Do Hispanic Lives Matter?

In a startling reversal, Republican Mayra Flores has won a U.S. Congressional seat held mostly by the Democratic Party for over a hundred years. It’s located in the Rio Grande valley in Texas, a border community now flooded with illegal migrants seeking a better life and with drugs wrecking the lives of current Americans.

Mayra Flores

For some it signals a possible sea of change in U.S. politics with the shift of Hispanic Americans from the Democratic Party, where they have been a reliable voting  bloc, to a reinvigorated Republican Party. Rising crime has been a chief factor in the change with Hispanics on the border doubly impacted. They face a deluge of newcomers and also -a mere wade across the Rio Grande – one of the most violent, ruinous regimes on earth, the drug cartels that control the entire border on the Mexican side and indeed all of Mexico. On one side freedom, on the other a particular kind of rapacious tyranny.

It’s intra-ethnic. No identity politics involved. Powerful Hispanics suppress and pillory more vulnerable Hispanics without let-up because there’s no accountability. American sympathy is highly selective. Tears are copiously shed for the suffering in Ukraine, but eyes are dry over the plight of Mexicans. This reflects American media coverage which dwells on any number of far-off wars of no danger to the U.S. while ignoring the genuine danger close at hand. The kind ofmass murders (four or more people killed in an incident) that outrage Americans are every dayoccurrences in Mexico. where more journalists are murdered than anywhere else on earth.

Hispanics may well ask if their lives matter and may indeed vote on the question. There was a time when Americans took the question very seriously indeed. Ina fit of expansion the young U.S Government got into a war with Mexico that seemed to block its way west. It was a nasty 1840s struggle won by the U.S, which hadto decide what to do with its victory. American opinion was divided. Some said leave Mexico alone and get out. A group of wealthy Mexicans begged the invading army to take over their prostrate country, and arch imperialists in Washington shared that view. President James Polk compromised by taking the northern half of Mexico which was later divided into several states,including Texas and California.

But what if the extremists had prevailed and the U.S. had taken charge of Mexico? Many decades of Mexican national history would be missing, but so too would today’s drug cartels under moderate U.S. governance. The cartels wouldn’t be able to exploit a border that doesn’t exist. Racial sensitivities might be ruffled by such a change in U.S. demographics with the accession of Mexico, but peace would prevail, and the Civil War might even have been avoided since Mexico was not suitable for slavery.

Dream on. Utopia does not exist. Yet today the U.S. could do much more to guide Mexico through its timeof trouble. To begin with, seal the border with U.S. troops who could pursue the cartels into Mexico if necessary and weaken them in the process. They are an armed threat currently running thousands of illegal marijuana farms in various parts of the U.S. It’s time to show Hispanic lives both here and in Mexico matter.

Poetry and War

War is always with us and so are poets who are trying in their various ways to make sense of it. Here are some examples over the centuries:

In the famed Trojan War the Greek leader Achilles is awakened at the sound of battle in Homer’s Iliad translated by Christopher Logue :

Achilles suddenly saw his armour in that instant,

And its ominous radiance flooded his heart.

His shield as round and rich as moons in spring;

His sword’s half parked between sheaves of gray obsidian,

From which a lucid blade stood out, leaf-shaped, adorned

With running spirals, 

And for his head a welded cortex; yes,

Though it is noon, the helmet screams against the light;

Scratches the eye; so violent it can be seen

Across three thousand years.

War is a pleasure for ninth century Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi:

Tastier than old wine, 

Sweeter than the passing of winecups

Is the play of swords and lances,

The clash of armies at my command.

To face death in Battle is my life

For life is what fulfills the soul.

New England poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is next to a monument to the American revolutionaries who won their freedom fromBritain:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,

To die, and leave their children free

Bid Time and Nature gently spare

The shaft we raise to them and thee.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats says an Irish airman foresees his death in the first World War:

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate;

Those that I guatd I do not love;

My country is Kilkartan  Cross,

My countrymen Kilkartan’s poor,

No likely end could bring them loss

Or make them happier than before.

No law nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men nor cheering crowds.

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to the tumult in the clouds.

I balanced all, brought all to mind.

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

American poet Wallace Stevens tells of another doomed flyer in World War Two:

This man escaped the dirty fates,

Knowing that he did nobly as he died.

