The unequal battle in Tijuana between the dispossessed from the caravan and the defenders of the fortified border of the number one world superpower has produced the latest iconic image of the migration crisis. The courageous mother fleeing clouds of tear gas fired by border agents offered an almost painterly reenactment of an image that motorists in California are already very familiar with.
There are road signs on California highways that warn about the danger of “illegals,” depicting a family about to dart across the road—signs very similar to those warning about wild animals. This outrageous signage represents refugees as nothing more than annoying obstacles inconveniencing traffic.
The photos of the mother trying to rescue her daughters from a chemical attack by the shock troopers of the Empire to whose threshold she has had to flee is a natural progression of the normalization of such an attitude, the symbol of a violent era whose effects have run deep.
This photo joins others, such as that of the drowned child on the Turkish beach at Bodrum, all direct results of the transnational war against the poor and weak, which global nationalist populism has cast in the role of enemies of the fatherland, and who have been turned into scapegoats and perfect tools to fuel hatred, resentment and paranoia.
At this point, the front line of this conflict has extended to the border between Mexico and the US. Naturally enough, the events of recent days have been re-appropriated in the media and social media, with the usual anti-historical manipulations.
The Trumpist narrative demands a simplified worldview to feed the anger of his radicalized supporters: the barbarian hordes pressing at the walls, pushed back by the troops mobilized to defend “Blood and Soil.” They will do so even at the cost of “closing the border” altogether, the commander-in-chief thunders, sending his followers into rapturous ecstasy.
He has endeavored to cast himself as the winner in this manufactured narrative that has reproduced in the New World a scenario that is well known from the Caucasus routes, from the Mediterranean and from the Middle Eastern wars.
Trump’s account of events is a version of the diabolical Catch-22: the only refugees who will be allowed to enter will be those with prior lawful asylum applications, with a simultaneous directive setting out that such applications will not be received, flying in the face of all international law.
Refugees are in fact not permitted to approach the office where the applications must be filed; and the Department of Homeland Security has said that there would not be enough staff to process them anyway.
The refugees are left in a heinous Kafkaesque limbo, and the more new arrivals are trapped at the border, the more pressure will be put on the incoming government led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the explicit aim being to force Mexico into an agreement modeled on the EU’s deal with Turkey to manage refugees, or on Italy’s subsidizing of Libyan torture camps.
This is why Trump is holding all border transit hostage at the busiest border crossing in the world, the lifeblood of the economy of Mexico’s border region.
It is just the latest variation on the abuses that have always been present along this blood-soaked border region—ever since the invasion of 1847, which cost Mexico half its territory, and including the rapacious economic hegemony of the last two centuries. Mexico has always been burdened with the perennial threat of its uncomfortable northern imperial neighbor, and all its history can be read as an attempt to deal with this state of affairs.
There is a famous Mexican saying, as relevant as ever: “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.”
Generations of people have crossed that “line,” imported as a labor force and deported for political expediency. Millions of workers have fueled the industrial agribusinesses of the “Californian bread basket.”
In the ‘30s, during the Great Depression, two million were loaded onto trains and deported. As the Latino natives of this mestizo land can truly say, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”
But the reality is that here, human bodies have always been at the mercy of capital maneuvers, dislocated as a workforce according to production schedules and market needs.
The economy of the southwest of the United States is based on the labor of Latino immigrants. Twelve million of them are undocumented, and hundreds of thousands live on the border.
An alternative to importing undocumented labor is outsourced exploitation, such as in the case of the maquiladora factories that supply the US markets and whose low wages make them competitive with China.
The recent process of delocalization has also been adopted by agribusinesses. Today, Mexican regions of intensive agriculture like the San Quintin Valley are supplying US agribusiness corporations like Driscoll’s with cheap produce: it is now more profitable to import the fruit rather than the people to pick them on American fields.
In this way, the problems—and the demands—that people bring with them can remain far away across the border as well.
This conflict-ridden border is where the world of development and that of exploitation come into contact—the Third World and the disproportionate wealth of San Diego County.
Today, as the power of the markets has allied itself with the more grim power of a regime that openly supports eugenic policies, migrants have become pawns in a game that intentionally fuels crisis, specifically aimed at fomenting the tension and resentment that feed the new barbarism.
Trump is pouring poison and tear gas on the open wound of the border, which divides the haves and the have nots, and is setting up a human catastrophe, which fits well against the background of an ecological apocalypse.
Thus, the woman in the photo, her daughters and the 10,000 members of the caravan who are camped out in tents at the threshold of the Promised Land (just like at Idomeni, or at Calais) find themselves reduced to bit players in the latest iteration of this theater of cruelty.
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