Author Archives: Lorne Matalon

Deported Asylum Seekers Differ On U.S. Policy Sending Them To Guatemala – Part 1

After being flown from the United States to Guatemala, asylum-seeker Natalia Medina needed to change the little money she had into Guatemalan currency. Despite documents showing she was legally in Guatemala for 72 hours, three banks refused to serve her. Medina departed Guatemala immediately. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

GUATEMALA CITY—In March, Guatemala closed its borders and airports to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But there was one special set of flights still allowed in – and it was for immigration enforcement. Asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador were being deported to Guatemala, with the planes lifting off from Texas. A few days ago, Guatemala temporarily suspended acceptance of these flights. But many detainees have already landed there and claim they were misled about where they were going in the first place.

The fights were conducted under a Trump administration policy that is under challenge in U.S. federal court. Opponents claim U.S. law and international treaty obligations are being violated by sending people to countries where they face certain danger.

Blanca Díaz is a 26-year-old from Usulután, El Salvador where she operated a one-person unisex hair salon from home. She says she received extortion threats from pandilleros, criminals who are soldiers for organized crime. Pandilleros are akin to parallel states in Central America’s Northern Triangle – a security-challenged region comprising El Savador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Blanca Díaz attempts to connect with family in El Salvador hours after being deported from Texas to Guatemala City. Díaz had applied for political asylum in the U.S. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
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Deported Asylum Seekers Differ On U.S. Policy Sending Them To Guatemala – Part 2

Natalia Medina checks for messages from her family in Honduras after being sent to Guatemala City by the U.S. Unlike the vast majority of deported asylum seekers, Medina said the experience of being jailed in Texas was so shattering she won’t contemplate returning. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

GUATEMALA CITY—The United States has sent more than 800 asylum-seekers to Guatemala since late 2019. The asylum-seekers are not from Guatemala but from two Central American nations, El Salvador and Honduras. The flights bringing the asylum-seekers to Guatemala depart from Texas. Most people interviewed for this story who were on a recent flight said they will attempt to return to the U.S. But others, their spirits crushed by the ordeal of arrest, deportation and return to the very region they fled, said they will not try again.

Supporters of the Trump administration policy say such sentiments underscore the effectiveness of the plan as a deterrent to those who would seek safety in the U.S. under the terms of political asylum.

People from El Salvador and Honduras exchange stories on their overnight deportation from Texas. They were sent here to Guatemala City under terms of a Trump administration policy that is under challenge in U.S. federal court. (photo; Lorne Matalon)
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Cuba & Africa: The Changing Migration Mosaic In Juárez

People from Cameroon and Uganda enter a church in Juárez. They are waiting in Juárez for an initial interview with US authorities in El Paso, Texas. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Juárez, Chihuahua—–The city of Juárez, Mexico across the border from El Paso, Texas has long been a migrant gateway to the US. In a May 17 2019 statement to Mexican media, Mexican authorities said at least 14,500 hundred people have come to Juárez in recent months to wait to apply for asylum in the United States. A large share of the migrant flow is coming from Central America and Mexico. Juárez however has now become a destination for people fleeing any number of conflicts and oppression around the world. That includes people from Africa and Cuba.

“As soon as they get my story they will believe me and I’ll make it there. So I have a lot of faith. That’s my power,” said Florant, from Cameroon.

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Illegal Border Crossings By US Citizens On Rio Grande Continue Despite Border Clampdown

US citizens use ropes cross the Rio Grande from Mexico, on the right, into Texas. It is not a violation of US law to walk into Mexico. Returning here, miles from the nearest legal port of entry, is. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

CANDELARIA, Texas—In a reversal of stereotypes along one rugged stretch of the Rio Grande, it is US citizens who are breaking border laws. It is, of course, illegal to enter the US without passing through an official border crossing. Along one stretch of the Rio Grande, the artery that marks the US border with Mexico, US citizens are doing just that because of a shortage of basic services in rural Texas, such as health care.

Informal, unregulated crossings have been a fixture of life for generations in rural communities on the river. It is a scene that’s been replayed over the generations. Today, however, with the unrelenting focus on border security, this kind of unfettered back and forth by US citizens is rare.