Darkness, nothingness of after- death,

Receive and keep him in the deepnesses of space-

Profundum, physical thunder, dimension in which

We believe without belief, beyond belief.

Is Mental Illness the Answer?

After the Uvalde shootings that killed nineteen students and twoteachers, there has been no let-up in related massacres around the U.S. So far this year there have been more than 240 mass shootings with 256 killed and 1010 injured. Along with pleas for gun control have come urgent demands for dealing with mental illness held responsible for much of the carnage. How else explain the unceasing violence?

But is that too easy and comforting an explanation? We are told the distraught killer did not really know what he was doing. He was prey to some force beyond his control. Submit him to some mental rehabilitation, and he can recover from his illness and achieve normality.

That assumes he wants to recover and criminality is not his normal being. Take the recent incident in the New York City subway when an aggressive man pulled another passenger’s  hair and shoved her around the car. Senseless it seemed, but not so. The predator appeared to be enjoying himself. Violence maybe his pleasure and his pastime. The fact that not a single male in the car came to the victim’s defense can be partly attributed to cowardice but also to deference to mental illness. The poor fellow didn’t know what he was doing.

If such violence is to be equated with mental illness, what do we do with Russian ruler Josef Stalin, one of the greatest mass murderers of all time who clearly enjoyed killing and liked to observe the executions he ordered? It would have taken a bevy of psychiatrists to treat him, and whatever their conclusions, they would have all been murdered.

Yet he was arguably the most successful ruler of the last century and the most influential. Communism, Stalinist style, continued to spread after his death in 1953 as he had wanted and predicted. His hideously forced industrialization at the cost of several million Russian and Ukrainian lives gave him supreme powerand paved the way to victory in World War Two over the far better army of mass-killing Adolf Hitler. Along the way he outwitted such luminaries as Churchill and Roosevelt. He never met his match. Quite an accomplishment for mental illness.

The great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent an often frustrating lifetime analyzing mental illness. In the end he concluded that psychoanalysis can only go so far. Ultimately,two instincts are permanently lodged in the human being – that of life or creativity and that of death or aggression. In perpetual conflict, the one advances civilization, the other destroys it. The individual chooses which to pursue – a Stalin of destruction or, say, a Gandhi of creativity. Illness plays no part.

Save The Children

Despite the growing tension over immigrationand drugs, normal life goes on between the U.S.and Mexico. People continue to cross the bridge connecting del Rio on the U.S. side with Acuña on the Mexican. One of those is Bob Kapoor who, like other citizens in del Rio, wants to take advantage of the lower prices in Mexico for basic services like medical needs. He finds Mexican doctors as qualified as American while charging much less. The same goes for a vet for his dog.

Bob and Jyoti

But there is another reason for his near daily border crossing. He and his wife Jyoti are financing an orphanage in Acuña for some twenty-five abandoned children ranging in age from two to twenty-one. They were found on the street where children tend to play all day and then go home. But some stay. The street with its attendant dangers is their home.

The orphanage is a welcome change. “We’re abig family,” says Bob. Whatever the age differences, the company of children make upfor the lack of parents. In most cases the mothers, usually on drugs, have given them up and prefer not to see them again. Occasionally, a grandmother will appear and ask for a child who may or may not want to leave the orphanage and the close friends he or she has made.

The scene outside is not reassuring. Like other border towns Acuña is part of a drug cartel network that extends along the 2000 mile U.S. border. Nobody does anything that upsets a cartel without paying a substantial price. So the orphanage provides protection against a possibly fatal mishap.

Acuña, says Bob, is in the hands of a “pretend cartel;” that is, one that’s aspiring to be the real thing in a smaller town that tends to be ignored by the larger criminals. That doesn’t mean the “pretends” are any less methodical in theirtrafficking. One practice is to give a baby to one or two people trying to cross the border. With that in hand they are sure to be accepted in the U.S. Once they are, they give the baby back to a cartel member who returns it to Acuña for yet another trip until the baby expires and thus is no longer useful. Prospective temporary parents can be housed in one of Acuña’s run downhotels not too far from the orphanage.

