Tag Archives: Mexico

Boundaries, Borders, and… The Trump Wall?

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

800px-Mexican-American_border_at_Nogales

The towns of Nogales, Arizona, left, and Nogales, Mexico, stand separated by a high concrete and steel fence. Image Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde.

We have all heard it: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively – I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”  Trump’s words from 2015 are once again making headlines and the proposed wall is forcing society to pose some tough questions.  Are walls a knee-jerk protectionist response?  How is globalisation implicated?  Do walls work?

The Great Wall of China, the Western Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, and several more – there is a certain degree of romanticism invoked that somehow makes us believe that protectionist ‘walls’ are from a bygone era.  Nevertheless, it is certainly not difficult for many of us to remember the celebratory tone when East Germans reunited with West Germans as the Berlin Wall was joyously torn down.  Perhaps it is this nostalgia that makes so many reel in repulsion as they ponder Trump’s USA-Mexico border wall?

Romanticism and nostalgia aside, walls are not archaic.  Walls have actually become rather trendy.  Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia all announced new walls in 2015 (Jones, 2016).  Additionally, in 2016, Norway and Pakistan announced plans to fence off Russia and Afghanistan respectively (Jones, 2016).  In fact, there were 15 documented walls in the world in 1989; there were 70 in 2015 (Vallet, 2016).

But do they work? Certainly, walls and fences can serve a purpose: When refugees flood Europe, fences can provide temporary relief to host nations; when warring factions enter peace talks, fences can cordon off cease-fire zones.  In these cases, and others, fences are temporary and justifiable.  In other cases, walls can antagonize relations, stifle trade, and increase disruption along borders.  For example: the UN has declared that Israel’s construction of the West Bank Wall has illegally fuelled tensions with Palestine; a 717 percent increase in illegal arrivals was reported in Bulgaria despite Bulgaria-Turkey border fencing; Calais refugees are desperately jumping lorries in attempts to illegally enter the United Kingdom (Danish Refugee Council, 2016; United Nations, 2016).

Meanwhile, heavily-guarded walls and fencing have been successful in stopping movement between the USA and Mexico (as observed in the 1990s when the USA reinforced border security near San Diego and El Paso).  Many, however, would argue that these reinforcements have not stopped flow; rather, they have shifted flows, increased migrant deaths, and expanded tunnel systems (Cornelius, 2001; Meissner et al., 2013).  In this case, a border wall has, perhaps, managed perceptions more than migration.  In other words, barriers can stem the flow, but desperate people are persistent and resourceful; they will find other means.  The colloquial elephant in the room remains – as long as vast inequality exists in society, there will inevitably be a flow of people.  Until these bigger societal problems are addressed, migration and immigration will occur.

Once upon a time, it seemed that globalisation might spur somewhat of a border-less, wall-less world.  With the reality of Brexit and President Trump, however, we can expect more, not fewer, protectionist policies.  Notions of territorial organisation are becoming more and more relevant as 2017 unfolds.  While migration and trade highlight interdependence, borders still play a significant role in shaping societies and economies (Diener & Hagen, 2009).  History can not tell us to build up or tear down a wall, but history can teach us some valuable lessons.  In the meantime, the legacy of an impending USA-Mexico Wall remains to be seen – the world is waiting with bated breath.

References

books_icon Cornelius, W. (2001). Death at the border: Efficacy and unintended consequences of US immigration control policy. Population and Development Review, 27: 661–685. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2001.00661.x

60-world2 Danish Refugee Council. (2016). Tightening borders, dangerous journeys, and shifting routes to Europe: Summary of regional migration trends, Middle East. Retrieved from: https://drc.dk/media/2885691/drc-middle-east-regional-migration-trends-august-september.pdf

books_icon Diener, A. C., Hagen, J. (2009). Theorizing borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalization, territory and identity. Geography Compass, 3: 1196–1216. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2009.00230.x

60-world2 Meissner, D., Kerwin, D., Chishti, M., & Bergeron, C. (2013). Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. Retrieved from Migration Policy Institute: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigration-enforcement-united-states-rise-formidable-machinery

60-world2 United Nations. (2014). Ban says Israel’s construction of West Bank wall violates international law, fuels Mid-East tensions. Retrieved from UN News Centre: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48236#.WIu0ihiZMhu

books_icon Vallet, E. (Ed.). (2014). Borders, fences and walls: State of insecurity? Border Regions Series. Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing

What Does ‘Shared Responsibility’ mean in the Context of the Mérida Agreement?

