Saturday, June 29, 2013

Border Surge Misses Real Security Threat in Transborder West

What Border Security Threat?

Drones and Fences Won’t Secure Us
Against TransBorder Water Future Threat

It has long been said that topography doesn’t recognize border lines. Certainly, the transborder spread of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts cannot be denied. No matter how high nationalist fevers rise or how obstructive new border security infrastructure may be, the same deserts occupy both sides of the border.

Still, the border wall and fortified ports-of-entry tend to diminish consciousness about the shared environment. What is more, the border fortifications do obstruct traditional wildlife corridors -- making the border quite real, for the first time, for deer, mountain lions and antelopes, for example. Although border infrastructure may scar the crossborder landscape with roads and ditches, the topography on one side remains a close reflection of the other side. The border has a greater impact on water flows, as each border state and nation fights to channel and retain water, rather than allowing it to flow across state and national borders. Governance mechanisms such as the International Boundary and Water Commission and inter-state accords manage these conflicts and demands, thereby underscoring how political geography has altered the traditional patterns of transborder surface water flows.

New U.S. initiatives associated with immigration reform proposals aim to seal the U.S.-Mexico border with more hulking fences, high-tech surveillance, sensors, and drones -- all to “secure the border” against a dramatically diminishing flow (lowest in four decades) of south-north immigrants, and costing at least $30 billion in additional border security funding.

Generally unnoticed in this border security buildup is the rapid onset of a new transborder security threat. Not immigrants, not terrorists, not drugs, not spillover violence. Rather frightening changes in the deserts, in the mountain flora, in the surface water flows, in the falling levels of reservoirs, and in the disappearing aquifers and underground water basins.

This is not a south-north threat to security but one that shares common ground -- the vast transborder aridlands that include, on the U.S side, Colorado, New Mexico, West Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and southern California. On the Mexico side of the border, Durango, Chihuahua, western Coahuila, Sonora, Baja California Sur, and Baja California Norte face the same transborder threat.

Decades ago close observers presciently predicted (notably Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert published in 1986 -- or more than a century before by explorer John Wesley Powell) that the region’s reckless development was not sustainable -- given limited and nonrenewable water resources. In large part, the water crises reverberating throughout the Transborder West were threatening the models of economic development and human settlement in the region prior to the ever-more apparent scourges of climate change.

Clearly, any thoughtful observer could see that Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson, Juárez, Hermosillo, Chihuahua City, and many other urban surges are not sustainable -- whether observed in 1980 or in 2013. These and other desert cities were not extensions of natural oases but artificial creations dependent for their survival on imported water and unsustainable exploitation of groundwater reserves.

Climate change has accelerated and compounded the looming threat of over-allocated water flows and rapidly depleting underground accumulation of largely fossil water. In the last couple of decades, drought cycles have become more intense and longer lasting. Rising temperatures linked to human-caused climate change also mean that accumulated water is evaporating more quickly and that the transpiration patterns developed by regional flora over the millennia no longer guarantee survival for ecosystems in prolonged periods of drought.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Tarahumara Aren’t Running

The Tarahumara Aren’t Running:
Standing Firm at Copper Canyon

Randall Gingrich and Tom Barry
Coming to Santa Fe from Sierra Tarahumara

When: Tuesday, June 18
Time: 4 PM

             202 Galisteo Street
              Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Tarahumara of the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) aren’t running. Many know of the Tarahumara or Rarármuri (“those who walk/run well”) from reading Born to Run and other accounts of their long-distance running feats.

Now, instead of running, the Tarahumara are taking a firm stance against a government-sponsored megatourism project. With the assistance of the Defensa Tarahumara network and Tierra Nativa in Chihuahua City, Tarahumara communities are resisting a culturally and environmentally destructive plan to bring luxury hotels, a golf course, and “adventure tourism” ventures to their homeland in the Sierra Tarahumara.

In February a couple hundred Tarahumara marched to the Palacio del Gobierno in downtown Chihuahua to demand that the state government end its tourism project, which is stealing their land, contaminating their water, and threatening their livelihoods. They joined a protest organized by mestizo farmers and ranchers who were demanding that the killers of assassinated water-rights activists be brought to justice. The newly mobilized Tarahumara brought their complaints to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington in March, which insisted that the Mexican government respond to the Tarahumara complaints.

