When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
In late July, with child migrants still surging across the US-Mexico border, President Obama met with Central American leaders to discuss a response to the crisis. Not satisfied with Obama's plans, Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina took his agenda to the media, writing a Guardian op-ed criticizing the United States for the lasting legacy of both the Cold War and the drug war in his country.
Around the same time, Guatemala hired a lobbyist to help push its interests in Washington, DC. Given Pérez Molina's sharp criticism of the United States' history in the region, his choice—former Reagan official and noted Cold War propagandist Otto Reich—was a shocker.
If you've forgotten about the Reich, check out this 2001 profile from The American Prospect, this 2002 New Yorker piece, or his National Security Archive page. Highlights of his Latin American misadventures include:
Running the Reagan-era Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (OPD), which, as historian Greg Grandin wrote in Empire's Workshop, "was officially charged with implementing a 'new, nontraditional' approach to 'defining the terms of the public discussion on Central American policy.'" What it actually did was work to ensure US support of the Nicaraguan Contras in their offensive against the Sandinistas.
Overseeing OPD's "white propaganda" program, which placed pro-Contra op-eds in the mainstream media without acknowledging their links to the Reagan administration.
Confronting and intimidating those journalists Reich believed were sympathetic with the Sandinistas or the Salvadoran rebels. This included a memorable trip to the NPR office in DC—Reich referred to NPR as "Moscow on the Potomac"—during which he alerted reporters that OPD was listening to and transcribing their Central American reporting.
Helping write the Helms-Burton Act (which tightened the Cuban embargo) as well as lobbying for Bacardi to eliminate Cuban trademark rights so the rum maker could pilfer Cuba's official Havana Club brand. (Reich is Cuban American and staunchly anti-Castro.)
Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but hiring someone with Reich's history in the region is probably not the best way to, as the lobbying disclosure form puts it, "develop a strategy to move forward on the change of narrative from Guatemala to Washington, DC, allowing representatives in the North American political parties that are willing to abandon the reference to Guatemala of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the last century, and are eager to talk about the present and future of Guatemala of the 21st century." (The rest of the form is embedded below.)
Nor is it the best way for fellow cold warrior Pérez Molina to avoid references to his role as a military leader during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Guatemalans, many of them indigenous Mayans, with assistance from the United States. But then again, trying to make sense of the country's politics can be futile. "Just as you think you understand," University of California-Santa Cruz prof Susanne Jonas once wrote, Guatemala will "show you that you understand nothing at all."
Even as more people have spoken out against the team's derogatory moniker—everyone from President Obama to Gene Simmons—owner Dan Snyder hasn't given an inch, repeatedly arguing that it's simply not offensive. This week he even went on a mini media tour, giving radio and TV interviews as NFL training camps kicked into gear.
In the meantime, Snyder has doubled down on his commitment to keeping the R-word. Here's a list of some of the dumbest things he's said about it in the last year (as well as some additional reading, for context):
"It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect—the same values we know guide Native Americans."
"A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride."
More from the Cooley interview: "It's honor, it's respect, it's pride, and I think that every player here sees it, feels it. Every alumni feels it. It's a wonderful thing. It's a historical thing. This is a very historical franchise…I think it would be nice if, and forget the media from that perspective, but really focus on the fact that—the facts, the history, the truth, the tradition." (See also: "Former Redskins Player Jason Taylor Says Redskins Name Is Offensive")
In a Tuesday interview with ESPN's Outside the Lines: "A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride. Hopefully winning. And, and, it, it's a positive. Taken out of context, you can take things out of context all over the place. But in this particular case, it is what it is. It's very obvious…We sing 'Hail to the Redskins.' We don't say hurt anybody. We say, 'Hail to the Redskins. Braves on the warpath. Fight for old DC.' We only sing it when we score touchdowns. That's the problem, because last season we didn't sing it quite enough as we would've liked to." (See also: "Timeline: A Century of Racist Sports Team Names")
While the focus of the recent border crisis has been on unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, thousands of Mexican kids also have been apprehended trying to cross into the United States since last fall. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority had been caught several times before—and 15 percent of them reported having been previously apprehended six times or more.
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
The US Border Patrol made more than 11,300 apprehensions of unaccompanied Mexican child migrants from October 2013 to May 2014. Among the kids picked up, 76 percent said they'd been caught "multiple times before," according to the Pew report, which is based on data provided by Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the map above shows, 64 percent of Mexican minors crossing alone came from six states: Tamaulipas, Sonora, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Michoacán.
