2018 in our America was a year of contradictions that make any single reading or even search for trends impossible. About the only certainty was the advance of climate change. Everything that has to do with politics and social justice was a storm of currents and countercurrents.
Some themes are recurring, especially the theme of this column–borders. The lines of the map that enclose nations, economies, identities and lives became battlefields in 2018, not for the first time, but intensified by the deployment of soldiers and the rhetoric of hate. Societies faced critical questions: Who can cross borders and who can close them? Are there different standards of rights and welfare for people from wealthy countries and people from poor and conflict-ridden countries? What kind of society are we and what kind of society do we want?
The borders between nations turned increasingly militarized, while the borders between the ideologies that determine them hardened.
U.S. president Donald Trump shut down his own government in a confrontation over borders. Republicans and Democrats faced off over Trump’s demand to include in the budget more than $5 billion dollars to continue building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The partial shutdown disrupted activities and left hundreds of thousands of families without a paycheck. Most U.S. citizens don’t want a wall that would have a huge negative impact on cross-border trade, the environment and the nation’s budget, and almost zero impact on undocumented migration, smuggling and drug trafficking. At the same time, it sends millions into the pockets of security-intelligence-defense companies and increases the pain of families fleeing violence in their home countries.
While a confrontation between the parties with the new Democratic majority in the lower house was expected as the first test of the correlation of forces, the subject of the debate – the wall – symbolizes a deeper battle over the future of the United States. Trump, Miller and Co. envision a fortress state that protects the interests of a wealthy white minority and manufactures enemies to fuel perpetual war, or a society built on diversity–open, dynamic and fair.
U.S. border policy, so far accepted as the norm by Mexico’s new government, seeks to harden not only its own borders, but also the borders of Mexico and the Central American countries to create an anti-migrant shield throughout the continent. The effort to contain social problems in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala by investing in walls and fences is a false and inhumane solution, especially considering that many of those problems were caused by U.S. interventions and looting. For thousands of people fleeing the threat of death, containment or return are potentially fatal.
The exodus from Central America isn’t a movement as such, but it is a strong cry of resistance, in defense of the most basic right that every human being has – the right to exist. In practice, many parts of the hemisphere have forgotten the principles of freedom, compassion and self-determination (“Respect for the rights of others is peace”) that are consecrated in constitutions, in history and in international human rights declarations. The rise of authoritarianism and fascism characterized the past year and will continue to rear its ugly head in 2019.
To the north, Donald Trump, president of the most powerful country in the world, hunkers down in the White House with the individuals who represent the worst of his government because so many members of his team have bailed like rats from a shipwreck. The most corrupt, the ideologues of hatred, and the blindly ambitious remain and their permanence in power depends on diverting blame to the most vulnerable.
To the south, an ultraright, homophobic and racist candidate–Jair Bolsonaro– takes power as president of the nation with the largest economy in Latin America. Expect an era of polarization and violence that will touch the lives of millions of Brazilians, many tragically.
In Mexico, after the first months of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government, it’s not clear what policy is being pursued. His government continues with its commitment to cooperate with the US anti-human border policy, collaborating with the Southern Command on the border with Guatemala and now agreeing to accept the forced, albeit temporary, deportation of Central Americans who are in asylum proceedings in the United States.
The anti-migrant attitudes that criminalize and terrorize Mexicans in the U.S. revealed themselves south of the border in Tijuana, with the arrival of the Central American exodus, and on placards displayed at the march against AMLO on December 2 in Mexico City. The government has yet to establish its own migration policy, beyond offering employment for Central American migrants and financing for development projects that appear to follow the same model that led to forced displacement.
In this year of borders and walls, the border that is being systematically erased is the one that should exist between good and evil. Millions of people in the United States now promote overtly racist and xenophobic discourses and policies. Before, social consensus rejected the ideologies of exclusion and discrimination and these were unwelcome in politics for ethical reasons that over time became rules of coexistence. Hatred towards Latinos and migrants, African-Americans and Muslims had no place in the public sphere; Now is the our daily bread.
But then, before we didn’t think that a man accused of sexual harassment with first-hand testimonies could become a Supreme Court magistrate, with the power to make life and death decisions for girls and women. And here we are.
With the hardening of borders, hearts and minds have also hardened. Thousands of people believe what they see in the daily Orwellian news, relentlessly broadcast by Fox News and others–that war is security, that outsiders are the enemy. These versions do not correspond to reality. Military spending and the absurd levels of “border security” bleed schools, health services and programs that many poor families rely on for survival. A massacre takes place in a school or a park or a shopping center, almost every day, perpetrated by citizens raised in the same society that vehemently rejects foreigners as a threat. Selfishness, sexism, and racism, strengthened by fear, threaten to destroy communities that grew for decades based on solidarity and diversity.
The political crisis in our countries has deep roots in the waning of life-centered values . And this loss of life-centered values began well before Trump. Today a politician who defends the military dictatorship wins a democratic election. Today a reform government seems to justify continuing a drug war that cost 250,000 dead and 37,000 disappeared.
In Mexico, values and principles were the key to turning to the left, to voting for a radical change. Now if the left wants to maintain itself and govern well, it has to avoid the pragmatism that again begins to erase the border between what is right and coherent, and actions that violate principles to benefit the few. A discourse of good intentions does not change the facts, and the citizens want and deserve facts and not a hidden continuity.
For Mexico’s new government, the lines are clear: it’s time to break with Trump’s white supremacist agenda and disarm borders. For 2019 to look significantly different than 2018, Mexico will have to focus efforts and resources on the reconstruction of the social fabric and everything that unites us, and not implicitly prop up the walls and concepts that divide us.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Desinformémonos.org el 3 de enero 2019.
Foto: Rubén Figueroa