I’ve been reading the news paper every morning, which is a treat because where I lived before (San Mateo Ixtatán) there was no newspaper delivery. It’s interesting to see what things are reported on, and how they’re discussed. The most “balanced” newspaper seems to be the Prensa Libre, which seems to have ties to the New York Times (based on the translated edition of the Times included on Sundays, as well as a number of smaller translated articles by Times contributors during the week).
Nevertheless, the newspaper tends to be quite sensationalist. It’s not nearly as bad as Nuestro Diario, (website is coming soon) who’s slogan “Noticias como son” (News as it is) reminds me a little of Fox News’s “Fair and Balanced”. The photos on the cover are consistently huge shots of dead people in the capital, with big, bold, tabloid-esq headlines.
I tried to find a copy of the article from Prensa Libre about the protest in Nebaj, but the original article is not online for some reason (the date, if you’d like to look for it, would have been 25 May, Sunday). Here is a follow-up article: http://www.prensalibre.com/pl/2008/mayo/27/240261.html.
My guide on the hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos read it and commented, “Cómo lo reportaron, cabrones.” Apparently, he did not like the article. Indeed, the author took the side of the police, emphasizing that it had all been over a “supposed” kidnapper, and pointing out the “potential” additional damage that might have been done by the crowd. It should be noted, however, that the crowd stopped of their own volition (or… because of rain). Additional police didn’t show up until the next day, and the police stationed there ran for it on Saturday night. So it’s not like “gee, lucky the police stopped them.”
The newspaper as a whole is a great way to learn an ample crime-related vocabulary. I have picked up such words as fallo (verdict), redada (catch or haul, as of criminals), and disparo (gunshot). I guess it’s not all that different than in the States, eh?
One thing I find very interesting, though, is the coverage of immigration issues in the United States. Recently, la Prensa profiled a group of Guatemalan immigrants arrested in Iowa after their employer turned them in.
I have a really hard time with articles such as this, as well as with casual conversation on the issue, because both forums tend to oversimplify an extremely complicated topic. So I’m going to go ahead and oversimplify it here.
Everyone I’ve talked to about immigration to the US (note: unless otherwise stated, “immigration” refers to the illegal variety) thinks it’s great. Going to the US is easy, they can’t wait to do it themselves. And once there, jobs are abundant, the pay is awesome, and you have access to all sorts of luxury items you can’t get (or can’t afford) here in Guate. Who cares that there’s no healthcare? There isn’t any here, either!
As for deportations, the sliding US economy, and the dangers of actually getting into the US: puh-lease. Scare tactics. Deportations are unfair and a violation of human rights; the US economy is booming (relative to just about anywhere in Central America); “unemployment” is a myth cooked up by greedy capitalists to keep the money and jobs for themselves; and the dangers of getting into the US are overblown– thousands of people do it every day.
The Prensa article certainly favors this interpretation. They emphasize the helpless situation of the immigrants in question, and the poor treatment they received at the hands of authorities. No mention is made that they were, in fact, violating a federal law by working with falsified documentation. One woman is cited as saying “my only crime is that I didn’t have a paper,” implying that she doesn’t quite grasp how seriously the US government takes those papers.
I really don’t blame them for this interpretation: I don’t agree with current immigration policies in the US. I have little doubt that these workers’ human rights were violated. They likely were not provided with adequate representation, based on the speed of the incident (the time from arrest to verdict was about 24 hours).
Furthermore, they are being forced to pay for their “accommodations” while they serve a 2-year jail term before being deported. They have no savings (most are thousands of dollars in debt) and can’t work. How are they supposed to pay?? A handful of women were released conditionally to care for their children; they can’t work either, and the government won’t deport them before they serve their sentence.
They have no means of financial support and no family networks in the US. Adding insult to injury, their family members in Guatemala are now left high and dry. The largest sector of the Guatemalan economy is not bananas, not coffee, not tourism. It is remittance money sent from family members working in the US. Without that money, the Guatemalan economy is sent into a tailspin.
Nevertheless, these people were breaking the US law. They knew that going in, and should have been prepared for the consequences. If the consequences are unjust, that suggests to me that there is a serious problem with the law.
I don’t believe that undocumented workers should be treated as federal criminals. I think, instead, the corporations that hire workers either without documentation or with falsified papers should be the ones fined, arrested, or closed down. Regardless of whether they plead ignorant of the situation. Eliminate the demand for cheap labor, and you’ll eliminate the supply of cheap (undocumented) labor.
Furthermore, the consequences for workers breaking said law should not be in violation of human rights. The US could benefit by taking a cue from the European Union on a lot of issues (ahem: agriculture, trade, environmental regulations), not least of which is immigration.
In a parallel article in la Prensa, certain aspects of EU immigration policy were laid out. It should be noted that the EU faces a challenge similar to that of the USA’s in regards to undocumented workers. However, in the EU an undocumented worker cannot be detained for more than 18 months before deportation. The undocumented worker is provided with translation services and “adequate” representation. They’re not forced to pay for food and shelter (deemed basic necessities for survival, go figure).
Gosh, that must cost a lot for the governments, eh? Here’s an idea: don’t detain them. Send them home to their families, if you don’t want them in your country.
I’m quite guilty of over-simplifying things myself. You could pull out all sorts of things on this issue, like how nation-states become defined in the first place, what processes form the need to police something as arbitrary as borders and the concept of “national sovereignty”, how certain policies get labeled “capitalist” and “socialist” in the public sphere, how issues like “immigration” get co-opted by various interest groups, blah blah blah.
I mean… I come from a very conservative- capitalist family, and am a bit of a black sheep, politically speaking. If you stop to think about it, though, the current US immigration policy is quite socialistic– controlling the labor force and whatnot. If you really want capitalism to reign supreme, folks, open up the borders. Put your free-trade policies to the test in regards to labor. While you’re at it, get rid of the subsidies for your domestic products and your taxes on imports. How’d ya like them apples?
Edit: This post started out as a commentary on the newspaper I’ve been reading every morning. I really intended it to be something of a rundown of headlines I found interesting. I guess I’m just frustrated by the (near constant) discussion about immigration to the US. I should have gone in to more of the reasons Guatemalans might risk going to the US to work, but that’s another post. This one is way too long already.