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Nicaragua: Gov’t Repression Batters But Fails To Quell Opposition

Elsa Valle was jailed for three months for giving food and medicine to students seeking shelter from attacks by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries. Days before her release, her father Carlos was jailed, presumably to keep him from speaking out over the abuses his daughter allegedly suffered in jail. The sign held by a sympathizer on the right reads, ‘Less political prisoners and more politicians in jail.’ Since April 2018, hundreds of dissidents have been jailed. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The United States has levied sanctions against Nicaragua in response to alleged electoral fraud and human rights abuses. More than 300 people have been killed since April 2018. Hundreds of others, many of them college students, are in jail. The chaos is triggering large scale flight with human rights workers in Nicaragua’s capital of Managua saying that at least a thousand Nicaraguans are either applying or planning to apply to come legally to the US.

In scenes replayed across Nicaragua. Unarmed anti-government protests over corruption and repression have repeatedly been met by police violence. Much of the international community, with the notable exceptions of China, Russia, Venezuela and North Korea, has condemned the regime of Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega but the cycle continues. Ortega’s police are now hunting for dissidents, especially students who initially triggered the protest movement.

In Masaya, Nicaragua, gov’t opponents vandalized the public prosecutor’s office after gov’t security forces attacked the neighborhood. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

One of them, 19-year-old Elsa Valle. “We were intimidated every day and it continues now,” she said.

In June, Valle was giving food and medicine to students when police burst in. She says officers threatened torture and death as they drove her to a notorious jail known as El Chipote. Human rights defenders say torture’s commonplace there. Valle says she was brought into a room of machine-gun toting men. She says they ordered her to admit the students had received arms to fight the government. “I couldn’t do that because it’s not true,” she said. After that interrogation Valle says a guard threatened her. ‘‘I am going to rape you,’ Valle alleged the guard threatened. She said she also was forced to sleep naked at times. At night, she said guards clicked AK-47s outside her cell.

“There was a lot of psychological abuse in there,” Valle said.

Valle was pregnant when she was taken away. Stress took its toll. She suffered a miscarriage in jail. She was released in September without explanation. Her boyfriend was shot dead by paramilitaries days before she was arrested. Her father is still in jail, taken in after being at a march.

Uriel Amador says he had to defend his land from gov’t-sanctioned takeovers by landless Nicaraguans. Amador succeeded but takeovers continue with close to 17000 acres under armed occupation. The lands belong to people who oppose the gov’t. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Terror is not confined to jail. Thousands of people, many armed with machetes, have been dispatched by Ortega’s government to take over lands owned by the regime’s opponents. Close to 17 thousand acres of acres of Nicaraguan farmland are under armed occupation. And you can’t call the police to help you.”The whole world has seen what happened here, how human rights are violated day-to-day,” said Michael Healy, head of Nicaragua’s Union of Agricultural Producers. Between farmers, ranchers, their workers and families, Healy’s union represents approximately one in three Nicaraguans. He explained that armed squatters are just one footnote to a mosaic of state repression. “Unfortunately we’ve been tied up,” said Healy. “And we have to break those chains.”

The ground crew prepares home plate for the start of a Nicaraguan baseball league’s championship at Dennis Martinez Stadium in Managua. Only a handful of spectators are in the 15000 seat stadium. Gov’t paramilitaries are accused of shooting at and killing university students from the top deck in the stadium. Fans are not going to the stadium as a way to protest the gov’t. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
This screen shot from social media urges Nicaraguans to boycott the national baseball stadium until victims shot dead by paramilitary snipers from stadium decks that overlook the street are first honored inside the stadium.

IUS sanctions appear to be hurting an economy that’s been declining since April. However Healy welcomed the prospect of sanctions. “If we want to get rid of the regime, we have to pay a little price, we Nicaraguans,” he said.

At his rallies, President Ortega blames the crisis on the US. He does not offer evidence. The anti-US words resonate in a country with a long and often difficult relationship with the US. The US backed a dynastic dictatorship and when that dictatorship was defeated militarily, US financed the contras, a counter-revolutionary and often violent group that tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the Sandinistas from power. Ortega tells his audiences, which reportedly include government workers ordered to attend his public events, that Washington shouldn’t  get involved.

As for Elsa Valle, the student who suffered through three months in jail, the repression hasn’t ended. Elsa and her 17-year-old sister Rebeca were arrested Nov 13 2018. They were standing outside Managua’s Central Court House as their father Carlos made an appearance before a Sandinista judge. After an hour, the pair was released. Both say they were hit by police officers.  However Elsa Valle said she won’t be intimidated.

