Weekend Edition

November 27th, 2015

The dangers of the Gates Foundation: Displacing seeds and farmers in Africa

November 27th, 2015


Our farmer-managed seed systems in Africa are being criminalized and displaced by a very aggressive green revolutionproject of corporate occupation by big multinational companies. This violent agrarian transformation is facing profound objection. African farmer organizations are outraged because decisions have been made and imposed on us in a very patronizing, patriarchal way, as if the agrarian vision and solution has been designed for us.

The Gates Foundation is funding the green revolution, along with the many governments linked to the old hub of capitalism, including your government [the US], the UK and the Netherlands. It is working in very close partnership with around 80 African seed companies. The Gates Foundation is the kingpin in charge of coordinating the various green revolution initiatives taking place in Africa.

The green revolution projects are a very expensive technological package for farmers to buy into. Tens of millions of small-scale, resource-poor farmers cannot afford the high costs of inputs unless they’re subsidized by our governments or your taxpayer money. This money goes into the public purse and out to agribusiness such as Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred for hybrid or improved seed and agrochemicals.

Investment has become a euphemism for land grabs, disposition, and dislocation of our communities. We’ve already seen the beginnings of corporate control and concentration of our seed sector. Monsanto and Pioneer Hi Bred, both US multinational companies, control most of the hybrid maize market in southern Africa. Through the acquisition of South Africa’s maize company, Panaar Seed, by Pioneer HiBred, hybrid pioneer [seeds] will make a lot of incursions [elsewhere] into Africa.

We see and fear a great deal of social dislocation, of collapse of our farming systems – and it’s already happened. In industrialized-agriculture countries like South Africa, farmers have become completely deskilled and divorced from production decisions, which are made in laboratories or in far-away board rooms.

In Uganda and other east African countries where the banana is a staple food, the Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars into a genetically engineered banana project. Their idea is to enable Ugandans and other east Africans to access vitamin A by commercially growing a banana genetically engineered to produce beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, as if a diverse diet won’t give Africans this vitamin. Ugandans grow around 27 varieties or more of bananas. So this super banana project is a Trojan horse; it’s very similar to the golden rice they’ve been trying to commercialize since the mid-80s, which has gone nowhere after a huge expenditure of money. They’ve even started the process of feeding trials of the GM banana to US citizens at Iowa State University. It’s a way to capture the commercial markets and pry open countries that are closed to GMOs, like Uganda.

The likes of Gates revile peasant farming systems as backward and responsible for poverty and starvation in Africa. It’s as if there’s a concerted effort to make these systems obsolete, to do away with them. They’re ugly, they have to go, and they have to go now. But 80 percent of our population live in rural areas and about 70 percent of income is generated from agriculture, so what is going to happen when they empty out our rural areas? Where are all these people going to go?

Toward Freedom for more

Last Days of Ivory: Kathryn Bigelow spurns call to withdraw film

November 27th, 2015


Many Baka tribespeople in Cameroon have suffered abuse and beatings at the hands of anti-poaching squads PHOTO/© Selcen Kucukustel/Atlas

Kathryn Bigelow, producer of ‘Last Days of Ivory’ PHOTO/© Wikimedia commons/ David Shankbone

The Hollywood team behind the controversial film “Last Days of Ivory” have ignored calls to withdraw it, despite overwhelming evidence that it’s misleading the public. The film advocates a more militaristic approach to conservation that has already proved disastrous for tribes across Africa and elsewhere.

The film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, claims that the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab is funded by ivory poaching, but two recent investigations, by the respected think tank the Royal United Services Institute, and the UN and Interpol, have found that this is “largely wrong” and “highly unreliable”.

The film is being used to bolster the move towards a more violent conservation that criminalises tribal peoples for subsistence hunting.

Across Africa, tribal peoples are being evicted from their land and suffer violence at the hands of heavily armed anti-poaching squads. They’re accused of “poaching” because they hunt their food. And they face arrest and beatings, torture and death, while fee-paying big game hunters are encouraged. Their lives and lands are being destroyed by the conservation industry, tourism and big business.

