but they flock to the city from the mountain and trans-montane regions of Peru for the same reasons migrants cross borders. The gaze of despair and longing in their eyes is unmistakable and heart-wrenching.

They are Marthe Raymond’s tragic displaced indigenous: one more doomed category of the dispossessed.

I couldn’t begin to express what I think and feel about this issue and related ones (e.g., international workers’ and women’ rights) in a comment thread: I am just going to post the body of a follow-up e-mail I sent to my contacts (I have some conservative relatives, notably a younger brother, I am trying to convert to the cause):

. . . I don’t agree with everything Chris Bertram (a philosophy professor in England?) says in the CT post I linked to in the previous mail. His passion takes him over the top sometimes (e.g., the “open” borders thing, which, while right-minded and humane, is just impractical in the context of today’s world). The almost always excellent (but sometimes dour to the point of lugubriousness!) Bruce Wilder makes some good points at comment #5, to which CB reacts thoughtfully w/o outright rejecting BW’s main premises.

What strikes me as the salient point in CB’s post is his viewinig the migrants as refugees from a catastrophe that was created PRINCIPALLY by the West. This is right on. As far as the institutional, political, and economic distortions BW refers to are concerned, they are themselves primarily the product of Western imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and ONGOING cultural and economic imperialism, not to mention continuing old-fashioned imperialism of the military kind.

Yes, many of these problems are of internal origin. But even here, we should be alert to the possibility that the worldwide heterosynchrony of development in all spheres of life (political, economic, social— esp. issues of gender and women’s rights and education) is largely an artifact of Western hegemony.

42

Belle Waring 11.10.13 at 7:23 am

roy belmont: the days of $10 an ounce weed are, indeed, gone. But you know what? That was some ditch-weed right there. I watched grownups smoke joints like cigarettes when I was a kid. They very, very often had to shake seeds out before rolling them up. For sure they were stoned, I mean, no doubt! But the nigh-equal-to-the-market-price-of-gold weed they have today is like elven wayfarer bread. You could carry that ounce outside the Kingdoms of the Men of the West and all the way into the middle of Mordor to the Crack of Doom, and be stoned off your ass the whole time, and have some left over to spark up a victory micro-amount in a Volcano vaporizer with a damn gas-mask on. And Samwise would be all “god, I would fucking KILL for an Entenmann’s crumb coffee cake right now.

“Cocaine and heroin for an evening’s use are both more expensive than a quality dinner for two, far more expensive than a bottle of excellent wine.” NO. Does your bottle of wine cost $55 and have an eight-ball of coke on the side? Then not. (I am assuming you and your fellow diner have a mild tolerance, and live in the US. If you live in NYC, and you are n00bz, I think it could go as low as $35. OTOH maybe in Podunk, SquarishStateInTheMiddleNoOneCaresAbout you’ll be paying $150, I don’t know. Probably you should just buy meth from your neighbors in Podunk, who are dealing meth.) I hasten to add that I, personally, am a teetotaller. I don’t even drink. Sober as a judge on hanging day. “But, but, Belle Waring, what?” you object. “That seems really–not you, somehow.” Yes, it hasn’t always been the case that I was a teetoaller throughout my entire life. Nope.

I think decriminalization should go all the way. The drug that causes the most damage to users and their families, by a million-mile long-shot, is alcohol. I don’t know that anyone bothers to break it down, even, but I think that the percentage of violent crimes in which the criminal and/or the victims have been using alcohol must be staggeringly high. Really, truly, for real, if we are going to let people drink bourbon, there’s no point in not going on and letting them use heroin.

Heroin addicts commit minor property crimes because they need money for drugs. They’re not all wasted raring to go and ready to go kick some ass. They want to lie down and listen to music. Junkies are annoying and boring and whiny. They get Hep C and HIV from sharing needles. Let’s just fucking give them needles! Junkies die from overdoses, in most cases, because the quality of the product varies dramatically, and they got too much for their money, and found out too late. Then we should standardize the purity of the drug.

Cocaine addicts similarly commit crimes to get money for drugs, and they are likelier to be violent. But for the most part, in my experience, these are the same people who are belligerent drunks. Some people get drunk and mellow out; others start taking offense at imagined slights and hitting people with chairs. We funnel everyone into alcohol right now. But is there any sense to that, particularly? Sure, there would be some people who wouldn’t have become addicts at all will become heroin addicts, and that’s terrible. But when you look at what the War on Drugs has done to the black community in our nation–the rewards would be so great that they would outweigh these personal tragedies. And for the most part what will happen, I think, is that people who would have been alcoholics anyway will get addicted to something else. And maybe that will be weed! With divorced parents I had two homes, one with night and day bourbon getting drunk, the other with night and day joints getting smoked. Do I even need to tell you which one was a horror–truly a nightmare in which no one could even fall back on the “he never hit anyone” defense?

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William Berry 11.10.13 at 8:01 am

Belle@42: I am with you 1000 %. Drug policy is a nightmare.

To be fair, though, you could get some good shit back in the day (I’m talking 70s, early 80s here) you just had to put out a little effort to find it. There was the briquetted Colombian weed that was decent, and something called “Afghan sensamilla” (sp?), which we— er, some people, I mean— grew domestically (usually indoors, with grow-lights, humidifiers, etc.), carefully pulling and discarding the male plants at an early stage. Now that was some powerful dope right there. I recall that sort of weed going for 100$ or more per ounce by mid-80s or thereabouts.

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William Berry 11.10.13 at 8:04 am

Close italics fail on sensamilla. Hope it’s fixed.

No, I am not smoking now,

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roy belmont 11.10.13 at 8:52 am

Belle-
It’s ungallant of me I know, but I stopped reading here:
“the days of $10 an ounce weed are, indeed, gone. But you know what?”
I anticipated that generic riposte, but thought a heading-off was too far from the main point. It’s true, generally, the experience, but it wasn’t universal.
I’m sure close to a large majority of weed access and use in the late 60’s was embarrassing-to-later-self schwaggy. But some of us were getting yes stems and seeds and the seeds were in real dry Mexican colas, but the weed was more than mediocre, or even mere satisfactory, and I saw personally kilos of high grade seedless Mexican weed in California that sold for $75. High-grade as in one joint 3-4 guys astronomically uplifted. 3-4 already know what it’s like to get higher than shit guys.
Anecdotal if you want the out but it’s true.
I saw personally $15 ounces as potent and psychedelically welcoming as Humboldt bud shake of today, in 1967, not often, and not in a white smart kids want to try it context.
I am sure you went on to make pithy repeatedly, and I’m looking forward to reading that after I send this, but I didn’t want to start my resumption of the thread getting schooled by someone who would write those lines.

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roy belmont 11.10.13 at 9:09 am

Belle- well okay then.
…The drug that causes the most damage to users and their families, by a million-mile long-shot…
Yes yes but.
The drug that’s going to havecaused the most damage to users and their families is gasoline. Not part of the discussion because the addiction’s not metabolic, and consumption isn’t internal, but every other parameter check check check.
Everything else in your post I feel and think pretty much like you do. I don’t though think the answer to the current pathology of criminalization and enforcement is wide-open access, only because I think the problem that needs addressed isn’t about drugs at all, but about people’s lives and the place of those lives in the world.
We outlawed slavery, but we didn’t outlaw being the kind of person who would keep slaves if it wasn’t against the law kind of thing.