By Carolyn Gallaher, School of International Service, American University, Washington DC

Protesting against repression in Mexico. Photo Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk

Protesting against repression in Mexico. Photo Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk

In 2008, the U.S. and Mexican governments established the Mérida Initiative, a bilateral security agreement in which the two countries agreed to ‘share responsibility’ for dismantling organized crime groups based in Mexico and operating in the U.S.  In October of this year, the U.S. State Department quietly decided to withhold some of its scheduled aid because of concerns over Mexico’s human rights record.

How did this agreement come to pass, and once it was established, why did it take so long for the U.S. government to respond to evidence that Mexican security forces were violating human rights?

On the first matter, in a paper recently published in The Geographical Journal, I argue that the notion of ‘shared responsibility’ underpinning the Mérida agreement helped thaw the long-frosty relationship between the two countries.

For its part, Mexico has been wary of U.S. motives since the U.S./Mexican War.  Mexico lost nearly a third of its territory in the war, so ‘yanqui imperialism’ continues to be seen as a real threat.  The U.S.’s fears are more recent, but no less trenchant.  On the matter of drugs, for example, the U.S. believes Mexican law enforcement is not a reliable partner because of its history of corruption.

The increase in drug-related violence in the early 2000s only complicated the relationship, and in fact prompted a new debate—were Mexico’s drug cartels terrorists, and if so, was Mexico in danger of failing?

The notion of ‘shared responsibility’ helped pave the way for cooperation on security issues, generally, and drug trafficking more specifically, by doing three things.  First, it clarified the formal position of both governments that Mexico’s drug cartels are criminals—specifically, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs)—instead of terrorists.  By casting the problem as transnational, the United State also agreed to accept some responsibility for it.  Finally, the agreement reaffirmed Mexican sovereignty by putting Mexico in charge of what Mérida money could be used for.

Second, although the Mérida Agreement can be characterized as a ‘paradigm shift’ inasmuch as the two countries now cooperate extensively on security issues—something that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago—it has simultaneously reinforced a militarized status quo in Mexico.

By defining ‘shared responsibility’ as an obligation between states, rather than between states and citizens, Mexican militarization can proceed apace, despite the litany of abuses ascribed to it in places such as Juarez, and Tlatlaya, among others) .

These abuses came to a symbolic head in October 2014 when 43 students from a rural teachers’ college in Iguala, a small town in Guerrero state, were forcibly abducted and disappeared at the hands of Mexican security forces.

When President Obama was asked about the students at a press conference during Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s state visit in early January 2015, he reaffirmed the notion of shared responsibility as between states, noting that the U.S.’s “commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence.”  It would take another ten months for the U.S. government to reconsider that responsibility.  The amount of aid withheld—a few million out of a $4.2 billion bucket—also gives reason for pause going forward.  The amount is probably not sufficient to stop state abuses.

About the author: Carloyn Gallaher is Associate Professor at the School of International Service, at the American University, Washington DC. She undertakes research in two distinct areas, organised violence by non-state actors, and urban politics. 

books_icon Gallaher, C. (2015), Mexico, the failed state debate, and the Mérida fix. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12166

60-world2 Human Rights Watch 2015 Mexico: Damning Report on Disappearances: Experts dispute official account of 2014 atrocity  

60-world2 Meyer M, Bewer S and Cepeda C 2010 Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez: An analysis of human rights violations by the military in Mexico

60-world2 Partlow J 2015 U.S blocks some anti-drug funds for Mexico over human rights concernsThe Washington Post 

60-world2 WOLA 2015 In Mexico’s Tlatlaya massacre, soldiers were ordered to ‘take them out’ Press Release.

Visual Geographies: Auto-photography and the Earth at Night

Earth_at_Nightby Fiona Ferbrache

New images of the Earth at night have been released by scientists at NASA.  With lighting levels recording 250 times better resolution, these are said to be the most detailed images ever produced. This means that faint lights, such as an isolated highway lamp or a fishing boat, are being detected by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, which was launched in October 2011.  NASA claims that the lights detected from space include human settlement, wildfires and volcanoes, oil and gas wells, auroras, and light of the moon and stars reflected from water, snow, cloud and desert surfaces.

As well as identifying sources of night light, the same satellite is able to take measurements of light emissions and reflections to help assess the human footprint from a global perspective.

These global images link to the theme of photography in an early view Area paper.  Lombard’s (2012) article on auto-photography opens with the suggestion “that visual methods are becoming increasingly prevalent in geographical research”.  Accordingly, Lombard argues for auto-photography as an important component of a mixed-methods approach to certain forms of geographical enquiry.