Survival for more

Vimanas, rockets, and Tipu Sultan

November 26th, 2015


The RSS and its camp followers have a strange relationship to imagination. They take the imagination of the mythology, and present it as matter of fact history. When it comes to the scientific imagination – how to create new sciences – they fall back on the sterile claim that we having nothing new to discover, as all of it has been already done by our sages in the past. This is the Batra version of science, available in the Gujarat text books. This view of science is also endorsed by the PM, Narendra Modi. In his speech while opening a new wing in the Reliance Hospital last year, Modi claimed genetics and organ transplants were available in ancient India. He said, “What I mean to say is that we are the country which had these capabilities. We need to regain these.”

No science required, just study Sanskrit. No developments, only regaining of “ancient” knowledge. No wonder science budget is continuously being cut under the Modi regime.

This is the same approach that leads to claiming knowledge of aeronautics in ancient India, based on a supposed text of Rishi Bharadwaj, which we know was composed only in early 20th century. As opposed to presenting such myths as science, we have the real advances in science and technology that took place in India, that is currently being rejected as anti-Hindu.

Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan are two pioneers in advancing rocketry. They used such rockets effectively against the British in the Anglo-Mysore wars. Roddam Narasimbha, one of the doyens of Indian aeronautics, wrote a detailed paper in 1985 on these developments. He discussed how British took such knowledge from India, and subsequently used it in their wars against the French and the British. Abdul Kalam, who according to the current Culture Minister, Mahesh Sharma, was a “nationalist” “despite being a Muslim”, accorded high praise to Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali. In his autobiography, he talks about how, while visiting NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, he discovered Tipu’s pioneering contributions to rocketry. A painting of Tipu’s use of rockets against the British, is displayed in the main reception there.

In the 102nd Indian Science Congress last year, a session titled “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit” was organised by the Sanskrit Department of Mumbai University. This had a paper on ancient Indian aviation technology, presented by two speakers, one of whom was Captain Anand J Bodas, a retired pilot. He stated to the press such gems as, “modern science is unscientific”, and in Vedic or ancient Indian times, an aeroplane traveled “through the air from one country to another, from one continent to another continent, from one planet to another planet.” According to Bodas, “In those days aeroplanes were huge in size, and could move left, right, as well as backwards, unlike modern planes which only fly forward.”

We will let stupidities such as ancient Indian aeroplanes “flying through air” between planets and “flying backwards” pass. What is important is what the Head of the Sanskrit Department, while defending the paper, said, that it was being presented by a pilot and therefore needs to be taken seriously. We should accept the scientific validity of the paper, because Bodas can fly an airplane! Not on the evidence on which these absurd conclusions were being presented; or any scientific examination of the concepts, or any analysis of the likely date of the so-called evidence. What mattered is that the speaker was a pilot – which he proves he can fly and not that he can read – and he endorses the claims of ancient Indian science, as long it is written in Sanskrit.

News Click for more

The doctrine of 9/11 anti-immigration

November 26th, 2015


IMAGE/Statista/Mondo Weiss

Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas sponsored a bill (HR4038) to block Iraqi and Syrian refugees from entering into the United States. The bill is known as the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives. “We are a nation at war,” said Congressman McCaul. Given the name of the bill and the bellicose attitude of the Republicans and Democrats who voted for it, the enemies in that war are the refugees.

Who are these refugees, these families who have been uprooted from their homes in Iraq and Syria? They are victims of war and chaos. They are regime change refugees. It is this that pushes them out of their homes, makes them risk the turbulent Mediterranean Sea and the barbed wire borders. Refugees flee – they do not have a destination in mind. Their objective is to be out of the line of fire. Where they go is immaterial. Most want a piece of land where they can reconstruct the elements of normality. Camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey bristle with such desires. Flowers are planted outside the UNHCR tents; cinder blocks become the desks for impromptu classrooms; amongst the slush, fires burn for warmth and for food. Wretchedness is intolerable. It is ameliorated by small gestures and great hopes.

UNHCR – the UN Refugees agency – is conservative with its figures. But even from the UN numbers, the scale of the crisis is remarkable. Iraq’s collapse began with Gulf War 1 in 1990-91 and continues unabated till today. Four million Iraqis have been displaced with about half a million additional Iraqis as registered refugees. Before the Syrian crisis, the Iraqis could flee to Iran, Jordan and Syria. Now the road to Syria is blocked and Jordan is saturated with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Syria’s own crisis is gargantuan. Half the population is displaced, with the refugees numbering at least five million people. Eighty percent of the Syrian people now live in poverty, and life expectancy has fallen by twenty years. The human cost of this war has been astounding. What are the Syrians to do but to try and flee circumstances that are without parallel?

