Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen. (Photo: Yassin Juma)
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Indigenous Leader Assassinated on Massacre Anniversary
by Mario A. Murillo, MAMA Radio
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December 16 is supposed to be a special day for most Colombians.
It’s the day that marks the start of what is called “La Novena,” the traditional nine-day countdown to Christmas.
For families around the country, rich and poor, urban and rural, “Las Novenas” are supposed to be a time of celebration, ritual gatherings with friends and loved ones. They are filled with community sing-alongs, of old-school holiday songs that take just about everybody back to their childhood.
But this Dec. 16 will not be one of joy for Aida Quilcué and her family. Indeed, Dec. 16 is once again being marked as a day of violence and terror for the indigenous communities of Cauca, and for the entire country.
This morning, at about 4:00 AM, on the road between Inzá, Tierradentro, and Totoró, on indigenous territory, the official car of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), was shot at 19 times by a column of the Third Division of the Army, fatally wounding the driver, Edwin Legarda Vázquez, Quilcué’s husband. Quilcué is the chief counsel of CRIC, and one of the most visible leaders of the recent Indigenous and Popular Minga that began on Oct. 11, culminating in a massive march and rally in downtown Bogotá on Nov. 21.
Three bullets penetrated Legarda, who did not survive the emergency surgery he was given after being rushed to San José Hospital in Popayán, the departmental capital.
But most people close to CRIC believe the bullets were really meant for his wife, who apparently was just returning from Geneva where she had been participating in the United Nations Human Rights Commission sessions on Colombia. She was not in the car when the attack occurred.
Ernesto Parafán, the lawyer for CRIC, believes it was a deliberate act committed against the organization, and specifically an attempt on Quilcué’s life by the government’s security apparatus. According to the indigenous leadership, Quilcué, along with other prominent leaders, has received numerous death threats in recent months, especially during the six weeks of mobilization and protests that captured the attention of both national and international public opinion.
Gen. Justo Eliceo Peña, commander of the Army’s Third Division in Cauca, acknowledged on Caracol Radio that various members of the Army did indeed fire at CRIC’s car, a vehicle recognized throughout the area for its tinted windows, and for its countless trips throughout the mountainous terrain regularly carrying the movement’s leadership, particularly Quilcué. According to the General, his troops fired because the car did not stop at the military roadblock set up in the area. Gen. Peña later expressed regrets for the attack, recognizing that even if they had not obeyed orders to stop, the excessive volley of bullets was not appropriate, and violated the Army’s protocol.
But the indigenous movement is not accepting these words at face value, and is demanding a full, independent investigation into the incident, given the recent wave of threats against Quilcué and other leaders.
“I think the attack was for me,” Quilcué later told Caracol Radio, in reference to her role in the MINGA social.
The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) pointed out on its website that the area where Legarda was killed was near the Finca San Miguel in the village of Gabriel López in Totoró, “a property where there is a permanent presence of the National Army,” making it highly unlikely that the soldiers did not recognize the vehicle as being that of CRIC, one of the most prominent social organizations in the country.
Meanwhile, CRIC attorney Ernesto Perafán was quoted in El Tiempo saying that if the military does not thoroughly investigate, capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice, the Indigenous Guard of the community will do so “because these crimes were carried out within the territory of the [indigenous] community.”
Alvaro Mejía, a spokesperson for CRIC, added “we demand that this crime does not remain in impunity.”
December 16th: A Day that Lives in Infamy
If one considers the long track record of the government’s deliberately lackluster investigations into crimes committed by state actors against the indigenous movement, there is considerable reason for the community to be concerned. Today’s tragic incident ironically comes on the 17th anniversary of one of the most brutal episodes of Colombia’s violent history against indigenous people, and perhaps its most despicable account of criminal cover-up and public deception.
On Dec. 16, 1991, 20 indigenous people from the Huellas-Caloto community, including five women and four children, were murdered as they met to discuss a struggle over land rights in the estate of El Nilo in northern Cauca. Some 60 hooded gunmen stormed into the building where the community was meeting and opened fire. Initial news reports indicated that the gunmen were drug traffickers who had been seizing land in the region to grow opium poppies to produce heroin, but it soon became apparent that the culprits of the massacre were much more than simple narco-traffickers operating outside of the law. The killings had followed a relentless pattern of harassment and threats against the indigenous community by gunmen loyal to local landowners who were disputing the indigenous community’s claim to ownership of the land. In many ways, it was a massacre foretold.
