[1/29/17] President Donald Trump’s confirmation that he will keep his campaign promise and build a wall along the Mexican border has outraged the Latin American ruling classes. Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox eloquently wrote on his Twitter account that his country “is not going to pay for that f***ing wall.”
The Latin American media has echoed Fox’s sentiments in an attempt to ignite regionalist indignation against the US government. “Trump confirms wall and Latin America rejects him,” ran a headline in Bolivian newspaper El Deber.
Behind the media’s fury at Trump’s concrete plans to build his “Mexican Wall” lies the assumption that any Mexican or other Latin American has an inalienable right to simply walk into the United States and settle there permanently. This doesn’t just involve the search for work and opportunity, for which there are the legal mechanisms that are so often bypassed and ignored; it also involves the belief that newly arrived Latin Americans should immediately have unbridled access to US schooling, infrastructure, and even welfare despite not having paid a penny into the system from which they hope to profit.
While I personally support a passport-free global immigration system of the type that prevailed in pre-First World War Europe, I realize that Milton Friedman was absolutely correct when he said that “it is one thing to have free immigration to jobs; it is another to have free immigration to welfare.” Hence the Cato Institute’s sensible slogan of building “a wall around the welfare state, not around the country.”
But these are merely theoretical considerations. In practice, Latin American governments’ immigration policies are not only not free, but in many cases are considerably less free than US policies. In fact, some of the following nine measures taken by different Latin American regimes against Latin American immigrants are, in my view, truly cruel and inhumane, while the much derided Trump Wall appears to be designed as a mere defensive structure, à la Hadrian’s Wall or the Athenian Long Walls, with a strong component of economic protectionism, which is a folly under any circumstances.
In other cases, Latin American governments’ anti-immigrant measures are completely hypocritical in the face of their tacit or open demands for the United States to accept all immigrants from the region regardless of their background. If the Latin American media were interested in rational debate, one would expect them to engage in a minimum amount of introspection and criticism toward their own governments prior to raising their cri de coeur of Trump Wall tempestuousness. Alas, one would expect rationality from them in vain.
1. The (other) Mexican Wall
In July 2014, well before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president and launched his proposal for a wall along the Mexican border, Ferrosur, a Mexican railway company, built a wall in the southern city of Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, in order to deter immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador from seeking refuge in Mexico. Although Tierra Blanca is not a border city, it does lie along a 3,200 kilometer-long railway line connecting Tapachula in the state of Chiapas, which is not far from Mexico’s border with Guatemala, with Mexico City and, eventually, the northern border.
As the PanAm Post reported in 2014, thousands of Central American immigrants risk their lives each year by illegally boarding a series of freight trains that run across all of southern and central Mexico along the Tapachula-Mexico City line. The perils of the journey include falling from the undercarriage of a moving freight train onto the tracks or from the top of a moving train, where immigrants ride in order to avoid detection. Due to the high number of immigrant casualties and accidents leading to lost limbs, the freight trains have been labelled “La Bestia,” “The Beast.” Those who survive The Beast and reach the Mexican capital after a 20-day journey try to board other trains that might take them across the northern border and into the United States.
Ferrosur’s wall is a kilometer long, 1.5 meter high structure topped with barbed wire. Its purpose is to prevent Central Americans arriving on The Beast from detraining in Tierra Blanca and seeking refuge in a Catholic shelter which opened in 2003 in order to provide humanitarian aid to illegal migrants. Although built by a private company, webzine SinEmbargo reports that the Tierra Blanca wall is part of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Frontera Sur” plan, a semi-Trumpian strategy launched in 2014 to “contain the flow of (Central American) migrants into the country.” This is a fact Peña Nieto tends not to mention when he piously claims that “Mexico does not believe in walls.” What he means is that his government is against walls that keep its own citizens out of the United States, but unhesitant to build walls that keep Central Americans out of Mexico.
