Discussion points from recent forum on Environmental Justice: Growing Disparities

By Beatriz Vera, Moderator of the Forum and EPSJ Team Member

The El Paso Social Justice Education Project, held a Social Justice Forum titled Environmental Justice: Growing Disparities in the Distribution of Environmental Burdens and Benefits on Sunday June 24, 2018 with speakers:

Dr. Jayajit Chakraborty, Professor of Geography in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the Director of the Socio-Environmental & Geospatial Analysis Lab at UTEP. (https://faculty.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=73205)


Kevin Bixby, environmental activist, Founder and Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces, NM.  SWEC works to protect wildlife and restore habitats.  (http://www.wildmesquite.org/who-we-are)

Dr. Chakraborty presented a historical perspective of what is now defined as Environmental Justice. This history is recognized going back to Warren County in N.C., where the dumping of PCB in a 75% African American community.  Residents feared that their groundwater would be contaminated by PCB. Local leaders organized protests which attracted the support of civil rights groups against the construction of a landfill where 31,000 gallons of PCB would be stored after the community rejected that they be dumped on the side of roadways in 14 NC counties. This event attracted national attention to the issues ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM now seen as the beginning of the Environmental Justice Movement (EJM). The following videos go into the beginnings of EJM.

By 1994, the Environmental Justice Movement had identified the intersection of Race and Class and PLACE (where we LIVE, WORK and PLAY) as its focus and received a major impetus when President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, known as Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations where the EJM identified INJUSTICE to lie.  Its purpose is (was) to focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income communities with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.

Dr. Chakraborty ended his presentation with an update on the EPA since Scott Pruitt was appointed and the many delays, policy rollbacks, and cuts to funding for previous activities. This includes the discontinuation of data basis which are used in research and policy analysis. The words “investment” and “business” have now substituted the words “environment” and “human health”. For more from Dr. Chakraborty see his recently published, co-edited book The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice.

During his presentation, Kevin Bixby, Founder and Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC), spoke about the mission and work of SWEC.

SWEC, established in 1992, is a grassroots conservation organization based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, whose mission is to protect and restore native wildlife and their habitats in the Southwestern borderlands through advocacy, education and on-the-ground projects.

Bixby explained the many projects SWEC has historically worked on to protect and restore vital habitat. He also gave examples of this work in the Otero Mesa and the Rio Grande as well as with endangered species like the Mexican Grey Wolf.

Currently, the Border Wall is of major concern in that it affects precisely the interests and survival of the issues SWEC is constantly trying to address. Specifically, Bixby explained how wildlife is threatened by the creation of major obstacles to their free roaming for food, water, and mating, which is particularly important in sustaining a diverse genetic pool in order for populations to live and thrive. Even though most people believe the wall is not yet being built, there have been efforts to continue building and replacing important sections of the wall using many of the prototypes solicited by the Trump administration. Some of these are more damaging to wildlife than others.

SWEC seeks alliances and collaborations with many other groups, including those with similar missions in conservation and habitat protection. Kevin also explained that even though SWEC has “environmental” in its name, the common enemy that other EJ Organizations share is INJUSTICE, which also drives SWEC to seek alliances and collaborations with other groups who are denouncing and protesting the building of (Trump’s) Border Wall, in particular groups fighting for the Human Rights of Immigrants and Families.

In reality, Bixby explained, it is animals and wildlife who have no voice vis a vis power structures for their defense. This is the work SWEC does. And, because the Lower Rio Grande Valley has one of the most ecologically diverse populations and habitat in the United States, the Border Wall will have a grave impact not only on humans, but also on the ecology of the entire region.

Discusssion:  Partcipants had many comments and questions. A summary is attempted below. After answering questions regarding each of their presentations, a lively discussion ensued among the participants.

The most salient points brought up were the fractured efforts of environmental groups in El Paso, as opposed to Las Cruces, N.M. where there appears to be a lot more collaborative efforts. Some of the discussion centered on the difficulty of getting younger people involved. However, participants pointed out that this is not only a difficulty with environmental issues but with most issues that require commitment and activism. Some successful strategies mentioned revolved around not expecting younger people to care about our causes when we haven’t demonstrated interest in what they seem to care about. The Women’s March El Paso and March for Our Lives were mentioned. (Contact Beatriz Vera if interested at beatrizvera00@gmail.com)

A second set of difficulties which were addressed were the lack of paid positions in environmental and human rights  organizations. Several participants offered contacts to get paid internships, n The UTEP Center for Civic Engagement could play a role in providing service-learning opportunities, course credit (or partial credit in lieu of research papers) or a limited number of paid internships as founder Kathy Staudt mentioned. (Contact the CCE director Azuri González azurig@utep.edu).  Martha Valadez, MSW, is the SWEC Field Organizer: Contact her at martha@wildmesquite.org; Office: 575-522-5552; Cell: 734-344-2372; Fax: 575-526-7733.

The third set of topics centered around how the participants to this forum could stay in touch and perhaps, explore possible collaborations. Please write Beatriz Vera with your ideas and suggestions. beatrizvera00@gmail.com

As a side, after the powerful presentations and discussion, we invite you to listen to this interview, heard  June 25 on NPR-Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Mexico Decision 2018: The Scramble to Stop López Obrador

 Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a campaign rally.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a campaign rally.

