Stop CANAMEX, Stop the Intermountain West Corridor and I-11! Stop the Sun Corridor! Stop the 202!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Arizona-Mexico Trade: Inroads to private gain, Part 3: Shifting Border Enforcement

This is part three of a series. View Part 1, primarily on trade infrastructure here and Part 2 primarily on trade-related public relations and the drug war here.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has been portraying the state's five-year-old Senate Bill 1070 like it's an unfortunate relic of the past that Arizona needs to get beyond in order to have a cozy trade relationship with Mexico. This trade relationship is seen as the more sensible of only two options within a perspective that never acknowledges migration as a symptom of so-called free trade. SB 1070 can be sacrificed—though seemingly only in the realm of the media—for the sake of trade with Mexico, partly because the US is now essentially paying the Mexican government to assist in curbing migration. This may mean less reliance on Arizona resources, but at what cost?

The US-funded collaboration with the governments of Mexico and some of Central America to manage migration and the drug trade, with mass-scale violence as a consequence, is for the purpose of a business climate friendlier to trade and investment in the border states, and those countries south of the border. The military and paramilitary violence and the displacement of people outside of Arizona borders is invisible to us, as it relieves law enforcement resources in each state (though tax payers still pay for it). What would be more visible is the transportation infrastructure to facilitate Arizona-Mexico trade—the Interstate 11 and the South Mountain Freeway—multi-billion dollar projects that provide major opportunities for private profit subsidized by taxes. The impacts of Ducey's new Arizona Border Strike Force Bureau remain to be seen but will undoubtedly further militarize Arizona and especially the border region.

SB 1070 has become politically inconvenient for much of the Arizona business community. With the participation of the press (a sampling: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), Ducey has been making a point since June to re-brand Arizona to the Mexican business class by distancing himself from the controversial law and contrasting himself with former Governor Jan Brewer (who passed SB 1070 into law) in conjunction with making a trip to Mexico to meet with Mexican officials and business people.

The denunciation of SB 1070 is simply part of a public relations campaign. While there is no doubt that 1070 is a terrible discriminatory law, the casting of the bill as the villain serves a purpose to shift attention away from the impacts of free trade. Many of the same methods by which the US has been working with Mexico and Central America to create a more friendly business climate has much to do with why many people have to migrate in the first place.

Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are the countries that most non-Mexican migrants in Arizona (and other states) come from. Many are refugees from violence, as all three countries are among the top ten with the highest homicide rates. It isn't a stretch to say that the trade relationship relies on and causes violence and other harm for the purposes of maintaining a cheap labor force and gaining access to land and resources, whether we're talking about Central America or Mexico. The chaos and fear, and the security response which involves militarization and paramilitarization, brings more of an advantage than not in promoting free trade.

Ducey's interest is in helping portray Mexico as stable and ripe for investment. Arizona's proximity to Mexico and the alleged promise of Mexico's economic growth means Arizona has a specific interest in promoting itself and Mexico, so they can take part in the competitiveness that Arizona/Mexico trade supposedly brings, which includes cheap labor and federal funding for trade infrastructure. 

Although immigration enforcement in Arizona is not incompatible with trade, and in fact is often a response to the consequences of the impacts of free trade, SB 1070-type laws are far less preferable than border controls and enforcement at or south of the border, which are increasing. One reason SB1070 is unpalatable is because it represents the myths perpetuated of the spillover violence from the border. Despite the exaggerated criminality meant to instill fear of migrants from south of the border and pass legislation like SB 1070, there is still clearly a problem of organized crime and violence. As described in Part 2, the violence has gotten worse, not because Mexicans are criminals, but in part due to the effects of US policy and cooperative efforts between the US and Mexico to manage the economic environment through militarization. The US has to pretend things in Mexico have improved because they cannot otherwise justify spending billions of dollars on the Mérida Initiative with its lack of success against the international drug trade.

Now that a federal judge upheld the so-called “papers, please” provision—one of the most controversial of SB 1070—Ducey has only vaguely responded through his spokesperson, stressing the importance of public safety and border security in addition to "a respectful and productive relationship with our neighbor to the south." Even now that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is experiencing the most embarrassing point of his career, Ducey, who was endorsed by Arpaio, has never criticized the controversial sheriff for the harm he's caused migrants (or others who have been racially profiled).

The importance will become clear of the shared ideology between that of Ducey, his associate Jim Kolbe, who is CANAMEX expert of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, and Kolbe's close colleagues who have been pointedly influential regarding NAFTA, Plan Colombia, and/or the Mérida Initiative. The history of and relationship between trade, military intervention, and the drug war south of the border reveals the true intentions of US dominance and private gain.

Lastly, the contrast between Ducey and Brewer that Ducey is playing on is a bit off the mark. Brewer was readily involved in maintaining and expanding the cross-border trade relationship, but the role of the private sphere is likely more important than either governor.


Free Trade Means Migration Means Border Enforcement

Often the state's proposed "solutions" are to problems it denies having a major role in creating in the first place. Immigration enforcement is in fact made "necessary" as a "solution" to the "problem" of migration created by the impacts of free market reforms enacted to encourage and facilitate trade (such as cheaper labor, lower environmental restrictions, and access to natural resources). Immigration enforcement is both a "solution" (to the "problem" of migration) and is considered a problem when it slows trade and can create stigma (e.g. racial profiling as a result of SB 1070), depending on how it is done.

Consider first that the real problem is not migration. The problem, aside from the lack of legitimacy of the national borders in the first place, is the set of circumstances that leads to people having little to no choice but to migrate to survive. One primary cause is the history of neoliberal reforms, including NAFTA, that have made things difficult in other countries. Among these US-directed reforms are the Mérida Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), allegedly meant to fight the drug war, which, as explored more in Part 2, largely benefit transnational corporations through social control and displacement. When the state or business elites propose that the importance of the trade relationship between the US and Mexico overrides the role SB 1070 played in addressing the migration "problem," this is obviously entirely on their terms. When those who oppose SB 1070 accept these terms and embrace the trade relationship, they are perpetuating the causes of the problem.

Ducey claims that expanded Arizona-Mexico trade will improve both countries' economies (and therefore slow migration), but this is just the same argument that pushed NAFTA into effect. Somehow the part about NAFTA benefiting big business by providing easier access to cheap labor on both sides of the border is not acknowledged. It is no coincidence that Operation Gatekeeper, the increase of border patrol, fencing and other border security technology at California/Mexico border near San Diego, was begun right around the implementation of NAFTA in 1994.

Many U.S. analysts and legislators were aware of the impact that highly-subsidized US agribusiness exports would have on the Mexican economy, and were aware of how the NAFTA-related outsourcing of the manufacturing industry and increased migration would impact US workers. Cheap labor and access to resources in Mexico are the main selling points for trade with Mexico.

Immigration enforcement, through criminalization, has more to do with maintaining a permanent underclass, as a complementary feature of the functioning of "free trade" than it has to do with stopping migration. Its function is also to create new criminals to fill the private prisons. Border militarization is not meant to keep all migrants out, but in actuality to regulate the flow while providing contracts to security and technology companies.

It is surprising that more people don't talk about NAFTA, and more generally, the associated neoliberal reforms that can be said to be the root cause of much of the migration that occurs from south of the border.