Loud-mouthed Vicente Fox has also avoided mentioning the Tierra Blanca wall while he offers CNN his anti-Trump tirades. For some Mexicans, however, there is need for a much more robust border wall. Last July, Mexican daily El Mañana published an editorial titled “Yes to the Border Wall… But in the South of Mexico.” According to the authors,
Mexico’s southern borders with Guatemala and Belize bring no benefit to the country. On the contrary, they cause only problems because they serve as an invasion route for Central Americans who use our country to enter the United States…
When Central American immigrants stay in Mexico, the editorial states,
many of them do not find an honest way of earning a living and dedicate themselves to crimes including armed robbery, kidnapping, and extortion. In the worst of cases, they join organized criminal bands…
Hence, El Mañana claims that Mexico should join Donald Trump’s efforts to build a border wall, except that it should be erected along the country’s southern border so as “to stop the illegal arrival of Central Americans and to demand that foreigners entering Mexico present proper documents to the authorities.”
Don’t hold your breath if you hope to hear much about Mexico’s draconian, anti-Central American attitudes toward immigration in the US progressive media.
2. Colombia refused to let Jewish WWII refugees into the country
While approximately 95,000 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany arrived in the United States between 1933 and 1939 and 137,450 European Jewish refugees settled in America between 1942 and 1952, Colombia received a mere 6,000 Jewish refugees in the 1930’s and 1940’s according to journalist Lina Leal. Argentina, meanwhile, welcomed 45,000 Jews during the same time period. Brazil, meanwhile, allowed 25,000 Jews to settle and Chile another 15,000.
The relatively low number of Jews who entered Colombia during the era of Nazi persecution is no coincidence since anti-semitism was a semi-official government policy. Luis López de Mesa, Minister of Education under President Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934-1938) and Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Eduardo Santos (1938-1942), the current president’s great uncle, claimed that Jews “had a parasitic orientation in life” and denounced their “invertebrate custom” of engaging in “trade, usury, barter, and trickery.” On the other hand, López de Mesa claimed that “Aryan” Germans were “disciplined, laborious, patriotic and… strong.” This last characteristic, he claimed, was especially important for mixing the races and obtaining the results he desired. Germanic lineage, López de Mesa pontificated, was the cause of the “ordered temperament” that made the Germans great “organizers.”
Due to López de Mesa’s standing in high government circles, the Colombian state began to put his crackpot racialist theories to practice. As a Colombian newspaper reports,
In September, 1938, the Colombian government implemented decree 1723, which was designed to hinder access to visas for Jews whom Hitler had deprived of their nationality. According to the decree, ‘(Colombian) diplomats will not be able to grant visas for passports of individuals who have lost their original nationality or who have no nationality without the special and concrete approval of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.’
Two months later,
the Colombian consulate in Berlin issued only six visas. In the four months prior to the decree, Colombian consulates in Germany and in another 10 European countries had issued 1,190 visas. In November, 1938, Colombia’s ambassador in Berlin asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for guidelines concerning German Jews’ applications for political asylum. López de Mesa responded:
‘we request that you reflect carefully on the problems that (granting asylum to Jews) could cause. An unexpected consequence could be that we end up being forced to bring them to Bogotá or to shelter them indefinitely.’
López de Mesa, of course, didn’t foresee in 1938 that the seemingly invincible Germans would ultimately succumb to the Allied war effort, leaving him and his ilk on the wrong side of history when the concentration camps were liberated. Since he served as Foreign Minister during the apogee of Hitler’s power, however, he did ensure that Colombia would become one of the many countries with a World War II record of which to be ashamed.
Although current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has apologized publicly for numerous events in which the Colombian state used violence in response to the armed insurrection’s violent tactics, including the M-19 guerrilla’s drug-financed and bloody attempt to take over the Supreme Court in 1985, he is yet to apologize for his great uncle’s government’s refusal to help thousands of Jews survive the Holocaust. Once again, don’t expect that apology to come any time soon.
3. Mexico deports more Central Americans than the United States
According to Mexican daily El Universal, Mexican authorities deported 118,000 Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadoreans between January and September, 2015. During the same time period, meanwhile, the United States only deported 55,744 Central Americans.