Well known observer of border interactions, Kent Paterson, reports on the Mexican Presidential election and the EP Social Justice forum held last Sunday. 

EL PASO, TEXAS - As Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) continues to dominate the polls, contrary political forces are pulling out the stops to prevent the left nationalist reformer from sweeping the July 1 elections. 

And at this juncture, the scramble for second place in the polls is shaping up as a strategic bend in the campaign curve. That's the assessment of Rice University's Dr. Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at the Houston university and a longtime analyst of Mexican politics.

Speaking at a recent event sponsored by the El Paso Social Justice Education Project, Payan dissected the current balance of the presidential contest, the campaign strategies of the three main electoral coalitions, the political ramifications of the election on U.S.-Mexico relations, and other defining elements of the upcoming July 1 elections.  Continue reading

"Law Enforcement Lethal Force: People of Conscience, Community Deference to Police, and a Call to Action"

 Attorney Enrique Moreno. Photo taken by Fernanda León/El Diario de El Paso

Attorney Enrique Moreno. Photo taken by Fernanda León/El Diario de El Paso

Kathy Staudt, El Paso Social Justice Planning Committee 

On March 25, Attorney Enrique Moreno spoke to approximately forty people at the El Paso Social Justice Forum about the use of lethal force in local law enforcement.  He spoke in detail about two of three cases against the city for the death of young men with mental issues.  To begin the presentation, Moreno asked: 'Under what circumstances can government agents kill people?'  Such a question is a compelling one for El Pasoans. El Paso has a dense, militarized law enforcement from federal, state, and local-level agents who, admittedly, may find themselves in dangerous circumstances.  However, a key issue for Moreno is whether officers are properly trained to make life-and-death decisions, especially in cases involving possible mental illness.

As Attorney Moreno summarized, in most big-city police departments in Texas, trained officers in a Crisis Intervention Team respond to cases of probable mental illness.  El Paso is an exception to the rule.  Although statistics are hard to come by, approximately 25% of lethal force cases involve a mental health crisis nationwide; in El Paso, 70% of our lethal force cases involve a mental health crisis.  Those undergoing a mental health episode often do not comply with orders from police officers.  And for officers with limited or no training in mental health, non-compliance may be viewed as disrespect and justification for escalation.  Death can be the tragic result.

As a researcher and active community member, I know that the details of legal cases provide rich testimony and documentation, such as what Attorney Moreno provided. In the first case, Moreno spoke about a young Hispanic man who trespassed in a neighbor's home, but did not steal anything or threaten anyone.  He returned home, the police arrived, and within twenty minutes shot the young man dead four times in the back.  The police officer claimed the victim had charged at him with a machete, but no machete was found and the young man was shot in the back.  In the second case, Moreno spoke about a parent's frantic call to police for help when their young-adult son was threatening suicide.  Upon arrival, the son had a rope around his neck and his hands by his neck, presumably holding the noose away from his neck, and did not comply with the officer's order to show his hands.  The officer tased the victim (with an electroshock stun gun), and he died several minutes later.  

Who decides whether officers made proper decisions when they killed victims, and especially victims with mental issues who caused and threatened no harm to the community.  Police departments typically operate internal affairs departments to investigate complaints about officers.  Members of disciplinary review boards decide whether officers acted properly.  However, when police chiefs appoint board members, particularly in an organizational culture that tolerates lethal force or gives no priority to establishing a Crisis Intervention Team, members of the public should wonder whether a full and honest hearing has occurred.  Until recently, after the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, the Albuquerque Police Department had a notorious reputation for excessive use of lethal force.  At the 2016 Texas Tribune annual conference, I attended the "Mental Health Matters" panel with a bipartisan group of Texas state legislators who responded to my question about the expected increase over 15 hours of mandated training (see toward the end: http://www.chucopedia.org/2016/10/10/diversity-trumps-border-security-at-this-years-texas-tribune-festival/#more-268).  

After Attorney Moreno's fine presentation, he opened the floor to questions from the audience, many of whom could be called concerned people of conscience, along with the readers of this essay. Community people, after all, he said, are the ones who can promote real change.  A rich dialogue took place, with a summary below of questions (Q) and answers (A).

Q: What is the intersection of race/ethnicity and class?  

A: In these particular cases, it is Hispanic officers using lethal force on Hispanic victims.  Both proper training and the absence of a Crisis Intervention Team are the issues here.  [Later a question was also raised about the need to develop a better selection process for those seeking jobs in police departments.] 

Q: El Paso is continuously touted as a 'safe community.' Might that influence the quiescence of the community that tolerates the lethal force and a chief that made disparaging comments about Dallas community members' activists as 'terrorists?'   

A: El Pasoans seem to be a deferential group on the whole, with respect for the police no matter their behavior.  El Paso has a long history of deference to militarized law enforcement at multiple levels, from local to federal levels.  [And a question later noted the absence of media attention and follow up to lethal force cases.  Univision (KINT TV Channel 26) was the only news organization present. 