Currently, child migrants from Mexico (and Canada) can be deported shortly after apprehension, unlike kids from elsewhere, who are reunified with US-based family while their immigration proceedings are pending. As I wrote last month in a post about why the federal government shouldn't change the law to more easily deport Central American kids:
When an unaccompanied Mexican child is apprehended by the Border Patrol, agents are supposed to screen him within 48 hours. Specifically, they are supposed to determine three things: (1) whether the child has been the victim of trafficking; (2) whether the child has a fear of returning to Mexico; and (3) whether the child is able to voluntarily make the decision to return home. If the screening reveals that the child hasn't been trafficked, isn't afraid to go back, and can make the decision by himself, then he can be sent back.
In practice, says the ACLU's Sarah Mehta, "when they're happening, the screenings are inconsistent, but often they're not happening." Some agents don't speak Spanish; in other cases, Mehta says, kids have reported not being asked any questions at all, or being told by agents that they can't get deportation relief for whatever they experienced at home or along the way to the United States.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a UN Refugee Commission report claimed that more than 95 percent of Mexican children caught at the border by themselves in fiscal 2013 were returned to Mexico. If Mexican kids do have legitimate asylum claims, they're likely not being heard, advocates claim. And when these kids do get sent back, many try to cross again.
Here's another Pew chart, this one showing the numbers of unaccompanied child apprehensions by country of origin since 2009:
The most expensive World Cup ever has come and gone with a German victory and a Brazilian implosion. The hosts suffered an embarrassing two-game skid at the end of the tournament—losing by a combined 10-1 score in the semifinals and third-place game—leaving Seleção fans from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus longing for the days of jogo bonito.
But as Slate's Joshua Keating pointed out, they also might be ready for change at the top. During Brazil's historic 7-1 loss to Germany on Tuesday, fans reportedly started an obscene anti-Dilma Rousseff chant; the president decided to stop attending games after enduring taunts in the national team's opener against Croatia. Meanwhile, the government crackdown on Cup protests recommenced on Saturday, when some 17 people were arrested in advance of the final.
With all the tensions surrounding the World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics, I reached out to Juliana Barbassa, a former Rio-based Associated Press reporter. Barbassa is now finishing up a book about the upheaval in Brazilian society that led to last year's national protests and today's lingering violence. We talked about the country's growing middle class, soccer's effect on the national psyche, and the post-World Cup/pre-Olympics political dynamic:
Mother Jones: How did you come to this topic?
Juliana Barbassa: My whole family is from Brazil. I ended up in the US because of my father's work, and ended up going to college and graduate school and becoming a journalist there. Then I had this chance to come here as the AP's correspondent in Rio, and I started thinking about this. In 2009-10, Rio had just gotten the Olympics. It already had the hosting of the World Cup up its sleeve, and growth was tremendous. It seemed like Brazil and Rio were on everyone's radar.
Having known Brazil and Rio in the '80s and '90s, post-transition-to-democracy when the economy was in the dumps—hyperinflation, Brazilians leaving Brazil for the first time—I had some real questions about whether what was happening now was addressing these inequalities that had hamstrung the country. So I wanted to spend time with the people who, because of their jobs or where they lived or who they are, were at the nexus of some particular aspect of this change.
Once I started going through the process, I started to feel like the really important change that was happening here was happening in the middle class and the lower middle class. Yes, there are these Brazillionaires who have more money than they've ever had before and go on mega shopping sprees in New York. But we've always had the hyperrich. It felt like the real shift was happening among the lower socioeconomic classes.
"Yes, there are these Brazillionaires. But we've always had the hyperrich. It felt like the real shift was happening among the lower socioeconomic classes."
MJ: What's most notable?
JB: There's a visible reduction in punch-in-the-gut poverty. People aren't hungry in the same way that they were. This new middle-class thing is very real, and you see it in things like the number of adults wearing braces. It's shocking. Also, the number of first-time Brazilian fliers—people who could never afford an air ticket. At the same time, part of what's interesting is a sense of affluence that's kind of based on stuff. Some of that's access to food and basic needs, but also cellphones, credit cards, cars—all those things are selling like they never have before.
But you can have the stuff of the middle class and still lead a life that lacks a lot of the things that the middle class expect, like access to good education, decent transportation, sewage treatment, basic things like that. The rest of the services and rights and expectations haven't been met yet.
MJ: What role did this group play in the protests we saw last year?
JB: The protests were very heterogeneous: people from all over, all walks of life, a lot of university-educated people, some of this new middle class. But these protests were sparked by a revolt over an increase in the bus fare of 10 cents American—a wealthy person isn't going protest over that. The other demands they were making I see as generally very middle-class demands: A lot of the signs read things like "I want FIFA-quality schools," "I want FIFA-quality hospitals," "If my kid gets sick, I can't take him to a stadium."
And also the next step—a government that pays attention to the needs of the population and tries to meet them instead of putting on these big events that people were starting to feel maybe detract attention from the things that are really necessary, a government that's less corrupt, these kinds of things. These are demands of a growing middle class that's finding its voice.