Esther Cepeda recently summarized the discourse of the twenty-year impact of NAFTA in the Albuquerque Journal.
Some used to blame the unions for raising the cost of labor so high that manufacturers had no choice but to look to outsourcing as a way of maintaining a profit. Now, it’s just a given that in the game of “globalization,” American companies will send work to the foreign country that can offer the lowest possible wages from their starving citizens.
The sugarcoated argument for globalization is that it is a net positive, with more winners than losers. In the case of sending U.S. work to Mexico, moving jobs south of the border supposedly is a net gain for us on two counts: We get cheaper, high-quality goods, and Mexico gains the infrastructure and jobs to create a middle class, improve quality of life and maybe blunt some illegal immigration to our country.
With the exception of marginally lower sticker prices for cars in the U.S. for those who can afford them, this narrative is an illusion.
She noted that during a trip to Juarez she learned that in maquiladoras, which are border-town mega-manufacturing facilities, workers were paid $200 a month. At the very high end, some workers might earn up to $600 per month. This is nowhere near a living wage there. Maquiladora wages in Central America are also below living wages. These are the circumstances that US companies continue to exploit—increasingly as it becomes less preferable to do manufacturing in China as their labor costs rise.

At the same time as politicians cite the various economic reasons to trade with Mexico, the idea is also to take advantage of the sea ports, where the workers are also paid less. Now that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which includes some Asian countries but does not include China, has been recently drafted, new opportunities to outsource manufacturing arise for transnational corporations.

Ducey is fully in favor of the TPP, as the Phoenix Business Journal reports. Making reference to the concept of a bi-national mega-region (see more on mega-regions at Megapolitan in a Mega-Drought? A Guide to the Sun Corridor), Ducey promoted the TPP in his International State of the State address to the Phoenix Council on Foreign Relations on October 5.
"The Trans-Pacific Partnership is positive for the state," he said. "It gives us opportunities to leverage our strengths with trading partners Mexico and Canada to become the most globally-competitive region."
Ducey said the Arizona-Sonora mega-region is the front door to America’s heartland and the crossroads of North America.
The governor is well aware of the opposition to TPP, which there is plenty of, as Alfredo Acedo explains,
The TPP, like NAFTA, is not a “free” trade agreement. Its main provisions are not the reduction of tariff barriers. Rather, both agreements emphasize creating and extending the privileges of multinational corporations and permitting these corporations to place themselves above governments, laws and judicial rulings to avoid negative impacts on their investments. Thus, free trade agreements become a threat to the environment, food sovereignty, public health and other basic rights.
The TPP may further damage the economies of the Central American countries where most refugees and migrants are coming from: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as even the pro-trade vice president of the Americas Society and Council of Americas acknowledges. If this happens, Mexico will have to do even more of the US's dirty work.

Back at the Arizona/Mexico border, the biggest obstacle that comes along with Ducey's “open borders” fantasy are the long waits and inspections at the border. The easier it is for legitimate goods to pass through the border, the easier it is for drugs to flow through as well. Before he was elected, Ducey said he'll "work with our federal delegation to ensure that federal highway dollars are prioritized for trade infrastructure purposes." He continues, "I will also advocate that Homeland Security allocates resources to ensure that our ports are adequately staffed for the purpose of trade and security."

Ducey seems to be emphasizing security between and beyond the ports, rather than the official ports of entry where the majority of the drugs pass through. His position on border security before he won the election, which has likely remained the same even with limited resources, is summarized by one of his statements: "As governor, I'll fight back with every resource at my command. Fencing. Satellites. Guardsmen. More police and prosecutors." His new plan has recently reached the media; that of the Arizona Border Strike Force Bureau. The emphasis is on the smuggling that occurs in the desert, with most of the resources going to the Department of Public Safety. The Arizona Republic reported, “Their prime target is the Sinaloa Cartel, the source of a vast majority of marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin that flow into the state for sale or distribution to other parts of the U.S.”

Would those pushing the free-market policies in Mexico acknowledge their impact on the rise of the drug trade due to expansion of infrastructure as well as the contrast between the lucrativeness of drug-trafficking in relation to the poverty that is in large part due to these trade policies that benefit US companies? On the contrary, the “drug war” is to some degree an attempt to control a rather chaotic situation, but mainly used to further facilitate access to land, resources and cheap labor.

Ducey's insistence that border militarization be intensified means people continue to be criminalized, harassed, detained, deported, and in many cases, at risk for death. Somehow in his mind this doesn't stigmatize Arizona the same way SB 1070 has. The governor hasn't commented on the recent indictment of a border patrol agent who shot at a sixteen-year-old on the other side of the fence. Even if one argues that SB 1070 has been different in that it was part of a war of attrition against migrants rather than a method of prevention, the position against that one piece of legislation shows a lack of consistency.

One main reason Arizona politicians can de-emphasize internal immigration enforcement is because of the shift south—not just to the border where enforcement only seems to increase, but throughout Mexico and particularly on its shared border with Guatemala.


The Border Enforcement Shift


Last summer, thousands of Central American youths crossing the border revealed a crisis. Many had been dumped at Arizona Greyhound stations by ICE after having been apprehended in Texas and the press picked up on it. It became hard to ignore that poverty in Mexico wasn't the only reason migrants ended up in the US. Many people are leaving Central American countries due to violence on top of poverty. They are refugees, though they may not be recognized as such by the US government.

In response, for over a year now, the US has been outsourcing enforcement to the Mexican government, with detention and deportation of these migrants in the US dropping significantly, while rising in Mexico. While much of this is happening near Guatemala, a closer example is that Arizona officials have arranged for Mérida Initiative funds to go to a military checkpoint between Hermosillo and Nogales.

The programs that are created to manage migration and the drug trade are really meant to facilitate trade, often with violent consequences.

Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Project commented,
Now, what has migrated—but from north to south not south to north—is the repressive model of border control. After years of witnessing the results of the infamous wall and the militarization of the northern border that has killed thousands of Mexican and Central American migrants, the U.S. model has been transferred further south—to Mexico’s border with Guatemala, with the active support of the Mexican government despite the obvious implications for national sovereignty.
Becoming familiar with the programs professing to reduce migration reveals that they operate by the same logic as the approaches that have largely contributed to the circumstances leading to migration. With the root causes not considered, the "problem" is, again, framed as migration itself. The reasons for migration from Central America have much to do with the "solutions"—the violence due to the militarization, as well as "economic development" and the other impacts of the efforts to gain access to resources on the part of transnational corporations. The role of the US in perpetuating drug trade violence is also not acknowledged.
So for over a year, Mexico has been working for the US to respond to this refugee crisis. The purpose is framed as protection of the people that in reality it targets.

The majority of Central American refugees come from the so-called "Northern Triangle"—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—which are all in the top 10 ten list of countries with the highest homicide rates in the world, with Honduras as number one. About 11,000 undocumented immigrants from Central America are in Arizona, making up the 2nd largest population of all the undocumented immigrants here, according to Arizona Public Media. Most of these are from Guatemala.

We can say that the US contributed to the crisis in the "Northern Triangle" in a few ways. One, the economic situation in these countries cannot be separated from previous military interventions and current neocolonial and neoliberal relationships (such as the trade agreement CAFTA-DR). Second, the US is responsible in part for the drug trade violence in that the majority of demand is US-based and efforts at curtailment of drug use in the form of treatment and prevention is minimal. Third, drug trafficking routes have shifted into the “Northern Triangle” due to the drug war efforts in Colombia and Mexico. Because Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative are meant to manage, not to stop the drug trade, trafficking adapts and shifts accordingly. Going even further back, the shape and scope of the drug trade is due, in part, to the role of the US in the Contra war (see below). And fourth, the militarization as part of the drug war programs contributes to the violence as military presence and enhanced arming of military, police, and paramilitaries result. Much of the violence targets indigenous peoples and others who present obstacles to access to land and resources by transnational corporations.