Q: About ten-to-fifteen years back, El Paso moved toward a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model, although limited to MHMR (later renamed Emergence Health Network) clients in a community with a woefully lacking number of mental health providers.  

A: The effort fizzled out, although at the county level, the sheriff has instituted a Crisis Intervention Team model and is responsive to the community.  Neither responsiveness nor the CIT model is a priority in the city.  Research on cities which instituted CIT models show positive outcomes; for example, in Houston, the CIT reduced SWAT responses by 66%.

Q: What is the chain of command for the police department and chief? 

A: He/they answer to the City Council and Mayor.  Action would need to occur among those elected officials, most of whom were notably unwilling to do anything about the chief's remarks about Dallas (see second Q&A above).  Moreover, City Council may be reluctant to act for fears of negative effects on litigation and damages to be paid.

Q: We should examine next year's City Budget for line items requested by the police department to see whether the chief has requested a CIT or better mental health training.  Might the organizational culture change with community calls for action on a Crisis Intervention Team and better training for mental health episodes and for de-escalation techniques rather than lethal force?  

A: In several responses, forum participants suggested that questions could be raised to candidates in upcoming forums for City Council seats (2018 is the transition year for local elections to be aligned with the November elections rather than in spring).  

The EP Social Justice Committee issued a call to action for those interested in (1) communicating with their representatives, (2) commenting on the city budget (https://www.elpasotexas.gov/~/media/files/coep/office%20of%20management%20and%20budget/fy18%20budget/fy18%20preliminary%20book%20digital%20copy.ashx?la=en; comments  due early May: https://www.elpasotexas.gov/omb/chime-in ), (3) meeting with representatives, and (4) possibly appearing before City Council if and when an ordinance is introduced for a Crisis Intervention Team and/or an Independent Citizens' Review Board in police operations to reduce tragedies such as those covered in the session.  Contact info@epsocialjustice.org .  

All in all, Attorney Moreno's presentation at the EP Social Justice Forum facilitated a productive and informative session among people of conscience to provide police with the proper training and tools for fewer or no lethal force.


Please attend the next EP Social Justice Forum on April 29th, 2:30-4, with the distinguished Professor, Dr. Tony Payan, Director of Rice University's Mexico Center, speaking on the topic:  "Mexico's Upcoming Presidential Election (July 1): What might results mean for the U.S. and U.S.-Mexico Relations?"


Kathy Staudt, PhD, is a retired Professor of Political Science.  In her second-to-last book, she and Dr. Zulma Méndez co-wrote an analysis of the non-deferential social change movements in our neighboring city:  Courage, Resistance, and Women in Ciudad Juárez: Challenges to Militarization (Austin: University of Texas Press 2015).  Kathy will always remember the scenes and the noises in her ten-hour police Drive Along years ago, part of victims' assistance training, when a mentally ill man's sister called the police to settle him down in a store.  He became agitated, so was charged (much to the sister's dismay) and locked up at downtown headquarters without his medication, growing increasingly agitated and knocking his head on the wall while the officer wrote up the charge at the end of his long shift.  

 Professor Kathy Staudt

Professor Kathy Staudt

The Ongoing Battle Over Ethnic Studies

 A new study suggests that such courses can dramatically elevate the achievement of at-risk students. But is that enough proof that they’re worth the investment?

A new study suggests that such courses can dramatically elevate the achievement of at-risk students. But is that enough proof that they’re worth the investment?

From Melinda D. Anderson at The Atlantic:

"In Tucson, Arizona, Che Guevara posters and Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed are the spark that set off a heated conflict over ethnic studies that has made national headlines for years. For critics, including two former state schools superintendents, the Mexican American studies program in the Tucson Unified School District is little more than divisive propaganda: “ethnic chauvinism” with a “very toxic effect … in an educational setting.” For supporters, reading literature on Chicano history in America and critical race theory is intended to close cultural gaps in the curriculum—and to close academic gaps for the district’s Hispanic students.

The intense controversy in Tucson over ethnic studies—best described as the study of the social, political, economic, and historical perspectives of America’s diverse racial and ethnic groups—might seem like a new debate, but it’s over a century in the making. The educator and historian W.E.B. DuBois as early as the 1900s called for teaching black history in U.S. schools to challenge the prevailing narrative of black inferiority. More than half a century later, Freedom Schoolsemerged out of the 1960s civil-rights movement as alternative schools with a curriculum steeped in black culture and lessons drawn from black students’ lived experiences. About the same time the discipline of ethnic studies ignited on college campuses, as students of color considered the Eurocentric dominance in textbooks and lessons, and demanded multicultural courses."  Continue reading

The erosion of truth in the Trump era

 Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

From a blog, Foreign Policy & Domestic Policy by Bob Davis: Jeff Flake lambastes Trump in his speech, "Our Freedom is Predicated on Truth."

Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America. 