Neither Iraq nor Syria seems near peace. Flight is the best option for people who have lost the ability to imagine their homelands in a state of stability. But where should they fly?

Lebanon, Iran, Jordan and Turkey have taken in large numbers of refugees. Lebanon – a country with merely four million residents – has well over one million refugees. The financial situation in the country is in tatters. It has relied upon foreign aid and charity to help manage the refugee influx. At the major donor’s conferences, the Rich Powers arrive with smug looks of Benevolence on their faces. They pledge a great deal of money to the UN agencies. When it comes to fulfilling these pledges, their ink runs dry. The UN estimates that only about a quarter of the pledges for refugee relief are fulfilled.

Counterpunch for more

Michael Walzer, revolutionologist

November 26th, 2015


Michael Walzer PHOTO/Times of Israel

The political theorist’s new book on national liberation can’t answer one key question: Why have those words become obsolete?

Being anywhere on the left has always been a minority position in American society, but Michael Walzer has typically been cheerful about his place on the margin. He defines himself as a “connected” social critic in the mold of Albert Camus, George Orwell, and his mentor, Irving Howe. By “connected,” Walzer means something different from the more French-inflected “engaged,” and the contrast he draws with “alienated” is explicit. Connected critics, Walzer maintains, argue from the edge, but not from the outside. They do not burn constitutions; they offer amendments. They speak in the idiom of their fellow citizens and remind them of the ideals they have failed to live up to. They write not out of anger but disappointed love.

For more than half a century, Walzer has lovingly shamed America in this fashion, most notably through his stewardship of Dissent magazine, which has incubated social-democratic political alternatives since the Cold War. Too young for the trials of McCarthyism and too old for the Vietnam draft, Walzer is the inheritor of a segment of the left that still prides itself on its midcentury blend of anticommunism and social democracy. In public, Walzer still gets chuckles from mainstream audiences when he says, with practiced weariness, that he “lives on the left” or mentions “the left, which is where I live,” as if he were confessing to some unfashionable zip code.

But view Walzer from any another angle, and he appears to be at home in the political center. He is one of the immortals at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; he is the pinch-hitting social democrat for The New York Review of Books; he appears on Charlie Rose; he is read at West Point. These are not typically radical havens. In his work as a political theorist, Walzer’s most important writings orbit prominently inside the ever-expanding galaxy of communitarian provisos to John Rawls. He periodically inspects the exports of European theory—­Foucault, Negri, Zizek—and marks them “return to sender.” In his mode as a judger of wars, Walzer is often as impatient with the mechanical anti-imperialism of leftists—he prefers to put “imperialism” in quotation marks—as he is with the humanitarian hypocrisies of liberals.

In some sense, Walzer embraces this dual political character. He thinks that liberalism, without regular utopian injections, is doomed to abandon any commitment to social progress; but that without liberal limits, utopian aspirations threaten to bring about catastrophes worse than the ones they seek to mitigate. In other words, radicalism and liberalism need each other. This is hardly an original or clarifying political position, but Walzer has always displayed a certain distaste for the business of taking political positions, while at the same time taking them constantly. And so, when Walzer says that he “lives on the left,” it is not always clear what address he is giving.

The question is more urgent and interesting now that the flock has separated from the shepherd. It is hard to say just when Walzer went from being treated by his comrades as America’s leading social-­democratic thinker to an ever less gently tolerated avuncular presence. Many otherwise-sympathetic adherents of Walzer’s left-liberal blend like to whisper that much of his work amounts to a justification of Israeli policies. But this reductio ad Zionism satisfies a craving for coherence by positing a consistency in his thought that isn’t quite there. Certainly, the growing distance between Walzer and the left where he has lived is due to competing claims between social justice on the one hand, and communal solidarity on the other. In order to maintain its credentials, Dissent recently had little choice but to run a rebuttal to one of Walzer’s pieces in its own pages. That particular contretemps was about the relationship between the left and Islamism, but it runs much deeper. The acrimony of the exchange and the melancholy tone of Walzer’s response went beyond the pitch of a family quarrel. At its root, it is a conflict over the nature and autonomy of modern politics and its most extreme expression: revolution. For Walzer, any talk of revolution and its export necessarily includes a reckoning with the use and abuse of American power in the world.