Assistance programs such as Plan Columbia, the Mérida Initiative, and CARSI are not meant to address the problems faced by the average citizen, as Dawn Paley explains in Drug War Capitalism. These programs promote "the militarization of aid and the steering of anti-drug money toward fostering the creation of more welcoming investment policies and legal regulations." Paley also describes in her book how "the paramilitarism that results from militarizing drug trafficking and drug production can assist in the maintenance of control over territories and populations," as was learned by the US during Plan Colombia.

According to the Statement by the Mesoamerican Working Group on the Impact of U.S. Security Assistance on Human Rights in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia:
The rise in this assistance, which often supports police and military institutions engaged in militarized, heavy-handed enforcement methods, has coincided with marked increase in the levels of violence in several countries of the region. For instance, Mexico’s homicide rate more than doubled between 2000 and 2012; Honduras’ rate of homicides per 100,000 went from 50.9 in 2000 to over 90; Guatemala’s murder rate rose from 25.9 to 39.9. The resulting human rights crisis in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador became all-too-apparent early in the summer, when we learned that the majority of tens of thousands of children that crossed the border in the previous six months were fleeing intolerable violence in their communities.
It is well known that in Mexico and other Central American countries, especially due to the drug trade, there is no clear line to be drawn between criminals and law enforcement, drug traffickers and state officials. Impunity and collusion characterize these relationships. Despite this, the US, not free of this tangled web itself, can get away with providing funding, using our tax dollars, for equipment and training to the military and police of these countries. Sometimes, however, the human rights violations can be so extreme that some in US government would prevent a small percentage of the funding to be distributed (yet still more money is being disbursed).

For security purposes, immigration enforcement has been part of the Mérida Initiative from the beginning, in the form of what they called the “21st Century Border.” A program came out of this called the Southern Border Plan or Plan Frontera Sur (or Programa Frontera Sur) in the summer of 2014, for which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto claims credit. This plan specifically targeted Mexico's southern border with Guatemala due to the high number of migrants/refugees crossing there, and evidence shows that the US is funding it in one way and/or another. Since the primary stated purpose of the Mérida Initiative is to deal with the drug trade, it is significant that the drug war has contributed to migration as well.


The rise in enforcement in Mexico means the trip is even less safe for migrants because they risk being kidnapped or worse, with the added militarization of the border areas. Al Jazeera reports, "Carlos Bartolo Solis, director of the Arriaga hostel, told Al Jazeera: "Plan Frontera Sur has not stopped the flow of migrants, it has just made them invisible and more vulnerable than ever before." As many as 60% of women who are migrating through Mexico from Central America are raped, and many of them are increasingly raped by the police due to the surge in police presence.

Anyone familiar with the funnel effect that caused the dangerous Arizona desert to become a major migration route (due to intensified border security in California and Texas) knows that migrants will do what they can to meet their destination. The trip is more dangerous, and migrants/refugees from Central America face inhumane conditions in Mexican detention centers more and more.

Laura Carlsen cites a study which showed that now in Mexico, "children and their families face long periods in detention centers that look like prisons and lack decent living conditions." She points out in her article "Deportation, Detention and Abuse on the Mexico-Guatemala Border," that the refugees are often deported back to the areas where their lives were in danger.

The Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is to Central America what the Mérida Initiative is to Mexico, for the most part, and is facilitating the transfer of wealth to transnational corporations by using militarization to allow for accumulation of resources such as in the mining and oil industries, and monoculture like palm plantations. While CARSI is a security program emphasizing the drug war, the Alliance for Prosperity (also called the Partnership for Prosperity) is a newer program that, if funded in FY 2016, has a different approach. Although the program is supposedly meant to provide more economic opportunities for the residents and therefore discourage migration, displacement is a result of these trade relationships.

An article in Counterpunch explains the relationship between CARSI and the Alliance and their implications,
the “Alliance” plan appears to be largely focused on attracting forms of foreign investment that have arguably made life worse for many Central Americans and had little positive impact on the overall economic situation. These include investments in “strategic sectors”– textile manufacturing, agro-industry and tourism –which all too frequently offer workers poverty-level jobs and provoke the displacement of small farmers and entire communities whose rights and historic claims to land are rarely supported by state authorities. Security assistance would also increase significantly under the White House’s Central America budget proposal. Funding for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) aid to Central America would double from $100 million in FY2014 to $205 million in FY2016. This assistance, rooted primarily in the U.S. “war on drugs,” includes extensive support for the region’s police and military forces despite abundant reports of their involvement in extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations. All of the INCLE funding would be channeled through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a multilateral cooperation mechanism that is notoriously opaque, leaving the public and members of Congress with minimal information on where and how the funds are actually used.
The Americas Project points out another major problem with the "Alliance."
The aid package also promises funds to support regional economic growth. This is code for megaprojects like hydroelectric dams, gold mines, mega-ports, and trade corridors. These projects typically come at high environmental and social cost. The rural poor and indigenous peoples are rarely alerted—let alone consulted—about the imminent expropriation of their lands and resources.
Together, the extension of property rights and the support of megaproject development pave the way for the ultimate prize: a legal foundation for corporate exploitation of the forests, lands, minerals, water, and hydrocarbons held within Central America’s indigenous and public lands. This is a recipe for dispossession and dislocation—leaving rural folk with little hope but to head north to survive.
And so the Arizona-Sonora region, with its own similar current and potential mines and megaprojects, has more in common with the "Northern Triangle" than is apparent. The attempts at economic development here and there are only meant to make the rich richer. The “Alliance” will not slow migration, but might actually add to it, and therefore the military industrial complex will continue to benefit in the continued management of the movement of drugs and people within Mexico and in Arizona.

With SB 1070 being a drain on state resources, Arizona has therefore benefited from Mexican enforcement of their southern border. Ducey's Border Strike Force Bureau, which would add manpower and resources to the Department of Public Safety (and beyond), is also meant to gain access to federal resources, forging a relationship possibly even modeled on the Mérida Initiative. Word has only recently been released regarding this new border enforcement plan and limited information is available.

Just south of the border, Mérida Initiative funds were secured last year, due to efforts of the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC), for the Querobabi military check point between Nogales and Hermosillo on Route 15. This raises questions of bringing closer to home the risks involved in arming (even with just surveillance equipment) potentially corrupt Mexican police or military. As it is, there are many reasons to be concerned about corruption among the US Customs and Border Protection (even very recently in Arizona), which even John McCain acknowledges, especially when it comes to drug smuggling.

A shifted emphasis on the border region began in the summer. Ducey has actually pulled resources from Maricopa County to “secure state funds for border counties to address security issues.” The article continues, “Cochise County will receive $500,000 to coordinate local law enforcement efforts aimed directly at stopping crime and improving public safety on the border with Mexico. Other Arizona counties along the border will also receive funds to contribute to their local law enforcement efforts.”


Arizona and Free Market Ideology

When migration and the drug trade become too visible in Arizona, those in power seek to manage them. The presence of Central American refugees is, to some extent, fallout of the approach that's been taken to create a friendly environment there for US and other transnational investment. Now as opening borders for trade bring more risks, it doesn't hurt the military industrial complex that there will be increased "needs" for militarization to control the flow of people and drugs.

While this is bigger than Ducey, he must be well aware of the trade, migration, and drug war programs involving Central America and Mexico. Not only does he share this free-market ideology with many of the big players, he surely has direct or indirect contact with some of them, likely through the public-private organization, Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC), of which he is co-chair with the governor of Sonora. In fact, it is important to be aware of the public/private revolving door around international relations and trade when it comes to policy that benefits Arizona trade efforts.