Randall Gingrich, founder and director of Tierra Nativa, will present a video about the threats to the culture and environment of the Sierra Tarahumara  -- and the current unprecedented resistance. Over the past two decades, Tierra Nativa has supported Tarahumara opposition to illegal logging and mining operations. The latest threat is “Adventure Tourism” including cable rides, golf courses, and luxury hotel complexes – without adequate water supplies and with resulting sewage contaminating the Barranca del Cobre. Gingrich has been key to the success of several Tarahumara communities in mounting legal actions to stop the megatourism project – both in international forums and in state and federal courts.

Tom Barry directs the TransBorder Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington. A longtime New Mexico resident, Barry is researching a book on climate change and the water crisis in the greater transborder region. In close collaboration with Defensa Tarahumara, Barry is writing a chapter on climate change induced water crisis in the Sierra Tarahumara and an investigative essay on the megatourism project. Barry is the author of numerous books on Mexico, Central America, and U.S. foreign policy, including the Challenges of Cross-Border Environmentalism and Border Wars.

If you are interested in supporting the work of Tierra Nativa and the TransBorder Project, learning more about these issues, or arranging media interviews, contact:

Randall Gingrich

Tom Barry

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Border Drones Fly into Fight Over Immigration

Border Drones Fly Into Fight Over Immigration
Listen to the Story

June 11, 2013 4:51 PM

The runways at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., are busy. This is where the Army tests its military drones, where it trains its drone pilots and where four Customs and Border Protection drones take off and land.
From here, the CBP drones survey the Arizona-Mexico border — mainly looking for immigrants and drug smugglers.
In a hangar next to the runway, Customs and Border Protection officer David Gasho swivels a globe hanging from a drone's underbelly. The globe contains a $2 million surveillance package — a night camera, a day camera, a low-light camera and laser target illumination. The drone's biggest selling point is that it can stay in the air for 20 hours.
Given budget problems, Gasho says, there isn't enough money to keep them up that long.
"We are barely hanging on five days a week, 16 hours a day here," he says. "It is very tight to do what we're doing right now."
Yet the immigration bill now under consideration by the U.S. Senate calls for drones to fly 24/7. Supporters say that means more drones are needed. But critics argue there's no evidence the drones already flying are cost-effective.
'Going To Come At A Cost'
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, wants more drones on the border. But Cuellar, co-chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus — yes, drones have their own caucus — acknowledges it's an expensive proposition.
"For all those folks that've been emphasizing border security, keep in mind that it's going to come at a cost," he says. "And we've just finished cutting $3 billion from Homeland Security under sequester."
Each Predator drone now costs about $18 million to buy fully equipped and about $3,000 an hour to fly. CBP is now testing a sophisticated radar system called VADER (Vehicle And Dismount Exploitation Radar) that costs about $5 million a year to operate. It has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At congressional hearing in April, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others seemed sold on adding VADER. McCain asked Randolph Alles, the head of the CBP's Air and Marine operations: "Don't you believe that VADER plus drones could be absolute vital tools in attaining effective control of our border?"
Alles responded: "I think, sir, it will help us characterize what the border looks like."
Why More Drones?
The real problem, say critics like Tom Barry, an analyst at the liberal Center for International Policy, is that no one has demonstrated that drones are worth the cost. Barry points to a study last year by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general that criticized the border drone program for a lack of accountability.
"I'm indignant, really, in the sense that billions of dollars have been spent since the late '90s on these high-tech systems without the appropriate cost-benefit evaluations," he says.
Even CBP says it has more economical alternatives. It has been trying out a Cessna aircraft with a camera that costs one-tenth of what the Predator drone camera costs. The agency also relies on ground-based tools, such as camera and radar towers.
The Senate immigration bill does include those tools for increased border surveillance, but it singles out drones for constant flight.
Bryan Roberts, who used to evaluate border and immigration programs for the Department of Homeland Security, points out that even 24/7 surveillance won't actually catch anyone.
"The surveillance technology helps you find people and it helps you get agents to people quickly," says Roberts, who's now with a private consulting firm. "But [to] actually track down and arrest people requires having people on the ground."
To catch 90 percent of all illegal crossers — which is what the Senate bill demands — Roberts says the Border Patrol would have to triple the number of agents on the ground from 20,000 to 60,000.
That's an enormous undertaking not in the legislation. Barry of the Center for International Policy says it's because the bill is more about politics than stopping illegal immigration.
"The border security is fear-based and also plays to the needs of a growing homeland security military complex that is benefitting from these billions of dollars spent," he says.
Barry and others say the emphasis should shift from border security to interior enforcement, such as employer verification. That, they say, would catch those crossing illegally, the people employing them, and those who entered legally and overstayed their visas.