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William Berry 11.10.13 at 9:27 am

Given the seriousness of the subject of the OP, I am feeling a little chagrin[n?]ed about my own contribution to the dope quality discussion, and I apologize accordingly.

Kind of reminds me of Daniel Stern once joking about female genital mutilation

48

roy belmont 11.10.13 at 9:39 am

Belle-
This isn’t remotely snark, but the following is opaque to me:
far more expensive than a bottle of excellent wine.” NO. Does your bottle of wine cost $55 and have an eight-ball of coke on the side? Then not.
Does mean NO cocaine is cheaper than excellent bottle of wine?
Or just NO me, wrong?
My assumption about dining and wining v. the other stuff usage is founded on experience of decades back, but the details maybe, I don’t know, a little hyperbole now and then doesn’t harm anything. It’s not addictive if you’re aware, you know, what you’re doing.
The bit about Podunk was slightly offensive, meth being the devastating crack of poor whites, and neither one a particular humorous thing.
I’m nowhere near Podunk anyway. Out here in the Calif. desert, my only (long walk) neighbors a retired aerobatic champion, a retired fireman, and a whole lot of rabbits and coyotes.
There’s meth bigtime in local communities some miles away, but again, no joking matter.
In 1965 at the tender age of I heard a shrink stand up to a local panel composed of DA, police chief, narc, moderator and lay it out plain. “You’re lying to these kids about marijuana, and they’re going to find out you’re lying and they’re not going to believe you about anything else, and you’re going to lose some of the best of them.”
Wisdom from elders like that is still mostly unavailable to youth, with obvious consequences.

49

SoU 11.10.13 at 10:06 am

Re: US being responsible-
The US is the main end market for the drug trade (interestingly less and less so, this is b/c the drugs make more stops along the way than they use to) . US consumers consume these substances knowing somewhere down the line it goes to cartel types. US Voters have voted for the war on drugs many times ( this may be ready to shift) . The whole reason that the drug cartels are so bad in Mexico these days is because the change in the drug pathways. The cocaine used to come by air or sea up the Carribean . But then total crackdown on that by US border patrol + massive outlays of US security assistance in Colombia for years (see Plan Colombia) pushed the industry into neighboring countries who just send the stuff up overland and along the coast thru Central America. Then it gets to the border, and getting over the border is a huge challenge so people organize and you get the cartels – who naturally have a hand in the human migration b/c navigating the border is their whole thing. Meanwhile the US is militariz ing the Mexican state ( see Merida initiative) and not addressing the 2 major factors in the drug war just to its south: the demand side , where prices are artificially inflated by the huge number of middle men and high levels of risk associated with drug dealing (see war on drugs) / and the Border – which obstructs the movement of people and pushes them toward the cartels not to mention being partly the raisondetre of the cartel anyhow.

I totally agree re: local plutocrats, but think how many of those plutocrats are piloting some stupid monopoly that would be nationalized right now if not for the US so emphatically demonstrating its position on the question over the past century.

I’m in total agreement with OP regarding the border – it serves as a catAlyst for so many forms if refracted violence . In my part of the states , people don’t really think much about what is basically a war in our backyard. I mean, this is what modern war looks like (it just makes for a bad videogame) but people don’t give it any regard because it’s “over there” on so many levels.

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SoU 11.10.13 at 10:21 am

Also re: tone
I thought @42 was totally fine with the dark humor b/c there were a lot of good points in there re: drug culture and this thread would be quite dismal without some snark, history of weed prices, etc to shake off the gloom.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.10.13 at 10:44 am

Legalizing drugs is one thing, and contraband is another. I’ve read somewhere that nowadays you can make more money smuggling and selling Marlboros than illegal drugs. So, border control issues remain.

The idea that the troubles in Guatemala are fueled by the demand in the States, while probably technically correct, is missing the point, IMO. And the point is similar to JW Mason, 13: the disparity of wealth is the source of the problem. I mean, if the GDP per capita in the US was 1/10 of that in Guatemala, no one would’ve cared what US consumers want. No one would’ve wanted to cross the border in this direction. And if someone did, no one would care to stop them. So, thinking globally, equalizing the standard of living seems to be the solution.

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Chris Bertram 11.10.13 at 11:14 am

As an aside, I find the range and combination of opinions concerning citizen responsibility for their governments rather entertaining: On the one hand we have the thought that Central Americans ought to rise up and overthrow their governments rather than trekking north; on the other we have the idea that it is not fair that the burden of migration falls on ordinary US citizens because they can’t be held responsible for what their governments have done in the past. We also have the sociological point that states are not unitary actors deployed against the legal point that they are sovereign entities: try that one in order to evade creditors or to argue that you aren’t bound by treaties!

I’ve seen variants on all these moves before of course, from people arguing that ordinary Iraqis could be held responsible for Saddam (so bombs away!), to others arguing that it was unfair to hold ordinary Icelanders (the highly educated population of a democratic state) responsible for the undertakings of their government (once things went pear shaped).

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Sasha Clarkson 11.10.13 at 12:09 pm

This all makes extremely uncomfortable reading – as it should. It is a brutal truth that the right of asylum depends firstly upon the availability of transport to a potential host country.

There is no question of there being a “duty to rescue”. For those of us with comfortable lives in the West, that is a blessing, as, partly due to the activities of our governments, there are countries where most of the population outside the ruling clique would be eligible to claim asylum. If they came, the social cohesion of our own societies would be destroyed.

So yes, there is a right to asylum: so long as it is claimed by only a minority of those who should be entitled to it. By being passive, we share the guilt. I wish I could see an honest way forward.

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LFC 11.10.13 at 3:03 pm

Wm Berry @41
What strikes me as the salient point in CB’s post is his viewing the migrants as refugees from a catastrophe that was created PRINCIPALLY by the West. This is right on. As far as the institutional, political, and economic distortions BW refers to are concerned, they are themselves primarily the product of Western imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and ONGOING cultural and economic imperialism, not to mention continuing old-fashioned imperialism of the military kind.

The proposition that the West and the US in particular created the problems is relevant to the question whether the US has a moral right to exclude; it’s not very relevant, however, to the practical policy questions of what to do about the issue given the constraints of public opinion, etc.

The US is not going to pay reparations to the CA countries and their residents, even if there is a case to be made that it should. So the question of how much blame for the current situation is due to the historical impact of US hegemony in the region vs. how much blame is assignable to the countries themselves is of marginal relevance from the standpoint of policy.

I think SoU @49 has a good pt here:
The cocaine used to come by air or sea up the Carribean . But then total crackdown on that by US border patrol + massive outlays of US security assistance in Colombia for years (see Plan Colombia) pushed the industry into neighboring countries who just send the stuff up overland and along the coast thru Central America.
Colombia has been and prob still is one of the countries that gets the most ‘aid’ from the US of a mil/security kind (at one pt it was third, right behind Israel and Egypt). With US mil. aid to Egypt largely suspended recently (and only just being resumed?), Colombia may be even higher on the list. Though w the FARC having faded and the geographical focus of the ‘drug war’ having shifted, perhaps not.