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Special Investigations Unit of the Office of the Attorney General, which handled the first stages of the investigation into the massacre, uncovered evidence of the involvement of members of the National Police, both before and during the execution of these horrific events. They were working hand in hand with drug traffickers and wealthy landowners, who were not comfortable with the organizing and mobilizing capacity of CRIC and the local communities.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights established that the Colombian state should hand back their land as part of the integral reparation to victims of the massacre committed by those ruthless death squads in collaboration with the police. In 1998, President Ernesto Samper acknowledged the responsibility of state actors in the massacre of El Nilo, and on behalf of the Colombian state, he apologized to the families of the victims and to the Nasa community of Northern Cauca, making promises to the relatives of the victims and the communities to implement the recommendations of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
To this day, only a small portion of the land has been returned to any of the family members of the Huellas community, despite repeated promises from various governments to do so. The issue of recuperation of the lands in the northern Cauca region continues to be a major point of contention between the government of Alvaro Uribe and the indigenous movement, and has sparked repeated mobilizations by the community.
The Social and Community Minga that was initially launched in September 2004, but was re-initiated this year with the above-mentioned six-week mobilization, made the government’s fulfillment of its pledges to the community one of its five main rallying points, although it was not the only issue on their agenda of protest. The organizers of the Minga recognize that the failure of the government to come clean on its pledges to the community is just one manifestation of a much larger strategy of pushing back the indigenous movement’s national, broad-based call for social transformation on several different platforms. This platform of resistance includes a rejection of the government’s counter-reform measures that negate protections afforded to indigenous peoples across the country, measures that have opened the way for free trade agreements that in essence will rob the communities of their territories and the resources within. And it is a platform that is openly calling for an end to the government’s militarization of their territories, what President Uribe calls “Democratic Security,” but in the end results in the kinds of state-sponsored violence that took the life of Edwin Legarda Vázquez in the early morning hours of December 16th.
Aida Quilcué has been one of the most eloquent voices promoting this agenda. Are we jumping to premature conclusions in assuming those bullets were meant for her?
Will there be justice in this latest case of violence against the Nasa people, or will it be as slow in coming as it was (and still is) for the many victims of the Nilo massacre?
Silencing the Truth in Northern Cauca
The senseless tragedy befalling Quilcué, her family, CRIC and the entire indigenous community of Colombia is currently being reported peripherally by the corporate national news media such as El Tiempo, Caracol Radio and other sources. However, one media outlet where it is not currently being reported is on the community radio station of the Nasa people of northern cauca, Radio Pa’yumat, licensed to the ACIN.
Over the weekend, the station’s transmitter equipment and antenna were severely damaged in an act of sabotage by as of yet unnamed actors, although the community refers to the perpetrators as the same forces of terror that continue to try to silence the indigenous movement with acts of violence. ACIN has denounced the latest assault on their primary communication vehicle on its website, stating that it is part of an ongoing process of intimidation and fear:
Not coincidentally, these prior acts of sabotage have occurred at the precise time that our communities were initiating major mobilizations and important actions against the armed actors that constantly provoke war in our territories. Therefore, the assault against our community radio station is not an isolated incident, but is part of a deliberate strategy of silencing the indigenous movement of northern Cauca, because the radio station is the most important medium within the community. It allows us to listen to one another, to discuss important issues, reflect on them, make decisions in the interest of the community, and take actions collectively in defense of life and of our territory.
It is understood by most observers that the indigenous communities that have been most successful over the years at confronting the myriad threats to their autonomy throughout the country are those with the strongest organizational structures, legitimized by being in a constant dialogue with the base. These are the same communities that continue to play the role of interlocutor with other, non-indigenous actors, be they state institutions, different social sectors like the peasant or trade union movements, and international solidarity organizations.
And not surprisingly, many of these communities, like the cabildos [traditional indigenous authorities] that make up ACIN, maintain their own independent media channels as essential components of their collective resistance. These community media channels spring from a long tradition of grassroots, independent, citizens’ media projects that have emerged throughout Colombia over the past 35 years, and that coalesced alongside broad-based social movements with the rewriting of the Constitution in 1991. Naturally, these community-based media are only as effective as their organizations’ capacity to successfully confront the destructive, militarist, and undemocratic models that surround them. In the long run, strong organizational bases make them more secure and protect them from the inevitable, reactionary backlash, given the high levels of violence that has always been directed towards independent voices in Colombia. But sometimes that high level of organizing is not enough to prevent the kind of sabotage that occurred over the weekend.
