Category Archives: Resources

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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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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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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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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Mexico Energy Reform Spurs Larger Scale Cross-Border Electricity Transmission


Sempra Energy’s Energía Sierra Juárez is the first cross-border wind generation project between the U.S. and Mexico. (photo Nicholas McVickers /KPBS)

MEXICO CITY — The dream of a unified North American electricity grid could not have been contemplated until Mexico’s electricity market was opened to foreign companies in 2014.

Today, larger scale volumes of electricity are flowing in both directions across the Mexico-United States border.

The United States and Canada have long established interconnections, and proponents of a unified grid are heralding Mexico’s nascent energy reform as a potential pathway to seamless transmission between the three North American nations.

There are currently 11 sets of transmission lines straddling the Mexico-U.S. border.

Mexico’s senior energy decision makers and industry executives are working with American counterparts to expand that footprint.

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Peace In Colombia: Progress But Challenge Remains In Highly Polarized Nation

This guerrilla who did not wish to be identified by name, said he lost his arm during the conflict in Colombia. He is painting an image that marks 53 years since the formation of the FARC, the Spanish acronym for the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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META, Colombia—Making peace after five decades of armed conflict in Colombia is a process fraught with challenges. The stakes for the United States stake are enormous both politically and economically. The two countries have a free trade deal and American companies like Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil are major players in Colombia. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is at the White House today to talk with President Donald Trump about protecting Colombia’s nascent peace process. After supporting the Colombian military for years—seven billion dollars since 2000 in its fight against leftist rebels —the U.S. is now helping to finance peace after a deal to end the conflict was signed in November. The U.S. Congress approved a 450-million dollar package earlier this month called Peace Colombia to help Colombia craft a durable peace. That number is likely to be reduced next year however as the Trump administration has been clear that it plans to reduce foreign assistance packages.

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Driving through the hills of Meta, where the Colombian Andes cascade down into a lush green valleys, where sunbeams dance on the bluest of skies, it is hard to imagine the bloodshed that once unfolded here.  Meta was ravaged by a war that pitted Colombia’s army and private militia against leftist guerrillas known as the FARC—-the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The FARC began as a rebellion against economic inequality in the 1960s. It then entered the cocaine trade to finance the conflict. And sowed terror in rural Colombia, killing civilians and extorting businesses.

Colombian soldiers at a checkpoint in the mountains of Meta, Colombia. The army battled the guerrillas here but today, guerrillas are asking for a greater military presence here to protect the region from incursions by organized crime and private militia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Shot Across The Bow: Mexico Considers Boycott Of U.S. Corn

Rafael Avila harvests corn grown from seeds that trace their lineage to the Aztec and Maya cultures. In Mexico there’s a saying. “Sin maiz, no hay pais.” Without corn there’s no country.’ Despite that history, Mexico imports vast amounts of U.S. corn. (photo:Lorne Matalon)

MEXICO CITY — Every weekday, Antonio Godinez Vera turns imported American corn into feed for Mexican livestock. Some of that U.S. corn is also used to make tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet. Corn is also a symbol of Mexico itself. Corn was born in Mexico 9,000 years ago. There’s even an expression here, “Sin maíz no hay pais,” meaning ‘without corn there’s no country.’ Legislation has been proposed in Mexico City to boycott U.S. corn in response to a suite of economic threats against Mexico voiced by President Donald Trump.

Corn mill owner Antonio Godinez Vera said a boycott of American corn would raise prices for Mexican consumers and damage the Mexican corn market. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

“A boycott could certainly hurt us,” Godinez told me in Spanish as the din of his corn mill echoed through a complex of machines and metal kernel grinders. Trucks laden with imported American corn sat in his lot. A boycott would also hurt U.S. corn growers from the Dakotas to the Midwest to Arizona, California and Texas. Mexico’s deputy economy minister Juan Carlos Baker told the Financial Times that negotiations are underway with Argentina and Brazil to offer them duty-free access to the Mexican market now enjoyed by U.S. growers under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).  As a candidate, Trump called Nafta the “worst trade deal” ever signed in this country.

Corn imported from the U.S. is used primarily in animal feeds but market uncertainty has historically translated into elevated prices for tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Mexican Sen. Armando Rios Piter has proposed the boycott. “Corn is from Mexico, from my country. So right now it’s an important position in nationalistic way but also in terms of trade,” he said at the door of the Senate chamber.

Corn has been cultivated in what is modern-day Mexico for nine thousand years. (photo: Lorne Matalon)


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Borderland Exodus: Towns Near Path Of Proposed Mexican Pipelines Suffer Rash Of Violence

This story was commissioned by ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America.