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LFC 11.10.13 at 3:22 pm

P.s. Just checked, out of curiosity, and the only substantive post on my blog about Colombia is from Aug. 2009, referring to the Obama admin’s “updating” of Plan Colombia by striking a deal that gave the US access to some Colombian mil. bases. The late Hugo Chavez reacted to this by saying that the “winds of war were blowing” across South America. (Of course the ‘drug wars’ in Mexico and elsewhere have cost tens of thousands of lives, but that’s presumably not the kind of war Chavez had in mind.)

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Ronan(rf) 11.10.13 at 3:25 pm

On how culpable the US is for the drug war in Northern Mexico – I can see how the question is important in the context of whether the US has a morale obligation to those fleeing the violence, but I dont see how assigning responsibility is really possible
From what Ive read on it there are to many interrelated causes to choose one specifically; regional (crackdowns on cartels in Columbia shifting power to the Mexican cartles, also shifting drug routes as per Soru) US centric (US cocaine demand, guns crossing the border*) causes specific to Mexico (falling apart of old alliances btw politicians and drug gangs, greater competition within the cartels splitting up older stable order, reaction of security services further escalating the violence)

I’m not sure what US imperialism tells us about this. It seems too complicated for blame being put on one actor in particular

*International criminal organisations are going to get weapons from somewhere, if there wasnt the option of the US they would find a differnet soures.There’s probably a more convincing case for US gun laws adding to the violene at a lower level, but at the organised cartel level I dont think that argument holds

57

GiT 11.10.13 at 3:40 pm

How do you get from “too complicated for blame being put on one actor in particular” to not blaming any actor in particular? Nice bit of sophistry, I guess.

58

GiT 11.10.13 at 3:40 pm

*any actor*s* in particular

59

Ronan(rf) 11.10.13 at 3:44 pm

I dont really get your point, tbh
Perhaps poorly worded on my part?

60

GiT 11.10.13 at 3:50 pm

You said it’s not really possible to assign culpability to the US because “things are complicated.” I don’t see how any of that at all follows. Things are complicated and the US is for sure culpable to a not negligible extent. Things being complicated and multi-causal doesn’t really tell us anything about the US’s culpability.

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Ronan(rf) 11.10.13 at 3:54 pm

Sure, the US is partly culpable. I agree. And I generally agree with much less restricted immigration policies in Western countries
I was really only saying that I dont see how culpability rests only (or primarily) with the US. Perhaps that’s true, but I dont see why, at the minute

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.10.13 at 4:06 pm

It may be complicated, but I noticed that everyone from the area I’ve ever met blame the yankee imperialism. It doesn’t prove anything, but it’s a strong hint.

63

mud man 11.10.13 at 4:23 pm

Chorus: It’s not our fault, because it isn’t happening here. That’s why we built that fence. That free, open world is a non-starter: We Don’t Have Any Choice.

Pretty disgusting.

“It isn’t a question of sharing the blame.” It isn’t even really a question of blame. Which side are you on?

64

NomadUK 11.10.13 at 5:02 pm

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bianca steele 11.10.13 at 6:01 pm

With all respect, Chris, did I miss where a commenter in this thread is suggesting people in Central America should rise up and overthrow their governments? That’s a bit different from suggesting that elites should take a different policy in response to unrest relating to problems caused by their own policies, other than encouraging people in their own countries to consider exit as the best option if they’re dissatisfied. Which (the idea that trying to get to the US is a terrific option for them) seems less likely given reports like the one in the Martinez book you’re discussing.

I mean, it’s not like “let those other governments get ever more fascist and anti-poor, and let the poor people all leave for the US, which regardless of what life will be like there for them, at least the government isn’t fascist and isn’t admittedly anti-poor,” is a reasonable policy.

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mattski 11.10.13 at 6:23 pm

@ 52

We also have the sociological point that states are not unitary actors deployed against the legal point that they are sovereign entities: try that one in order to evade creditors or to argue that you aren’t bound by treaties!

Aren’t you switching between moral arguments and legal arguments to suit your convenience? Looks that way to me.

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mattski 11.10.13 at 6:31 pm

@ 62

It may be complicated, but I noticed that everyone from the area I’ve ever met blame the yankee imperialism. It doesn’t prove anything, but it’s a strong hint.

I cannot find the original source–can’t remember if it was in print or on radio–but I believe it was a story about an American student attending school in Pakistan and listening with astonishment as virtually every societal ill was blamed on the United States by his/her fellow Pakistani students. Ie, what the locals believe is not necessarily ‘data.’

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SoU 11.10.13 at 10:34 pm

@67 yeah there is a decent amount of ‘river overflows, blame the US: dry harvest, blame the US’ going on, especially in Pakistan . But when it comes to south and central America, the history of US interference in favor of corporate and later neoliberal capitalism is extensive and well documented.
All this stuff re: state is just a convenient fiction and US is not a unitary actor isn’t wrong, but totally beside the point here. Someone upthread called it sophistry and thats right on target imho. The US state is an actor itself , which American citizens participate in to various degrees depending on many factors. I mean, there is a sense in which US citizens are themselves stymied by plutocrats and etc, but still, beside the point.
The question of US responsibility for the conflicts is important because it informs the next question: does the US have any moral obligation to the victims of the drug war? I think yes, the US state does have responsibility and that conclusion is clear if you think about the US role in creating those refugee flows. Sure, social causation is complex and multifaceted and etc etc, but it’s not a question of who is Primarily responsible (Columbus?) but whether we – citizens of the US particularly – are shirking a moral duty we should be rising to.

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Consumatopia 11.10.13 at 11:20 pm

You, as an individual, may not be responsible for your country’s particular sins. But as an individual you have no right to build a fence and position guards at the border. Only the government has the legitimacy do to that. And government misdeeds reduce that legitimacy, regardless of the ultimate causes of those actions.

In general, people are too quick to take a unitary view of international conflict. I think there are more opportunities for political cooperation across international borders than we realize. But if you’re talking about the legitimacy of collective force, then collective responsibility is not optional.

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Josh G. 11.11.13 at 2:06 am

The nation-state is the only institution in the world that is capable of controlling the depredations of multinational capital. Multinational empires are invariably run by the 1 percent – witness how the European Union is busy doing everything it can to dismantle the hard-won welfare states of Europe, and force a neoliberal dystopia on the continent. A welfare state can only work if citizens feel that they are fundamentally one people. It can be multiracial, but not multicultural. There must be one culture, one language, one demos.

The alternative to nationalism is eternal slavery of the 99% to Davos Man. This is why I am a nationalist, a protectionist, an immigration restrictionist, and an isolationist.

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ZM 11.11.13 at 2:16 am

Chris Bertram @52
“on the other we have the idea that it is not fair that the burden of migration falls on ordinary US citizens because they can’t be held responsible for what their governments have done in the past.”