Former Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe, who endorsed Doug Ducey for governor, is also part of the AMC as the CANAMEX Corridor expert. He's co-chair of the Arizona Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA) which is said to encompass the governor's CANAMEX Task Force. Kolbe's position, influence, and history are important, as he is also described as having been "a leading advocate in Congress for NAFTA" when he incorrectly argued in 1993 that NAFTA would not cause job migration, and still argues that NAFTA is working. He had also advocated for CAFTA in Congress.

Perhaps more notably, Kolbe is a consultant with McLarty Associates on the Mexico Team and the Central America Team with a few colleagues whose active endorsement of or involvement in NAFTA, Plan Colombia, and/or the Mérida Initiative are significant. Kolbe's current position with McLarty Associates involves advising "on trade matters as well as issues of effectiveness of U.S. assistance to foreign countries... and on migration and its relationship to development." He spoke on the Politics of Trade on November 10 as part of a Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations event. He had also attended John McCain's Sedona Forum in April which Doug Ducey also attended with Carlos Slim prior to Ducey's trip to Mexico City hosted by Carlos Slim.

The McLarty Associates' Mexico and Central America Teams include Thomas "Mack" McLarty himself, Kolbe, and former ambassador to Mexico and Honduras, John Negroponte, among others. Prior to the private sector, McLarty's influence is palpable. Described as a "key mover and shaker in the creation of" NAFTA and the FTAA (the FTAA never passed), a website that promotes him as a speaker outlines his efforts.
As President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Americas, Mack McLarty played a pivotal role in forging some of our nation's key policies toward our closest neighbors at the close of the 20th century, from NAFTA to the Mexican peso recovery package; the Summit of the Americas to the Caribbean Basin Initiative; Plan Colombia to representing the United States at the signing of the Guatemala peace accords.
It is notable that from 1999 to 2008, McLarty was part of Kissinger McLarty Associates in partnership with Henry Kissinger. The overlapping perspectives and goals of Kissinger, known to many as a war criminal, and McLarty are clear. Kolbe was hired by the firm before McLarty and Kissinger split ways. Kissinger's involvement in international political intervention that availed mining companies (e.g. Arizona-based Freeport McMoran) to exploit resources in other countries is especially relevant.

McLarty was involved with the Security and Prosperity Partnership from which the efforts for the CANAMEX Corridor, among other plans like the Mérida Initiative arose.

McLarty has a specific interest in Arizona-Mexico trade infrastructure. He's an independent Director and shareholder at railroad company Union Pacific Corp, which is not incidentally one of Doug Ducey's major donors. UP is a minority owner of Mexican railroad company Ferromex. Ferromex tracks join with those of Union Pacific at various points along the border. The majority owner of Ferromex is Mexican mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico (which also owns ASARCO mines in Arizona and near the border in Mexico), as rail is integral infrastructure for the metal mining industry. 

Trade is integral to the goals and efforts of McLarty and colleagues, but it is about bigger neoliberal goals like economic integration. In defense of NAFTA, McLarty's stated perspective on trade reveals that it is about so much more than economic competitiveness.
NAFTA boosted U.S. security and regional stability. Trade is a powerful instrument of geopolitics, binding us to our allies. NAFTA smoothed more than a century of friction in U.S.-Mexico relations. It was a catalyst for opening Mexico's economy and its political system; within a decade, the country ended generations of one-party rule. Mexico is today undertaking reforms that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. The success of a North American platform in energy and manufacturing has yielded diplomatic and security cooperation.
Another interesting connection is the strategic relationship that McLarty Associates has with APCO Worldwide. The media campaign described in Part 2 involved the Time Magazine blurb portraying Peña Nieto as one of the most influential leaders in the world, authored by Bill Richardson when he was an APCO employee. Richardson had also worked for McLarty Associates in 2001 before getting back in the public sphere again.

This past summer, Kolbe's McLarty colleague on those same regional teams, John Negroponte (former US Ambassador to Mexico and to Honduras), although not directly tied to Arizona or Ducey, plays an intriguing role when it comes to the drug trade. He co-authored an opinion piece in July urging US involvement in Central America in effort to avoid, "disruption across the region, a threat to all nations in the Americas." Promoting the Alliance for Prosperity, and public-private partnerships in development, Negropante and his co-author frame Plan Colombia as a success. "Even as the threat of illicit narcotics has adapted and remains a challenge, Colombia has transformed itself from a weak and fragile state to a security and trading partner..."

Negroponte was involved in pushing Plan Colombia, which critics say has contributed to the increase in drug trafficking and violence in "Northern Triangle." Negroponte may have even played a role in the early development of Honduran drug trafficking, working with the CIA during his time as ambassador (not to mention his relationship to death squads for the sake of preventing communist influence in Honduras, and helping to fight the Sandinistas in Nicaragua).

Insight Crime describes the situation in Honduras while Negroponte was ambassador.
Throughout the 1980s, Honduras was used as a trampoline for the movement of all types of illicit goods, from drugs to weapons to contraband. The US government, more concerned with fighting what it considered a burgeoning communist threat in the region, even contracted [the country’s first premier international drug trafficker, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros's] air fleet to get aid and weapons to the Contras, who were fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua at the time. Even after the armed conflicts ended, the contraband routes remained prevalent.
Considering this history in Honduras and the relationship to Colombia (much of the cocaine Honduran drug traffickers were moving was from Colombia), clearly the perspective on problem-solving (especially when it comes to the drug war) that Negroponte and his colleagues have, combined with their persistent influence, would on the surface appear hypocritical, if we were to believe that Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative were really meant to solely fight drug trafficking.

It would be inaccurate to claim that those in power like that all these drugs come into the US. They do want the consequences of their trade-related impacts controlled. One endeavor, closer to home, involved efforts of the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) to secure Mérida Initiative funds (6.8 million) in 2014 for the Querobabi military check point between Nogales and Hermosillo on Route 15. Seemingly this will emphasize inspection and surveillance equipment over arms. But it may profit the technology companies as much, if not more than it is meant to cut down on drug and human smuggling.

Another effort made as part of the Mérida Initiative is the modernization of the Nogales-Mariposa crossing between Arizona and Sonora put in motion by the "Twenty-First Century Border Bilateral Executive Steering Committee."


Ducey vs. Brewer

When it comes to the portrayal of the contrast between Ducey and former governor Jan Brewer, the media often echo Ducey in his characterization of the two in relation to trade with Mexico.

The Arizona Republic writes,
Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey is demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of the potential inherent in Arizona's geography. During a recent visit to Phoenix, Mexican business titan Carlos Slim praised Ducey for his businessman's approach to Mexico.
Ducey's often-repeated declaration that Arizona is "open for business" includes respect for Mexico and the business opportunities it offers that was lacking during Gov. Jan Brewer's administration.
Of course SB 1070 was said to be to blame for Arizona's poor relationship with Mexico, yet Ducey's lack of acknowledgment of the way the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has made Arizona a hostile place for Mexicans, along with Ducey's own emphasis on immigration enforcement (though focused on the border and not wholly implemented), makes the persistence of the SB 1070 reference lacking in substance.
Ducey has not opposed SB 1070 for long.

Both governors have prioritized business interests over others, but those can sometimes conflict. Brewer's veto, due to business pressure, of the 2014 bill that would've legalized religious discrimination indicates that she might have taken a different position later in her career, especially considering that she did favor trade later. 

Brewer likely could not have foreseen the way that SB 1070 would impact Arizona's reputation. In the aftermath, her emphasis on trade deepened through the end of her career. An Arizona Republic editorial in February 2014 remarked on Brewer's shift. "When it comes to international relations, business savvy is better than political sassiness. That hasn’t always been Gov. Jan Brewer’s approach to Mexico, but she’s doing the state a favor now by working with her Mexican counterpart on economic development."