“I’ve lost my fear after everything they’ve done,” she said. She added that for all those feeling Nicaragua, she and many more are remaining in place and who will continue their struggle.

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Nicaragua: Gov’t And Opposition Talks On Hold As US Imposes Economic Sanctions

A woman who asked not be identified points to bullet holes above her inside a church in the Jesús de la Divina Misericordia parish in Managua. The gunfire was unleashed by pro-gov’t paramilitaries and police against students taking shelter in the church. (photo: Lorne

KPBS – NPR in San Diego

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua’s government and opposition are accusing each other of undermining the latest round of dialogue after police arrested more than 100 at a weekend protest. The protest took place March 19 2019.

The opposition Civic Alliance, a coalition of business leaders, student movement and human rights defenders condemned what the Alliance termed the government’s “violent repression” of the march. The Alliance claims 164 people were arrested even as the government said publicly it would pursue reconciliation talks with the opposition. The group said in a statement that it was frustrated that the talks had not produced the release of hundreds of people observers across the Americas Europe consider political prisoners.

The Nicaraguan government had freed dozens of people arrested crackdown on street protests hours before government and opposition were due to restart talks aimed at ending the crisis that has paralyzed the country since April 2018.

Relatives of jailed political dissidents line up to pass food to their imprisoned loved ones. Since April 2018, hundreds of people have been jailed for taking part in unarmed anti-gov’t protests. The gov’t has criminalized public protest of any kind. Inmates say they receive rotten, often inedible food. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Nicaragua’s government has received international condemnation for killing at least 322 people since April 2018. In what seems a rare bipartisan move given the current political climate, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, two otherwise polar opposites politically, have been working together to shape US sanctions against Nicaragua.

Opponents say Daniel Ortega has betrayed the egalitarian ideals of the 1979 Sandinista revolution he once helped lead. That revolution overthrew a brutal US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Ortega was previously in power 1984-1990 when he was defeated at the polls. He returned to power in 2007. In the last 11 years, Ortega has abolished presidential term limits, enriched his family and weeks ago, he made protest of any kind illegal. However protests continue where Nicaraguans chant ‘Ortega y Somoza Son La Misma Cosa.’ (‘Ortega and Somoza are the same thing.’)

Rafael Morales stands at his home hours after he and neighbors allege Nicaraguan police burned it down. The motive for the attack is unclear as Morales said he is a Sandinista supporter. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Amnesty International reports that the vast majority of those who have died have victims of extrajudicial gov’t police and their hooded paramilitary allies. Simmering discontent over corruption exploded in April when the gov’t announced cuts to social security. An unarmed citizens movement led initially by students reacted with marches to show disdain for Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega.

‘It’s state terrorism,’ said Attorney Braulio Abarca at the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, known by its Spanish acronym, CENIDH. In addition to killings, the gov’t has imprisoned hundreds of political prisoners. Abarca and his colleagues are also investigating 89 cases of people who have disappeared.  “We’re living in fear,” he said.

Days after meeting with Abarca, Nicaraguan lawmakers allied with Ortega declared the legal status to operate of 10 non-governmental organizations invalid which means those groups can no longer legally operate in Nicaragua. In the eyes of the Sandinista government, CENIDH’s work on behalf victims of alleged government persecution was deemed to be intolerable. The interior ministry said in a statement on Friday their assets will be put into a “fund for the victims of terrorism,” without elaborating.

The government had described the people who took part in mass demonstrations against Ortega over eight months, many of which grew violent, as “terrorists.” It was partially in reaction to that vitriol that the US imposed sanctions on Nicaragua. Fabian Medina is the author of a new Ortega biography. He is also editor of La Prensa, an independent daily.
“I applaud sanctions to punish these corrupt people,” Medina said. Later, I met Byron, a civil engineering student who asked that his last name not be revealed for fear of retribution. He worked with neighbors to maintain a makeshift barricade to defend against attacks by the police.

He said he stays in a different safe house every day

“If they catch us, they’ll kill us,” Byron said. We could only meet in a moving car with heavily tinted windows. Although Byron echoed many here who stay they’re undeterred, chaos in Nicaragua is spurring flight. More than 30,000 have left, many to Costa Rica. Human rights workers in Managua says that approximately a thousand are asking for or planning to ask for asylum in the US.

“Nicaragua’s future is leaving,” lamented Carlos Tunnermann, a former ambassador to Washington.”To be a young and a student is a crime in the eyes of the government.”

