Dear Friends,

This week’s Americas Updater is a special on Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. As domestic policy debates and explosions in other parts of the world capture the headlines, the slow-burning crises on our doorstep pass largely unnoticed.

In the mainstream press, a demonstration of 300,000 angry citizens in the streets of Mexico City to protest a military occupation of the public utilities company to destroy the independent union merited a few lines at best. And yet this latest attack on labor reveals not only the reliance of the Mexican presidency on the armed forces, but also the flaws in NAFTA when it comes to protecting jobs and labor rights.

Immigrant riots and deaths in border detention centers have received only a passing nod. The mega million-dollar contracts, some to the former government officials who designed and implemented this mess, are the hidden story behind the fledgling immigrant incarceration industry—a story that Tom Barry brings to light in this issue.

Another unreported crisis concerns human rights violations by the armed forces, which have increased exponentially as Mexico’s Army occupies entire communities in the U.S.-sponsored "war on drugs." In a special article for the Updater, Army Brigadier General-turned-human-rights-advocate, José Francisco Gallardo, argues that Mexico is on a dangerously bloody path unless the armed forces are withdrawn from public security tasks and human rights become a non-negotiable aspect of Mexican society.

The Americas Updater is one of the very few places that covers these issues in-depth—not as news stories, but from the point of view of experienced analysts, firsthand experience, and long-time commitment. As we go into our fall reader fundraising drive, please give generously to keep the project going. We’ve built a strong network of writers, translators, and partner organizations and now it comes down to readers’ support to meet our minimal expenses for the coming year.

Thanks in advance,

Laura Carlsen



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Death in Texas


New from the Americas Program

Mexico’s Union Bust Reveals Flaws in NAFTA
By Laura Carlsen

Fernando Lopez woke up on a Sunday morning out of a job. For the electrical worker, the feeling was terrifying. "From one day to the next, they left us with no job—nothing," Lopez said, as he marched alongside some 200,000 fellow workers and their supporters in downtown Mexico City after their company and their union was wiped out by executive decree on Oct. 10.

One of the arguments for eliminating Central Light and its union was that it employed too many people, making it "inefficient." For the Calderon government, offering decent employment to more than 44,000 families is a crime in a year when unemployment has doubled and nearly 800,000 Mexican workers have lost jobs due to the crisis. The Mexican economy is at a crossroads as it faces a multi-billion dollar deficit this year. Due to its heavy dependency on the U.S. economy under NAFTA, it is the hardest hit country in Latin America and predicts a 7.5-10% drop in GDP for 2009. The number of poor has increased above pre-NAFTA levels, leaving millions more families in poverty, while the unemployment rate has doubled.

Obama promised a renegotiation of NAFTA to incorporate the toothless labor side agreement into the text and integrate core International Labor Organization principles in defense of workers’ rights. At the recent Summit of North American Leaders he said that the promise has been placed on the back burner, just as union-busting and violation of labor rights in Mexico moves into high gear. It’s time to develop a more integral and humane binational relationship and renegotiate NAFTA. The long-term effects of allowing this crisis to erode labor rights and further impoverish an already stricken nation will only lead to instability throughout the region…

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A Death in Texas
Profits, Poverty, and Immigration Converge

By Tom Barry

County Clerk Dianne Florez noticed it first. Plumes of smoke were rising outside the small West Texas town of Pecos. "The prison is burning again," she announced.

About a month and a half before, on December 12, 2008, inmates had rioted to protest the death of one of their own, Jesus Manuel Galindo, 32. When Galindo’s body was removed from the prison in what looked to them like a large black trash bag, they set fire to the recreational center and occupied the exercise yard overnight. Using smuggled cell phones, they told worried family members and the media about poor medical care in the prison and described the treatment of Galindo, who had been in solitary confinement since mid-November. During that time, fellow inmates and his mother, who called the prison nearly every day, had warned authorities that Galindo needed daily medication for epilepsy and was suffering from severe seizures in the "security housing unit," which the inmates call the "hole."

As the immigrant crackdown continues, hundreds of thousands of immigrants like Jesus Manuel Galindo will be caught in the profit-driven public-private prison complex. In the end though, the human cost of the system is unlikely to bring it down. It may only be when citizens and politicians start questioning the financial cost of incarcerating immigrants that these public-private prisons will go bust…

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ICE Detention Reforms Hide Abusive Practices
By Tom Barry

Exercising more oversight over the ICE detention system is certainly a necessary part of immigration reform. But even as it promises welcome upgrades and changes in its own detention system, ICE continues to steamroll ahead with its Operation Endgame enforcement and incarceration strategies that have resulted in a veritable gulag of immigrant inmates…

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Poor Pecos, Poor Prisoners—Criminal Justice for Immigrants in Texas’ Reeves County
By Tom Barry

Immigrants who rioted to protest medical malpractice at a privately run prison in Texas get more time in prison, while tensions, conflicts of interest, and high finance roil the prison town of Pecos…

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National Security Business on the Border:
Former Border Patrol Chief Silvestre Reyes Now a Major Player in New Military, Intelligence, and Homeland Security Complex

By Tom Barry

The emerging national security complex comprising military, intelligence, and homeland security contractors can count on U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the former Border Patrol chief who reliably represents the interests of major government providers such as Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, Boeing, and Raytheon. This new investigative report by Tom Barry charts the rising influence and deepening industry connections of Reyes, the El Paso congressman who is a senior member of the powerful Armed Services Committee and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The report details the congressman’s promotion of high-tech national security industries, favors to family members, and apparent links between campaign contributions and government contracts…

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Power and the Army
By José Francisco Gallardo Rodríguez

Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice rejected a petition to review the constitutionality of the use of the army in public security, thereby supporting its activities and covering up the legal implications of the "war immunity" that exempts the armed forces from civil court prosecution. The Mexican Congress has hesitated to submit the army to institutional controls. The secretary of Government has lobbied the United Nations and the Supreme Court judges to allow continued military impunity. The president is promoting laws to protect the army against criticisms of excessive human rights violations. The national human rights ombudsman has been weak in his declarations against military abuses.

All these developments make it clear that protection of the army is a core state policy. It constitutes an extreme defense of the military from the very center of power. This is to be expected, since those currently in power in Mexico owe their power to the army, not to citizens. The issue of human rights abuses in the army is still debated with fear. In this context, it is more important than ever for Mexico to establish a military ombudsman…

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