“Another World Without Borders Is Possible”
A Report from the First Annual Southwest Border Social Forum
By Amber Howard
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign on the Other Side
October 19, 2006
Last weekend, Ciudad Juárez celebrated the First Annual Southwest Border Social Forum, congregating people from across the United States and Mexico. The Border Social Forum took place at the Central Autonomous University in Ciudad Juarez, the largest city in the State of Chihuahua, Northern Mexico. Students, long-time immigrants rights activists, professors, youth-led alternative media, peace visionaries, indigenous tribes, workers and union organizers, and the curious all met for a three-day conference this 13-15 of October. The uniting theme was: “Another world without borders is possible.”
This forum was organized due to a call for a U.S. Social Forum that arose out of the World Social Forum, which took place this year in Caracas, Venezuela, January 24–29. Since the decision made in Caracas to hold the first US-based forum in June 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia, regional meetings are starting to take place so that different issues can be presented to a national and international audience. Originally planned for early May, the first Southwest Border Social Forum, one of these regional meetings, was delayed until October due to the demonstrations and marches by immigrants and their supporters on and around May 1st, 2006.
The over-arching themes of this much-anticipated forum were “Women, Walls and Water.” Participants joined activities that began on Thursday, October 12th in a march against NAFTA from downtown Ciudad Juárez to the US-Mexico border crossing at the Santa Fe Bridge. People marched denouncing the North American Free Trade Agreement’s effect on the farmers and working-class citizens of Mexico.
A large portion of the marchers included past immigrant laborers known as braceros who participated in the U.S. guest worker program that existed between 1942 and 1964. Many of these people, predominantly men now nearing old age, are still waiting for the Mexican government to pay them the remains of their due earnings. A portion of the workers’ earnings were withheld during their time employed in the fields of the United States and given to the Mexican government with the idea that it would be given back. It is generally recognized that this money has disappeared. One marcher, Javier Romero, who participated in the labor program from 1957-1964 simply declared, “Government, pay us our money.”
After the march, a “Border Reality Tour” was organized to take those interested to experience an in-depth view of the maquiladoras, foreign-owned assembly plants situated in “free trade zones” in Ciudad Juárez. The United States began moving factories over its southern border in 1964 with the Border Industrialization Project (BIP), which would serve as a model for similar zones as neo-liberalism spreads worldwide. This project resulted in the creation of the maquiladoras along Mexico’s northern border, when U.S. manufacturers were invited to move their factories south to take advantage of much lower labor costs. Mexican subsidies encouraged the rapid growth of the industrial parks, and new regulations allowed manufacturers to import duty-free machinery, parts and raw materials.
The presence of the maquiladoras is central to any discussion about Ciudad Juárez, and particularly how this specific border zone has created affluence for some, but led to the exploitation for others. Justin Akers Chacon, a young professor in San Diego and the author of the book, No One Is Illegal, was present during the Southwest Border Forum. He gave a talk that focused on the history of immigration restrictions, the amount of money exchanged annually due to remittances (money immigrant workers in the US send back to home country), the increasing militarization of the border, with such legislation as Operation Gatekeeper, and the recent vote to build a wall along the border.
The weekend was filled with similar meetings that discussed not only the problems and difficulties of the current immigration legislation, but also possible alternative solutions and visions of the future. The climax of the forum was another march that moved, once again, from downtown Ciudad Juárez to the Santa Fe Bridge, this time focusing on “bringing down” the wall that divides the US-Mexico border. Many signs and chants alluded to the “Wall of Death,” or the 700-mile, $9 billion wall, that was proposed to the US Senate in November 2005 by Duncan Hunter, chair of the Armed Services Committee and a California congressman. The fence would be surrounded by a new 100-yard buffer zone and would be studded with twenty-five new official points of entry. Until recently the fence has divided just over eighty miles of the border, where federally enforced barriers and fencing were placed at strategic points, mainly in Texas and California. This is all about to change.
On December 15th, 2005, Rep. Hunter’s amendment was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. On May 2006, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that included triple-layered vehicle fencing, meaning three different fences, possibly topped with razor wire, that immigrants would have to cross in order to enter the US. Finally on September 29, 2006, by a vote of 80 to 19, the Senate confirmed the House bill authorizing, and partially funding, the possible construction of the 700-mile-long physical fence and barriers along the border.
Many are claiming that the building of this wall is purely a political strategy employed by the Republicans to obtain votes in the upcoming November elections. Others say it is to keep the revolutionary activity in Mexico from spilling onto American soil. Still others see this new border legislation as an attempt to convince United States citizens that their border is “safe.” All the while, corporations, farm owners and others who depend on immigrant labor will continue to take advantage of the economic benefits of exploiting those who do make it across.
Cited in the program of events was the “Action and March to Tear Down the Wall of Death.” The march convened with approximately 1,000 people, mostly conference attendees, to take back the streets of Juárez in protest of this new border-security expansion. During the demonstration traffic was stopped on Juárez Avenue, partially blocking what is known as Paseo del Norte, or the Avenue of the North. One organizer, Nacho Ibarra, stated, “This wall is just going to kill a lot more people because they are building it in the most traversed areas. It will not stop people from crossing, it will only cause them to take more dangerous routes through the desert and more people will die.” Many of the protestors carried signs, banners, and a string of hundreds of white paper crosses with names on them, representing some of those who had died or disappeared in the crossing of the border.
Upon closing, the forum organizers took time on stage to read out declarations or resolutions that had been created over the course of the weekend. Many spoke about organizing other events or protests in the year to come, involving workers’ rights, gender issues and pro-women activities, such as putting a stop to domestic-violence, sexual and reproductive rights, indigenous rights, socialist agendas, alternative media meetings and many other groups looking to create a better future. It was determined that the next Border Social Forum will be held a year from now, this time at Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Each year, immigrants from Central and South America try to enter Mexico, with the hope of eventually reaching the United States.
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