The Nation for more

Cracking coder

November 25th, 2015


There is to me something ineffably grand, romantic and ambitious about the idea of a seven-metre diameter, 150-metre-long machine eating its way slowly under London to make the tunnel for the vast Crossrail project that will unclog the city’s tubes and whizz passengers from east to west from 2018. So when I saw a competition to name one of these engines, Ada seemed an appropriate handle, for Ada, Countess of Lovelace was one of the grandest, most romantic and most intellectually ambitious women of the 19th century. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, apparently agreed; so Ada, in her latest incarnation, has spent the past two years munching her way through the subsoil of southern England, and has emerged just in time for the 200th anniversary of her birth.

It isn’t just tunnel-boring machines that are named after the remarkable woman some say was the world’s first computer programmer. There are less eccentric memorials, too: a computer language, a scientific medal, a day, an international conference, a film, a building, a blog and so on. Ada has garnered the attention not just because of her mathematical achievements but because she is a great story. When she was a month old her mother, Anne, wife of George Gordon, Lord Byron, had had enough of her husband’s profligacy (he disposed of her vast inheritance within a year), promiscuity (he had an affair with his half-sister Augusta among many, many others) and general horridness (he would send his wife up to bed while he dallied with Augusta downstairs), and stole away from the marital home with her baby. Neither mother nor daughter ever saw the mad and bad poet-peer again, but when he died at the age of 36 he was such a celebrity that Ada was, royalty aside, London’s most famous child.

Anne Byron was worried that her daughter’s mind would be tainted by what she regarded as an excess of imagination in the Byron family. In order to keep Ada’s intellect on the straight and narrow, she hired a tutor at the generous salary of £300 a year to teach her maths. Ada, who was already planning to build a flying machine, took to the discipline with enthusiasm initially for instrumental reasons – “my wish is to make myself well acquainted with Astronomy, Optics, & c; but I find that I cannot study these satisfactorily for want of a thorough acquaintance with the elementary parts of Mathematics” — but found herself increasingly entranced by its beauty.

When Ada was 17 she met the 41-year-old Charles Babbage at a party. She was impressed by his growing reputation as a brilliant scientist; he by her sharp intellect and interest in his subject. Babbage and Ada started to correspond. There was perhaps a hint of romance in the air, but the dominating, snobbish Anne married her daughter off to the Earl of Lovelace, and Ada’s relationship with Babbage turned into an intense and affectionate collaboration. Babbage was clearly enthralled by Ada: he described her to the scientist Michael Faraday as “that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects (in our own country at least) could have exerted over it”.

Babbage pioneered computing a century before it happened. He half-built the Difference Engine, a machine for doing complex calculations. He designed the even more ambitious Analytical Engine, to be based on the Jacquard loom — a machine which was operated by instructions written on punched cards and made far more elaborately patterned cloth far more efficiently than human weavers ever could. The Analytical Engine was never built, but Federico Menabrea, an Italian mathematician (and later prime minister), wrote a paper on the design. Ada translated the paper and appended notes that were three times as long as the original.

There are two remarkable aspects to Ada’s notes. One is her visionary understanding of the engine’s potential: “a new, vast and powerful language”, she wrote, “is developed for the future use of analysis, in which to wield its truths so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible.” She understood the breadth of its implications: “Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” The other startling aspect of this work is Note G, which concerns the creation of a sequence called the Bernoulli numbers, and contains a table showing the punch-card flow for these numbers. This is regarded as the first computer algorithm – hence the claim that Ada was the first computer programmer.

Intelligent Life for more


November 25th, 2015


The Amish are online, onscreen, and multiplying fast. In their battle with modernity, it’s tough to say who’s winning

he first time I met an Amish person I was a teenager. It was 1985, and my family had recently moved back to Ohio from a stint in the United Arab Emirates. Life overseas had given me a hunger to know about other cultures, and also the Harrison Ford movie Witness had just come out. So when my family encountered a bearded, Abraham-Lincoln figure selling baked goods from a buggy, I was a little seduced by the tableau of simplicity that he presented. Then the man reached into a Coleman cooler for a block of Swiss cheese. That image has never left me. The fiberglass food safe with its bright?green lid seemed so out of place.

The Amish, apparently, were more complicated than I thought.

Since then, I’ve probably visited more Amish settlements than anyone. Who would venture out to the most remote corners of Montana, Maine and South Texas if they didn’t happen to be a student of Amish culture? Perhaps a peddler of pots and pans; many Amish cooks, I have noticed, gradually gave up their cast iron for stainless steel in the past 50 years.