To see interesting visuals and read/hear the speech Continue reading

DWI intervention program offers participants a second chance

 Jose Montoya, right, and his son, Jose Alejandro "Alex' Montoya, speak at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Annual Training Conference.(Photo: Courtesy Jose Montoya)

Jose Montoya, right, and his son, Jose Alejandro "Alex' Montoya, speak at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Annual Training Conference.(Photo: Courtesy Jose Montoya)

From El Paso Times article:  “What we have learned in the past was how we were dealing with these folks post-conviction, after pleading,” said Anchondo, who has run the program since its inception in 2004. “So, when we started the program, we took a more intense approach by complementing the court with disciplinary individuals; for example, the district attorney, defense counsel, law enforcement, treatment providers. Now we have consolers, probation officers, case managers, social workers. This is what you call a multidisciplinary-team approach to helping an individual address what has been assessed as an alcohol problem, which make no mistake is an illness. A treatable illness.”  Continue reading

The Return: Talking about the realities of mass incarceration and criminalization in the US

jail cell.jpg

"Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway have spent much of their careers making films about America’s criminal justice system. In their latest documentary, The Return(supported by JustFilms and Ford’s Youth Opportunity and Learning program), Duane de la Vega and Galloway follow Kevin Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson as they adjust to life outside of prison. Both men got life sentences for non-violent drug offenses and later had their sentences commuted. Through their experiences, the film examines California’s "Three Strikes" law—one of the harshest criminal sentencing policies in the country—and its unprecedented amendment in 2012, via the passage of Prop. 36."   Continue to article and videos

Raising barriers: A new age of walls

 From the Daily Mail

From the Daily Mail

From the Washington Post: "A generation ago, globalization shrank the world. Nations linked by trade and technology began to erase old boundaries. But now barriers are rising again, driven by waves of migration, spillover from wars and the growing threat of terrorism."  This is a comprehensive presentation of three episodes with videos, graphs, and more.  To view, please click here.

The Devastating Impact of NAFTA on Workers

  The border wall between California and Baja California, in the hills east of San Diego.   

The border wall between California and Baja California, in the hills east of San Diego.

By David Bacon:  "As the talks to renegotiate NAFTA unfold in Washington, most attention in the United States has understandably focused on its domestic impact. Yet the treaty also had an enormous effect on Mexico, spurring a wave of forced migration of millions of people. Today a growing number of union members in all three NAFTA countries believe the treaty should be renegotiated-first, just to heal the damage done to workers. But a new treaty, or a new relationship between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada, they say, should also ensure that a new NAFTA and other treaties like it never cause the same devastation."  Read more

Last Kerner Commission member haunted, hopeful on race in US

 FILE - In this July 15, 1967 file photo a National Guard officer passes the smashed window of a black-owned flower shop in riot-torn Newark, N.J. The last surviving member of the Kerner Commission says he remains haunted that the panel's recommendations on US race relation and poverty were never adopted, but he is hopeful they will be one day. Former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris says 50 years after working on a report to examine the causes of the late 1960s race riots he strongly feels that poverty and structural racism still enflames racial tensions even as the United States becomes more diverse. AP Photo,File)

FILE - In this July 15, 1967 file photo a National Guard officer passes the smashed window of a black-owned flower shop in riot-torn Newark, N.J. The last surviving member of the Kerner Commission says he remains haunted that the panel's recommendations on US race relation and poverty were never adopted, but he is hopeful they will be one day. Former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris says 50 years after working on a report to examine the causes of the late 1960s race riots he strongly feels that poverty and structural racism still enflames racial tensions even as the United States becomes more diverse. AP Photo,File)

Associated Press from The Sacramento Bee


OCTOBER 10, 2017 11:57 AM


Nearly 50 years after the Kerner Commission studied the causes of deadly riots in America's cities, its last surviving member says he remains haunted that its recommendations on U.S. race relations and poverty were never adopted.

But former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris of Oklahoma also said he's hopeful those ideas will be embraced one day, and he's encouraged by Black Lives Matter and other social movements.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the 86-year-old Harris said he still feels strongly that poverty and structural racism enflame racial tensions, even as the United States becomes more diverse.

"Today, there are more people in America who are poor — both in numbers and greater percentage," Harris told the AP from his home in Corrales, New Mexico. "And poor people today are poorer than they were then. It's harder to get out of poverty." Read More

“Social Responsibility in the Binational Metropolitan Border Region: Can corporations play a role?”

Blog by Kathy Staudt. 

Fernando Avila, head of the FEChAC, Fundación del Empresariado Chihuahuense, Asociación Civil (A.C.), (Chihuahuan Business Foundation), spoke at the October 1st EP Social Justice Education Forum. Unique aspects of FEChAC include its reliance on a business tax, business councils around the State of Chihuahua, and its well-managed outcome-based organization.  

FEChAC responds to proposals submitted by nonprofit organizations (asociaciones civiles, civil-society organizations) to fund projects in the areas of education, social skills, and health.  This unique partnership, called the "shared social responsibility model," brings together private, nonprofit/NGO non-governmental organizations, government, and community residents. 

Avila spoke about the history of the organization, which began as a 'fund' in 1990 to respond to flooding and then became a 'foundation' in 1996. The foundation supports thousands of projects, the results for which can be found on its website: http://www.fechac.org.mx.  Many projects focus on children who attend primaria school (in morning, afternoon, and sometimes evening shifts) with safe programs to build skills and solidarity while parents work. Ampliando el Desarrollo de los Niños, (ADN), is one of them.  See various videos on You Tube with testimonies and visuals about activities:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODt9J-I8CP4 .  Foundation staff members apply for grants and partnerships which extend the resources beyond business taxes.  For example, NFL-Mexico contributions support sports programs for kids.  