Occasionally, del Rio experiences a surge of migrants instead of the usual trickle. Thousands of Haitians piled up under the border bridge in great distress until they were sent to various parts of the U.S or stayed to work in Acuña. The Kapoors await the next expected surge in their modest but popular hotel in the busy heart of del Rio. Called the “Whispering Palms,” it’s famed for a whistling parrot named Larry with the lifespan of a healthy human who favors guests he likes with a gentle peck. It’s a comforting sight and sound in the tumult of change.

On the Brink

For scenery it’s hard to beat a twelve mile stretch of road along the Rio Grande outside the Texas border town del Rio. There’s one problem. It’s a favorite crossing point for illegal immigrants trying to reach the U.S. They usually succeed but not always. The climb down to the river isn’t easy, and the current can be swift. There’s an occasional drowning. The National Guard greet most of the crossers and detain them for the Border Patrol.

The area is a special project of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to show he is serious about border control. His Abbott fence is now completed along the route. It’s not a thirty-foot-high Trump affair, only ten feet with razor wire on top. Migrants have cut holes in it with shears and are sometimes able to scale it. But Sergeant Alejandro Moy says it has helped his competent National Guard team to apprehend those crossing.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy

Between the fence and the migrants are the homeowners who pay a price in insecurity for their splendid setting on the river. They can expect daily visits from weary, bedraggled migrants wondering where to go next. Barking dogs alert them to the newcomers who may just be passing through or ask for some food.

Sometimes they want more. Diane Schroeder, a watchful resident, says she once had to save a horse from a migrant intent on transportation. Nelson Puo, a retired Border Patrol officer, caught a couple of migrants trying to make off with his refrigerator. He handed them over to the Border Patrol. He says every day he has to be on the look-out. It’s steady work, though good fishing is a compensation.

In effect, like it or not, the del Rio homeowners are a front-line defense against this southern invasion. Their equivalent are the large ranchers on the Arizona border whose property is violated at night by cartel groups clad in black and well-armed. But the ranchers have the advantage of distance. The interlopers steer clear of the ranch house to avoid a shootout. There’s no distance between the Rio Homeowners and their invaders who are closer than neighbors and not as well intentioned. Like the National Guard the residents have guns but cannot fire them unless fired on.

Still, they cope. Doughty Diane Schroeder is not put off by a glimpse of an armed black clad cartel boss giving orders on the opposite riverbank. Her husband, a truck driver, heard a noise outside one night with the dogs barking. When he opened the door with his gun, two trespassers flung themselves on the ground, pleading, “Don’t shoot!” He didn’t, to be sure, and learned that they were not trying to escape from Mexico but to return to it. Apparently, they had made a drug delivery and were going back to make another. Instead, they were turned over to the Border Patrol.

Diane Schroeder

Despite occasional shots from across the river and a lot of unwelcome visitors, the Rio residents seem determined to stay where they are. “This is America,” says Nelson Puo. “Why would I have to move out?” It’s a testament to the Texans that their property values have gone up from $7000 a lot to $10,000. If the migrants continue to come, so may the Texans. It’s a standoff.

The Open Border

The National Guard had just rounded up a group of migrants at the border town of del Rio, Texas. There were four Cubans, four Venezuelans and one Nicaraguan who had met and joined up on the long trek to the U.S. It was often touch and go whether they would make it. Obstacles abounded, manmade and natural. They had to struggle through a jungle and unwelcoming people.

The Venezuelans – three men and a young woman – had the most circuitous route through Honduras and Guatemala in Central America, then up through dangerous Mexico controlled by the drug cartels. They were robbed so often they couldn’t pay the badgering police who threatened to send them back or maybe do something worse. So they took odd jobs to raise the necessary cash and resumed their journey to the Mexican border town Acuna opposite del Rio.

The Venezuelans

Knee deep they waded across the Rio Grande into the easiest part of their journey – entrance to the U.S. Always quite open along its 2,000 miles, the border today has never been more accessible under the Biden Administration’s highly permissive policies. This group in particular, unarmed, with no drugs and seemingly quite happy to be here, would have little trouble staying.

Sergeant Alejandro Moy, who is in charge of several miles of the border outside del Rio, is glad to welcome this kind of group and amiably questions them. They are much like the other 1,000 people he has detained over the year. Others more criminally inclined may elude capture or find another route to carry out their drug trafficking.

Sergeant Moy along with the rest of the National Guard is at a disadvantage. He has a weapon but cannot use it unless he is shot at first. Nor does he have the power of arrest. So he must await the arrival of the Border Patrol to take the detainees into custody. Since there are not enough Border Patrol, the wait can be as long as three hours.

