My latest post for Global Voices, reproduced below, can be accessed at http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/03/09/mexico-and-afghanistan-border-conflicts-juxtaposed/
This post is part of our special coverage Mexico’s Drug War.
A broad swathe of netizenry has mobilized in response to several reports that juxtapose the violence taking place along the Mexico/U.S. border with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. While uncoordinated and apparently disparate, these updates have served to crystalize problematic aspects of American foreign policy in Mexico and the Middle East.
Reuters correspondent Matt Robinson wrote from Sharana, Afghanistan that U.S. military commanders in that country are now talking openly about “looking to their own country’s heavily monitored border with Mexico as part of efforts to stem the flow of Taliban fighters crossing from Pakistan to wage a growing insurgency.”
U.S. forces say they are considering employing sensors and radar systems of the kind used on the U.S.-Mexico border to control the insurgent “rat lines” (escape routes) straddling Afghanistan’s porous 2,430-kilometer (1,510-mile) border with Pakistan.
[…]”The southern border of the United States has a system, and it’s been there for decades. We’re actually looking back to an individual that works with that system to see if that would be beneficial.”
Robinson’s report goes on to specify that “U.S. authorities use mobile surveillance systems, unmanned drones and 20,000 border agents with trucks and horses to stem illegal immigration, drug-trafficking and the spillover of drug violence along 3,140 km (1,950 miles) of border that the United States shares with Mexico.”
On the day of its publication, the article was swiftly circulated on Twitter, tweeted and retweeted with and without comment by @AfghanNews24, @ghost22sas, @mexicoreporter, @5lem1, @FZMexico, and a host of others. After providing a link to the report, @SanhoTree asked,
Why not look to Charlie Sheen for ideas on how to win hearts and minds?
Blogger Vikas Yadez, was more expansive, and more scathing.
This article demonstrates some of the utter nonsense that reigns supreme in the US military. The US-Mexico border is hardly a model for how to conduct effective control. With over 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, the idea that the US knows how to police its own border is completely absurd.
There is a technophilia that has infected the minds of the defense department which leads them to believe that drones and computers are the solution to every problem.
“Mexico/US border near Campo, California” by Flickr user qbac07 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Two days later, a report by Edwin Mora for CNS News appeared, inviting juxtaposition with the Reuters story. Under the title “One U.S.-Mexico Border Town Had More Civilian Casualties Last Year Than All Afghanistan,” Mora did the math:
More civilians were killed last year in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city across the border from El Paso, Texas, than were killed in all of Afghanistan.
There were 3,111 civilians murdered in the city of Juarez in 2010 and 2,421 in the entire country of Afghanistan – the majority of them by anti-government forces including the Taliban.
About one out of every 427 civilian inhabitants was killed in Juarez last year, while about one out of every 12,029 civilian inhabitants was killed in Afghanistan. (There are 1,328,017 people in Juarez, according to Mexico’s 2010 census, and 29,121,286 people in Afghanistan, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.)
Mura’s brief report drew comments that were mostly pragmatic in tone, like those of Bonnie Joslin: “Drugs make a lot of money for our government. Why would they do anything about it?” and S14: “The only differences to the liberals is that the Afghans are not potential voters and the illegals are…. So nothing will be done about the border.” Links to the report ricocheted around Twitter, accompanied by diverse opinions.
Kevin Eder (@keder) prefaced the link with the virtual expletive “Security!”. The Texas Farm Bureau (@TexasFarmBureau) wrote:
It’s not #Iraq or #Afghanistan but the dangers for Texas farmers and ranchers near the Mexico border are just as real
The right-wing blog Wooden Dentures exemplified a view prevalent north of the border in question.
If one were to think about the most violent places on earth, Afghanistan would no doubt come to mind, but a city, just a single city on the southern border of the U.S., is far more violent than the entire country of Afghanistan…. With our open southern border, there is little doubt that the Mexican violence will eventually spill over into Texas, resulting in innocent American deaths on American soil. How much longer can the federal government shirk its duty to protect U.S. citizens by ignoring the security along our southern border?
On The New Normal, blogger “Say It Ain’t So” coined a new place name – Mexghanistan – and wrote:
You’d think this would be shocking news, but only if you believed for a moment that the Obama administration and its department of information and propaganda, the mainstream media, cared about either Mexico or Afghanistan, which they don’t. Imagine, a town right across America’s own border is far more deadly and dangerous for civilians than an entire war zone!
Mexico-based tweeps put two and two together. Hector Guerra (@hrguerra), from Monterrey, wrote:
Siempre bromeo que Afghanistan es mas seguro que Mexico, gracias por quitarme material, mundo
I always joke that Afghanistan is safer than Mexico, thank you for stealing my material, world
Later the same day, @hrguerra responded to the second report:
Y a riesgo de senalar lo obvio, Ciudad Juarez es una ciudad de 1.5 millones de habitantes, Afghanistan es un pais de 30 millones.
And risking pointing out the obvious, Ciudad Juarez has 1.5 million people, Afghanistan is a country of 30 million.
Meanwhile, as reported by El Universal [es], UNESCO affirmed that Mexico is experiencing “intense violence” and that, though it is not technically in a state of armed conflict, violence involving government forces and organized crime in recent years has caused more civilian deaths than those reported as of 2008 in Afghanistan.
Although most strident responses to these reports come from the fringes of American public opinion, and in many cases from the southern edges of that country, there are notable exceptions. One of these is a post by blogger Kristin Bricker for Borderland Beat, which affords, not reactionary and racist opinion, but research, analysis and insight, beginning with the vaunted death tolls.
In the prologue to his new anthology, Pais de Muertos (Country of the Dead), renowned journalist and Monterrey native Diego Enrique Osorno writes, “It’s not the same to count the dead as it is to recount our dead’s stories.”
Osorno has joined the growing number of Mexican journalists who criticize the ejecutometro or “execution-meter,” which refers to the running tallies of drug war dead kept by the government and newspapers. Thanks to the public’s obsession with the execution-meter, Mexico’s murdered citizens are metaphorically heaped together into the drug war’s mass grave.
With an average of one person killed every hour in the drug war (and eight per day in Ciudad Juarez alone), newspapers don’t even bother to report the dead’s names, let alone the circumstances of their lives and deaths. They simply report the gruesome manner in which the bodies were found….
Mexico’s skyrocketing homicide rate means that the bodies are dumped in the metaphorical mass grave with increasing frequency. Journalists find it more and more difficult to keep up with the death toll, let alone carry out a serious investigation into individual murders. Moreover, argues Proceso reporter Marcela Turati in her new book Fuego Cruzado (”Crossfire”), “When violence competes with itself and habitually breaks its own record, it stops being news.”
Still, by all accounts, reporting and commentary on the devastation along these contested borders continues in the full range of media, from traditional news outlets to far-flung tweeps including the likes of Fritz (@Copydechocolate):
OK, ya llevamos mas muertos en Mexico que en Afghanistan, alguien quiere defender a nuestro gobierno? #yodigo
OK, now we have more dead in Mexico than in Afghanistan, does anyone want to defend our government? #isay