Questions might be raised about nonprofit projects that can address only a fraction of systemic need without public policy change AND public funds to implement those changes. FEChAC is quite aware of the need to and challenges of changing policies, according to Avila.  For example, for its youth alcohol-prevention efforts, in a city like Ciudad Juárez where the average age of the first drink is 12, FEChAC was able to gain policy attention from the municipal government for rules that prohibit selling alcohol to children.  While enforcement is not perfect, the number of stores selling to children and teens has gone down according to their research. 

Questions also emerge about the many smaller NGOs not yet registered in government, a costly operation (15,000 pesos) plus certifications by accountants and notaries about financial management.  FEChAC works with the NGO Fortaleza to provide technical assistance to fledgling nonprofits and to pay the initial fees for registration as an official civil association.  The foundation itself is recognized widely for its standards-based management (ISO 9000) and low overhead (8%); "the United Nations calls it one of the 79 most reliable nonprofit organizations in the world," according to Avila.  

Much work remains.  While Food Banks exist elsewhere in Chihuahua, none operates in the state's largest city, Ciudad Juárez.  Also, minimum wages and maquiladora assembly-line wages are extremely low, at US$4-5 per day though average about US$8 per day in the maquilas.  A living wage, or what in Mexico is called a 'salario digno,' would allow working people to earn a salary that would afford their families greater dignity in everyday life.  Thus far, corporations have not used their political clout and socially responsible practices of foundation support to move the state in that direction.

To answer the question posed in the title, YES, corporations play a role in Mexico's State of Chihuahua through a tax they periodically renew to the state Congress on a regular basis.  However, they could play an even stronger role with efforts to change more policies and get those policies funded--especially policies to raise wages of the hundreds of thousands of factory workers.  

Readers might raise the question of whether and how corporations on the U.S. side of the border might pursue more socially responsible practices.  Businesses that make central the well-being of working people and their children (the future generation) on both sides of the border can play a role in elevating the prosperity of people in our integrated border region.  

When Oscar Martínez wrote the book Border People in 1994, he distinguished between people who identify as 'national' or 'binational' in both the U.S. and Mexico. Is this distinction still relevant, and in which direction are we leaning and growing?  We in the El Paso Social Justice Education Forum affirm the connectedness of the people in our larger metropolitan Paso del Norte region of two cities and three states divided by a borderline. We seek dialogue with our readers, attendees, and wider public on the extent to which border people are becoming more or less 'binational' and how that larger binational perspective might enhance the well-being of the more than two million of us who live, work, and interact in our borderlands.

Kathy Staudt is a retired professor and member of the El Paso Social Justice Education Forum planning committee. 

How beer explains 20 years of NAFTA’s devastating effects on Mexico

 Employee Angel Rodriguez checks the beer during the bottling process in the Cervecería Calavera, on July 20, 2012, in Tlanepantla, Mexico State. Producers of handcrafted beer are making their way in Mexico following the emergence of new breweries in crowded neighborhoods of the capital and as large emporiums producing traditional brands like Corona stopped being Mexican-owned.  Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt

Employee Angel Rodriguez checks the beer during the bottling process in the Cervecería Calavera, on July 20, 2012, in Tlanepantla, Mexico State. Producers of handcrafted beer are making their way in Mexico following the emergence of new breweries in crowded neighborhoods of the capital and as large emporiums producing traditional brands like Corona stopped being Mexican-owned.  Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt

From the Global Post. Timely and thoughtful article by Timothy A. Wise: 

Mexico’s largest agribusiness association invited me to Aguascalientes to participate in its annual forum in October. The theme for this year’s gathering was “New Perspectives on the Challenge of Feeding the World.”

But it was unclear why Mexico, which now imports 42 percent of its food, would be worried about feeding the world. It wasn’t doing so well feeding its own people.

In part, you can thank the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for that. Twenty years ago, on January 1, 1994, NAFTA took effect, and Mexico was the poster child for the wonders of free trade. The promises seemed endless.

Mexico would enter the “First World” of developed countries on the crest of rising trade and foreign investment. Its dynamic manufacturing sector would create so many jobs it would not only end the US immigration problem but absorb millions of peasant farmers freed from their unproductive toil in the fields. Mexico could import cheap corn and export electronics.

So much for promises.  Read more

A 2,000-mile search for answers: A USA Today Network Special Report

 Photo thanks to Public Radio International

Photo thanks to Public Radio International

“Build the Wall.” Three words energized a campaign.

But could it be done? What would it cost? What would it accomplish? Our search for answers became this, a landmark new report, “The Wall.”

The task was massive. We flew the entire border, drove it too. More than 30 reporters and photographers interviewed migrants, farmers, families, tribal members — even a human smuggler. We joined Border Patrol agents on the ground, in a tunnel, at sea. We patrolled with vigilantes, walked the line with ranchers. We scoured government maps, fought for property records.