It's useful here to highlight Brewer's major efforts in the realm of trade (although not hers alone), just to lay bare that there is really nothing special about Ducey and that SB 1070 existed in conjunction with much of the foundation on which Ducey builds his own stature. Prior to Ducey's election, Arizona, in cooperation with the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) of which Brewer was co-chair with the governor of Sonora, has opened trade offices in Mexico, advanced and moved to expand the Interstate 11, bolstered border ports and freight rail for trade purposes, put in motion improvements to Route 15 south of the border on the part of the Mexican government, and scored $6.8 million in funds from the Mérida Initiative for expansion of a military checkpoint called Querobabi north of Hermosillo. Arizona policy and officials have increasingly prioritized trade, with transportation as the primary component of this emphasis.

Perhaps most notably, Brewer instituted the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), which is a public-private entity that officially brings together the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and AMC with the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) and other private participants. AMC's Canamex expert (Jim Kolbe) is co-chair of the TTCA with ADOT director John Halikowski. The TTCA's influence is troubling. The AMC website states, "the Arizona Governor’s Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA)... encompasses the former CANAMEX Task Force." According to the TTCA website, "TTCA will serve as the state's freight advisory committee, as required under the recently enacted federal transportation bill," which refers to MAP-21. There is a lot of overlap between ADOT, TTCA, and AMC, which can be reviewed at "Arizona's Roads Meant for Trade with Mexico Despite Corruption and Violence?"

This is not to say that Ducey has not stepped up trade efforts in 2015. He's not the only one, however. The media have noted a boost in focus on trade by both the AMC and the ACA. Described as a turning point for conducting business between the US and Mexico is the visit by the second richest man in the world, Mexican Carlos Slim in Phoenix in April, which was put on by a few organizations including ACA as a presenting partner, and AMC as a sponsor.

As will be discussed in a future part of this series, Carlos Slim's renewed relationship with Arizona is significant. His meetings with Arizona officials and business people may have set in motion a not-quite-official partnership between Arizona and Mexico to extend the Interstate 11 down to Mexico City, among other efforts.

Brewer started the Arizona Commerce Authority in 2010 as a private sector leadership board to make up for the lack of funding the Department of Commerce had access to. It's worth noting that despite the controversy around the ACA, which as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is publicly funded yet privately controlled. The ACA has been rather central to the AZ-Mexico trade events despite Ducey threatening to decrease their funds. Ducey made this threat in March, but attended his first ACA meeting just days after Slim's April visit, where he said, "I look forward to working with you to make AZ the number one place for business." It would be surprising to see an organization led by Arizona's top business leaders (including the CEO of Freeport McMoran, the top 3rd highest-paid in the world) become limited, and Slim's visit might have something to do with changing Ducey's mind.

The Phoenix Business Journal reported that Ducey recently extended the ACA CEO Sandra Watson's contract for a year.
The governor, seeming in an effort to move Arizona past the SB1070 stage, is now talking open borders for trade and all about the Arizona-Sonora mega-region. It’s good for Arizona businesses, he said, and over the past 10 months, he’s moved to make it known south of the border that Arizona is open for business.
This means Ducey's policy is giving Arizona Commerce Authority a green light to bolster its efforts to get Arizona businesses to export.
The main difference between Ducey and Brewer is that he's made it a higher priority to market Arizona's "brand" to Mexico. Ducey's position on migration is not vastly different from Brewer's but he has made an effort to make it appear so. Ducey made it known that he backed Brewer's opposition to drivers licenses for DACA-eligible students and his only divergence to this position took place before he headed to Mexico, when he wrote up a proclamation on drivers licenses for immigrants that was vague and confusing but meant to make Arizona look better, as the Arizona Republic described.

Ducey's criticism of SB 1070 is not new. Back in 2010, Jim Kolbe commented that Arizona "stigmatizes itself with legislation like SB 1070." In early 2014, there was an attempt to repeal SB 1070 by various legislators, and the same reasoning was used, as the Arizona Daily Star reported—that the economic relationship with Mexico is more important.

The trade relationship is winning out over grossly discriminatory law enforcement, or at least rhetorically so. However, the reason Arizona-Mexico "free trade" is preferable to those most vocal is for private gain, not because it is more humane or responsibleas these trade policies can be considered one of the root causes for displacement leading to migration.

Yet, for some reason, it is not discussed much, even among activists. One possible explanation for the virtual absence of discussion on NAFTA is the impact of major funders of non-profits. Joan Roelofs explains in Foundations and public policy: the mask of pluralism, that the Ford Foundation was instrumental in the "alliance of 100 Latino organizations and elected officials, called the Latino Consensus on NAFTA, which provided conditional support for the agreement," among other efforts to build support for and acceptance of NAFTA.

Some politicians and business leaders with neoliberal designs therefore get way with claiming that economic development will address the root causes of migration and criminality. The US outsourcing to the Mexican government the responsibility to deal with migrants from Central America by attempting to secure Mexico's border with Guatemala and throughout Mexico will relieve resources in each US state (although taxpayers are still paying for these programs), in addition to improving the trade environment through militarization that helps secure control over populations and resources for the benefit of transnational corporations. The way the problems are defined will continue to shape the proposed solutions.





A sampling of Brewer's and Arizona's attitude and efforts towards trade with Mexico in early 2014. From the AMC newsletter.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Interstate 11 update

If you're unclear about the relationship between the Interstate 11/Intermountain West Corridor and CANAMEX, read Filling in the I-11/CANAMEX Gaps, which was written about a year and a half ago, but is still pretty accurate, other than the status of I-11.

Here's the latest from McCain's website:

Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate delivered final passage of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), a five-year, bipartisan, bicameral bill that provides authorization and funding to enhance roads, bridges, and transit programs in Arizona and across the country. This bill is vital to providing state and local officials in Arizona certainty to set transportation priorities, invest in critical infrastructure and plan wisely. It also includes measures supported by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) that would pave the way for establishing the Sonoran Corridor and the future Interstate 11 (I-11). These roads will ensure that Arizona has the infrastructure it needs to develop significant international trade routes for the Western United States. The FAST Act will now be sent to President Obama’s desk for signature.
Senator McCain originally introduced these measures in the Senate with the Sonoran Corridor Interstate Development Act of 2015 and the Intermountain West Corridor Development Act of 2015, which were ultimately included as part of the FAST Act. These provisions will designate the Sonoran Corridor as a future interstate to connect I-19 to I-10 south of the Tucson International Airport, and the future I-11 from Phoenix north to Las Vegas and I-80, and south to Arizona’s southern border. Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ) also sponsored these measures in the House of Representatives.
“This long-term authorization bill provides the funding certainty that state and local officials in Arizona need to repair our aging roads and improve critical infrastructure, while improving safety for all Americans in transit,” said Senator McCain. “I’m particularly proud that this bill includes measures that I cosponsored that will enable Arizona to become a key part of an international trade route that reaches all the way to the southern border, driving economic growth statewide. While this legislation is not perfect, it advances important provisions to help improve our nation’s infrastructure and connect Arizona’s businesses and communities to major domestic and international trade partners.”
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and leaders from across Arizona also praised the legislation:
“I commend Congress for passing a long-term transportation bill to support critical transportation projects serving our state,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. “This action today will further our mission of creating a transportation system that drives Arizona’s economic development, and attracts business and commerce throughout the state. Transportation is a key element in growing our economy and providing opportunity for all.”
“I am so thankful for Senator McCain and Representative McSally’s leadership in getting this designation added to the transportation bill and through the Congress,” said Sharon Bronson, chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. “Their leadership, combined with the strong bipartisan support this project received from the entire Arizona Congressional delegation, resulted in a major victory for the people of southern Arizona and the entire state. The Sonoran Corridor has the potential to be the most significant economic development effort in the county’s history. The very foundation, the very backbone of the entire effort is the auxiliary highway connecting the two interstates. This designation is the first, vital step on the long road we still have to travel for funding and construction. The future prosperity of our region just got a little brighter today.”
“I'm very pleased this project has made it past this hurdle,” said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “The Sonoran Corridor is important to our airport, our major employers, and our regional economy.”
“The Tucson Hispanic Chamber and our affiliated chambers in Nogales, Douglas and Sierra Vista applaud Senator McCain and Congresswoman McSally for their leadership in advancing these major trade route designations for the state of Arizona,” said Lea Márquez Peterson, president of Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The passage of these measures will enhance the importance of a key trading route from Mexico to the United States.”
The Sonoran Corridor will create an alternative route that will enable the hundreds of thousands of freight vehicles traveling through the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales each year to avoid having to pass through the congested city of Tucson to reach major trade routes using I-10. This development is estimated to reduce total travel by 12 miles and 20 minutes per truck, connecting southern Arizona to agricultural regions, infrastructure and manufacturing centers, and existing high priority corridors of the National Highway System. The Sonoran Corridor will also be home to the new Aerospace Parkway next to Tucson International Airport, which has the potential to become one of the largest manufacturing and logistics hubs in the Southwest.
The future I-11 will extend from Arizona’s southern border through Phoenix to Las Vegas and north through the State of Nevada, ensuring the future interstate is connected to the Northwestern United States and plays a key role as an international trade route. Specifically, its designation would provide both states’ Departments of Transportation the flexibility to develop a Northern Nevada and Southern Arizona connectivity corridors as part of the I-11 effort. This full north-to-south, Canada-to-Mexico interstate system is critical for our nation’s mobility, economy, and national defense.
###

