Moats in Mexico – villages under siege

Paul Raven @ 26-03-2009

The moat around Cuauhtemoc, MexicoThings are getting pretty rough in the northern states of Mexico, with criminal gangs acting increasingly like marauding guerrilla armies. So much so that the tiny town of Cuauhtemoc has taken medieval measures to prevent further attacks:

Since right before Christmas, armed raiders repeatedly have swept into both villages to carry away local men. Government help arrived too late, or not at all.

Terrified villagers — at the urging of army officers who couldn’t be there around the clock — have clawed moats across every access road but one into their communities, hoping to repel the raids.

It’s probably not very reassuring to find yourself in a position where the army tells you that you’re pretty much going to have to look out for yourself against armed gangs. Sure, the Mexican government has its work cut out dealing with the problem, but that’s going to be cold comfort to townspeople who just want to be left alone to get on with their lives… and it leaves the door wide open for another gang to step in and offer protection, which will destabilise the region even further. [via Global Guerrillas; image by Julian Cardona for the Houston Chronicle – contact for take-down if required]

New Aussie drinking game – “spot the wetback”

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2009

Texas-Mexico border fenceHere’s an odd twist on crowdsourcing; the publicly-accessible cameras along the Texas-Mexico border have attracted amateur border guards from a number of the southern states… and beyond. In fact, it seems to be quite the international pastime:

So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.

“We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, ‘Hey mate, we’ve been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia’,” he said.

Not everyone is quite so impressed, however, especially considering the system’s cost measured against its successes:

Opponents have dismissed the project as “the perfect Google border” and say the cameras do little to deter criminal activity. “Border security deserves trained professionals, not pub-goers in Perth,” said Eliot Shapleigh, a state senator from El Paso, Texas, who claims that the programme has resulted in only a handful of arrests. “It’s wholly ineffective for the governor’s stated goal of security, it panders to extremists for political purposes and it’s not an effective use of $2m for just three apprehensions.”

One has to wonder whether all the people who’ve signed up to watch the border are sincerely interested in reporting transgressions rather than turning a blind eye to them; the barriers to entry are pretty low, after all, and not everyone wants to take America’s side these days. [image by Daquella manera]

But what interests me most about this story is that it seems to highlight one of my current obsessions, namely the fragmentation of nation-states into parts that borders on a map just can’t represent. If an Australian is voluntarily watching a piece of land at the edge of Texas (which, a long time back, was part of Mexico) to make sure that no Mexicans (or Guatemalans or Hondurans or anyone else) cross that fence-line, could he not be considered a temporary US citizen? Or is he merely a form of contractor, or neither?

Think about it – to enforce a geographical boundary, the US is using tools that contribute to the ongoing erasure of geography; meanwhile, non-citizens on the other side of the globe do work that a citizen would need to be security-screened for… and do it for free, or for kudos. What does being a citizen actually mean, beyond defining who you pay your taxes to? Where does citizenship actually take place – on the ground, in our own minds, or in the network of mutual assumptions that we call society?

Isn’t it possible that one day that one way to cross the conceptual border of the US and become a citizen thereof would be to have spent a considerable amount of time and effort ensuring that other people didn’t cross the geographical border?

[26/03/09 – Note: it has been brought to my attention that the term ‘wetback’ is a lot more fundamentally racist than I – unused to some of the subtleties of US slang – initially thought; had I thought it referred to anything more than person who attempts to cross the Rio Grande, I wouldn’t have used it, and I’d like to apologise for any offence caused.]

Could Mexican narco-terrorism produce a massive open-source insurgency?

Paul Raven @ 04-03-2009

The news is full of the escalating war between Mexican drug traffickers and that country’s government, and it’s not a pretty picture – especially not for Mexico’s more northerly states and cities.

But what if the problems could spill over? Apparently they already have – there are claims that Canadian gang violence is connected to the Mexican situation, as is often the way with complex illicit supply chains.

John Robb hypothesises that it wouldn’t take much to spark an open-source insurgency in the region – one that could turn the northern states of Mexico and the southern states of the US into a no-go zone for the military forces of either country.

By itself, it’s doubtful that a narco/smuggling open source insurgency could accomplish this goal, although it would make a very good run at it (particularly given the declining budgets of their opponents).  However, the prospects for successful achievement of the plausible promise would radically improve  if the coming global depression drives

  • the creation of new violent groups — new primary loyalties formed from fear, revenge, and necessity — and
  • the economic deprivation necessary for a vibrant bazaar of violence — this is a marketplace that forms when, due to a need to purchase food and shelter, there is an endless pool of people willing to kill for a couple hundred bucks.

It’s not really that implausible an idea, and an illustration of the way that nation-state borders are being broken down by modern technology, economics and realpolitik.

When a nation can’t control an insurgency at this sort of scale, what will that do for its credibilty among its more stable neighbours?

MAQUECH by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Paul Raven @ 01-07-2008

First of the month means fiction time at Futurismic; this month’s offering is “Maquech” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a haunting and darkly beautiful tale of dreams and desperation set in a scarcity-riddled near-future Mexico City.

So get stuck in, and don’t forget to leave Silvia some feedback in the comments at the end!


by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The jewel encrusted beetle walked slowly across the table, dragging its golden chain behind. It was bigger than any other maquech he’d ever seen before and more richly decorated.

Gerardo put down the eyeglass.

“It’s not my usual purchase,” he said.

“It’s rare,” Mario replied. “This is the last one my grandfather made before he passed away.”

“Monkeys are the thing now. Everyone wants a monkey.”

“But it doesn’t need a lot of food or water,” Mario protested. “That’s a benefit.”

“Do you think my clients worry about things like food or water? Listen, I sold five ostriches two months ago. People want large animals now.”

It was a lie. He sold fish and birds and maybe a reptile or two. He could not afford extravagant purchases like ostriches.

“I need the money,” Mario confessed. “I want to go to Canada.”

“What for?”

“I want to see the polar bears before they disappear. Before all the ice melts away.” Continue reading “MAQUECH by Silvia Moreno-Garcia”

80% of Mexican state underwater, oil production halts

Tomas Martin @ 02-11-2007

Mexico is struggling with all the water with further rain on the wayFollowing on from the recent fires across California, another catastrophe less widely reported is the flooding in Mexico. Tabasco is a southern state the size of Belgium and following storms and heavy rain, 80% of the land is underwater, with close to 100% of crops lost, around half of the two million population evacuated and production of crude in the oil-rich region at a standstill. The governor of the state has compared the situation for the 350,000 in the state capital Villahermosa to New Orleans post-Katrina and the rebuilding time is likely to be as long.

Like any natural disaster it would be hard to pinpoint this extreme weather directly on global warming but there has definitely been a large number of big-scale environmental catastrophes over the last few years. Whatever the cause, the damage to Mexico’s already-ailing oil industry will be a severe disruption and push us ever closer to the scary prospect of $100 barrels of oil.

[via Daily Kos, image by _…:::Celoide:::…_]

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