Napolitano’s Hard Immigration Line; The Correctional Healthcare System; Ninth World Social Forum; Lessons from the Poor; Financial Crisis Slams Mexico

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This Week in the Americas

Dear Readers,

Over the past few months, we’ve found ourselves in a whirlwind of activity here at the Americas Program. Many of the issues that we’ve been working on for years have come to the forefront—either because of new opportunities with the Obama administration taking power, or developing crises including the global economic crisis and Mexico’s security crisis.

This issue of the Updater gives you an idea of what’s front and center for us now in our work to open up North-South dialogue and encourage a more responsible U.S. foreign policy toward the region. First, we have two articles by Tom Barry from our Transborder Project. Tom has been traveling along the Texas-Mexico border, reporting on conditions in detention centers as well as keeping a critical eye on the direction of the new government. Here he writes on the continued emphasis on "rule of law" in the Department of Homeland Security with Janet Napolitano at the helm and on dismal medical care in immigrant detention centers. Next, Americas contributor Kent Paterson takes a look at the impact of the Mexican economic crisis, where job loss, devaluation, and inflation are taking a much higher toll on the population than the government would like to admit.

Moving south, Diego González sends a report from the World Social Forum meeting in Belém. The crux of the meeting was an issue we’ve been looking at for several years now—the relationship between progressive governments and social movements. Finally, keeping the focus on grassroots movements, Raúl Zibechi writes on the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires where the poor—too often looked on as the subject of charity—actually provide valuable lessons in solidarity and self-help toward creating the "other world" the social forum and others envision.

Finally, we’re proud that many of you use our original materials in your classrooms, research, activism, and public education projects. I just want to remind you that the Americas Program would cease to exist without your support. Please give generously to keep us going in these important times.

Laura Carlsen


New from the Americas Program

Napolitano’s Hard Echo of Liberal Immigration Reform Strategy
By Tom Barry

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shows few signs of reining in the immigrant crackdown launched by her predecessor Michael Chertoff. She recently called for “more boots on the ground” along the border and touted her determination to promote the “rule of law” in immigration enforcement.

The “rule of law” framing of immigration policy copies the language of the Bush administration and the agenda of the immigration restrictionists. The apparent continuity between the enforcement agenda of Chertoff and Napolitano alarms advocates of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). But Napolitano’s tough talk on immigration enforcement reflects key components of the new messaging of the leading CIR advocates in Washington.

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Medical Claims and Malpractice in Correctional Healthcare
By Tom Barry

The mounting number of deaths of imprisoned immigrants over the past few years has highlighted the government’s deeply flawed response to the immigration crisis. The medical gulag of immigrant detention has also underscored the increasing privatization of America’s prison system and the consequent problems. Recent prisoner protests over deficient medical care at a West Texas detention center for “criminal alien residents” underscores the severity and persistence of the human rights problems associated with the massive incarceration of legal and illegal immigrants.

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That Other World
By Diego González

Between January 27 and February 1, the ninth World Social Forum (WSF) took place in Belém do Pará, Brazil. The northeastern port city, which sits on the banks of the Amazon, hosted 133,000 representatives of various organizations, social movements, left-wing parties, nongovernmental organizations, as well as other alterglobalists from 142 countries, for a debate that had become an inevitability. For some, the WSF had to carry on being a "non decision-making" space for "civil society" which should limit itself to a space for meeting and exchanging experiences. But the issues raised by many others veered in the opposite direction. By understanding the Forum not as a solution in itself, but rather as a tool to build an "other world" that so many years ago was said to be possible, the crux of this new debate had to center on providing a moderately-structured response to the current financial collapse and the various wars taking place.

Eight years on from the first WSF, the world has changed. Capitalism has again shot itself in the foot, devouring itself, demonstrating, this time around, a lack of capacity for reinvention. As such, the World Economic Forum in Davos lives on but this time it is without the significance traditionally attached to the event. Only desperate proclamations and nervous faces emerged from the Forum. The neoliberal crisis, the silence of the Left, and the ascent of progressive governments in the region demanded another type of debate. Raised fists and eloquent slogans didn’t go far enough when faced with this battle.

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Help the Poor or Learn From Them?
By Raúl Zibechi

The poor communities of Latin America have many traits in common, all of which are evident in the villas of Argentina, the callampas of Chile, the cantegriles of Uruguay, and the favelas of Brazil. In particular, these traits share the fact that they continue to expand exponentially in almost every country, especially since 1990 when the neoliberal economic model was implemented creating a scenario of displacement for a considerable portion of the population.

The ideology that emanates from the international finance organizations maintains that the poor suffer from a “lack” of resources, that poverty is a scourge to be combated, and that the best method of doing so is to “help” the poor. On the other hand, the priests that live among the poor believe that it is more important to learn from them.

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The Crisis Slams Mexico
By Kent Paterson

For months, Mexican officials boasted their country was shielded from the worst ravages of the global economic crisis. Although President Felipe Calderon periodically rails against “doomsayers,” reality is beginning to slap Mexico City in the face. Daily media reports detail the extent and depth of the economic problems descending on the nation sparking protests from the Mexican social sector.

Whether Mexico’s political system can contain current outbreaks of popular protest with more crumbs will depend on how deep the economic crisis reaches, as well as factors such as the unpredictable dynamics of violence and retaliation, repression, and more violence unleashed by the narco war. The ability of popular movements to transcend immediate economic demands, forge a common agenda, and place the issue of Mexico’s economic model squarely at the center of political debate is paramount for taking the country on a different path from the one that is leading toward greater economic and social decomposition. And, as many Mexicans are acutely aware, the character of the new Obama administration will greatly influence, for better or worse, outcomes in their own country.

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