Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon

Copy Editor

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.

Get my RSS |

The Man Who Ran Contra Propaganda for Reagan Is Guatemala’s New DC Lobbyist

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 2:45 PM EDT

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."

 

(h/t CEPR's The Americas Blog)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

6 Dumb Things Dan Snyder Has Said About the Name of His Football Team

| Sat Aug. 9, 2014 6:21 AM EDT

A year ago, I explained Mother Jones' decision to stop using the name of Washington, DC's pro football team, both online and in print. We joined Slate and The New Republic in doing so, and since then, a number of other news organizations and journalists have followed suit.

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."

In an October letter to season ticket holders: "The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor…It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect—the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans."
(See also: "Often Contemptuous" and "Usually Offensive": 120 Years of Defining "Redskin")

In a March letter to season ticket holders, following months of criticism (including this Super Bowl ad): "I've been encouraged by the thousands of fans across the country who support keeping the Redskins tradition alive. Most—by overwhelming majorities—find our name to be rooted in pride for our shared heritage and values."
(See also: "Dan Snyder to Native Americans: We're Cool, Right? Native Americans to Dan Snyder: [Redacted]")

Following an April ceremony at a Virginia high school: "We understand the issues out there, and we're not an issue. The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it's time that people focus on reality."
(See also: "Washington NFL Team's New Native American Foundation Is Already Off to a Great Start")

In a Monday interview with former Washington player Chris Cooley on ESPN 980, the radio station Snyder owns: "It's sort of fun to talk about the name of our football team because it gets some attention for some of the people that write about it, that need clicks. But the reality is no one ever talks about what's going on on reservations."
(See also: "Outrage in Indian Country As Redskins Owner Announces Foundation")

"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")

Three-Quarters of Mexican Child Migrants Have Been Caught at the Border Before

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mexican child migrant map
Pew Research Center

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.

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:

child migrants over time
Pew Research Center

Mexican Government: Freight Trains Are Now Off-Limits to Central American Migrants

| Sat Jul. 12, 2014 1:20 PM EDT

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."

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.

Mon Nov. 11, 2013 7:00 AM EST
Fri Aug. 9, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 18, 2013 3:05 AM EDT
Tue Mar. 5, 2013 6:57 PM EST
Fri Feb. 1, 2013 3:59 PM EST
Sun Dec. 23, 2012 7:11 AM EST
Thu Dec. 22, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Mon Nov. 7, 2011 6:25 PM EST
Tue Oct. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Wed Oct. 19, 2011 4:43 PM EDT
Wed Aug. 24, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 1, 2011 6:17 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 28, 2011 6:00 AM EDT