Stephanie Leutert studies Central American migration as the leader of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s a volatile situation and it could increase exponentially,” Leutert said. She explained that many Nicaraguans hunkered down in other countries want to go home. However Leutert said that may change.

“If this grinds on, if it gets worse, you’re going to have more people making the decision of, ‘no I really want to resettle and so I’m going to head north through Mexico and try and reach the United States.’ “

Former Sandinista guerrilla Carlos Humberto Silva Grijalva. The sign he made prior to a demonstration in Nov 2018 reads, ‘No more dictatorship, Ortega resign.’ (photo: Lorne Matalon)
Silva Grijalva’s wounds on his right leg were inflicted by rubber bullets that he and others allege were fired by gov’t paramilitaries against unarmed protesters. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Business sector leader Juan Sebastian Chamorro said violence has been a staple of modern Nicaraguan politics, but not on this scale. He recalled the 1959 killing of four students in León, the second largest city in after Managua. Chamorro said those killings were the beginning of the end of the dictatorship that Daniel Ortega helped topple. The student killings of 1959 are still a frame of reference for modern day Nicaraguans. Chamorro contrasted the event with what is unfolding in 2018.

“We have hundreds of people, hundreds of students, being assassinated. That gives you perspective of what kind of tragedy we are living now.”
Willie Miranda took part in a street protest. He says intimidation by government thugs followed.”Chasing us for the last three months, phone calls, you know, ‘We’re going to kill you, burn down your house, kill your sons.”

The Nicaraguan government does not appear to be listening to the multiple calls from governments, civil society and the Nicaraguan diaspora to restore peace.

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Foreign Investors & Mexican Energy Reform: Changes Likely Following Mexican Election

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, tells supporters that the supposed economic benefits of reform such as lower gasoline and electricity costs haven’t yet materialized. June 3 2018, Mexico City (photo: Lorne Matalon)

MEXICO CITY — Antonio Godinez Vera makes his living turning golden kernels of Mexican corn into a mash that becomes tortillas. People like Godinez, a small business owner with four employees, are part of a wave that powered Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the Mexican presidency when voters elected a new head of state July 1.

The campaign and its aftermath are being closely watched by U.S. energy companies that have operated in Mexico since the country’s 2014 energy reform. That reform was an opening that allowed foreign energy companies to bid on offshore blocks in the Gulf of Mexico, onshore oil and gas fields, wind and solar production and distribution and electricity generation contracts.

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Maple Gallery

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Bob Sabolefski is a small batch syrup producer in Stowe. He said he's not surprised by the arrival out-of-state investors who hope to leverage rising syrup demand. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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El Salvador: Battle Over Legacy Of Oscar Romero, San Romero de América

Maria Isabel Delario, bent and crying, prays at the tomb of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez at Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador. (Lorne Matalon)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador—María Isabel Delario is crying. Her body is bent, her face buried in her arms, her hands rest on the metal cast depicting the face of a murdered archbishop, a man nominated for sainthood by Pope Francis.

Delario is at the tomb of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez in the basement of the Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador. Some people around her wear shirts emblazoned with the words, “San Romero de América.” “For me he’s still alive” she says. Another worshiper, Carlos Martínez, adds, “Romero’s message was that the Church must work to end inequality. And that was a message that people in power did not want hear.”

Worshipers kneel before Romero’s tomb. The purse in the foreground reads, “May my blood be the seed of liberty, my death is for the liberation of my people and a testimony of hope in the future.” These words are attributed to Romero though it is unclear he actually he said them. (Lorne Matalon)

Reverence for Romero is evident when you land in San Salvador. A massive sign facing the tarmac announces that you’re arriving at an airport named for Romero. As you enter the country, his image is stamped into your passport. This story is about how Romero’s image continues to be manipulated 36 years after his murder.

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Maria Isabel Delario, bent and crying, prays at the tomb of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez at Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador. (Lorne Matalon)

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Sixth Round Of Nafta Negotiations In Montréal: Progress But No Final Resolution


Mike Myers, a maquila manager in Reynosa, Mexico. He opposes a border tax but supports an updated Nafta. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

MONTREAL, Canada—The sixth round of negotiations on Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is underway in Montreal. Canada and Mexico made news as the talks opened by announcing a separate free trade deal, a newly revived Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 nations in the Pacific Rim. Withdrawing the US from that deal was one of President Donald Trumps’s first acts in office.