In my 25 years exploring Amish communities, I’ve witnessed changes that would be unnoticeable to the average outsider. I’ve seen the legendarily technology-avoidant Amish texting (and texted with a few), ordering books from Amazon, having their own Facebook accounts (horses seem to be a popular avatar), sending emails, even lecturing in universities – which is ironic as the Amish eschew formal education beyond eighth grade. There was something subversively delicious about a man without even a high-school diploma holding court for doctoral students.

To the average person, the Amish are flash-frozen daguerreotypes, little changed from their 17th-century roots. Indeed, this image is an enormous tourist attraction: the desire to hear a clip-clopping buggy, to see horse-drawn plows working the fields and bursts of colourful laundry flapping in a summer wind pumps $1.9 billion annually into the economy of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania alone, according to a study by the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau. Public fascination has made an ostensibly private people amazingly visible. Amish-themed romance fiction generates $720 million in annual sales. TV schedules have seen such ‘reality’ confections as Amish in the City (2004), Amish at the Altar (2010), Breaking Amish (2012), and, for good measure, American Colony: Meet the Hutterites (2012). There was even a rather far-fetched show called Amish Mafia (2012), purporting to show the organised ‘underworld’ of the ‘Plain people’.

While these shows were airing, however, the Amish were doing a fine job of creating their own non-fiction headlines. It was, for instance, tough to argue that Amish Mafia was invented once a group of ex-Amish goons were charged in 2012 for forcibly cutting the hair of Amish members, and the beards of the men, under orders from an authoritarian bishop. Meanwhile, the businessman Monroe Beachy apparently decided that the Plain people needed their own Bernie Madoff, constructing a Ponzi scheme that collapsed in 2010 in the pastoral hills of Holmes County, Ohio, taking millions of hard-earned Amish dollars with it.

Or this incident, curiously underreported: in 2009, in Wayne County, Ohio, an Amish man was accused of persuading his Mennonite mistress to kill his wife as she and their children slept. At trial it came out that Eli Weaver was having multiple affairs with paramours he met through his smartphone. To my mind, this story marked the real turning point. Here at last we saw in plain sight the reach of technology into Plain America.

Aeon for more

Grandpa, what do you make of the killings in Paris?

November 25th, 2015


French military patrol the Louvre in Paris PHOTO/Andrew Meares/The Sydney Morning Herald

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/paris-attacks-a-photo-diary-of-frances-week-of-terror-20151123-gl5h0w.html#ixzz3sI4zxKjl
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I told my grand-daughter: “Yes, the murders in Paris took place on Friday, the thirteenth, but they may not have chosen that day deliberately.”

“But they would have had to plan it ahead?” she shot back.

I said: “Sure! But they could have planned it and got ready, waiting. Then when something happened that they thought was advantageous to them, they struck.”

“What could that event have been?”

“It was probably the murder, by drone, of the notorious ‘Jihadi John’ who had been posting videos of himself on Youtube conducting the gruesome beheading of Westerners captured by the Isis terrorist group.”

“You mean that triggered the attacks? But that was done by the Americans?”

“Yes, I know, but in the eyes of ISIS, the entire West is one entity. What I am saying is that the coincidence is amazing – if it was one. You find the Americans openly telling everyone – if not boasting – that they had killed Jihadi John. Then this happens in Paris the next day. And there is absolutely no connection? I doubt it. ISIS is absolutely convinced that its cause against the West is right!”

“So they were ready and waiting, and then they got an event that triggered them to action?”

“Yes, it’s not above them to have “sleeping agents” on the ready, with targets selected, weapons primed, who have the capability to strike within moments of a signal being given!”

“Wow! And they don’t care about killing civilians?”

“Sorry – they would tell you that the war the Western countries are waging in Syria, principally, but also in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and other countries, are all against targets that immolate thousands of civilians. Have you seen the Al-Jazeera TV footage, taken by drone, showing how the big Syrian city of Aleppo has been laid to waste totally? You can find it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQjw2BVRVg8

“Thank you, I shall look for it.”

“When you view it, ask yourself, ”If I were a Syrian, what would I think of such wanton destruction in my country?”