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

O’odham and Supporters Protest Meeting of South Mountain Freeway Bidders

from https://aoycblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/oodham-and-supporters-protest-meeting-of-south-mountain-freeway-bidders/

Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
September 29th, 2015
Contact: 520-350-0603
akimeloodhamyc@gmail.com

On the morning of September 29th, 2015, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) held a Pre-Bid meeting for the proposed South Mountain Freeway extension of the Loop 202 at the Mesa Convention Center. The meeting started at 9:00am and approximately 15 O’odham and other supporters were protesting outside.
NoSouthMtnFreewayCop

This pre-bid meeting was a part of the process in a Public Private Partnership (P3) deal for the South Mountain Freeway. P3’s are a business deal between a public entity (ADOT) and private entity (corporations). The state cannot afford to build the freeway on its own so P3 deals are the state’s solution to that. There are three groups who might get the P3 contract; South Mountain Mobility Group, South Mountain Development Group, and Connect 202 Partners. The winning bid would result in one of these groups receiving some federal funding, but the private companies will take on the rest of the cost which is roughly 2.3 billion dollars. The P3 gives the private corporations some responsibility on design and maintenance, as well as over time the state pays them back with interest.
12077501_10207852774741651_972328235_n12083746_10207852765501420_606342089_n

The protesters gathered in the front entrance holding signs, chanting, and singing O’odham songs. The group tried to enter the building but Mesa police officers and private security block the entrance. The protest forced attendees of today’s pre-bid meeting to exit out of another door, even as the protest continued to march, trying to find other ways into the building.“Our actions and presence today is in an example to the purposed corporations that it is wrong to destroy our sacred places,” said Deran Martinez, 25 from the Village of Vah KI. “It’s huge part of our culture (South Mountain) and we won’t go silently.”

Since this was a pre-bid meeting it’s more than likely there will be another in the coming months as ADOT’s construction date comes closer, which is currently scheduled for March 2016. It’s also possible the construction date could be pushed back again because of the lawsuits from PARC (Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children) and the Gila River Indian Community. Akimel O’odham Youth Collective will continue to provide updates on the future meetings and events of ADOT and P3 bidders, we are confident there will be another chance to target ADOT and these development groups. We will continue to oppose the construction of the South Mountain Freeway extension.
-Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
12071837_10207852777741726_1523239190_n

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Arizona-Mexico Trade: Inroads to private gain, Part 2: Blowing Smoke

Read Part 1 of these series, about the infrastructure and people behind the AZ/Mexico trade corridor here.

Remember when Phoenix was being called the number two kidnapping capital of the world? And when former governor Jan Brewer claimed that beheaded bodies related to illegal border crossings had been found in the Arizona desert? Even if you don't, you might recall that the sorts of things that Donald Trump is saying about migrants were more acceptable not that long ago by many politicians who distance themselves from those remarks today in the interest of building a trade relationship with Mexico.

Even while the beheadings and the scale of the kidnappings were not true, gruesome violence does occur in Mexico, partially due to US policy. But with the new governor, Doug Ducey, hammering the idea via the press that the Arizona-Mexico trade relationship relies on Arizona repairing its reputation with Mexico after the disgrace of SB 1070—with no mention of violence in Mexico—it appears that not only is the fear-mongering no longer politically useful, but it is to be avoided in the interest of the image of Mexican security.

While the myths about spillover violence were used to sow fear of border-crossers, to pass laws like SB 1070 and to secure the border, they also had the effect of scaring away business and slowing movement of goods and impacting business trips and tourism. Considering Ducey has made no effort to make Arizona more safe for migrants, it becomes clear that he and others are more concerned about the business climate than with SB 1070 itself. A focus on what seems to almost be characterized as rudeness on the part of Arizona distracts from the real issues, most likely on purpose.

Let's be real here: the benefit of trade (and border enforcement) for US business is considerably related to access to cheap labor on both sides of the border. The competitive advantage sought by Arizona requires poverty, political stability and security, and infrastructure in Mexico, imposed upon the people through displacement, dispossession, and repression. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) played a major role in accomplishing this. The Mérida Initiative, supposedly meant to combat the drug trade, is a continuation of this effort.

A well-designed effort on the part of Mexico, especially with the latest president, has been made to direct attention away from what was and is happening in Mexico so rich men can benefit from (more) foreign investment. In the US, officials and the media have followed suit to initiate the trade corridor through Arizona, and to justify all the money spent on the drug war via the Mérida Initiative (over $2 billion since it began in 2008); for to acknowledge the continuing violence is to admit the failure of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the failure of the purported goals of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Mérida Initiative.

John McCain's recent announcements of the legislation that facilitates the Intermountain West Corridor/Interstate 11 trade corridor curiously reference Arizona's southern border while minimizing or avoiding direct mention of Mexico, which may speak to the public's current concerns about Mexico due to drug lord "El Chapo" Guzman's escape and the lesser-known murder of a journalist and activists from Veracruz in Mexico City.

Back in 2010, McCain was repeating the fear about Phoenix's alleged high rate of kidnappings. A few months ago, no such mention of the violence on either side of the border was included in his article promoting Arizona-Mexico trade that was printed just days after mass graves were found during the search for the missing students of Ayotzinapa; and in response, protesters, demanding to know where the students were, had set the Guerrero capitol statehouse on fire. While some, including parents of missing students, have posed the idea that the Mérida Initiative is related to what happened in Guerrero, McCain believes that “the Mérida Initiative may be more important than any agreement that we've made." Meanwhile, his proposals for Comprehensive Immigration Reform are heavy on border militarization.

Today, of the 129 bodies found in those mass graves, none of them have definitely been identified as any of the 43 disappeared students, which means the story the government told based on their "investigation" (using torture to gain confessions) is not true, and also leaves the mystery of those 129 bodies. There are many other examples that point to something being especially wrong in Mexico.