A burned home in Guadalupe, Chihuahua. Homes and businesses that lie in the path of proposed infrastructure development in the Valley of Juárez have been targets of arson. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

GUADALUPE, Chihuahua, Mexico — People living in the Juárez Valley southeast of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas, allege that land speculators preparing for the start of oil and gas production have spurred a land grab that has forced what some claim is an exodus of local residents

People interviewed for this story claim they or neighbors have been burned out of their homes and that others have been murdered. They live in a string of towns along the Rio Grande in an area slated for energy production and rapid infrastructure construction.

Shattered glass marks the entrance to an abandoned dance hall in Guadalupe, Chihuahua.
There are charred and destroyed buildings throughout the town. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

One of those towns is Guadalupe, a few minutes from the United States border across from Fabens, Texas, but a world away in terms of security. Construction on a superhighway and a state-of-the-art international border crossing is underway here.

According to Mexican census rolls nearly 10,000 people lived here in 2005. The mayor — who declined to be interviewed — claimed in local media that this year only about 1,000 people remain.

One man, who like others asked not be identified for fear of retribution, explained what has happened. “The government sends people here to pressure landowners to get out of here, to say, ‘go away, we don’t want you here,’ ” he said in Spanish. The charge is vehemently denied by Chihuahua’s government.

The man said wealthy buyers then show up to grab the vacant land.

A view from the Mexican side of construction of a state-of-the-art border crossing connecting Guadalupe to Fabens, Texas. The crossing will help to move energy-related goods and services between both countries. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Analysts suggest buyers are arriving because Mexico’s state-owned oil company PEMEX is exploring for oil and gas in northern Chihuahua. The region shares geological characteristics of the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the highest-producing oil field in the United States.

“Obviously this land is being re-consolidated in the hands of a few,” said Tony Payan, Director of Rice University’s Mexico Center in Houston.

“Many of these politicians will have interests in the shale development in the future and will likely get hold of that land no matter what.”

With oil and gas development and plans for pipelines, desert land no one cared about is now valuable. Chihuahua’s Secretary of Public Works told a Juárez newspaper in September that he won’t reveal the exact routes for new roads because the government doesn’t want to fuel land speculation.

Former Chihuahua Governor César Duarte visited in 2015. The mayor ordered vandalized homes on the main street to be painted in festive colors. One man said the paint is a metaphor for a smokescreen meant to cover up what residents allege has happened here. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

I asked another person about that. He laughed derisively. “It’s always about power and money,” he said in Spanish. He alleged that bureaucrats and politicians are now in the real estate business, acting at the very least as a middleman to sell land to investors.

“They are using, it is quite clear to me, that information for themselves in a way that they can position themselves as a political class to profit from this industry in the future, oil, gas and the pipelines themselves,” Payan said.

This damaged home is steps from the repainted facades on the town’s main street. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Back in Guadalupe, physical evidence suggests that someone doesn’t want people here: burned houses, shattered glass and very few people on the street.

The narrative in Mexican media is that the violence is a consequence of turf wars between cartels. But some residents are skeptical. They sense, but can’t prove, that outside investors are working with organized crime to terrorize people into fleeing, leaving their land to be scooped up. The state can legally seize land and homes for unpaid property taxes.

Residents said repeatedly that no economic activity, legal or otherwise, takes place without the government knowledge and tacit sanction.

“The valley is a lawless place,” another man said in Spanish. “It’s the sad truth.”

Mexican authorities cited in media reports say at least 300 people have been killed in Guadalupe since 2008 — mayors, police, city councilors, business owners and human rights activists. People are learning hard lessons about real estate.

Julián Cardona is a photographer from Juárez. He was the photographer on a story about the Juárez Valley with Mexican journalist Ignacio Alvarado Álvarez published by Al Jazeera America.       

“You know the rule. Location, location, location,” Cardona said.

He’s watched a slow-motion depopulation unfold here. He said residents tell him that authorities do nothing.

“Every time there was a killing, every time there was a burning house, the soldiers were a block away,” Cardona said. “They didn’t stop the killers or the people burning the houses.”

Pipeline companies in Texas are historically granted the right of eminent domain, to seize private land because the transport of energy is deemed to be in the public’s interest.

“In the United States, it’s a lawful eminent domain. In Mexico it’s outright violence,” said El Paso lawyer Carlos Spector. He represents 250 former residents of the Juárez Valley, many from Guadalupe, now seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Investors are getting very aggressive,” said Spector, founder of Mexicanos En Exilio, or Mexicans in Exile.

“All they have to do is get a list from the mayor of a small town, who is under their control, as to who hasn’t paid the taxes. And if they can match up who hasn’t paid the taxes to where the gas and the freeway is coming, then you go after that property. It’s very, very scientific.”

People who remain in Guadalupe say that former neighbors who have fled are anxious to sell their now-abandoned land for cents on the dollar because they’re too frightened to even contemplate coming back.

Fear in The Juárez Valley: A Case Study

Martín Huéramo is one of 250 former residents of the Mexican border town of Guadalupe, now seeking asylum in the United States. “I received several threats, not just one,” he said in Spanish.

