Agenda making the news this month
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US denies safe haven to Mexico’s drug war refugees
20 JUNE WORLD REFUGEE DAY
The war on drugs has evolved from a tough-sounding metaphor into a real armed conflict. Mexicans are starting to move in search of safety, seeking refuge both at home and abroad.
here is plenty to flee from. The homicide rate in Mexico has rocketed – 55,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderón first declared war on the cartels in 2006. Meanwhile, successful prosecutions have plummeted; impunity reigns.
Keep out: Mexicans fleeing their homes find no welcome in the States.
orthern border states, the epicentre of the violence, are starting to thin out. Some 230,000 people have already left to escape the lawlessness. Around half of these have fled to more tranquil parts of their own country; the rest have headed north to the US. A growing number of Mexicans are seeking protection from the US on legal grounds. Asylum applications have doubled since the start of Calderón’s war – which is supported by the US to the tune of $1.6 billion. But the increasing desperation of the Mexican people is not met with understanding across the border. Of the 6,011 applications from Mexican nationals last year, just 104 were granted – a success rate of 1.7 per cent. ‘They would not be considered refugees unless they could prove that their religious or ethnic group was being systematically targeted by the cartels,’ says Cindi Gilliland, the founder of Arizona Refugee Connection. ‘Simply fleeing drug violence in their home cities would not qualify Mexicans for refugee status.’ The handful of people fortunate enough to have their applications approved count on the help of nongovernmental organizations. Catholic Family Services in Amarillo, Texas, receives daily requests for help. ‘All the people I’ve been working with have been approved,’ says immigration counsellor Al Muniz. ‘We can prove that if they go back to their country [criminals] will kill them and their families. But you have to prove a lot.’ Calderón’s military offensive against the cartels has backfired badly, causing an escalation of brutal violence. Authorities claim most of the murders are gangsters killing other gangsters, but poor investigations and deepseated corruption make it impossible to know how many victims are innocent bystanders. ‘We know people are dying: bodies are showing up,’ says security expert Walter McKay, who is based in Mexico City. ‘But we don’t know if they’re “bad guys” or not. We don’t have much of a justice system, and anywhere from 40 to 60 people every day are getting killed.’ R ich Mexicans are able to buy their way out – a simple exchange of greenbacks for Green Cards: anyone who deposits $50,000 or more into US companies qualifies for an ‘investor visa’. The vast majority of migrants resort to crossing the ever more heavily guarded border without papers or permission – an estimated 5,000 have died trying in the last 13 years. The US is hostile to both narcotics and Mexican immigration. But its efforts to hold back the tide of narcotics has led only to a surge in the inflow of migrants. ■
20 years ago...
For most of its life New Internationalist carried on its front cover the banner: ‘The people, the ideas, the action in the fight for world development.’ This is still the last part of our mission statement but the last two words changed around 2000 to ‘global justice’. Why bother about two words?
t the outset the magazine was proud to nail its colours to the mast of the world-development project. It accepted that development was a broad church and that people on the other side of the nave had different priorities. But it assumed that the fundamentals – caring for people’s basic needs – were shared.
During the 1980s, the concept of development became strained. This was known as development’s ‘lost decade’ not least because, particularly in Africa, the IMF and World Bank imposed cuts in health and education that harmed the poorest. By the 1990s, it was becoming clearer that this agenda was fundamental to ‘development’ rather than a distraction from it. We could no longer gloss over the fact that ‘development’ was the invention
8 ● N ew I n t e r nat i o nal i s t ● J U N E 2 012 Torture recompense comes to Kenyans
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26 JUNE INTERNATIONAL DAY IN SUPPORT OF VICTIMS OF TORTURE Democracy activists were outlawed under Moi.
The regime of ex-president Daniel Arap Moi arrested Waweru Kariuki in the late 1980s. A political activist, he was held at the infamous Nyayo house torture chambers, where police tried to make him confess to belonging to the underground Mwakenya movement, which was then championing democracy in Kenya.
Life was never the same again. Kariuki lost his post as an hotelier in the resort town of Mombasa and, 25 years later, has yet to find another job. Micro-enterprises like a food kiosk have failed to yield a stable income. His family has led a life of poverty as a result – two of his four children have missed out on secondary education, and they struggle to meet pressing needs such as medical bills. Living alone in the capital, Nairobi, Kariuki has led a hard life.
But this may be about to change. Kariuki is among thousands of Moiera torture survivors taking advantage of Kenya’s reformed judiciary to pursue compensation – however modest – for torture and subsequent loss of income. Since December 2011, the courts have paid out sums ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 to more than 20 people.
‘The awards are not enough to make up for the pain or even for lost opportunities, but they will help alleviate some suffering,’ agrees Kariuki, now 50, who expects his claim will be resolved by August of a US President keen to usher poor countries along the track to the promised land of Western capitalism.
If there was a single turning-point, it was the issue we dedicated to the ideas of Wolfgang Sachs exactly 20 years ago, named after his remarkable opening essay: Development: a guide to the ruins (nin.tl/IJeIGw). His final essay argued that the 1991 Gulf War marked the end of Western interest in development and the beginning of the ‘security’ era (nin.tl/J16HZn). A decade later, ‘the war on terror’ was to prove his words prophetic. ■
Chris Brazier this year. He praises the work of the Mwatikho Torture Survivors Organization, which is at the forefront of fighting for justice for Nyayo torture victims, as well as the new chief justice Willie Mutunga, himself a torture survivor, for pushing for the victims’ cause.
In brief... Brazil’s Quilombola hit by major land tax For decades, marginalized ethnic communities in Brazil have fought for – and won – land rights. But this victory is turning into something of a poisoned chalice for some remote Quilombola communities, who are now facing a giant tax bill.
The descendants of former slaves, the Quilombola’s right to formal titles to their communal land was enshrined in the constitution in 1988. But the six per cent who have since managed to secure titles have fallen foul of taxes that were designed to combat land speculation. The law levies very high rates for unproductive lands, putting impoverished Quilombola communities with newly titled land in line for exorbitant bills.
The land tax has set wheels of debt and displacement in motion. One community took out a loan worth
Kariuki hopes that Kenya’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, a wider process investigating historical abuses, will demand an apology and recognition for all ex-political prisoners and stop similar persecution from taking place ever again. ■
Maina Waruru roughly $8 million to avoid being pursued for unpaid taxes and put up their land as collateral. With more than 1,200 families facing eviction, the community is now fighting a legal battle, with the help of British charity Christian Aid.
Brazilian attorney Dalmo Dallari describes the lawsuit against the Quilombolas as ‘absurd’. ‘By constitutional determination, those areas were destined to be used by the communities that are living there,’ he says. ‘If the tax charge happens, it would be a reclaiming of the territory by the state, which will be forced to deliver it back immediately to the Quilombolas, who are its only legitimate occupants.’
Needless to say, these communities have no means of paying. Malnutrition among Quilombola children under five is 76 per cent higher than the general population, and fewer than 30 per cent of households have running water, according to Brazilian government estimates.
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