Mr Trump said the Nafta talks are going “pretty well,” but he has also said that he will withdraw the United States from Nafta should he feel that not enough progress has been made. Those two statements are framing discussions by delegates from Canada and Mexico who are bracing for the next move by the US.

As a border state, Vermont has a high stake in the outcome. From auto parts to food to apparel, Vermont manufacturers have leveraged Nafta to export their products to Canada and Mexico duty-free as part of an integrated North American economy.

In Vermont, business people like Jean-Marc Landry who depend on duty-free access across Nafta’s borders are watching events unfold in Montréal. He manufactures an automatic braking system that is added to a wheelchair to keep them in place when a patient stands up.

Jean-Marc Landry is an engineer and owner of Pratiko, a Richmond, Québec company that
has patented an automatic braking system for wheelchairs. He recently opened a warehouse and assembly operation in Lyndonville, Vermont to access the U.S. market by leveraging Nafta’s duty-free environment. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

“One of the problems that we have with the wheelchair is that they kind of roll away,” as he explained the genesis of his technology.

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Canada Tested By Refugee Arrivals As Nation Plans Increased Intake Levels

A man from Congo speaks with RCMP officers after illegally entering Canada on foot. By avoiding a legal crossing where he would be sent back to the US, the man is allowed to remain in Canada until his immigration status is decided. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

NPR transcript

MONTREAL, Quebec—The flow of people seeking refugee status in Canada has grown exponentially in recent months. More people have walked into the Province of Quebec since August than in all of 2016 across the entire length of the Canadian border. On one recent day, people from Yemen, Haiti, Burundi and Nigeria as they crossed illegally into Canada from upstate New York seeking  refugee status. Had they tried to cross at a legal border crossing, they would have been sent back immediately. The net result is acontinued flow of migrants on foot who don’t use legal border crossings, testing a nation that historically welcomes refugees.

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Canada’s refugee system has become overloaded since the U.S. presidential election. If you apply to stay in Canada as a refugee, you are supposed to get a hearing within 60 days. That just isn’t happening. There aren’t enough lawyers to process a mounting backlog. Now Canada is weighing its traditional welcome for refugees against the country’s ability to absorb them.

As of October 2017, UN peacekeepers have withdrawn from Haiti. They were there to stabilize the country, the western hemisphere’s poorest nation. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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River of Refugees: Migrants Walk Into Canada Fearing Deportation From U.S.

Canada-US border at Roxham Road near Champlain, New York. Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police staff this unofficial crossing 24 hours a day. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

NPR Transcript

NEW YORK, NY—Washington has ended a temporary residency program for almost 60,000 Haitians allowed to legally enter the United States following an earthquake in 2010. The program is called Temporary Protected Status (TPS). It allows people from nations hit by conflict or natural disaster to remain legally but temporarily in the US for up to 18 months. TPS has often been extended so that some people have remained legally in the US for several years.

The decision to terminate TPS for Haitians mandates a deadline to leave the US by mid-2019. 5400 Haitians are currently living legally in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed his dismay over the decision noting that Haitians have long been “making our city better.”

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Dr Jay Helias, a physician, was visiting the US when a 7-magnitude earthquake tore into Haiti. Helias was permitted to stay under TPS. She  continued her career in New York.

A man from Haiti scurries past Canadian police officers after crossing into Canada at night. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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The Other Side Of The Northern Border: Canada Grapples With Border Refugees

The Canada border at Roxham Road near Champlain, New York. Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police staff this unofficial crossing 24 hours a day. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

CHAMPLAIN, New York—Washington has ended a temporary residency program for almost 60,000 Haitians allowed to legally enter the United States following an earthquake in 2010. The affected Haitians will have to leave the US by 2019. The program has also been revoked for two thousand Nicaraguans and it’s unclear if other groups including 300,000 Salvadorans will be allowed to remain. The net result is a continued flow of people crossing the border into Canada by foot. They are taking advantage of a footnote in a Canada-US treaty that says foot crossers won’t be turned back from Canada until their case is heard.

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The Canada border at Roxham Road near Champlain, New York. Canada's Royal Canadian Mounted Police staff this unofficial crossing 24 hours a day. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

After cresting this past summer, the story continues to unfold at places such as Roxham Road, north of Champlain in upstate New York. The United States Border Patrol says illegal crossings on foot into Canada are also taking place in Vermont. Only now, before they cross on foot, people like Mansour, a 37-year-old engineer from Yemen, are met by a group of women, Canadians and Americans, that includes Janet McFetridge of Champlain.

