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The many walls of Latin America: from the border between Mexico and Guatemala to Macri’s Argentina

Trump’s politics are altering South America’s geography and geopolitics. The possibility is that before the “lid” on the border between US and Mexico and the constant increase in migratory inflows (due to continue), new walls, both metaphorical and concrete, could continue being demanded, envisaged and proposed in actual terms.

The wall that Trump is determined to erect along the border between USA and Mexico hasn’t been built yet. Nonetheless it has already irreversibly changed the geographical map and the geopolitics of Latin America. And some are starting to fear the risk of a “contagion.” Concerns regard the possibility that before the “lid” sealing the border between US and Mexico and constant increases in migratory inflows (due to continue), new walls, both metaphorical and concrete, could continue being demanded, envisaged and proposed in actual terms. Such walls are demanded, inter alia, on Mexico’s southern borders, although at the moment the wall with Guatemala is a hoax fomented on social networks, except the attempt to stop the journey of the “The Beast”, the name given to the infamous freight train packed with migrants; or along the many borders along the narrow stretch of land in Central America, swarm over by Haitians and Cubans in particular over the past year and a half; or in Argentina, where the building of a Trump-style wall was proposed by congressman Alfredo Olmedo to block the arrival of Bolivian migrants, while Macri’s government is introducing restrictions into migratory legislation; or in Chile, where some time ago a similar solution had been proposed to halt the exodus of Peruvian migrants. Moreover, it should be remembered that Latin America has a far-dated experience of walls, built in larger proportion within its cities than along the Country’s porous borders. In fact veritable walls separate the ‘city of the rich’ from the ‘city of the poor’ in Lima, San Paulo and Buenos Aires.

A crackdown already under way. Is there a concrete risk of new walls? We asked the question William Mejía Ochoa, who coordinates “Colombiamigra” from Bogotá, capital of Colombia. The body, despite its name, addresses the migratory phenomenon throughout the continent, availing itself of a network of five hundred scholars.

“A crackdown of migratory policies is already under way in Latin America. The recent return to power of right-wing movements in various Countries is doomed to deliver similar outcomes. It is very unlikely that veritable walls will be built – exception made for densely developed urban centres – also owing to the geographic features of the border. But it’s foreseeable that new obstacles will be placed along migratory routes.”

And the latter are increasing: “until a few years ago migrations from Latin America largely involved the United States or Spain. But after the 2008 crisis and the flare-up of different political and/or economic situations inter-regional migrations began to increase. New crisis situations are developing, as in Venezuela, with migration flows towards Brazil and Columbia are already under way.” According to the Report “Migración internacional en las Américas” (by OEA – Organization of American States, 2015), in the period 2011-2013 migration flows in South American countries and in the Caribbean increased by 17% each year while the migratory population across the Americas surged by 78% in the period 1990-2013 (the world average amounts to 46%).

Mexico, the southernmost “hot” border. Let us try to understand what is happening. Starting with Mexico, but without focusing on the northern border, currently under the spotlight, but on the south: not Rio Bravo but Rio Suchiate, which flows along the Mexico-Guatemala border. Here we see a reversed picture. Mexicans have become the police officers of increasing masses of migrants. Under the Obama and Bush administrations a significant agreement with the United States (enforced in 2014 within the “Plan Frontera Sur”) led to the adoption of restrictive measures and to higher numbers of deportados, compared to the United States. Scalabrinian Fr Flor María Rigoni, director of the  “Belén” Migrant Home in Tapachula, located on the border with Guatemala, pointed out: “That’s precisely what happened. The peak was reached in 2005, when 342 thousand people were deported from Mexico. The figures declined after that episode, but mass deportations surged again since 2013. Cuban migrants now constitute an additional problem. After the United States repealed the deal enabling them to enter the US, the Mexican Government announced they would be treated like migrants arriving from any other country.” The truth that nobody is saying, Father Rigoni explained, is that

“the United States have externalised their border. In the past years Mexico has become the watchman of the United States, albeit adopting see-saw policies.”

A bizarre phenomenon has been occurring over the past weeks, after Trump took office, Mejía Ochoa pointed out: “Expulsions from Mexico have declined in the last month. We still don’t know why.”

Macri’s iron hand. Argentina is thousand kilometres south of Mexico. According to the above-mentioned OEA Report, Argentina continues being the South-American country with the highest immigration rates. 140 permanent migrants have arrived in 2013 (45% more compared to 2010). Viceversa, Bolivian migratory flows (three quarters of which into Argentina) increased by 23%. As previously mentioned, Alfredo Olmedo’s proposal of building a wall to stop Bolivian immigrants caused a sensation. It was advanced in the same days when the Government presented a package of measures aimed at tightening up border controls. In this context the Church voiced her concerns through the Bishops’ Commission for Migrants with a statement released a few days ago titled “Stigmatized migrants?”. Father Flavio Lauría, Secretary General of the Commission, answered from Buenos Aires: “Argentina’s migration law dates back to 1978, with some amendments introduced in 2004. The government’s intention, inter alia, is to create a Border Guard agency. In the country our document was seen as an attack against the Executive. In reality, we recognize the right to protect the borders, but we are deeply worried about the reaction to the Government’s decision by the society at large, according to how it wil be interpreted. Public opinion is not always well-informed, and the migrant population risks being stigmatized. We witness episodes of xenophobia in the Country, statements that are reason for concern”, even though for the time being the proposal of building a wall has been advanced “only by a congressman.” For Fr Lauria “most Bolivians and Paraguayians are here to work. In fact migrants represent only 5% of the prison population.”



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