“Those who carried out this act of sabotage knew what they were doing,” said Dora Muñoz, coordinator of the radio station. She added “all of this points to a systematic wave of terror. I’m afraid we’re only just beginning to see what may come in the coming days and weeks, directed against us.”
The Nasa communities of Cauca, with their long trajectory of mobilization spearheaded by CRIC and ACIN, in the spirit of constructing sustainable, democratic alternatives, are working alongside truly revolutionary, transformative practices in communication. Radio Pa’yumat happens to be one of the national models of these transformative communication practices, rooted in indigenous traditions of bottom-up consultation and community reflection. However, it is not supported in any way by state institutions.
“If there were some state communication policies that were in defense of the rights of the people, the immediate reaction of the government would have been to repudiate these acts of sabotage and provide some resources to support the radio station’s efforts, efforts that we depend on for our security and well-being while we are under constant attack,” said Ezequiel Vitonás, a member of the council of chiefs of ACIN.
Today, December 16th, 2008, on the 17th anniversary of the massacre of 20 Nasa on the Nilo estate, on the same day that the husband of CRIC’s chief spokesperson was killed by a fusillade of Army bullets, ACIN’s radio station remains off the air due to ruthless acts of sabotage.
Is this all a tragic coincidence?
Too often these types of stories are completely ignored by the Colombian corporate media, which are perpetually stuck on the faulty narratives relating to guerilla terrorism, false victimization, and celebrity gossip. These patterns of media obsession were evident most clearly this past Sunday, when El Tiempo released its list of personalities of the year. Topping the list was pop-super star and pretty boy Juanes, whose ambiguous politics—supposedly “committed to social change”—make him a safe bet for the editorial writers of the nation’s establishment newspaper of record. The multi-Grammy Award winner was followed on the year-end list by two of the principal architects of the government’s Democratic Security strategy, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Armed Forces Chief Freddy Padilla, lauded for their so-called victories against FARC guerillas. These are the same individuals who are responsible for the False Positives scandal that only temporarily rocked the top brass of the military in 2008.
And perhaps these are the same individuals who ultimately should be held accountable for the criminal act of violence perpetrated this morning against Legarda Vázquez.
So in his memory, and in the memory of Jairo Secué, Domingo Calis, Daniel Peté, Adán Mestízo, Darío Coicué, Feliciano Otelo, Calicio Chilhueso, Mario Juliqué, Edegar Mestizo, Jesús Peté, Julio Dagua, Carolina Tombé, Ofelia Tombé, Jose Elías Tombé, Foresmiro Viscué, Leonidas Casamchín, and José Elías Ulcué, and all the other victims of state-sponsored terror in Colombia, let’s not be silent today.
In the spirit of Manuel Quintín Lame!
Let our voices of rage be the megaphones projecting through the heroic signal of Radio Pa’yumat, temporarily silenced by reactionary forces. Let’s shout out collectively, in order to drown out the tacky melodies that will be sung throughout the country on this first night of the Christmas novena, in the spirit of resistance.
So that the tears of Aida Quilcué can be converted into the fire of a people that will not be silenced!
This story first appeared Dec. 17 on MAMA Radio.
Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN)
Colombia: army kills indigenous leader
World War 4 Report, Dec. 21, 2008
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by David L. Wilson, MR Zine
Part of the right wing routinely blames undocumented immigrants for just about everything. On Sept. 24, nine days after the financial meltdown started in earnest, the National Review website carried an article by columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin blaming “illegals” for the crisis and the subsequent bailout of the banks. “The Mother of All Bailouts has many fathers,” she wrote. “But there’s one giant paternal elephant in the room that has slipped notice: how illegal immigration, crime-enabling banks, and open-borders Bush policies fueled the mortgage crisis.”
Malkin’s pieces often read like parodies of conservative punditry, and there’s something distinctly comical about the idea that a few undocumented homeowners caused a multi-trillion dollar financial crisis. Less than a month after Malkin’s article was posted, the Wall Street Journal showed that in fact mortgages bought by out-of-status immigrants have performed rather well. But the Malkin diatribe is a useful indication of how the immigration debate is likely to change over the next months.
Until this September, informed opinion was that whichever party won the November elections, Congress and the new president would move in 2009 to revive the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) package that was voted down in the summer of 2007. CIR (which started as the “McCain-Kennedy Bill” in 2005) would combine stepped-up enforcement, a limited program for legalization, and a greatly expanded guest worker program like the notorious “bracero” operation of 1942-1964.