The Cubans

In the past I had no trouble spotting Border Patrol. On this trip, covering sixty miles on the border, I didn’t see any. I’m told they’re not available because they’re burdened with paperwork in processing the migrants. That leaves a lot of the border uncovered and open to the continual flow of drugs and people.

The only solution is sufficient manpower, and that is conspicuously lacking. The question is why are U.S. troops protecting borders in various parts of the world but not our own? Technological improvements are a help, as is the Trump fence when it’s completed, but the drug cartels are too wily, armed and organized to be stopped by these impediments. Their forces must be met by our forces on the other side.

Once the newcomers are processed, they go to a temporary holding center. Every fifteen minutes a bus arrives with some twenty migrants and then departs with twenty others, mostly healthy-looking young men who are sent to various parts of the U.S., presumably to work and maybe, some Democrats hope, to vote.

I met a relaxed and cheerful Cuban couple – Landy Andres DeTenssen and Rosa Leyum Gonzales – who said they wanted to escape oppression in Cuba for freedom in America. Like others they had to pay along the trip and skirt the dangers, but here they were in the land they longed for. They would like to report on their progress in their new home in Florida. By all means, I said.

Retire the Neocons

The word out of Washington is that the Ukraine war may last longer than expected, maybe several months, maybe a couple of years, who knows? Sound familiar? Like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and you name it, unending wars with no discernible outcome. Not a thrilling prospect, to be sure, but perfectly satisfactory to that hardy band of zealots known as neoconservatives who believe war is an answer to almost anything and in that regard have driven U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Their aim is to reshape the world in ways agreeable to the U.S. and Israel, preeminent powers at an historical turning point. They got started with the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s. when weakened by scandal, the President was persuaded to add three new members to NATO – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic – in clear violation of a pledge of top U.S. leaders at the collapse of the Soviet Union not to expand the military alliance toward a diminished Russia. The fumbling Russian regime of Boris Yeltsin protested but was ignored.

It was an indication of how the neocons would get their way whatever the obstacles. Then the 9/11 attack provided an unexpected opening not only for more NATO members but also for another prized neocon desire – the invasion of Iraq. This was achieved with the help of a compliant media even though the reason for it was mythical. The target Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, as was charged, or any connection to the instigator of 9/11, al-Qaeda.

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The result was an ill-advised, protracted war that led along with other conflicts to a million civilian deaths and several million refugees in a disabled Middle East. But the neocons didn’t have to say they were sorry or even lick their wounds. Leading a charmed life. it was just on to the next endeavor. Switching from the Republican Party of a confused George Bush to the Democratic ranks of President Obama they showed that party was no obstacle to ideology.

They established an ideological companion John Brennan as the President’s intelligence chief whose main job was to give political protection to the neocons and allies. He lived up to expectations. Ensconced at the U.S. State Department, neocon Victoria Nuland made sure the U.S. had a central role in an uprising that replaced a pro-Russian regime in Ukraine with a pro-American one. There followed the militarization of Ukraine with abundant U.S. aid and weaponry. Putin retaliated by annexing Crimea and encouraging the independence of portions of Eastern Ukraine with a large Russian population.

President Trump initially resisted the neocons much to their horror and pledged not to start new wars. But then oddly, he chose two or three neocons for top posts who in turn persuaded him to eliminate Iranian General Soleimani, an accomplished strategist with whom Trump might have made a useful deal. The assassination was by way of remote-controlled drone, a rather contemptible form of warfare admired by many on the right.

With the advent of President Biden, it was pure bliss for the neocons who have completely taken over foreign policy. The ever-active Nuland pressed for Ukraine to join NATO, thus threatening to cross Putin’s red line. Given the circumstances the Russian ruler chose to invade Ukraine, with the neocons dreaming of a Russian loss that puts it under U.S. supervision like Ukraine. Neocon National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says he looks forward to a “weakened and isolated Russia.”

Dream on. So far neocon dreams have led only to chaos. Why should anything be different now? It’s time to retire the neocons from public service and replace them with competent strategists who exist outside of Washington but haven’t been allowed in by the neocon monopoly. Considering the current danger of confrontation between two nuclear armed powers, there’s little time to spare.