Carvans and Mutual Aids

Artwork by Banksy

In recent weeks United States border agents have again fired tear gas across the U.S.-Mexican border at participants of the ‘migrant caravan’ on the other side. The ‘migrants’ are in reality asylum seekers from Central America fleeing increasing violence and devastating poverty. As many know, reaching the border is a critical and necessary first step in filing an asylum claim, especially for those who lack the financial or political power to beseech a foreign government through an embassy or other means. Frustrated with the pace of asylum claims (the backlog just for initial processing was one month even before the arrival of the caravan) some of the ‘caravan’ members had pushed forward to try to accelerate the process. Mexican Federal Police in riot gear forced backed caravan members who attempted to reach the border, before U.S. border agents shot tear gas canisters at the mass of children, women, and men, sending them running and choking, and injuring at least three (reportedly including one journalist).

Of course the political backstory is important, as always. We would be remiss not to note that the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (where the majority of the migrants are from) have all been on the receiving end of the United States’ ‘intervention’: propping up ‘American’- friendly dictators throughout the Cold War, enforcing brutal poverty for the sake of cheap labor and resource extraction, and engaging in dirty wars against the local populations when they stood up against these conditions. Civil wars—both covert and overt—between U.S.-backed forces and peasant and/or leftist movements calling for local control of resources resulted in 100’s of dead and disappeared in Honduras, upwards of 90,000 dead in El Salvador, and over 200,000 killed in Guatemala. In each country those killed were overwhelmingly peasants, indigenous, the urban poor, and activists. And the Cold War lingers on; as recently as 2009 the United States government played at least a passive role in the destabilizing overthrow of Honduran president Zelaya in a military coup, and El Salvador and Guatemala continue to battle the ghosts of their own bloody civil wars, proxy struggles of the rich against the people. Those on the receiving end of the violence remain the same, but also involve environmental and indigenous activists engaging in struggles over land and the resources held within them against the steady advance of mining and forestry companies, often of Canadian and sometimes US origin.

These countries continue to suffer the consequences of said ‘cold war’ conflicts, with destabilized economies and easy access to weapons helping fuel further violence, including that surrounding the incredibly lucrative demand for cocaine and marijuana in the U.S and Canada. There is really no chance of escaping the poverty and violence for thousands of poor people throughout Central America; for many, their only hope is to set out North, and hopefully find work or even asylum in Mexico or the United States. To claim asylum a person must present themselves in person and request asylum on U.S. soil 1 (or at an embassy), so the borders must be crossed either way. And borders are very dangerous. Banding together, enacting mutual aid, and crossing as conscious group of political refugees – as those in the caravan are doing – is not only a form of exerting political autonomy through direct action, but also quite literally a matter of survival.

Years ago, I assisted on a research project on the Southern migration route from Central America in Mexico. In Tapachula, the border city that connects Guatemala with the Southeastern Mexican State of Chiapas, I talked to women who had been attacked on the journey, either by strangers or by their coyotes themselves. I met young men who had lost legs to hopping freight trains to avoid the Mexican army and paramilitaries, others who said the trains weren’t so bad but the crocodiles they swam past were terrifying. I saw native Mayan Guatemalans pulled off buses by armed Mexican soldiers. The sense of danger was palpable— and of course every year many folks die or just don’t make it north. To make such a perilous journey just reinforced in my mind how great the fear of one’s home and the violence it contains must be.

Of course from an anarchist perspective all borders and the violence they cause (structural and corporeal) are inhumane. They ultimately serve only the State and the rich who profit by division of people from land. The descendants of the Indigenous first inhabitants of Turtle Island are separated by arbitrary borders that disrupt both local communities and historic trade routes; a consequences of genocidal colonialism. On top of this the enforced extraction of resources and the violent legacy of imperialism further weighs the populace down with brutal poverty and political legacies of murderous dictatorships.

From our side of the border, and from our political perspective, the most we can do right now is engage in solidarity and mutual aid with those seeking to head north and with those who remain. Supplies have been getting to the caravan from comrades in Southern California and from within Mexico. We can either directly help or help those helping. We can also keep our attention focused on these issues and on practicing tangible solidarity. We can work to make and maintain contact with folks beyond our own local scenes and even beyond our national borders. We can build real connections with any and all migrants in our communities; these connections are lifelines that pull us closer and in that closeness allow us to collectively construct forms of shelter for each other – a way beyond the violent segregation that borders always ultimately are.

Here’s a list of a few above-ground groups offering direct support (either to the caravan or to refugees already in the U.S.) and a couple NGO’s that have good analysis and track records with these issues. As always, vet folks yourselves and work with people and networks you personally trust whenever possible.

Acton Bell is a professional musician and anarchist (thanks Soros). He has spent his life working (mostly) on three things: mastering the double bass, learning anarchist history, and memorizing spells. Acton enjoys a strong cup of coffee and hanging out with cats.

  1. Per the United States Citizenship Immigration Services website: “To obtain asylum through the affirmative asylum process you must be physically present in the United States. You may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.” ↩︎