“The West bombs these places from the air, knowing what damage their powerful bombs can inflict on civilian populations, yet they complain when their civilian populations are targeted in revenge?”

“The hypocrisy is beyond belief. As if the non-Europeans who are killed are not human beings! They see people trying to reach Europe to escape from the devastation in towns like Aleppo, and they are horrified: ‘They are coming to enjoy and ruin our style of life!” That they are genuine refugees from a genuine Armageddon in their countries doesn’t cut any ice with people like the Hungarians, or some of the British Conservatives. They can see people willing to die on the sea in overcrowded, rickety boats than stay to be burnt by bombs from the sky, and they call them “migrants!” in order not to feel any responsibility towards them.

There is a complete disconnect, in the typical Western mind, between Western governmental actions (bombing many foreign territories with each country’s powerful Air Force and drones) and death and destruction on the ground in those territories, that cause people to flee with their entire families, hoping to reach safety in Europe. Let me read to you, a quote from the Daily Telegraph, a British right-wing newspaper which does not exactly carry ‘anti-Western’ propaganda. An article by its Correspondent, Harriet Alexander says:

Pambazuka News for more

Human remains 629667

November 24th, 2015


Migrant deaths in Brooks County Texas PHOTO/Latino USA

For most of US history no one much cared that Latinos were entering the country and driving the economy of the south-west. In the 1920s the US introduced restrictive immigration laws but it didn’t have Latinos in mind: the perceived dangers were ‘inassimilable’ Italians and Eastern European Jews. During the Second World War the government laid on trains to bring thousands of Mexican labourers across the border to work on farms and ensure food security. In the 1950s the US started deporting Latin Americans who hadn’t arrived through official recruitment channels but this was mostly as a result of pressure from Mexico, where landowners were angry about workers being poached. US government-backed recruitment of Mexicans continued, and there were no limits on the numbers who could enter until a quota was imposed in 1965. In the 1990s the North American Free Trade Agreement threw Mexico’s rural economy into turmoil: migrant numbers rose dramatically and the Clinton administration began to militarise the border. The 9/11 attacks were used to justify even more fences and security personnel. Today the US-Mexico border is tightly monitored and in places absurdly fortified; it is patrolled by helicopters and night-vision aerostats.

Until recently the main gateway for Latinos was Arizona, where these fortifications were weakest. But in the last 18 months Texas has become the preferred destination. The number of ‘unaccompanied alien children’ arrested shows this clearly: in Texas last year almost 50,000 were cuffed by border patrol compared to 8000 in Arizona: total border crossings show a similar ratio. The nationality of those crossing has also changed: once almost all of them were Mexican; now equal numbers come from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. The security deals agreed by the US and Mexican governments appear to have reduced the number of Mexicans who try to cross the border, but why are more people arriving from other Central American countries?

The end of a truce last year between the two most powerful Salvadoran maras – self-repatriating gangs originating in the US – is responsible for some of this increase. The region as a whole is racked by violence and ruled by repressive regimes. Washington has sponsored one military coup after another. George Kennan sketched out the programme in 1950, promising ‘coercive measures which can impress other governments with the danger of antagonising us’. In 1961 a strategy note prepared for Kennedy by the Joint Chiefs of Staff advised: ‘Latin Americans must … discard the philosophy that a corps of US-trained country personnel are dangerous to the indigenous governments.’ At the end of the 1970s the Sandinistas did away with the ancien régime in Nicaragua and, despite a CIA-backed rebel insurgency, a largely homegrown political arrangement survived, but Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have long been shell states with nothing to offer most citizens, economically or politically. Hundreds of thousands are leaving, and the shortest route takes them to Texas.

If you take Route 281 south from San Antonio, past the billboards (‘We buy ugly houses – call this number’; ‘AAA finance loans from $50-$1280’), you eventually reach Falfurrias, the largest place in Brooks County but still a one-horse town. The Dairy Queen burned down in May and the Walmart closed in July. Falfurrias once had a reputation as a hub for illegal gambling but this summer the gaming houses were raided and shut down. The town seems abandoned, apart from a border patrol station and a detention centre. The United States Border Patrol operates checkpoints on main roads many miles from the actual frontier. Falfurrias is 70 miles from the border and one of the inspection points is just outside town. If you’re an undocumented migrant this is where you leave the highway and walk for miles through the wilderness. More migrants die from thirst and injury in Brooks County than anywhere else in the United States.

London Review of Books for more