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Agenda making the news this month

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US denies safe haven to Mexico’s drug war refugees


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. ■

Christopher White

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

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