But the politics seem clear — an immigration bill is unlikely to pass without more drones.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Drone Proliferation and Oversight

(Introduction to an essay in the The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring/Summer 2013)

Tom Barry

Drones are proliferating at home in the United States and abroad. Our world now includes more than 300 drone breeds—including Predators, Reapers, Shadow Warriors, Avengers, Peregrines, Killer Bees, and Global Hawks—with new breeds and hybrids appearing almost weekly. The steadily rising proportion of the military budgets dedicated to drone procurement and the rapidly expanding global market for drones are leading indicators of their proliferation. Drones are proliferating so rapidly, even before a consensus about their formal name has formed. The most common designation is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), although unmanned aerial systems (UASs) is also commonly used.

Most of the attention on and concern about drone proliferation has focused on the clandestine strikes by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and U.S. military outside our own hemisphere. At home, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is deploying unarmed versions of the Predators drones used in Pakistan and in an increasing number of other countries. Initially used solely for border security, DHS has steadily expanded the mission and geographical scope of drone operations, raising new concerns about the absence of democratic governance—and about the lack of transparency and accountability.

This boon in drone research, purchasing, and deployment far outpaces the incipient initiatives to enact rules and laws to regulate this new technology. The accelerating advance of unmanned systems technology only partially explains the lack of accompanying governance frameworks. For decades, drones have been bred almost entirely for the military and security complexes of the United States and other nations— notably Israel—as highly classified projects for clandestine missions. The lack of national and international governance over drones can also be attributed to mutually beneficial relationships between drone manufacturers and politicians.

That technology outpaces regulatory frameworks is to be expected. Yet the gap between governance and drone proliferation is particularly worrisome in the case of the rapid advance of unmanned systems at home and abroad, given that drones are primarily used for surveillance and killings. Drones will likely continue to play an ever-greater role in our society and our world. Thus, to ensure that these unmanned systems are deployed in ways that contribute to international peace and security, to prevent drones from dangerously undermining our privacy and civil rights, and to make certain that drones respond to democratic governance, a system of national laws and regulations as well as international ones is required—and currently is nowhere to be found.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cowboys & Indians Get It Together in Chihuahua

Cowboys and Indians

(Published in Boston Review at: )

June 03, 2013

On July 2, 2012, the day after Enrique Peña Nieto won the presidential election, a group of some two hundred mestizo farmers and ranchers headed to Chihuahua’s state capital to confront the governor. It was a three-hour drive from the northwestern part of the Chihuahua; the caravan of pick-up trucks (and my minivan) would arrive in early evening.
Tensions have been rising there and in other parts of the Chihuahuan Desert over rapidly dropping water tables, near-empty reservoirs, and the accompanying surge in illegal wells for new agribusiness projects, mainly in Mennonite colonies. As their owns wells go dry, the farmers fear their livelihoods too will evaporate.
Earlier that day, in a Mennonite settlement near Ojo de Yegua, the group had demanded that Mennonite farmers, unable to show a drilling permit, shut down their equipment. Although representatives from government agencies had promised to join the protest and shut down the illegal wells, they never showed up. Instead, two policemen armed with AR-14s burst into the crowd and headed directly toward me. Having been told by the Barzón leader that I was there to chronicle the protest, the farmers quickly gathered around to protect me—and my camera. The policemen began shooting in the air and at our feet, then retreated. Protestors found several of their truck with slashed tires.
Martín Solís Bustamante, a leader from El Barzón, a rural organization in Mexico, called the governor’s office, insisting that he ensure our security, and pointing out that the state water and environmental agencies had agreed the previous week to shut down the new wells. One of the group picked up the bullet casings he could find. We then headed to the Palacio del Gobierno in Chihuahua City—the colonial palace which now houses the governor’s offices—for a late night ad hoc meeting. Our caravan was part of an incipient campaign demanding that the government make good on its promises.
Wearing jeans, plaid shirts, and cowboy hats, the men (along with a few women) arrived at the palace. Never before had I been inside this imposing colonial building with its murals depicting the state’s revolutionary history. Yet I was the center of attention when the Barzonistas confronted the officials that night.
Stunned government ministers and officials—including the state’s chief of public security—looked on as Bustamante unrolled a plat map with illegal wells marked, pulled a handful of the brass bullet casings from his pocket, and scattered them over the map . Pointing to me, Bustamente told them that the government was obligated to protect not only its own citizens but also international reporters.