It is no longer clear whether Congress will proceed with CIR; the politicians may put immigration on the back burner as they try to deal with more pressing economic issues. The crisis has taken much of the urgency away from “immigration reform.” Undocumented immigration had already begun to decline as the US economy slowed in 2007, and the employer associations that pushed CIR for the sake of the guest worker provision may be losing interest: there will be less desire to import easily exploited workers from abroad as the crisis creates a pool of jobless workers here at home.
What is clear is that immigrants will continue to serve as convenient scapegoats for the economic disaster. Analyst Tom Barry of the Americas Policy Program’s TransBorder Project reports that immigration restrictionists are planning to “retain their dominance in the immigration debate” by “reframing the immigration issue as a threat to ever-scarcer jobs in the context of the national economic crisis.”
Return of the “Welfare Queen”?
Barry suggests that the right may be “wildly overreach[ing]” in this effort to shift the blame to immigrants, but we shouldn’t forget how successfully Ronald Reagan and others implicated the mythical “welfare queen” in the recurring economic crises of the 1970s and early 1980s. Never mind that welfare was a minuscule part of local and federal budgets—and that the great majority of welfare recipients were white—much of the country came to believe that the source of all economic problems was a fictitious Cadillac-driving African-American woman who drained services and raised taxes with the payments she received for her ten illegitimate children.
Even before the present crisis, anti-immigrant forces had had similar success with racist and xenophobic myths about immigrants getting welfare checks, bearing “anchor babies,” and straining medical and education services, even though these were all long since exposed as fictions. Unfortunately, there’s an easy way to measure the success of the right-wing propaganda: the 40% rise of hate crimes against Latinos since 2003 as the anti-immigrant drive stepped up. (Latinos are often perceived as immigrants even if they are native-born).
But can the right pull it off again? It may be harder to shift the blame this time around. After all, contrary to Malkin, the “giant paternal elephant in the room” isn’t immigration—it’s the neoliberal economic policies that have dominated for the past thirty years.
Since the end of the Carter administration, working people in this country have been promised economic well-being from the “free market,” from Reagan’s tax reforms, from the Bush-Clinton “free trade” pacts and “globalization,” from the “end of welfare as we know it,” from the dot-com bubble, and from the housing bubble. What they’ve actually gotten is stagnating wages, a sinking standard of living, a failing environment, and an infrastructure literally collapsing around them. Now, facing layoffs and foreclosures, wage earners have to watch as their taxes provide massive handouts to bank presidents and corporate CEOs, the real welfare queens.
People are not just angry; they are specifically angry at the plutocrats who brought them this disaster. And they’re open to new ideas and ways of thinking: the November elections may have been less important for any changes they could bring to Washington than for what they show about changes in the consciousness of the US public.
Facing Economic Realities
The immigration debate brings together many of the economic issues that need to be discussed at this point: the effects of “free trade” policies, the government’s anti-labor measures, the fomenting of divisions among working people.
The majority of undocumented immigrants come here to flee the results of neoliberal policies in Latin America and the Caribbean—policies that were pushed by the same Wall Street wizards that brought us the collapse at home. Once here, the immigrants are forced into low-wage, high-risk jobs through repressive anti-labor measures disguised as immigration enforcement (massive workplace raids are the extreme example). This repression keeps the undocumented immigrants’ wages down and thus creates downward pressure on the wages of native-born workers as well.
The obvious solution for the native-born is to organize alongside their immigrant co-workers to raise wages, improve labor conditions, and demand jobs for all. But politicians and the media stir up racism and fear of “the other” to prevent or at least slow class-based organizing. And it’s clear which side these anti-immigrant forces are really on, despite their populist rhetoric. Their lead media spokesperson is Lou Dobbs, former host of the pro-business “Moneyline” TV show. One of their main voices in Congress is Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who, as labor journalist David Bacon points out, promotes xenophobia in Washington while his family’s Grupo México business associates help cause migration from Mexico, and Kimberly-Clark, the Sensenbrenner family paper business, profits from low-wage immigrant workers in U.S. forests.
In the 1930s many working people allowed themselves to be divided along ethnic and racial lines, but many others overcame those divisions to organize the protests, boycotts, and strikes that led to the labor protections and social services we have today. In the current crisis, a lot will depend on how quickly and aggressively activists challenge the right wing on immigration by organizing around the real economic issues.
David L. Wilson is co-author, with Jane Guskin, of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers (Monthly Review Press, July 2007).