I will try to be brief and conclusive. In Australia we have many refugees crossing the sea to come here partly because of various results if various Western interventions in the Middle East. Many people and the government do not like this, but we currently have a high migration intake for those who are “skilled” so the governments objections are not to do with numbers of immigrants per se, or whether there is room here for immigrants still.

But then I think of Britain, and if I remember rightly, for a long time there was a policy of allowing migration from British subjects in Commonwealth countries (possibly with some restrictions?) – this has now stopped.

Would you argue that Britain also had a responsibility to open its borders freely to those people again, in current times?

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Watson Ladd 11.11.13 at 4:00 am

Josh G: There is such a thing as international socialism aimed at producing a world society. Or at least was in 1917.

The reason to support immigration is because it is a good thing for those who immigrate, enhances our lives, and is very cheap. Should we care if those who try to immigrate do so to escape grinding poverty or criminal gangs? Either way, we have the duty to help.

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Eric Titus 11.11.13 at 4:43 am

I wonder whether all this hand-wringing about US drug policy is a little off-base? A thought experiment might be how much better things would be with less illegal drug demand from the US. The cartels have grown in Mexico more recently, but it seems more convincing that the main causes are Closed Borders + Weak local gvt/strong organized crime (caused by US imperialism) + humanitarian/economic crises elsewhere in Latin America (also caused by US).

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Belle Waring 11.11.13 at 9:29 am

OK roy belmont, sorry. I really wasn’t trying to be a dick to you. I was making a humorous comment on the insane potency of recent strains of marijuana. Obviously people were getting killer weed back in the 70s or else the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers would never have gotten any Thai stick. (Should children be allowed to read the complete run? And also of Heavy Metal Magazine? And all those Conan comics? And Gor novels? Yes, yes, yes, and holy fuck what were they thinking? I read those books when I was like 9. Consensual BDSM is fine, but Gor novels are evil.)

What I meant about the wine was that for $55 you could, possibly, get enough heroin and cocaine to entertain yourself and a friend. While wine might cost $55 but not come with any cocaine. Cracks about Podunk are just for real; people in America’s heartland do a lot of meth. (I wavered between saying “talking smack about Podunk” and “Cracks about Podunk” but there are problems both ways.) Cracks about crack…people were smoking cocaine since forever. There was a roaring, still-rising wave of violence during the time that crack first entered wide use, and it seemed that nothing would stop it, that America would turn into Escape From New York. But then the wave of violence crested and receded without there being any less crack around than before. People liked to freak out about crack babies, and panic about black men hopped up on crack who turned into raging animals and started killing and raping people for no reason. I’m not saying we should distribute it as part of the free lunch at low-income schools, but it’s just not alllll that different from the high class powdered cocaine rich white people do. Not really all that different. Except for how long it sends you to jail.

Yeah meth sucks too but like you say, what else is anyone doing in Podunk? Huffing fucking gasoline, right? Inhaling floor cleaner! People are going to find a way to get as wasted as they can afford. Getting speed from a government clinic where they also would help you get in rehab whenever you wanted, where you could go to the dentist and get a damn bite guard, where you weren’t exposing you and your children and your community to toxic waste cooking it up yourself–wouldn’t that be better than now, even if it meant we were handing out dexamphetamine to a third of the people in Podunk? (We wouldn’t actually HAVE to give them meth.) Nobody’s trying to help them do anything except get them into prison right now. We’re good on that.

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ZM 11.11.13 at 9:40 am

Aaargh. Belle Waring, this is a great and very light hearted digression from the grave topic. Poor commenters might be excluded for perceived digressions here, you know. This is a comment specifically on your comment, so it should be allowed I hope, without me being expelled?

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Chris Bertram 11.11.13 at 10:40 am

ZM: yes, I think the UK’s restrictive changes to its nationality law have resulted in the unjust exclusion of former imperial subjects.

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Sasha Clarkson 11.11.13 at 2:18 pm

@76 Chris – at least two billion people live in former British Colonies; which former subjects were you thinking of?

What rights should they have, and how would you implement/guarantee them? If there is no practical way of achieving them, human rights and justice have no meaning.

Suppose the UK breaks up after the Scottish independence referendum? What happens then?

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Belle Waring 11.11.13 at 3:58 pm

ZM: after sober reflection on first principles and thorough-going ethical consistency, I would say, yes.

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soy un perdedor 11.11.13 at 4:21 pm

JW Mason @ 13: I’m sure you agree that ‘exit’ and ‘voice’ (eloquent terms) aren’t mutually exclusive.

Do you oppose arguments in favor of equal opportunity employment on the basis of the logic that we should focus on giving more voice to victimized workers so they can optimize their conditions at their own respective firms (rather than also talk about how to make it easier for them to find opportunities elsewhere)?

When talking to US residents/citizens and US policy makers, I think it is appropriate to focus on US politics and policies.

When talking to Central American residents/citizens and Central American policy makers, I think it is appropriate to focus on Central American politics and policies.

I think the audience here comprises more of the former and so I agree with the focus of the OP.

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Chris Bertram 11.11.13 at 4:38 pm

Sasha: I think it best to get these matters straight before invading countries and not afterwards. Just because 2 billion people have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that they will, of course. But I think it reasonable to suppose that if there were no legal barrier to such migration, former imperial powers would take more interest in the well-being of their former subjects in situ. (The prospect of such population movements has, in the past, had a remarkably galvanizing effect, as with the willingness of the EU to invest in Portugal’s infrastructure before the borders were opened.)

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Rakesh Bhandari 11.11.13 at 4:54 pm

Great points in 80 as well as the OP
Ayelat Shachar writes that only 3% of the world’s population does not live in the nation states in which they were born. Many people believe that there is a lot more movement of people across borders than there is. Since there can be enormous welfare gains by moving across a border, as Branko Milanovic has shown, and since immigrants can create additional demand in the economy that may well compensate for the downward wage pressure that they could create in the receiving country, as David Card has shown through cross-sectional analysis of unemployment rates in cities varying in their degree of migrant presence, the argument for more open borders seems strong in terms of improvements to global welfare.

It could be however that if the costs of migration were to drop too precipitously as a result of open borders–presently illegal immigration would become much less costly– the resultant influx of migrants could create strong negative wage pressures as migrants would have the same marginal productivity as those presently employed in a host of unskilled positions in industries presently not exposed to trade. Obviously this could lead not to increased concern about welfare in the former colonies but to fascist politics in the former imperial ones.

At any rate, add to Bertram’s analysis of imperial state responsibility for the miserable state in many post-colonial societies, yesterday NY Times Book Review review of Kinzer’s book on Dulles’ brother activities.

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JW Mason 11.11.13 at 4:58 pm

Do you oppose arguments in favor of equal opportunity employment on the basis of the logic that we should focus on giving more voice to victimized workers so they can optimize their conditions at their own respective firms (rather than also talk about how to make it easier for them to find opportunities elsewhere)?

I am strongly in favor of unions and other institutions that give people rights with respect to the enterprise in which they work. By definition, these rights apply only to those already connected to the enterprise. I don’t care. To me, the duty to respect a picket line, for example, does not depend in any way on an assessment of whether the strikers or the scabs need the job more.