When references in Arizona media were made to the organized crime in Mexico and the potential of spillover, it was never acknowledged that in many ways free trade facilitated an increase in organized crime by shifting drug smuggling routes and creating a situation in which the drug trade was lucrative with fewer other means of income to survive on available. It definitely was never mentioned that the Mérida Initiative has been shown to increase homicides, torture, and other such violence. And it was most certainly never mentioned that many of the homicides and disappearances, such as those targeting activists and journalists, are actually the responsibility of law enforcement or military.


Buying Credibility

When Peña Nieto ended up on the cover of Time Magazine in February 2013 accompanied by the words "Saving Mexico," many Mexicans were dumbfounded and disgusted. A similar response was evoked when he appeared a couple months later among the list of the same magazine's 100 most influential people. Evidence shows that there has been a calculated—and costly—effort to paint a pretty picture of Mexico with a very proficient public relations campaign.

The latter Time feature was penned by Bill Richardson, described simply as a former Governor of New Mexico even though he was instrumental in coordinating Democrat support for NAFTA in the early nineties, and when he wrote the Time piece he worked for a company called APCO World Wide, a pro-free trade global opinion research consultancy (he's also very much in favor of the Mérida Initiative). APCO Worldwide was enlisted through NODO Research for a public relations campaign for which Nieto paid around $50,000. Two payments were also made to Time Warner that year totaling approximately $43,000, which seems to be for a 14-page advertorial TIME had printed only two months before, of which, as Bill Conroy of Narco News pointed out, the "Saving Mexico" story generously echoed.

Peña Nieto has made many efforts to improve Mexico's image in conjunction with his own. The Dallas News reports,
According to a recent report from the Observatory of Violence in the Media, an independent watchdog group, coverage of organized crime and violence in the Mexico City press took a dive during the first three months in office of President Enrique Peña Nieto: The use of the words homicide, narcotrafficking and cartel declined by half from the year before. Similar results were found for TV and radio. 
The Mexican government was claiming that crime has gone down in recent years, which many have said isn't true. Many crimes go unreported due to the growing distrust of the police. Even the way statistics on crime are gathered and interpreted has changed, making them appear more favorable. In some cases violence has become more isolated to certain areas in Mexico.

Peña Nieto's stature relied heavily on the 2014 capture of "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the Sinoloa Cartel, who had been on the run for over a decade. With "El Chapo's" second prison escape this July and the poor state of the economy, it's clear that Nieto is in a bad position.

The Washington Post discussed Nieto's ongoing scandals in relation to the recent escape of "El Chapo" Guzman.
But as [Jeremy] McDermott from InSight Crime pointed out, the jail break is just the latest in a string of high-profile problems for Peña Nieto.
“He’s had some very severe setbacks,” McDermott said. “The killing of the 43 students. A series of accusations of human rights abuses against the military. And now the escape of El Chapo.” Add to the list a political scandal in which the first lady purchased a luxurious house on credit from a developer who received lucrative government contracts.
The president, his wife, and the finance minister were recently cleared by none other than a friend of Peña Nieto of any wrongdoing related to the conflict of interest allegations.

Accessing Cheap Labor

Officials and businessmen in Arizona are just as interested in portraying Mexico as a viable business partner mainly because they want that to be true. They are also interested in drawing businesses to Arizona by portraying Arizona as a good choice due to its proximity to Mexico and its infrastructure. Mexico's attractiveness for business has to do with cheap labor, and less strict environmental and labor laws. Even Mexico's ports are more attractive for these reasons than California ports for those businesses shipping between other countries such as China.

Central to the collaboration on Arizona-Mexico trade with Governor Ducey is one of the few beneficiaries of NAFTA-related privatization reforms, Carlos Slim, who made dozens of billions of dollars over the years since he gained access to the Mexican telecommunications industry monopoly. It almost seems that Slim is portrayed as proof of Mexico's economic development success, even while he made his money off the backs of millions of Mexicans. Slim, the second richest man in the world, visited Arizona in the spring, and then hosted Ducey and various Arizona officials and business people in Mexico City this past June.

After various media outlets approvingly covered the Arizona governor's visit to Mexico City, Ducey finally shared his own perspective in a July 4th op-ed.
Mexico is an important ally to advancing in the global economy — it is forecast to be the world's fifth-largest economy by 2050. The ascending and fast-growing Mexican economy will be good for both sides of the border, and it is not just all about GDP, job growth and investment.
As the Mexican people reap the benefits of free-market reforms taking place in Mexico today, and the resulting economic growth, we can expect to see a positive impact on security — specifically, border security. And that's something every Arizonan can get behind.
The forecast of Mexico's economic growth is highly questionable. Accounts of whether or not NAFTA was beneficial to the average Mexican, how opening up PEMEX to privatization will affect the country, and to what degree Peña Nieto has been successful in curtailing homicides, kidnappings, the drug trade, and other organized crime, are all disputed. Nonetheless, this is not an argument over whether Mexico is a smart investment for Arizona. The point is that we are being sold lies — or guesses at best — about political and economic stability in Mexico so business and politicians can gain support for building trade infrastructure and continue the militarization through the Mérida Initiative, which comes at a high human cost with the use of our tax dollars.


Even if there is a growing Mexican middle class as some claim, businesses involved are still looking to benefit from cheap labor and minimal environmental standards more than they're interested in a larger Mexican consumer base. Either way, oil prices are down and Mexico's economy is doing much more poorly than predicted. One of the reasons Mexico is expected to host more manufacturing facilities is that Chinese workers' wages have slowly increased, making Mexican labor more attractive.

As Albert Lannon of the Avra Valley Coalition pointed out, the I-11 Corridor Justification report use of certain projections to explain the benefits of the Interstate meant as a trade corridor is telling.
The planners predict that, as Chinese wages rise, Mexico will become more attractive to corporations. With U.S. manufacturing labor costs at 100 on an [Arizona Department of Transportation] index, China is 5 and Mexico 12. As “trade with Mexico expands,” the report argues, so will “the current trend of moving manufactured goods production … to Mexico... Mexico was the most popular choice for nearshoring, where hourly compensation costs are nearly as low as China.”
The report suggests “industry clusters” and “integrative manufacturing” to house the making of parts in the U.S., with assembly in Mexico...
The report discusses planned improvements at the Mexican port of Guaymas for container traffic. That impacts high-paying jobs in the West Coast stevedoring, trucking and warehouse industries. The report discusses receiving even more goods from Asia as another “alternative future scenario.
In their discussion of marketing I-11 to the public, the pitch is “enhancing economic vitality” and “commercial opportunities.” I-11 is being sold as a way for corporations to make more money. Period. There is no expressed interest in workers except as cheap labor across the border.
Interstate 11 is the primary project Arizona is attempting to accomplish in order to facilitate trade with Mexico. Despite the fact that many people in both Arizona and Mexico lost jobs due to the free market reforms, Arizona officials and businessmen are looking to extend NAFTA trade, with the participation of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).


Securing Trade

Ducey implies that trade with Mexico will slow migration, that economic development will improve security by increasing incentives for Mexicans to stay in Mexico (and presumably also not get involved in criminal activity). The pro-NAFTA crowd likes to pretend that free trade doesn't rely on forces that make labor cheap in Mexico, which is a primary causal factor of migration. Migrant labor is kept cheap mainly through criminalization.

The public relations strategy of the governor essentially involves apologizing for the disrepute SB 1070 caused for Arizona, although this isn't quite the misdeed Arizona should make up for. (Not to mention that criminalization of migrants is not decreasing and border militarization is only increasing.)