In this report, you can watch aerial video of every foot of the border, explore every piece of fence, even stand at the border in virtual reality.  Read/see more

Still Massive Inequalities, Still Stagnant Wages in Northern Mexico: A borderlands perspective on the polarizing presidential campaign and the president’s remarks about Mexico and NAFTA

Presented by Kathy Staudt at the August 17, 2017 Town Hall, “El Paso and Ciudad Juárez after 23 Years of NAFTA,” Café Mayapan, El Paso, TX.


Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, both Mexico and the U.S. expanded their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and experienced good, though uneven rates of economic growth.  In our borderlands, the number of jobs grew enormously in Ciudad Juárez, now at over 250,000 maquiladora workers, however with most earning take-home pay of less than US$50 per week. 

Trump ran an anti-Mexico, anti-Mexican, and anti-NAFTA campaign.  He stressed the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, despite the Trump family’s use of low-cost labor outside the U.S. in the global economy.  El Paso experienced the largest NAFTA-related job losses, as officially certified with names and total numbers compared to other parts of the United States. 

Trump’s call to “repeal NAFTA” and establish a “border tax” threatened many constituencies that depend on heavy investment in what is called “integrated supply-chain production” in all three countries.  After the inauguration in January, many national, state, and border businesses ran scared over the threats, but they mobilized quickly with allies in Trump’s cabinet, especially the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce.  Initially, Mexican leaders reacted defensively using rhetoric about diversifying their economy, trading elsewhere, and reducing their dependency on the United States.

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Lighthizer’s political appointment was approved in May and the so-called “NAFTA Modernization” process began while the president expressed unstable opinions about this and other topics.  The Citizens Trade Watch labor and environmental coalition re-emerged once again, just as it did to help defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The coalition is not against trade or trade rules, but rather in favor of FAIRER trade rules.  “Replace NAFTA” is their key phrase (see sticker).  Yet few in the coalition address the extremely low wages of Mexican workers, even though the 10:1 legal minimum wage differential will obviously incentivize more corporations to create jobs in Mexico’s low-wage economy.  Even Mexico under PRI leadership does not prioritize higher wages for their workers.

One of the few voices heard last year on the wage issue was Pope Francis who visited the borderlands in February.  He said (translated) “God will hold accountable the slave owners of our days.”

With an early June deadline, the USTR received 12,000 comments on NAFTA (mine was one of them!).  In late June, the USTR held three days of hearings.   I went through the list of testifiers and found that businesses represented more than 95% of the 141 names and affiliations.  The first round of negotiations began yesterday (August 16), with more rounds to come in Mexico and Canada.  If a proposed agreement is developed, it must make its way through the U.S. Congress (House and Senate) and White House, a daunting political process matched in the other two countries.  Mexico will elect a new president in mid-2018, and if MORENA wins, Mexico could withdraw from NAFTA.

II.Two Relevant Points from my Research on Border Inequalities

My latest book, Border Politics in a Global Era: Comparative Perspectives*, contains far too much material to present here, but I will share two key points from the analysis.  In October, I will make presentations about the book: one at the El Paso Museum of History, October 12 at 7 pm, and the other at the UTEP Library Blumberg Auditorium October 16 at 1:30 pm. 

For the book, I developed a database of 300 land borders and created a metric called “Borderland Inequality Ratios” using 2016 GDP per capita, PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), constant US$ figures.  To my surprise, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands was one of the bottom 40 most unequal borderlands in the entire world.

I also compared Borderland Inequality Ratios over time, from 1975-2014.  The U.S.-Mexico ratio fluctuates slightly but mainly remains constant except that inequalities have increased somewhat since NAFTA.  If NAFTA had created fairer trade rules, we should have seen greater shared prosperity and reduced inequalities.  NAFTA did no such thing. 

Even the El Paso retail trade is affected by extremely low wages.  Approximately 15% of shoppers come from Ciudad Juárez and spend ~$980 million annually, according to economist Tom Fullerton.  If Mexican workers’ wages increased, not only would we see better living conditions, but also greater spending on this side of the border, thus spreading and sharing prosperity. 

III.A Grim Scenario?  There IS hope amid uncertainty.

If NAFTA negotiations are stalled or countries withdraw, several questions should be posed for our borderlands region.  What happens to those 250,000+ maquiladora workers and their daily food and shelter needs?  Many have migrated to the northern border.  Will they return home (but to what jobs?)? Will they migrate elsewhere?   In Mexico’s upcoming presidential election, MORENA’s economic development strategy will offer an alternative to the PRI and PAN.  Will they win?  Mexico’s presidency is won with a plurality of popular votes, not a majority and certainly not with an Electoral College formula like the U.S. that can undermine the popular vote.

So things may appear grim for replacing NAFTA with a fairer trade deal.  We know that business people have privileged voices in the USTR-managed NAFTA negotiations.  However, environmental activists and working people can pursue other strategies in upcoming months, such as the following.