To be honest, I don’t care about the right to seek opportunities elsewhere very much even in principle. There’s a reason why the right to remain at one job your whole life is seen as such a huge benefit of academic work. Liquidity and fungibility are the ideal for money, not for human social connections. I am much more offended by the fact that some occupations offer so much more compensation, autonomy and prestige than others, than I am by the fact that people’s personal background affects their occupation.

So in those senses, the answer is Yes.

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ZM 11.11.13 at 5:24 pm

Chris Bertram @ 76 and 80,

I agree that these matters should have been looked at before invading countries (whenever i read The Tempest with the jibe “”Were I in England now…. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian” and Caliban’s lines, and the ending where they leave the island, I feel this must have been a way of that looking at the colonisation of Virginia at the time in England).

But if it is physically impossible to accommodate all those who might want to come (there are 45,000,000 refugees at the moment, and countries that have laws to resettle refugees accept only a small proportion of these, and other people who are not refugees might want to resettle as well) to live in certain countries, what would you think is owing to all these peoples then?

I think as well as accepting refugees, the best thing would be for courts relying on truthful expert testimony to work out the reparations – including gifts of knowledge and technologies and drops in certain countries material standards of living – payable over a set period to converge consumption bythe 2040s at the latest?

Hopefully this would lead to greater peacefulness for all concerned.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.11.13 at 5:53 pm

What JW Mason said. The premise of giving workers ‘opportunities’ by making them more vulnerable is also behind the “right to work” laws and demands to keep down (or repeal) the minimum wage.

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roy belmont 11.11.13 at 5:59 pm

Belle- I already love you (as a literary construct) unconditionally, so we’re good there.
There’s a genocidal aspect to the crack and crank vortices that’s compressed into the now somewhat dated use of “ghetto” and “trailer trash” derogatories.
As there is a genocidal aspect to the nightmares of econo-slavery in Central America, where indigenous folk were, and still are, hammered into service of corporate resource suck. And hammered into the ground when they attempt(ed) to escape.
As Martinez evidently reveals (still haven’t got to it, reading/researching “Against Their Will” – exposure of American Medico-Mengelian amorality experiments (“Think of the lives we’re saving!”) on institutionalized populations in 50’s 60’s US) that hammer falls all along the trail to El Norte.
Again, anyone wanting a view behind the mediated curtain of illegal immigration should read Bowden’s sterling journalism.
We do have to get to the assertion that genocide in any form is always wrong, though. And we definitely aren’t there yet. The Old Testament’s full of genocidal crap, as is the history of US.
The trope seems to be something like “In order to have winners, we have to have losers. You want to be a winner, and here’s your losers. So what’s the problem?”
Drug-use losers, genetic losers, geographic losers, economic losers.
Positive-psych horseshit and take-responsibility-for-your-own-choices pap enables that dynamic, I think.
We keep ending up with the necessity of being a nice compassionate person first, then systemic change, then policy change, then world change. Bypassing the primary stages is futile. They’re hard work, but shortcuts are just more magical thinking.

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lupita 11.11.13 at 6:09 pm

I think offering reparations in the form of immigration quotas for the destruction of a society, be it through invasion or the IMF, is like offering to marry your rape victim.

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L2P 11.11.13 at 6:17 pm

“The drug that causes the most damage to users and their families, by a million-mile long-shot, is alcohol.”

Utter bullshit. That’s only because alcohol is so very, very easy to get. Crimes per user of alcohol are actuall pretty low, but bc there are so many users a lot of crime is correlated with alcohol.

Meth and cocaine are actully far, far more destructive per user than alcohol. 40% of meth users commit at least one violent crime a year. 80% commit a violent crime during the time they’re using. You get similar effects from cocaine and a lesser but still substantial effect from heroin. Only marihuana is similar to alcohol in crimes per user.
I have the crime stats on the top of my head, but there’s similar research for divorce, unemployment, and so on.

Meth, cocaine, and opiates are in a whole nother class than other drugs. Banning them may be a bad policy, but not bc they are “just like alcohol.” They are emphatically not.

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L2P 11.11.13 at 6:24 pm

Which leads to an interesting question for Chris:

Do Americans have an obligation to allow vastly higher violent crime rates to (1) limit narcotics trafficking and (2) make things less violent for residents of narcotics-producing and -trafficking countries? Or put another way. Must Americans chance their personal safety, disregard all the research, and assume that legalization will be basically harmless?

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Ronan(rf) 11.11.13 at 6:32 pm

“Meth, cocaine, and opiates are in a whole nother class than other drugs. Banning them may be a bad policy, but not bc they are “just like alcohol.” They are emphatically not.”

Is this actually true, when taking into consideration levels of addictiveness, types of crime etc ?
My impression was the same as Belle’s, that there isn’t much between them and alcohol (and thats not just due to alcohol being legal)

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Ronan(rf) 11.11.13 at 6:37 pm

For example a lot of crime related to heroin is tied up in it being illegal. With alcohol thats not the case. I dont see how crime associated with cocaine could be more prevelant than alcohol. Perhaps with Meth and crack.
Im sure there’s some ways of measuring addictiveness as well?

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ZM 11.11.13 at 6:39 pm

roy belmont @85

“We keep ending up with the necessity of being a nice compassionate person first, then systemic change, then policy change, then world change. Bypassing the primary stages is futile. They’re hard work, but shortcuts are just more magical thinking.”

When I studied strategic planning under a very reputable professor the methods we were taught (some borrowed from business thinking people, some of whom you might think of as adversaries) were not like your method.

Just from memory – your group would begin with a topic and geographic area, you would all do research according to members areas of strength, you would agree to your teams values and goals etc, you would do a 4 or 8 part analysis (geography, past, present, possible and ideal futures, identifying stakeholders, opportunities , threats, etc), you would devise methods of implementation in terms of how to get from the present to your goal, you would invent processes to hear and respond to feedback from stakeholders and so forth – all the while keeping your topic and goal in mind.

You might be as kind as you can during making a plan (we only had to make one not try to implement it for class), but if your strategic plan will find itself having adversaries, then kindness should be balanced by perception.

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L2P 11.11.13 at 6:41 pm

Look at the studies. Alcohol is less addictive than opiates, cocaine and meth. Only marijuana is less addictive than alcohol. Even nicotine as more addictive than alcohol. Only marijuana is less related to violent crime, unemployment, and family breakup than alcohol. And alcohol and marijuana are like a factor of 10 less related.

We can argue about codependent effects from illegality, differences in user populations, and so on. They’re good arguments, but don’t really take you far. But at best you’re hoping that a huge amount of the difference din current effects is based on those factors and not the inherent nature of the drugs.

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Ronan(rf) 11.11.13 at 6:44 pm

Look at which studies?
The ideal would be that what you get in anti social drugs related crime you lose in the crimimiality associated with the drugs illegality?

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Ronan(rf) 11.11.13 at 6:50 pm

I won’t argue with your point about levels of addictiveness, it seems plausible (if with caveats), but that’s not the only issue that can drive drug policy.
You can come to reasonable predictions about what sort of increase in use legalisation/decriminalisation would lead to and weigh that against the costs of criminalisation

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Ronan(rf) 11.11.13 at 7:06 pm

ps, sorry for the redundancy of some of that, my connection isnt great and rushing

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WS 11.11.13 at 7:18 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 5: “Mexico is a vast and enormously rich country, with a vibrant and vigorous culture, in which roughly 40 families of mostly European descent own everything.”