Miguel Murgia’s wife was taken from a family gathering in Guadalupe four years ago. Murgia theorizes criminals were after his nephew who was related to a human rights activist. Both Murgia’s wife and nephew are unaccounted for. He is in the United States while his application for asylum is considered. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Huéramo was a city councilor in Guadalupe in 2010. He had opposed the mayor’s resolution that would allow the local government to expropriate land to sell to energy speculators.

The week after he entered the United States, two women on the city council were killed. They had opposed the same resolution. This was confirmed by two independent sources.

The year before, two of his brothers-in-law were murdered.

“Families in the Juárez Valley have lost loved ones,” he said. “It’s a message saying they have to leave the Juarez Valley.

A family chart of the Josefina Reyes Salazar family. Josefina Reyes was a human rights activist who was murdered near Ciudad Juárez in 2010. Red under a name means a Reyes relative has been murdered. Blue indicates an asylum seeker. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Residents says violence rose in the Juárez Valley in 2010 after the murder of Josefina Reyes Salazar killed on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez.

She had led the Mexican side of a successful binational campaign to stop a nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas, just across from Guadalupe. And she had spoken out about land displacement in the Juárez Valley.

An art gallery administrator from Ciudad Juárez, Gabriela Carballo, compares opposition to pipelines in Guadalupe to conflict in the U.S. over the proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline. It would ferry natural gas from Texas into Mexico.

There is intense opposition on the part of some Texas landowners and ranchers.

“As a Mexican I can say that we care as much about the environment as any one of these people that are fighting the Trans Pecos Pipeline,” said Carballo. As for alleged land displacement in the name of energy in Chihuahua, she said it’s not easy to take a stand under the actual or perceived threat of retribution. “If we speak out against it, we run the risk of our really extremely corrupt government murdering us,” she said.

There’s no way to verify such a claim. And Mexican officials are quick to refute it.

“Violence is minimal right now and no one’s been affected by plans for pipelines,’ said Arturo Llamas in Spanish. He’s Chihuahua’s pipeline and energy infrastructure regulator.

Llamas is also the state’s liaison with Mexico’s federal energy agencies. He said energy development in northern Chihuahua is a boon to local residents that will ultimately translate into lower electricity and gasoline costs.

“It will help the entire country, not just Chihuahua,” he said. He was emphatic that he and his staff are watching the Juárez Valley.

“It’s our responsibility to be sure that laws are obeyed and that everything that must be done is done properly,” he said. He also said he wanted anyone with a complaint to contact his office in Chihuahua City.

But few people alleging harm are likely to approach a government they don’t trust.

At the destroyed dance hall, words on the upper right read, “no minors, no weapons, no drugs.” (photo: Lorne Matalon)

There are others beyond the alleged victims, who bear witness to a different reality. Mexican photographer Julián Cardona has catalogued the destruction of peoples lives in the Juárez Valley.

“I think they’re now realizing the value of their land, because now there are people buying their lands,” said Cardona. “Violence is linked to displacement of their families.”

He recalled a visit June 24, 2015, when Chihuahua Gov. César Duarte made a brief stop in Guadalupe.

“The governor visited in Guadalupe and the mayor ordered the empty buildings and house along the main avenue painted in bright colors — glowing yellow, green, blue, pink. The fact the houses were painted in bright colors is like a smokescreen of what’s really going on,” Cardona said.

As for Martin Huéramo — the former Guadalupe city councilor seeking asylum — he says he would have no issue with energy production or pipelines if they did not involve, in his words, people being forced out. He doesn’t believe government claims that laws are being followed and things are being done properly.

Then unexpectedly, he said he believes one of the government’s claims.”The government says violence is down in the Juárez Valley,” he said in Spanish.”I believe it,” he continued, “because there are no more people left to kill.”

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US-Mexico Intelligence Cooperation Braces For Possible Change

Mexican soldiers work in the mountains of Sinaloa burning this marijuana field, part of an eradication program supported by the United States. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

AUSTIN, Texas–The U.S. Congressional Research Service says intelligence cooperation between Mexico and the United States has become closer in the last decade on issues important to both countries such as illegal immigration, border security, drugs and human trafficking.

But that critical intelligence relationship may be under examination in Mexico. The country is trying to fashion a response to a suite of economic threats issued by the new U.S. administration. And security is one serious chip to play. After alleged Mexican drug trafficker Chapo Guzmán Loera was arrested in Sinaloa, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released a statement.

“The arrest is a significant achievement,” it said, “in our shared fight against organized crime.” There are published reports that U.S. intelligence on Guzmán’s whereabouts led to the takedown. Guzmán was extradited to the United States last month.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

But the former chief of Mexico’s National Intelligence Agency between 2007 and 2011 believes that kind of cooperation risks being diluted. “There will be no incentives to collaborate with the United States,” said Guillermo Valdés in a conversation in Austin, Texas.

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