                *Talk to friends here and especially elsewhere about the dangers of a NAFTA Modernization process that privileges business over workers, including workers in Mexico.  Material is available from organizations like www.ReplaceNAFTA.org , www.GlobalTradeWatch.org, and www.Citizens.org .  The materials provide detail on proposed threats to us all that others on this panel discuss, including a dispute-settlement process that only corporate lawyers resolve (which can undermine local and state democratic protections for food and against pollution) and changes in Rules of Origin requirements (which could have the effect of a border tax).  As some of the trade-watch people say: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” 

                *Acknowledge and work with friends of labor and the environment in Mexico and Canada.  Panelist Cemelli de Aztlan attended a Mexico City conference of transnational activists and read from their resolution.  (See picture; see posters from May Day.)

                *Work on the upcoming mid-term elections of 2018 to change the ‘cast of characters’ in the U.S. Congress.  Go to candidate town-hall meetings.  Meet with candidates to relay concerns firmly and with civility.  As important, talk to friends elsewhere about participating in the upcoming elections to change the cast of characters in Congress, perhaps even shifting the party majority. 

                *Write OpEds and use social media to speak to the wider majority of voters and activists.  Move beyond speaking only to those who agree with you.  Remember that alternative economic development strategies exist. 

The mid-term election is crucial for changing the cast of characters--representatives and lobbyists--who drive inequality in the U.S. and the North American region.  Even the Republican majority in Congress is worried, some of them distancing themselves from the president.  And business people have begun to be wary too, resigning from manufacturing and CEO councils (that Trump ultimately dismissed) and raising ethical concerns about leadership.

Much depends on people’s voices and actions, not merely registering to vote but organizing, conversing intensively and actually voting.  Remember that there IS power in numbers.  We need far more strong border voices:  You have a voice - use it!

*Kathleen Staudt, Border Politics in a Global Era…(2017), available from https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442266186, online bookstores, and the UTEP bookstore at the October 16 event.   

Just how much more fence/wall could be constructed, at what cost to border communities and to taxpayers?

 Photo by Oscar J Martinez.  View of border fence between El Paso and Cuidad Juárez

Photo by Oscar J Martinez.  View of border fence between El Paso and Cuidad Juárez

By Kathy Staudt

With a new place and time schedule, the El Paso Social Justice Education Forum’s first Sunday afternoon bimonthly forum on June 4th showed eleven short videos about the Border Wall.  We share these videos on this reflection-blog, and the 500+ ‘likers’ on our Facebook page and recipients of our 700+ email list.

As readers know, the Mexico-U.S. border is almost 2,000 miles long with 14 twin cities and towns where people interact on everyday bases in interdependent economies.  Almost 800 miles of what the government calls ‘fencing’ has been in place, especially after the U.S. Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006.  The Rio Grande/Río Bravo is the dividing line for most of the Texas-Mexico border. The question to ponder and discuss:  Just how much more fence/wall could be constructed, at what cost to border communities and to taxpayers?  

Watch some of the following videos.  Some show the ease of scaling the wall; others show wall construction options, their costs (short- and long-term), and the years necessary to complete the building process (after which costs would kick in for maintenance).  Still other videos offer comic relief: The two videos of Conan O’Brien in Mexico City are hilarious!  In one, he asks people on the street what they think of Trump’s claims that Mexico will pay; the other shows an interview with Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox who has been outspoken in his tweets and continuous criticism, using salty language.

An amazing group of about fifty people dialogued after the videos, contributing insightful comments and expertise about multiple issues that affect our borderlands.  One issue involves the continued stall on immigration reform, deportation, and beginning in 2017, “deportation on steroids” in popular parlance. Other comments related to how politicians use ‘border security’ during elections and budget hearings to push a fearful (even hateful) population to support the hardening of borders.  For example, the Texas Legislature allocates nearly a billion taxpayer dollars to augment the state Department of Public Safety for border security.  In this session, SB4 passed on so-called Sanctuary Cities, but local counties and cities have filed lawsuits against measures that would use local law enforcement to step up federal immigration enforcement to avoid fines and jail. Several people offered suggestions on ways people might support nonprofits and refugees stuck in jail-like ‘detention facilities.’

All in all, we had productive discussions with good border people about the possibility and consequences of even more walls in our binational community.  This reflection-blog is offered in the hopes that more of you who “like” us on Facebook and receive our emails will participate in future sessions!  Please join us. 

Evalúan en UTEP el primer mes de Trump

forum at utep 2.jpg

Additional Coverage of Forum by El Diario de El Paso, Martes 21 Febrero 2017

Expertos en relaciones binacionales encabezaron un foro en la Universidad de Texas en El Paso, sobre el primer mes de la administración del presidente Trump.

La discusión, titulada ‘Relaciones Fronterizas en la Era de Trump’, contó con la participación de varios especialistas.

Entre los principales puntos de discusión en ‘Relaciones Fronterizas en la Era de Trump’, se debatió el posible futuro del Tratado de Libre Comercio (NAFTA), la necesidad de estrategias de cooperación en Ciudad Juárez y El Paso, y la creciente oleada de nacionalismo en ambos países.
Continue reading

Is Mexico at a Turning Point for Diversifying Its Economy and Ending Dependency on the U.S.?