40 families of mostly European descent own everything in a country with almost 120 million inhabitants, a complex capitalist economy with the 14th-biggest GDP in the world, a 65% population share for mestizos, a vigorous multi-party democracy, High Human Development, a Gini coefficient roughly the same as the US’s, 100 years after a social revolution that abolished indigenous serfdom and notified white Mexicans that mestizos would henceforth rule and be rich on equal terms with them?

Mexico has many problems, but they are not the problems that some Central American countries and Bolivia had prior to the 1990s.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.11.13 at 7:23 pm

Addictiveness by itself is neither here nor there. One can be addicted to caffeine, or nicotine chewing gum, or any number of things, and nobody cares.

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roy belmont 11.11.13 at 8:42 pm

L2P 6:17 pm-
Citations for those numbers would be helpful. Possible bias in the tabulating org and all.
Rat studies not welcome.
Statements like “Alcohol is less addictive than opiates…” are behaviorist dogma, medically true, but socially misleading. Eliding things like the hunger for cheap euphoric/anasthetic oblivion and other drives, that aren’t symptoms of addiction per se.
Lots of the underclass use of powder drugs is a direct response to the cultural pressures of life in the underclass.
Cultural governance/acceptance has a big role there. There are metabolic and genetic differences…but okay. Alcohol’s only so damaging to so many lives because it’s so widely available? Per user stats and all. Kind of so what? It’s numerically more damaging full stop. Turning cheaply available powerful chemicals like heroin and meth and cocaine loose in a cultural context of hedonist norm isn’t promising. Marijuana works in that context, but…
Any discussion that starts with “We’ll keep things culturally pretty much the way they are, only open up the pharmacopia” goes nowhere productive.
The medicalization of the discussion puts it smack-dab in the laboratory, where no one really lives. And it leaves no opening for the idea that contemporary discussion and interdiction/criminalization practices are driven by the enormous power of the wealth generated by demand and supply existing completely outside any governance protocols but the marketplace’s amoral formulae.
The received wisdom about intoxicants that should be in place, coming from multi-generational experience and trusted provenly effective tradition is missing entirely. It was there, but it was demolished by greed-culture with its doctrine of immediate gratification and selfishness uber alles.
A consumer matrix that encourages self-gratification from the granular to the societal won’t do much healthy changing either way, toward or away from prohibition.

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Soru 11.11.13 at 10:21 pm

It would seem like a pretty remarkable coincidence if, of all the few hundred available drugs, the two (alcohol and tobacco) that were most inherently dangerous were the two that were most popular; too popular, in fact, to ban.

I suppose some people have strong reasons to believe otherwise, but it’s hardly a stretch to think that legal drugs have a larger number of people taking them more often with fewer inhibitions, and that’s the thing that drives the statistics.

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Collin Street 11.11.13 at 10:27 pm

It would seem like a pretty remarkable coincidence if, of all the few hundred available drugs, the two (alcohol and tobacco) that were most inherently dangerous were the two that were most popular; too popular, in fact, to ban

I believe caffeine is more popular than alcohol, although not by that huge a margin.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.11.13 at 11:06 pm

Chris – this legalisation/criminalisation subthread provides a good example of the ‘just-walk-away’ situation I alluded to on the unfortunately/happily (del. as appr.) now-closed utilitarianism/Rawls thread: I can’t be bothered to engage properly, so won’t unleash my withering contempt.

Or rather, wouldn’t have: the cat being debagged, I’ll just hint, in ‘Deep Throat’-like elenctic mode, that Ronan(rf)’s query “what studies?” might seem rather pointedly apposite.

And..nnnnnngh..leave..it..at..that…

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ZM 11.11.13 at 11:32 pm

Tim Wilkinson @100
Given the OP is about the human rights of those caught up in US foreign intervention/war on drugs etc, and people are greatly interested in the war on drugs part of the issue, perhaps there are sources dealing with both. I did a very cursory search and came up with a couple of titles, I haven’t had time to read them myself:

Mexico’s northern border conflict: collateral damage to health and human rights of vulnerable groups.
Beletsky, Leo; Martinez, Gustavo; Gaines, Tommi; Nguyen, Lucie; Lozada, Remedios; Rangel, Gudelia; Vera, Alicia; McCauley, Heather L.; Sorensen, Andrea; Strathdee, Steffanie A. Revista Panamericana de Salud Publica. May2012, Vol. 31 Issue 5

Female Drug Smugglers on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Gender, Crime, and Empowerment.
Campbell, Howard. Anthropological Quarterly , Winter2008, Vol. 81 Issue 1,

Violence, governance, and economic development at the U.S.-Mexico border: the case of Nuevo Laredo and its lessons.
Navarro, Freddy Marinez; Vivas, Leonardo. In: Mexican Studies-Estudios Mexicanos. Summer, 2012, Vol. 28 Issue 2,

Sentencing Reforms and the War on Drugs: An Analysis of Sentence Outcomes for Narcotics Offenders Adjudicated in US District Courts on the Southwest Border
Hartley, Richard D., Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, November 2008; v. 24 (no. 4)

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alex 11.12.13 at 12:07 am

“I believe caffeine is more popular than alcohol, although not by that huge a margin.”

The most recent US polls have the % of people who have ever used cannabis the same if not higher than the % who have ever smoked.

And seriously, Guys. Smoking is really, really, fucking dangerous. About 1/3 of people who ever try it become addicted and about 1/3 smokers die from it. Of course, cancer and heart disease ain’t as glamourous as ODing and accidental death, so it doesn’t get the press. But we’re not druggie conspiracy theorists, we just have a basic understand of one of the great victories of 20th century science.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.12.13 at 1:15 am

Sorry, I see Ronan(fr) asked the less dismissive ‘which studies?’. I wouldn’t.

ZM – the War on Drugs is not ultimately motivated – or, better, functionally sustained – by a mistaken (and, a fortiori, certainly not a justified) concern for US or any other victims of the drug trade. Cf. Cold War, War on Terror.

I know you are trying to be helpful, which is a Good Thing, but I’m unlikely to read those articles, just as you are; they don’t even really look relevant to the artifcially narrow issue of whether criminalisation would tend to protect users, or potntial users, from health risks; an issue with respect to which I’ve already – slightly disingenuously – recused myself. You might ask R2P what ‘the studies’ he or she is alluding to (though doing so would not be helpful to him or her. Note the uncharacteristic lack of caveats in my comments on this thread, btw.)

I’m generally disinclined to acknowledge the existence of collective rights and responsibilities, at least in any strong or fundamental sense – so the question of what ‘the US’ owes to mexicans is a slightly ill-forned one in my eyes.