A man from Congo speaks with RCMP officers after illegally entering Canada. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

The man from Congo was then frisked before being processed in the white trailer. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Guatemala: Constitutional Standoff Threatens Central America’s Largest Economy

A banner left by Guatemalan prosecutors at a seized ranch owned by a now convicted politically connected drug trafficker reads “Evidence.” Guatemalan and foreign prosecutors in the Int’l Commission Against Impunity In Guatemala (CICIG) are investigating multiple Guatemalans politicians. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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GUATEMALA CITY—A constitutional standoff between the Guatemalan president and a United Nations-led commission prosecuting corruption is triggering a crisis that Guatemala’s Central Bank acknowledges may damage the country’s economy and spawn more illegal migration to the United States. Guatemalans in Vermont are among many within the Guatemalan diaspora in the United States dismayed by an attack on political reform but buoyed by the response of thousands of their countrymen and women inside Guatemala.


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A banner left by Guatemalan prosecutors at a seized ranch owned by a now convicted politically connected drug trafficker reads "Evidence." Guatemalan and foreign prosecutors in the Int'l Commission Against Impunity In Guatemala (CICIG) are investigating multiple Guatemalans politicians. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Guatemalan citizens carry an empty coffin in front of Guatemala’s National Palace. The coffin symbolizes what demonstrators called the death of democracy following their president’s attempt to expel the head of CICIG. (photo: Gabriel Wer)


In 2007, the UN helped establish the International Commission Against Impunity In Guatemala, known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG. The commission’s mandate is the targeting and prosecution of deep-rooted corruption, a corrosive force in Guatemala’s politics, economy and judicial system for generations. CICIG’s investigations helped force the resignation of a sitting Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina in 2015. He is currently in jail awaiting trial while his case proceeds after CICIG charged him and his former vice president Roxana Baldetti in a corruption case. The case is known as La Línea (The Line) in which the Guatemalan customs agency offered companies bringing goods into Guatemala reduced import duties in return for money that was shared among dozens of government officials.

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US Energy & Pemex Wary Of Rising Theft From Mexican Pipelines

Refinery workers in Veracruz finish their shift. Mexican gov’t statistics indicate mounting theft from pipelines that ferry refined gasoline from here to Mexico City. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

VERACRUZ, Mexico–American energy companies are looking to enter Mexico’s oil, natural gas and electricity markets which have been open since 2014 to foreign participation for the first time since 1938. Major US energy companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron have entered the Mexican energy space. However smaller companies such as drillers, rig operators and seismic surveyors, the nuts and bolts of an industry that Mexico’s politicians hope will lift the economy are hedging their bets because of a serious security threat that the Mexican government has said is rising, namely the theft of oil and gasoline from Mexican pipelines. (listen: Texas Standard)

Veracruz state in southern Mexico is a hub of refineries and pipelines. The pipeline the left in Coatzacoalcos ferries refined gasoline and petrochemicals to Mexico City. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Mexican Border Reporters Under New Stress In State Of Tamaulipas

Paco Rojas is a well-known journalist in Reynosa. He does not mention specific names of organized crime groups on-the-air. His news reports focus on the locations of alleged crimes to warn citizens to avoid a given area. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

REYNOSA, Mexico–2016 was one of the most deadly for Mexican reporters in recent history. Most press groups count at least nine killed, some as many 16. Reporters Without Borders annual report documents that Mexico was the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Syria and Afghanistan.


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Paco Rojas is a well-known journalist n Reynosa. He does not mention specific names of organized crime groups on-the-air. His news reports focus on the locations of alleged crimes to warn citizens to avoid a given area. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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That said, what is happening right now to reporters in Reynosa, a city that borders Texas, is unusually difficult. In late April, Mexican marines killed the leader of a major organized crime group there setting off a wave of crime that reporters are struggling to chronicle without being threatened or killed.

Even before that take-down and its immediate aftermath, Reynosa had never been an easy place to be a journalist. The sprawling factory town sits across the Rio Grande from McAllen Texas. It has often been a staging ground for turf battles within organized crime where civilians become collateral damage and where journalists like Paco Rojas are often threatened.