 Photo by Luis Hernández

Photo by Luis Hernández

 Professor Tony Payan

Professor Tony Payan

 Economist Lucinda Vargas

Economist Lucinda Vargas

 Professor Francisco Llera

Professor Francisco Llera

 Dr Kathy Staudt, Moderator

Dr Kathy Staudt, Moderator

By Kathy Staudt

On February 20, The Social Justice Education Forum sponsored a panel entitled "US-Mexico Border Relations in the Time of Trump" at the University of Texas at El Paso Rubin Center Auditorium.  The distinguished panelists responded affirmatively, with extensive, up-to-date detail.  Below I offer a summary and highlights of the presentations.

Dr. Tony Payan, Director of the Mexico Center at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, began by saying that our 'interdependent borderlands' appear to be devolving, not evolving.  The anti-Mexico and anti-free trade rhetoric will only get worse when (not if) more border walls get built around a "Fortress America."  Payan doubts that a border wall will solve problems; for example, ~80% of the drugs coming to the US come through ports of entry, he said.  Nationalism is on the rise in both the U.S. and Mexico: a populist right in the U.S. and a populist left in Mexico. 

Payan noted the many ways that Mexico has assisted U.S. policy goals, at considerable costs to its own budget and development priorities.  One is that Mexico deported more Central Americans than did the U.S. Another is that Mexico spent far more fighting the 'war on drugs,' around $15-20 billion (and up to 250,000 lives lost) versus U.S. assistance to Mexico in the Mérida initiative, amounting to $1.4 billion.  As Mexico considers its future policy options, including the 'cards' it brings to the negotiating table over NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the new US administration, it could very well spend its own resources on its own economic development goals.

Mexico, said Payan, is in a ninety-day consultation period in the renegotiation of NAFTA.  "Mexico must be willing to walk away from the table."  In the borderlands, "we've allowed the feds [in both countries] to capture our community."

Economist Lucinda Vargas began by saying that NAFTA could be repealed, rather than renegotiated.  What's needed in its place is a North American FAIR Trade Agreement. The U.S. and Mexican industries "complement one another" in the annual binational one-trillion dollar trade.  Vargas provided extensive data about the U.S. auto industry and its dependence on co-production in Mexico.  Without the NORTH AMERICAN "production machine," she indicated, the "U.S. auto industry would be hard-pressed to remain competitive." If the Trump Tax (tariffs) would be implemented, Vargas anticipated that Mexican manufacturing would need to be retrofitted; until that happens, the economy would be weakened, hitting the poor the hardest.  Surely migration would also surge.  

Vargas went on to discuss the significance of Mexican purchases, that is imports from the US, focusing on the totals for the U.S. (16% of total exports), Texas (38% of total exports), and El Paso (80% of exports).  She went on to discuss the amount of corn (maiz) that Mexico purchases from the U.S., but is now looking to Argentina and Brazil as sources if NAFTA is no longer relevant.  Similarly, the U.S. cotton market sells mainly to Mexico.  The potential future trade relationships could be devasting to U.S. farmers.

In her conclusion, Vargas said that NAFTA made Mexico "complacent."  Trump's attacks have given Mexico an opportunity to diversify its economy.  She said that Mexico has developed a list of ten objections to the tone and practices of U.S. policies, among them the insistence that Mexican migrants be treated with respect, that a free flow of remittances be allowed, and that no more border walls be built (walls which will certainly NOT be paid for by Mexico). 

In the final presentation, Dr. Francisco Llera, professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, offered comments on both NAFTA and on alternatives for borderland localities in this and future eras.  Llera said that while NAFTA created jobs and was good for maquiladora owners, the trade agreement overall was not good for Mexican “industrial competitiveness.”  Llera noted that Mexico has over 40 trade agreements with different countries besides the U.S., and it is "time for diversification."  Mexico could move forward with a version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (without the U.S.) and could consolidate trade with China as well.  In a recent poll from El Universal, nearly half of respondents supported economic diversification. He sees Mexico developing new bilateral trade agreements with other countries.

With the erosion of NAFTA, Llera proposed multiple options for sustaining jobs and creating new diverse jobs in the borderlands, including in the service sector and with alternative companies that produce in the maquiladoras.  Specifically, he proposed that borderlands people move forward with medical tourism and with real estate development for U.S. retirees whose dollars will go further in an ever-increasingly costly U.S. standard of living. He visited Corozal, Belize, which successfully developed this strategy.  (Already, 1.2 million Americans are living in Mexico--"allies" said Payan in a response later, who understand Mexico and Mexican perspectives.)  Llera seeks "a bottom-up binational plan for the borderlands."

Many in the near 150-person audience were inspired and buoyed with the content of presentations.  Multiple questions emerged, including the short-term negative consequences of Mexican independence and diversification.  One example would be the return and absorption of up to 2 million people (noting that only less than half of the ~10.5 million undocumented people in the U.S. come from Mexico).  Payan predicted that many of the U.S. citizen children, who return to Mexico with their parents, will settle near the northern border with their bilingual and educational skills. 

In sum, this new Trump era has become a "wake-up call," as Vargas commented.  It is the catalyst Mexico needed to diversify its economy and establish greater independence from the United States.