The issue of migration and the prospect of a global itinerant workforce is an interesting and troubling one – a previous discussion, or at least prologemenon to a discussion, of related matters is here, e.g.: http://crookedtimber.org/2010/10/24/cosmopolitan-social-democracy/ . FWIW, some of my own concerns are (1) that those acting for international capital suddenly and very suspiciously come over all charitable where the plight of potential alien immigrants is concerned; (2) that this is because free movement of labour is more convenient than their freely (not costlessly, of course) moving their capital (as they now basically can do across most of the globe) and thus having to be concerned about basic stability, essential public-good infrastructure, rudimentary capitalist rule of law etc. in the potential employees’ current host countries, (3) that non-citizen labour is especially congenial to their aims, (4) that to the extent that those in a position to try to migrate are doing s to escape an intolerable situation, providing a merely somewhat preferable option of relocating to a foreign country (and not even a very nice one, IMO) doesn’t really seem adequate. And yes I’m aware that I’m partly, though largely as shorthand, using the heuristic that what’s good for my enemy is bad for the rest of us. Because it mostly is.

JW Mason – By definition, these rights [those accruing to union members]apply only to those already connected to the enterprise is untrue, as I’ve had occasion to point out before to (IIRC) Mr Ladd (or someone similar modulo the duck-bill). Join the workforce and the union at time t, you get the rights at time t. No ‘already’ about it.

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JW Mason 11.12.13 at 1:47 am

Tim W.-

Evidently we have different rights in mind. In the context of a union or similar arrangement, someone who is currently employed at a firm has the right to continue their employment unless certain stipulated conditions are met. Someone who is not currently employed by the firm does not have an equivalent right to become employed. That’s all I meant.

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Rakesh Bhandari 11.12.13 at 3:40 am

Has anyone yet David Bacon’s new book on what had led people to leave Mexico and Guatemala? I just heard him on BookTV. Compelling to say the least.

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Tim Wilkinson 11.12.13 at 8:41 am

Well, I suppose so, and I generally agree with the rest of your comment, fwiw. But viewing the question of whether incumbents or their potential replacements ‘need the job more’ isn’t one which should be framed in terms of ‘rights’ at all, IMO. So I’d assimilated your remark to others made in an earlier iteration of the debate, which had tended to suggest that a unionised workplace presents a substantive barrier to ‘outsider’ entry. (Apologies to Martin Bento for confusing him with our monotreme friend: http://crookedtimber.org/2012/08/22/open-borders-wages-and-economists/#comment-425935 .)

That claim is a pernicious one, feeding into a broader current of neoliberal propaganda that presents unionisation as vaguely corrupt, parochial, selfish ‘rent-seeking’, and aims to exploit a real politics of envy to precipitate a race to the bottom.

Cf., to use examples current in the UK, public v private sector pay & conds.; persons in work supposedly receiving income below the calibrated minimum acceptable level received by unemployed benefits recipients. That discourse tends to essentialise persons’ contingent circumstances to create ‘others’ – fat cat union ‘insiders’, public sector workers who can’t face the ‘real world’, unemployed scroungers.

(Apologies 2 4 misnaming L2P as ‘R2P’ – a genuine slip, not some abstruse slight.)

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Chris Bertram 11.12.13 at 10:26 am

Tim: you are a valued and long-standing commenter at CT, but I think that recently your comments have become over-long and less coherent than they used to be. At any rate, I am having a great deal of trouble trying to understand you (maybe the problem is me).

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novakant 11.12.13 at 10:31 am

So nativism is cool on the left now?

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Tim Wilkinson 11.12.13 at 11:11 am

Chris – No I’m sure it’s me; sorry. That last one, e.g., is drastically – lossily – over-compressed, I now realise.

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Sasha Clarkson 11.12.13 at 11:57 am

Chris @80 “I think it best to get these matters straight before invading countries and not afterwards.”

When does responsibility end? Former colonies are now independent states, with their own citizenship. Despite endemic poverty, some of them can afford nuclear weapons. The poverty is often as a result of vast hereditary inequalities which existed before the empire. The elites pay little or no tax. But this is surely now a matter for local politics? That is what independence means.

” Just because 2 billion people have the right to do something, doesn’t mean that they will, of course.”

A lot more might choose to come if they had the access to an air fare. The poverty people might seek to escape from is actually another border control.

Giving people a right which they can’t exercise is very dishonest. I’m in favour of real rights which are deliverable. The truth, about many theoretical rights, is that their practicality depends upon limited take-up. An analogy: even in the days of the gold standard, “I promise to pay the bearer on demand …” was a promise always broken, or “suspended”, if too many people actually wanted the precious metals to hide under the bed.

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Belle Waring 11.12.13 at 2:09 pm

ZM: I actually retract my concession. The point is that despite the rapes and murders, the brutal struggles among Afghan warlords for control of various valleys, the drive-by shootings and active, felon-ization of black young men in America, despite the millions and even billions poured into the war on drugs–drugs are still cheap! Prices per oz of marijuana have gone up, but potency has increased still more, leaving buyers just where they were at the start. Are dime bags of heroin lighter than they used to be? I don’t know since I’m not shopping. I am given to understand that when purity goes over 90%, again, the buyer is getting as much bang for her buck as the buyer in 1970 who was getting 50%. Less than in 1990, possibly, when a fuckton of pure heroin paved the streets of New York City for some reason, and subsequently all the cities on the East Coast, so that the shittiest sidewalks looked like those poured-resin floors with bits of crushed mirror in them that send out dazzling rainbow flecks as you walk. Maybe it started in Miami.

L2P: make with the links, pal. Lots of them. One of the many factors so, so often elided by drug warriors is that the Venn diagrams for “alcoholic” and “meth addict” are not separate bubbles floating around in the sunny skies of bullshit ‘let’s send everyone to jail’ land. How many of the meth addicts who committed a violent crime in the past 6 months were also drunk at the time they committed the crime? Or the victim of the crime was drunk? Hm? (This is emphatically not victim-blaming. This is just: what drug is associated with violent crime.) And things like this, “[e]ven nicotine as more addictive than alcohol,” make me think you have never spoken to a drug addict in your life. Nicotine is more addictive than anything! It is hell to quit smoking! I have had three friends quit heroin and smoking cigarettes, and all agreed quitting smoking was harder, and all have stayed clean, and two of them still fucking smoke, despite one of them having a rare disorder that often causes esophageal cancer. I have never smoked cigarettes (although I took snuff for like a year in HS because I was Winona Ryder and had vintage snuff boxes.) But I’ve watched plenty of loved ones try to quit and fail, a hundred times.

Soru: “It would seem like a pretty remarkable coincidence if, of all the few hundred available drugs, the two (alcohol and tobacco) that were most inherently dangerous were the two that were most popular; too popular, in fact, to ban.” It would be a pretty unremarkable state of affairs if, of all the few hundred available drugs, the two that were–if not the most dangerous, then at least very, very dangerous indeed–were the two that were too popular to ban because they have been in continuous legal use in every Western country, and many more besides, for thousands of years–tens of thousands.

Look at the drop in deaths from smoking-related cancers as tobacco use declined in the US. Just look. Someone discovered a motherfucking cure for cancer. But can we implement it by banning cigars and cigarettes, do you think? Perhaps we should allow smoking to remain legal, tax it heavily, ensure the taxes go directly to fighting cancer and funding an aggressive anti-smoking campaign, require tobacco companies to disclose what the ingredients in cigarettes are (they do not need to do so now), things along these lines? Or just–‘hey it’s traditional, it can’t possibly be bad for you’? Is that your argument?