Lombard draws on her own research among Mexican residents to illustrate how auto-photography provides an understanding of residents’ perceptions of place.  These people are portrayed as relatively powerless individuals, but the camera acts as a tool enabling them to convey their experiences to others.  For researchers, Lombard argues that auto-photography complements alternative qualitative methods such as interviews, not only by igniting discussion of themes captured in the image, but also through improved relations between the researcher and the researched.

While Lombard’s paper contributes an understanding of Mexican residents’ sense of place, it is also significant in terms of situating auto-photography as a useful method  in human geography’s ‘visual turn’.

globe42  NASA’s images

globe42  Earth Observatory

books_icon  Dodman, D. 2003. Shooting in the city: an autophotographic exploration of the urban environment in Kingston, Jamaica

Area 35 293–304

books_icon  Johnsen, S. May, J. and Cloke, P. 2008 Imag(in)ing ‘homeless places’: using auto-photography to (re)examine the geographies of homelessness Area 40 194–207

books_icon  Lombard M. (2012) Using auto-photograph to understand place: reflections from research in urban informal settlements in Mexico. Area. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01115.

The Geographical Journal Content Alert: Volume 178, Issue 1 (March 2012)

The latest issue of The Geographical Journal is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading

The Geographical Journal Content Alert: New Articles

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library

Original Articles

Challenging the linear forestation narrative in the Neo-tropic: regional patterns and processes of deforestation and regeneration in southern Mexico
Melanie Kolb and Leopoldo Galicia

Geopolitics

By Caitlin Douglas

April’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a sobering reminder of the environmental and social implications of the USA’s dependence on oil. In 2009, Michael Bradshaw wrote an excellent and enlightening article in Geography Compass on the ‘Geopolitics of Global Energy Security’. The USA accounts for only 5% of the world’s population but consumes 25% of its oil. It is the third largest producer of oil (8%) but still imports nearly 60% of its petroleum needs. America’s domestic supply of oil peaked in the 1970s and has been declining ever since, making it ever more reliant on imported oil.

Interestingly the five major suppliers of crude oil and petroleum products to the USA are: Canada (18%), Mexico (11%), Saudi Arabia (11%), Venezuela (10%) and Nigeria (8%).  Only a relatively small proportion of oil is sourced from the Persian Gulf. This balance may not, however, always be an option as the top five countries with proved oil reserves are in the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE).

Securing and maintaining a reliable oil supply has been a key element of American foreign policy for several decades. President George W. Bush recognized America’s addiction to oil, but saw the key issue as the USA’s dependence on ‘unstable parts of the world’ rather than its consumption of oil. In his inaugural address, President Obama also recognised the country’s dependence on these volatile areas but called for the use of renewable energy to ease the reliance on imported oil.

The question now is whether the devastation and resulting public outcry over the recent BP oil spill will provide the support and impetus to develop renewable forms of energy or will it merely lead to the exploration and exploitation of the untapped oil reserves in US friendly areas such as the Gulf of Guinea.

IP address shortage to limit internet access Read Michael Bradshaw’s ‘Geopolitics of Global Energy Security‘ in Geography Compass

IP address shortage to limit internet access Look at BBC’s pictures on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak,  the Oil Spill Clean-up, and the Continuing Clean-Up

Despite the Name, Fronteras Crosses Borders.

television

By Georgia Conover

In Spanish, Fronteras means borders.  It is also the name of a small town 40 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border.  It was here that an all-female co-op called La Chicas Bravas, or “The Tough Women,” formed to bring jobs to Fronteras.  In 2002, the co-op contracted with a Vermont recycling company to have old computers and televisions shipped to Fronteras, where they are disassembled by hand.  Now the operation is proving successful and may expand to employ more workers.

At first blush, this appears to be a typical tale about the outsourcing of cheap labor and the exportation of waste from the developed to the developing world…a topic familiar to geographers studying commodity chains and the international division of labor. What makes this story unique is the role both the company and the co-op played in creating the cross-border partnership.

The owner of the Vermont recycling company had to be convinced to move operations to Mexico.  No components, to include waste, remain in Fronteras.  Finally, it was the co-op and not government or business officials that set terms of trade, including a living wage for employees and a 50-percent share of the business.

While the literature is divided about the impact of job creation on Mexican migration, members of the co-op say the recycling plant is providing much needed work and that means fewer residents of Frontera migrating illegally into the United States.

60% world-1 Watch the story on KUAT/Arizona Public Media.

GECO $1.99 Read more: Kohout (2008). The Maquiladora Industry and Migration in Mexico: A Survey of Literature.  Geography Compass.