February 26, 2013
When the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope was on his death bed, the doctor assured him that his breathing, pulse and other vital signs were getting better. “Here I am” Pope said to his friend, “dying of a hundred good symptoms.”
Mexico risks something very similar. When a country is small and stands next to a large and powerful one, it has no other alternative than to make adjustments when the other one changes the rules of the game. The Mexican government cannot ignore what happens north of the border: with the immigration issue very much on the table in Washington, the Mexican government must either help or stand in the way -- standing and watching with arms crossed is simply not an option.
The US is a country that was built on the shoulders of successive waves of immigrants. For almost a century and a half, immigration was by and large welcomed and promoted. This changed after 1942, with a new system of quotas introduced that turned immigration policy into an endless source of conflict for Americans.
The debate changes its form, actors and characteristics all the time, but the content remains largely the same: those who see it as a threat versus those who see it as an opportunity. The “bad guys” tend to change in time: at some point it was Italians, at another it was Jews, then Cubans and now, Mexicans.
The latest presidential elections, where Obama had overwhelming support from the Latino community, brought the issue to the front lines of the legislative agenda. Even though both points of view still exist, the legislators on each side of the aisle know very well that they cannot dodge the issue. Finally, it seems, the issue is coming to a head.
That leaves Mexico in front of a reality that appears set to change. Within the governing class, there are also two postures: those who consider the immigration issue an internal affair for the US to deal with, and those who think it is of national interest for Mexico.
For the most part, the first ones tend to prefer to turn a blind eye, and the others are on an endless crusade. The truth is that both postures have their merits, and the Mexican government must act with a smart, active but also discrete strategy.
The immigration issue is essentially an internal affair of the US in the sense that it involves the laws of a sovereign nation and the composition of its society. At stake is a government’s sovereign decision regarding the legal treatment of a population that has violated its laws. The Mexican government has nothing to offer on this count, nor can it risk trying to influence Washington's decisions. Previous failed attempts have indeed encouraged many in the Mexican government to stay far away from the issue.
And yet, we are talking about more than 10% of the population of a country who are directly linked to more than 50% of the Mexican population (parents, siblings, children); and that for some states, represents more than half of their population.
It is impossible to ignore the significance in Mexico of a decision that will be taken in the US. It is also crucial to consider the impact of the remittance payments sent to so many families in Mexico. And finally, even though unlikely, there is always the possibility of large numbers of Mexicans in the US being sent back to Mexico.
The Mexican government must develop a strategy built on the following precepts: a) it is an internal affair, so the strategy must be discrete; B) Mexico benefits from the legalization of Mexicans who live in the US today; C) those Mexicans will never serve as a political “tool” for the Mexican government; D) there are powerful sources of opposition to any liberal immigration decision that carry legitimate and respectable arguments e) the American government is very decentralized and both support and fears tend to surge “from below”; and f) this debate offers an opportunity for a meeting between the Mexican government and the immigrant Mexicans. The objective is to explain and join in the fight to show the benign effects of illegal immigrants today in the US, and reduce fear for those who risk being sent back.
America Economia is Latin America's leading business magazine, founded in 1986 by Elias Selman and Nils Strandberg. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, it features a region-wide monthly edition and regularly updated articles online, as well as country-specific editions in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.
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Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
October 16, 2021
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.
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