When delirious crowds tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989, many hallucinated that a millennium of borderless freedom was at hand. Globalization was supposed to inaugurate an era of unprecedented physical and virtual electronic mobility.
Instead neoliberal capitalism has promptly built the greatest barrier to free movement in history. This Great Wall of Capital, which separates a few dozen rich countries from the earth’s poor majority, completely dwarfs the old Iron Curtain. It girds half the earth, cordons off at least 12,000 kilometers of terrestrial borderline, and is incomparably more deadly to desperate trespassers.
Take, for example, Fortress Europe, where an integrated data system (upgrading the existing Strasbourg-based Schengen network) with the sinister acronym of PROSECUR will become the foundation for a common system of border patrol, enforced by the newly authorized European Border Guards Corps.
The European Union (EU), moreover, has already spent hundreds of millions of Euros beefing up the so-called “Electronic Curtain” along its expanded Eastern borders as well as fine-tuning the Surveillance System for the Straits that is supposed to keep
British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently asked his fellow EU leaders to extend white
His obvious model is
If border enforcement has now moved far offshore, it has also come into many front yards. Residents in the US Southwest have long endured the long traffic jams at â€˜second border’ checkpoints far away from the actual line. Now stop-and-search operations, pioneered in
As result, even notional boundaries between border enforcement and domestic policing, or between immigration policy and the “war on terrorism,” are rapidly disappearing. “Noborder” activists in
Meanwhile the human toll from the new world (b)order grows inexorably. According to human rights groups, nearly 4,000 immigrants and refugees have died at the gates of
In the context of so much inhumanity, the White House’s recent proposal — dramatically announced on the eve of the
In fact, as immigrant rights and labor groups have quickly pointed out, it is an initiative that combines sublime cynicism with ruthless political calculation. The Bush proposal, which resembles the infamous Bracero program of the early 1950s, would legalize a subcaste of low-wage labor without providing a mechanism for the estimated million undocumented workers already in the
Toilers without votes or permanent domicile, of course, represent a Republican utopia. The Bush plan would provide WalMart and MacDonalds with a stable, almost infinite supply of indentured labor. It would also throw a lifeline to neoliberalism south of the border. The decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement, even many former supporters now admit, has proven a cruel hoax, destroying as many jobs as it has created.
Indeed the Mexican economy has shed jobs four years in a row and the future employment outlook has been described in the business press as â€˜horrendous. The White House neo-bracero proposal offers Mexican President Vincente Fox and his successors a crucial economic safety-valve for rural producers displaced by American corn imports.
It also provides Bush with an issue to woo the swing-vote Latinos in the Southwest next November. Karl Rove (the president’s grey eminence) undoubtedly calculates that the proposal will sow wonderful disarray and conflict amongst unions and liberal Latinos.
Finally — and this is truly sinister serendipity — the offer of temporary legality would act as irresistible bait to draw undocumented workers into the open where the Department of Homeland Security can identify, tag and monitor them. Far from opening a crack in the Great Wall, it heals a breach, and ensures an even more systematic and intrusive policing of human inequality.
Mike Davis is author, most recently, of the kids’ adventure, Land of the Lost Mammoths (Perceval Press, 2003) and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See (New Press, 2003). He is currently working on a book about the recent political earthquake in
Copyright C2004 Mike Davis
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]