While Arizona is unlikely to broach the subject of the corruption of the Mexican government, considering Arizona was rated the most corrupt state in the US by a Harvard study last year, the state can hardly take the moral high ground in comparison to Mexico anyway. The real harm Arizona is perpetrating is through pushing trade (which encourages the neoliberal reforms on the part of the Mexican government, such as austerity measures), and its promotion and/or use of the Mérida Initiative and other intervention to support this trade, via the federal government.

Free trade policy means accumulation: cheap labor, privatization, and resource extraction. Through the support of NAFTA, NAFTA-related infrastructure such as Canamex/Interstate 11, and the Mérida Initiative, Arizonans and other U.S. officials have made things far worse in Mexico. The Mérida Initiative as an extension of NAFTA has largely benefited the capitalist class and transnational companies (many US-owned).

The Mérida Initiative, also called Plan Mexico, has its emphasis, like Plan Columbia, on the supply-side rather than largely US demand for drugs, but does not even seem to be intended to stop the drug trade. It is a "drug war" aid package costing more than $2 billion, involving training and military hardware provided to the Mexican military. It not only increases US political power and control in Mexico, it provides the US military industrial complex with further profits.

Dawn Paley, author of Drug War Capitalism, laid out in her book many examples of militarization related to the Mérida Initiative occurring in places of interest to transnational corporations and leading to increases in homicides. "Without a drug war, Mexico would have continued to implement neoliberal reforms, but there is little doubt that the fear, distraction, and terror created by the war, as well as the special funding provided through it, helped speed up the reform process." 

Many have linked what happened to the disappeared 43 students to the Mérida Initiative. Chicago-based group Semillas Autónomas (Seeds of Autonomy) wrote,
Ayotzinapa students and their parents, as well as the National Indigenous Congress, have always insisted that the violence that has engulfed Mexico over the past decades is not simply a matter of narco-trafficking and a few “corrupt” officials. They accuse that governing through violence and terror is the nature of the colonial state, and that the so-called “War on Drugs” — sponsored by the US and carried out on both sides of the border — is actually a war against the poor, campesinxs, indigenous, and resistant peoples of the Americas.
"El Chapo" Guzman's prison break is a major blow to the assertion that the Mexican government is no longer colluding in the drug trade on a massive scale. But it would be a mistake to portray the problems in Mexico as due to some natural tendency towards corruption and violence. The US government, partly through the Mérida Initiative, described as "arming NAFTA," has played an immense role in contributing to these problems, with the participation of the Mexican ruling elite. These consequences of arming NAFTA do not outweigh the governmental gains made through militarization.

Explaining the context behind the Mérida Initiative, Dawn Paley described in a journal article about how an earlier phase of the drug war in Latin America relates to the current context,
What are the primary insights from Plan Colombia from the perspective of the U.S. government? First, that the war on drugs can be used as a mechanism to promote business-friendly policies and, second, that the paramilitarism that results from militarizing drug trafficking and drug production can assist in the maintenance of control over territories and populations. A refined version of the comprehensive U.S.-backed “drug war” strategy is what has been applied in Mexico, beginning in 2007. Seen through this lens, the war on drugs appears to be a bloody fix to the United States’ economic woes. The drug war, as embodied in Plan Colombia, Plan Mérida, and [Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI)], combines terror with policy making in a neoliberal mix, cracking open social worlds and territories previously unavailable to globalized capitalism. 
One of the main advantages of the Mérida Initiative for corporations is that "The violence deployed by the state and justified with claims of combating trafficking can lead to urban and rural populations being displaced, clearing territory for corporations to extract natural resources, and impacting land ownership and property values," wrote Paley in her book Drug War Capitalism. The violence of the "drug war" can also undermine labor organizing, journalism, and other forms of resistance.

The US government (not innocent of corruption itself) likely took into account the risks involved with providing this aid to a government with a reputation for its high level of corruption, but found it worth it anyway. The Mérida Initiative seems meant to manage violence and other crime, to create a sort of political stability that is favorable to foreign investment but that functions to facilitate control and access via violence or the threat of it.

Aside from the infrastructure such as roads, ports, and rail to support trade, Arizona has more of a role in relation to the Mérida Initiative, besides just McCain's support for it. Arizona has connections to people and policy relating to other interventions in Latin America. Discussed elsewhere on this blog is how one of the main proponents of NAFTA and the CANAMEX trade corridor in Arizona, Jim Kolbe and colleagues of his were also involved in the creation of NAFTA. One of whom, John Negroponte as Ambassador to Honduras, also played a role in the Iran/Contra Affair. The other, Henry Kissinger, was complicit in the military coup against Allende in Chile. Negroponte was also involved with promoting the Mérida Initiative.

Arranged in meetings between Arizonan and Mexican officials, the Querobabi military checkpoint along Route 15 between Hermosillo and Nogales is currently being "improved" upon with $6.8 million from the US government in Mérida Initiative funds (plus funding from the Mexican government). It is too soon to say what the consequences of this will be. It could be that Ducey is not as concerned about border security at the border because some of it is being taken care of via the Mérida Initiative on the other side of the border. That some of the equipment provided to the military at this checkpoint so close to Arizona will be used in the drug trade is a concern, however.

The significance of the corridor south from Arizona stretching to the coast or to Mexico City will rise if trade increases. Fortunately, Sonora has not faced a large amount of violence, but has seen NAFTA-related growth of a mining industry and expansion of the hydraulic society to serve agribusiness. The water wars there could just be the beginning, especially as Arizona (which is cutting back on agriculture to maintain urban water supplies) becomes dependent on produce imported from Mexico.

While those of us in Arizona do not have to contend with the same kind of force when it comes to resisting megaprojects such as Interstate 11 or the Resolution Copper mine, Sonora and other areas along Route 15 might be affected.

Abel Barrera, director of a human rights group in Guerrero was quoted in Drug War Capitalism,
What we've seen up until now is that the militarization is not only a way to enter into the territories, but that it serves to impose megaprojects. [The police and army] are the offensive front that goes and enters into territories in order to guarantee that transnational capital can be established there, and install itself via mines, megaprojects, dams, and ecotourism projects. Regardless of the fact that they are in their own lands, a village cannot go against a mine or a multinational company. Companies need a guarantee that capital is worth more than the lives of the peasants that are blocking it.
As of now, the unofficial plan is to connect the Interstate 11 to Mexico City, which means the area of San Francisco Xochicuautla, Lerma, in the State of Mexico, where Grupo Higa (the same construction group that has been more than favored by Peña Nieto) plans to build a road connecting Mexico City to a nearby airport to the west would be more significant as part of an official trade corridor. Even without involving the drug war, the indigenous people's resistance is met with worsening force.

Arizona is being plundered as well. Destruction, displacement, and desecration happens or would happen in the name of economic development in Arizona, especially affecting many indigenous people. The border militarization and the wall, the South Mountain Freeway, Resolution Copper's land grab of the Oak Flat area, the coal and uranium mining up northall are justified in the name of economic development, when really it is a few who gain profits at the expense of the people and the land.


In the same way that immigration enforcement is not meant to stop migration but to render migrants a permanent underclass, US intervention in Mexico is meant not to stop, but to manage, the movement of drugs, organized crime, and the associated violence. The US certainly is not interested in curtailing the demand for drugs north of the border (for which they could put more resources towards public health and treatment), nor the movement of arms southward. Although the violence has consequences for business, in broader terms it also has its benefits. As long as it is isolated and it can be mostly ignored, it is beneficial to business interests.

Are Donald Trump's racist comments about migrants worse in comparison to all of this? The bi-partisan effort to gain access to Mexican resources is portrayed as a friendly transaction while Trump plays an extremist role that makes anything else seem reasonable. It is necessary to cut through the smokescreen and see how the projects in Arizona are connected to the plunder of Mexico.

Read Part 3 here.