This story first appeared Nov. 30 in MR Zine, online journal of Monthly Review.
Michelle Malkin, “Illegal Loans: A Criminal Business”
National Review Online, September 24, 2008
Miriam Jordan, “Mortgage Prospects Dim for Illegal Immigrants”
Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2008.
Walter A. Ewing, “Immigration Fairytales”
New America Media, August 4, 2008.
Tom Barry, “Both Sides of Immigration Debate Retrench”
Americas Updater, November 14, 2008.
“Anti-Latino Hate Crimes Rise for Fourth Year in a Row”
Hatewatch/Southern Poverty Law Center, October 29, 2008,
Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, “Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning”
Americas Program, Center for International Policy, December 4, 2007.
David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants, September 2008, p. 64-67
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Obama’s Southwest Challenge: “Tear It Down”
by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur
As the Bush Administration enters its final weeks, pressure is building to halt construction of the Department of Homeland Security’s unfinished US-Mexico border wall. The controversial project, which was originally slated to be completed by Dec. 31, is the target of reinvigorated opposition from border residents, elected officials, indigenous communities, human rights activists, and environmentalists. Buoyed by changes coming to Washington, border wall opponents are stepping up their lobbying of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ensure the fencing is halted and even reversed.
In a letter sent to members of Obama’s Department of Interior transition team this week, the Lipan Apache Women Defense group of south Texas requested an end to fencing, demanded a halt to “illegal” seizures of border communities’ properties and appealed for respect of the rights of indigenous people.
In a telephonic press conference with reporters, tribal member Margo Tamez said fencing on the Lipan Apaches’ lands would constitute a gross violation of the human rights of land-based people who depend on border and river access for the collection of medicinal herbs and other cultural practices.
Tamez charged that the US government’s planned fences, border checkpoints and other measures are “criminalizing” her people. Indigenous lives, Tamez asserted, are being “radically altered” by the burgeoning border security complex. “We are assumed to be the criminals on our lands,” Tamez said “We belong the lands, and the lands belong to us.”
Tamez’s mother, Dr. Eloisa Garcia Tamez, credited public opposition to the border wall for preventing any construction on her land so far. Garcia Tamez said the border fencing planned near her home in El Calaboz Rancheria would actually be built one mile north of the Rio Grande boundary between Mexico and the US. Adding she first met Barack Obama during a campaign stop early last year in Brownsville, Tex., Garcia Tamez said she hoped the president-elect would prevent any additional fence construction.
“That is my hope, that is my prayer,” she said.
As an Illinois senator, Obama voted for the 2006 Secure Fence Act that paved the way for the current round of border fencing. A border wall critic, however, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, has been nominated to serve as Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security. If confirmed by the Senate, Napolitano will have a critical role in the fate of the project.
The Opposition Expands
Lipan Apache border wall opponents are supported in their stance by many national and regional organizations, including the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the International Indian Treaty Council and Alianza Sin Fronteras.
The Lipan Apaches Women Defense group’s letter followed a similar appeal this month to Obama by elected officials from El Paso, Tex. Initial signatories of the El Paso letter included Texas state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), El Paso city Councilman Steve Ortega and US Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso). Reyes is a former Border Patrol sector chief for the El Paso area.
Citing close trade relationships with Mexico, as well as the economic and budget crisis, the letter urged the president-elect to “stop building these ill-conceived walls founded in current notions of racism.”
In an interview with Frontera NorteSur, Sen. Shapleigh said he would like to see the new president “tear down this wall” and construct a new friendship with the Americas “like we have seen under Kennedy.” The El Paso Democrat, who plans to travel to Washington next month to press the message conveyed in the letter, added that the sooner the wall is torn down, the better.
“If not tomorrow, in a month,” he said. “If not in a month, in three months, but the important thing is begin with a strong and united border voice to make a new era in Washington, D.C.”
On Capitol Hill, legislation to consider alternatives to border fencing is still pending in the House. Sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), HR 2593, the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act, proposes repealing Section 102 of the REAL ID Act that gives the DHS authority to waive laws for the border fencing, expanding local, state and tribal participation in border infrastructure decision-making, and funding initiatives to help mitigate damages from fencing to wildlife and cultural resources.
Inside the beltway, organizations like the Sierra Club vow to make the border wall an issue the new administration must reexamine.
“We’ll be looking to President Obama and Secretary Napolitano for that leadership,” said Michael Degnan, the Sierra Club’s Washington representative for national forests and wildlife.