"A lot of the signs read things like 'I want FIFA-quality schools,' 'I want FIFA-quality hospitals,' 'If my kid gets sick, I can't take him to a stadium.'"
MJ: Do people think of the World Cup and Olympics megaprojects as separate phenomena?
JB: I think most Brazilians have been thinking of them as one. Also, because of the way that projects have been hooked onto this event and that event, it isn't necessarily clear. Here in Rio it doesn't make sense. For one of the World Cup projects, one of the big deliverables was this transit route that was supposed to go from the airport to the far west. The far west is where we're going to have a lot of the Olympic installation. There's nothing related to the World Cup. So why is this rapid transit route part of the World Cup? Who knows. People didn't really have a sense of what it would cost or what it would mean until we started to get close to the World Cup. I think it will be the same for the Olympics.
MJ: After all of the buildup, what was it like once the World Cup actually got here?
JB: Just before it started there was a lot of tension in the air. There was a poll that said the majority of Brazilians did not think that this was a positive thing for Brazil. There was a bit of grumpiness. There was basically like a holding back that is absolutely not the way that Brazil usually approaches the World Cup. So there were a lot of questions about how people would react when it started. What if Brazil loses? Will there be a big explosion of protests again? But there hasn't.
I think a lot of people were really turned off by how violent these protests have been: violence by the police, which is heavily armed in these sort of Robocop outfits—full body armor, massive weapons, very ready with the pepper spray and stun grenades and things like that—and then these black blocs: people who use these violent tactics. I don't think there is sense that it's all forgotten and over. [President] Dilma Rousseff's approval ratings are very low. I just don't think that it's manifesting as an anti-World Cup feeling. People are separating those things.
"Brazilians by and large love their soccer, love their national team, but they don't feel like either of them represents them—or that everything depends on whether Brazil wins or loses."
I feel like Brazilians used to identify with soccer. It was Brazil's face abroad. Our national team, our biggest players, Pele and all that. There's a Brazilian writer, Nelson Rodriguez, who was a real chronicler of soccer, who once said, "The national team was the nation in cleats." It was that for a very long time. Ironically, now that the World Cup is here and the world is seeing Brazil and seeing the good and the bad, there is a little bit of a separation there. Brazilians by and large love their soccer, love their national team, but they don't feel like either of them represents them—or that everything depends on whether Brazil wins or loses on the pitch.
MJ: Do you think the protests will return, and if so, will they be as large as last year? And what role will all of this play at the polls?
JB: It's very unpredictable. Last year, nobody saw them coming. I do think people are more awake and aware about their rights and what's owed to them. I don't know if they're unhappy enough to change it, but I do think that the country that we'll have in 2016 is going to depend on how Brazilians process this change and how they see themselves, and the economic moment. We're definitely post-boom. We haven't grown since 2010. Jobs are still plentiful. Inflation is rising, but it's not out of control. If those numbers start to change and people start to feel like they're going to the supermarket and they can't get as much as they used to—if it starts hitting people in the areas where it matters—I think that we might see more unrest.
On Thursday, a freight train derailed in southern Mexico. It wasn't just any train, though: It was La Bestia—"the Beast"—the infamous train many Central American immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. When the Beast went off the tracks this week, some 1,300 people who'd been riding on top were stranded in Oaxaca.
How do 1,300 people fit on a cargo train, you ask? By crowding on like this:
Central Americans on the Beast, June 20 Rebecca Blackwell/AP
After years of turning a blind eye to what's happening on La Bestia, the Mexican government claims it now will try to keep migrants off the trains. On Friday, Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said in a radio interview that the time had come to bring order to the rails. "We can't keep letting them put their lives in danger," he said. "It's our responsibility once in our territory. The Beast is for cargo, not passengers."
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama's $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request to deal with the ongoing surge of unaccompanied Central American child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Many Central Americans take the trains to avoid checkpoints throughout Mexico—and the robbers and kidnappers known to prey on migrants. But riding the Beast can be even more perilous. Migrants often must bribe the gangs running the train to board, and even then, the dangers are obvious: Many riders have died falling off the train, or lost limbs after getting caught by its slicing wheels.
Why, though, hasn't the Mexican government cracked down sooner? Adam Isacson, a regional-security expert at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, says the responsibility of guarding the trains often has fallen to the rail companies—who usually turn around and argue that since the tracks are on government land, it should be the feds' problem. (Notably, the train line's concession is explicitly for freight, not passengers.)
In his radio interview, Osorio Chang also signaled a tougher stance against Central American migrants, in general. "Those who don't have a visa to move through our country," he said, "will be returned."
For more of Mother Jones' reporting on unaccompanied child migrants, see all of our latest coverage here.