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ZM 11.12.13 at 2:28 pm

Belle Waring @112
I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand what you’re saying? That it is *important* to discuss in this subject about the border the fact that despite the drug trade and the war on drugs (pursued by both governments? – I read an article on how Mexico was now a R2P country?) – the trade and the war having grievously harmed people in Mexico – drugs in the US are still cheap, available, and potency has gone up – and people are being criminalised particularly young black men, and drug users are being harmed by the effects of the drugs?
Is that what you are meaning?
I don’t know enough about the subject to know whether their are specific implications these facts should have, or if you are stating them simply as facts?

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ZM 11.12.13 at 2:36 pm

Re: tobacco
I think in Australia there is a bit more of a firm government approach. The last Labor government implemented plain packaging for cigarettes, and there are bans on advertising, high taxes, and bans on smoking indoors in most places and so forth.
Various people advocate that they should be entirely banned from time to time – I have read ideas of a phasing out approach where only people who were born before a certain date would be able to buy tobacco products legally. There are still people who trade illicit tobacco which is called chop-chop though, I think even if legal tobacco was phased out this would occur.

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JW Mason 11.12.13 at 3:25 pm

Fwiw, my father, a physician, had many patients with various addictions, and his assessment was the same as Belle’s. Alcohol and tobacco were the worst. Cocaine use in particular, he said, didn’t seem to have any noticeable effects on people’s health, as long as they had the income to pay for it. The harm was almost entirely due to the choices that people made in order to keep using it when they couldn’t afford it.

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bianca steele 11.12.13 at 3:39 pm

JW:
I may be misremembering here, but I think I remember reading that Freud concluded his and his colleagues’ cocaine use had some kind of harmful effects. I don’t remember the details and don’t remember whether he even specified them.

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JW Mason 11.12.13 at 3:44 pm

Maybe, but it was the cigars that killed him.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.12.13 at 4:48 pm

According to wikipedia:
“…as Sigmund Freud published his work Über Coca, in which he wrote that cocaine causes:

Exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person. You perceive an increase of self-control and possess more vitality and capacity for work. In other words, you are simply normal, and it is soon hard to believe you are under the influence of any drug. Long intensive physical work is performed without any fatigue. This result is enjoyed without any of the unpleasant after-effects that follow exhilaration brought about by alcohol. Absolutely no craving for the further use of cocaine appears after the first, or even after repeated taking of the drug.

I guess it all depends on the dosage…

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ZM 11.12.13 at 7:17 pm

I am sill unsure of the implications?

I am sorry Chris Bertram if this is off topic please delete

JW Mason @ 115
“Fwiw, my father, a physician, had many patients with various addictions, and his assessment was the same as Belle’s. Alcohol and tobacco were definitely the worst.”

I think it depends on “worst”. Those are legal and therefore fairly generally socially ok to use – they have wide negative health and well being effects nonetheless. Their production is legal so therefore comes under regulation, but, OTOH the companies and employees and distributors etc all profit financially from encouraging/allowing people to drink beyond responsible limits, and from people addicted to smoking despite any ravages it causes for them.

Other drugs also have bad (and sometime I would say more devastating) effects – if you’ve read about the opium war you might think that the widespread use of opium in a society causes worse harm? Or perhaps you seen some people who’ve never fully recovered their minds after psychosis having smoked a lot of marajuana?

If heroin is legal do you have cafe style venues to supervise so as to prevent ODs? Do you do some sort of test to see whether someone might suffer psychosis (I gave not heard if such a test)?

Do companies profit from people’s drug taking? Or does the government control and perhaps promote drug taking?

These are just a few of the questions raised by the debate on whether all drugs should be legal. In Australia alcohol had a bad affect without prohibition – that’s why lots of people – especially women – became involved in the Temperance movement.

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roy belmont 11.12.13 at 7:18 pm

Mao-
Dosage indeed.
Freud: Exhilaration and lasting euphoria… an increase of self-control…more vitality and capacity for work…intensive physical work is performed without any fatigue…without any of the unpleasant after-effects that follow…alcohol. Absolutely no craving for the further use…
What an odd thing that is to say. Lasting euphoria, exhilaration etc….no after-affects and no craving for more. Why the hell not?
Maybe some yen, mild yearning? Busy schedule lots of work let’s see, strong tea and cinnamon toast, or a nice hit of coke injected into the… nah, tea and toast it is.
I like Freud, but that’s pretty gosh-darn counter-intuitive. Or possibly he’s doing a little rationalize-the-buzz there.
My personal experience, limited and long back, was that coke created a kind of Aspberger hipness – clever, quick, and emotionally flatlined. Complex accurate mind process with ego-hearted affect, no warmth, no mammalian share, perfect drug to fuel the last carnivorous lunge of late-stage Judeo-Christian capitalism. Fun though.

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ZM 11.12.13 at 8:35 pm

To return to the OP

” The US has in large measure caused their plight, and now claims the moral right to exclude them (and to deport long-standing migrants to dangerous environments), it is hard to see that it has such a right.”

I think even when people from Mexico are not excluded physically from living in U.S. territory, exploitation of workers often occur, as well as cultural exclusion/demands for assimilation or submission to the dominant culture and so on – this doesn’t apply just to recent immigrants, but to those whose families lived in the land much longer.

“Chicanos and other people of color suffer economically for not acculturation. This voluntary (yet forced) alienation makes for psychological conflict, a kind of dual identity – we don’t identify with the Anglo-American cultural values and we don’t totally identify with the Mexican cultural values….I have so internalised the borderland conflict that sometimes I feel like one cancels out the other and we are zero, nothing, no one. A veces no soy nada in nadie. Pero basta cuando no lo soy, lo soy.
….
I still feel the old despair when I look at the unpainted dilapidated, scrap lumber houses consisting mostly of corrugated aluminium. Some of the poorest people in the U.S. live in the lower Rio Grande Valley, in arid and semi- arid land of irrigated farming, intense sunlight and heat….

How I love this tragic valley of South Texas, as Ricardo Sanchez calls it; this borderland between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. This land has survived possession and I’ll-use by five countries: Span, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the U.S., the Confederacy, and the U.S. again. It has survived Anglo-Mexican blood feuds, lynchings, burnings, rapes, pillage….”

Borderlands – La Frontera : Gloria Anzaldua

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Belle Waring 11.13.13 at 11:26 am

ZM: I had said, “you’re right, this is off-topic” but later thought, “no, it’s relevant that despite all the horrors that the drug trade has brought to Central and South American nations, and the destruction of American society it’s actually very easy to acquire and relatively cheap to purchase drugs.” Not, perhaps the most relevant, thing, but not entirely unrelated. That’s all.

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Eszter 11.13.13 at 3:28 pm

As a reminder, I wanted to share this link to my post about a year ago about something similar: http://crookedtimber.org/2012/11/20/violence-against-women-near-the-us-mexican-border/

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