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Borderland Horse Patrols In The Age Of High Tech: Funding Requested In Administration’s 2018 Budget

US Border Patrol Agent Leo Gonzales debriefs a Honduran man and his daughter after intercepting them on the Rio Grande near La Grulla, Texas. (photo:Lorne Matalon)


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US Border Patrol Agent Agent Leo Gonzales speaks with two migrants, a father and his five-year-old daughter, who said they had just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico after an overland trip from Honduras. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

LA GRULLA, Texas–Since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11 2001, the United States has spent over 100 billion dollars on border security technology—cameras, drones, aerostats (“blimps”) airborne patrols, fencing and walls. But in the U.S. Border Patrol’s most active sector in terms of arrests, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, horses and the agents riding them are patrolling terrain that technology alone can’t alone control. As politicians debate an expanded and expensive border wall, this kind of “old school” border security comes at a relatively miniscule cost to taxpayers.

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Using horses to secure the border is not new. It began in 1924, the year what became the modern-day Border Patrol was founded. Today what is changing is where the horses now come from and how critical they’ve become in what statistics show is currently the Border Patrol’s most active zone. Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt leads the horse unit.

“Going into such rough terrain in the dark hours, the horse will take care of the rider,” said Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt, leader of the horse unit.

He and a handful of agents were patrolling a sliver of the Rio Grande one hour west of McAllen, Texas and Reynosa, Mexico. The horses are mustangs captured on federal lands in the west.

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US-Owned Maquilas Welcome Prospect Of Changes To NAFTA

Alberto Martinez welds steel at a maquila owned by Metal Industries of Florida. (photo: Lorne Matalon)


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Alberto Martinez welds steel at a maquila in Reynosa, Mexico owned by Metal Industries of Florida (photo: Lorne Matalon)

REYNOSA, Mexico–American-owned assembly-line factories known as maquilas that line the Mexican side of the border with the U.S. have been bracing for change since the election of Donald Trump. But not in the way you might expect. They clearly don’t want a border tax placed on their shipments to the United States, as the Trump administration has threatened. But they are embracing the possibility of an updated Nafta saying the current version makes it a harder to operate in Mexico compared to the U.S. It all has to do with time consuming paperwork.

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Maquila managers and trade groups interviewed in both countries see regulatory uncertainty as an opportunity. “Nafta is 30 years old. It hasn’t kept up with today’s economy,” said Mike Myers, a Texan who runs a maquila owned by Metal Industries, a Florida company that makes vents for air conditioners and heating systems.

Mike Myers, a maquila manager in Reynosa, Mexico. He opposes a border tax but supports an updated Nafta. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Maquilas are foreign-owned factories in Mexico, many American-owned, that produce goods for export. Mexican and Asian interests also own maquilas, which sprung up like mushrooms after the rain when NAFTA took effect in 1994. Maquilas leverage low labor costs in Mexico and duty free access to the U.S. market to produce everything from televisions to medical equipment to computer parts. Continue reading

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Program Frontera Sur: Migrants Running Gauntlet On Guatemala-Mexico Border

The words read, “Christ Lives.” Migrants and goods such as oil and foodstuffs are transported illegally on a raft below a bridge that is an official port of entry between Mexico and Guatemala. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

ARRIAGA, Chiapas — The town of Arriaga in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas perfectly encapsulates how migration through Mexico has changed since 2014. Located three hours and 11 checkpoints north of the Guatemala border, it’s a former hub of trains known collectively as La Bestia, or The Beast.

But now, the train only comes here to bring in work crews who are repairing the tracks. Migrants who once lined the tracks have been replaced by police and Mexican immigration agents. They circle the town in trucks after months of raids, pulling migrants off trains and erecting concrete walls with barbed wire near the tracks to prevent access.

Migrants still show up here though, albeit in far fewer numbers.

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Programa Frontera Sur: Tracking U.S. Influence On Mexico’s Southern Border Plan

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Chiapas — In 2012, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security declared that Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala was now essentially the southern border of the United States.

That was two years before the 2014 child migrant crisis that saw tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing or attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Since then, the U.S. has in essence expanded its own border enforcement efforts by assisting Mexico on its southern border. In 2015, fewer Central Americans reached the U.S., though the numbers undulate from season to season.

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This border is porous even after the U.S. pressured Mexico to start Programa Frontera Sur, its southern border plan, in July 2014. The plan was crafted after President Obama said the unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children and families arriving at the U.S. border in the preceding months constituted an “urgent humanitarian situation.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees later warned of a “looming humanitarian crisis in the Americas.”

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