In February 2013, I was back at the Palacio del Gobierno with many of the same Barzón-allied farmers and ranchers. But this time they came on horseback as part of the Cabagalta Para Justicia-–the Ride for Justice. This time, one of their leaders, Ismael Solórios, who had pushed for the community’s decision to ban mining operations to protect their water supply, was not with us. In October Ismael and his wife Manuela had been assassinated. The government’s failure to find and prosecute the killers had heightened the already highly charged struggle to conserve the water of the El Carmen aquifer into a broader struggle for justice and against impunity in this desert state.
And this time, the protestors weren’t just cowboys but also Indians. As the Barzon horsemen and women approached the palace from one direction, marching down another street were a couple hundred the indigenous Tarahumaras, who had traveled from southwest Chihuahua to join forces with the ranchers.
Water is also central to the increasing mobilization of the Tarahumaras, known as rarámuris (“those who walk well”) and whose legendary endurance running abilities were chronicled in the 2009 bestseller, Born to Run. The contingents from Tarahumara communities carried banners protesting the government’s new mega tourist project in the Barrancas del Cobre, or Copper Canyon. Climate change-aggravated drought has dried up all but two of the 32 springs in the Tarahumara community of Mogótavo, and, if the government prevails, the Tarahumara will also be denied their lands.
Climate change may prove their most severe threat, but their immediate concern was the takeover of their lands and the contamination of their water sources by the Barrancas del Cobre Tourism Project, sponsored by the federal and state governments in conjunction with private investors (mostly former or current government officials and politicians).
The Tarahumara people—about 120,000 dispersed throughout the Barrancas del Cobre—have over several hundred years survived the aridness of the Chihuahua Desert and the harsh canyonlands by carefully conserving their water springs. Perhaps more impressive has been their ability to maintain their vibrant culture despite the invasions of the logging and mining companies over the past three centuries. The Tarahumara survived largely through a strategy of limiting contact with meztizos and foreigners. Over the last decade, however, they have had to defend themselves in new arenas.
In March the usually reticent Tarahumaras went to Washington to  denounce systemic human rights violations by the Mexican government before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Among other complaints, the Tarahumaras and their lawyers—as part of a strategy organized largely by the NGO Tierra Nativa—condemned the Mexican government for violating the Mexican constitution (which stipulates that indigenous communities must be consulted about prior to initiating any project that might affect them), for participating in highly profitable land grabs of Tarahumara land by government ministries and private investors, and allowing the sewage and effluents from three luxury hotels and the government’s own adventure park seep into their communities.
Alma Chacón is a volunteer lawyer for Contec, one of the NGOs in Defensa Tarahumara. During a recent trip to Chihuahua, she told me that “the combined demonstration at the Palacio del Gobierno in February had energized the Tarahumara communities, while our series of assertive legal initiatives have put the government, tourism project investors, and hotel owners on the defensive.”
For the first time, she said, the Tarahumaras are turning the tables on the government and those who have exploited them for so long: “Never before have I been so satisfied in my legal work.”

Photos by Tom Barry