The Sierra Club earlier joined with Defenders of Wildlife in an unsuccessful lawsuit that challenged the authority of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to waive dozens of environmental and other laws in order to proceed with the border wall construction.
“The beauty of democracy is that we do have the opportunity to make a difference,” Degnan said, “and that’s what we’re looking to do. We need to repeal this waiver.”
The Bush administration and border wall supporters insist the 670 miles of planned pedestrian and vehicle barriers are needed to stem drug trafficking, stop terrorism and curb illegal immigration. A recent blog posting linked to the Washington DC- based Center for Immigration Studies website captures the sentiments of many border wall supporters. Titled “Better Get That Wall Built,” the posting consisted of a news summary of criminal violence in Ciudad Juárez and northern Mexico, including the Nov. 13 murder of El Diario de Juárez reporter Armando Rodríguez.
In border areas where construction is underway, work crews have been busy in recent weeks. As of mid-November, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), the division of DHS responsible for overseeing the fencing, stated on its website that about 375 miles the planned fencing and vehicle barriers had been completed. Less than five weeks later, on Dec. 18, the DHS said more than 520 miles of barriers were done. The latest number means that about 145 miles of barriers were erected in a few weeks, according to the federal government.
CBP spokesman Lloyd Easterling recently told Frontera NorteSur that the government planned to have “90 or 95” percent of the fencing terminated by the end of December. The pace of construction, Easterling maintained, has been a “huge feat” so far.
Although the fencing is unfinished, Easterling said no further appropriations for the fencing will be requested from Congress. Earlier this year, the DHS was allowed to reprogram $400 million to cover cost overruns. Depending on the source, the total price tag for the massive project is estimated from $2 billion to $49 billion. Bills for maintaining the fencing from erosion, flooding, wear and tear, and other damages are expected to considerably push up the wall’s cost over time, according to many analysts.
Legal Challenges Move Forward
In addition to political opposition and civil disobedience, exemplified by the arrest of activist Judy Ackerman, who physically blocked a construction crew south of El Paso last week, the fencing project continues to face multiple courtroom challenges on constitutional and other legal grounds.
The County of El Paso, for instance, filed an appeal in its lawsuit with the US Supreme Court earlier this month. On another front, the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) are defending individual landowners, including Lipan Apaches, in property condemnation proceedings pursued by the federal government.
A big issue in the landowner cases is the 2008 Appropriations Act, which requires the DHS to consult with property holders to reduce the impact of walls on cultural, environmental and economic resources. Mandated by Congress, the consultation process between south Texas landowners and the DHS has been a thorny one so far, with federal officials, landowners and members of the Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials opposed to the wall, disagreeing over the scope, timing and make-up of the consultations.
Jerry Westervich, an attorney for TRLA who is defending two landowners in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, said he is trying to make sure the federal government complies with the 2008 law. “We have no idea what President Obama will do when he has the keys to the bulldozers,” Westervich maintained.
A group of legal activists based at the University of Texas (UT), meanwhile, is exploring national and international law issues as they relate to the border wall, including the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.
Jeff Wilson , an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Texas-Brownsville and a member of the UT law group, said researchers studied census data for Texas’ Cameron County to compare the socio-economic characteristics of border residents who would and would not be directly impacted by the fence construction.
Research revealed that that lower-income Latinos, especially immigrants, are disproportionately targeted for fencing on or near their properties, Wilson said, but more affluent residents and businesses such as River Bend Resort would actually escape having fences run through their lands.
Denise Gilman, a UT clinical law professor who is also a member of the activist group, said student and faculty activists delivered a report on the border wall to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC last October. Commission members are very concerned about the wall’s effects on cultural rights, Gilman said, but can’t take any action until domestic avenues for redress are exhausted. Criticizing the DHS’ project for lacking accountability and transparency, Gilman contended that the federal government has not fully responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the UT law group last April.
Gilman told reporters that Washington finally sent her group a copy of the main border wall contract with the Boeing company this month, but sub-contracts and payment information which were also requested under the FOIA were not delivered. Asked if contract lock-in provisions that could tie Washington’s hands regardless of the incoming administration’s policy desires were an issue, Gilman said, “It’s an area of concern.”
This story first appeared Dec. 26 on Frontera NorteSur.
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
International Indian Treaty Council
Center for Immigration Studies
Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid
Texas Border Coalition
THE GREAT WALL OF BOEING
Corporate Power and the Secure Border Initiative
by David L. Wilson, MR Zine
World War 4 Report, October 2008
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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Jan. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution