Dear President Trump, No Wall Will Stand Forever
From the Speeches of Mexico's New President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Phoenix, Arizona, March 7th, 2017
The desert that extends toward the south of this city is an immense graveyard. Thousands and thousands of Mexicans and Latin Americans have been left to die of hunger, thirst, or exposure. Miguel Méndez, born here, in Arizona, to Mexican parents, migrants from Sonora, spoke of the border thus:
There goes the procession
Marching over a field of bones
To the beat of derogatory chants
The earth swallows itself
What kind of world is this, which buries its children at dawn?
Poet and novelist Miguel Méndez was an exemplary man. At age 14 he earned a living in these lands as a builder and day laborer. He ended up as a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and left us a body of work that represents an enormous contribution to Chicano, Mexican, and American literature. He died in Tucson a few years back, and I find it important to begin this address by taking a moment to honor his memory.
The desert is naturally arid, but it is human cruelty that makes it deadly. Ever since Bill Clinton authorized the construction of fences to seal off old border paths around Tijuana and El Paso, migrants have had no choice but to cross a desert full of dangers.
Neither the fences built at the end of the last century nor huge increases in the Border Patrol did anything to halt immigration. They only made it more dangerous.
Migrants continued to risk their lives in the hands of heartless polleros and gangs who lurk in the border region. They also must evade the Border Patrol, and even civil militias who, horrifically, hunt for migrants. If the migrants made it that far, they still had to face a long and unforgiving journey through the desert.
In this part of the world, death stalks migrants just as it does the people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, but the media does not lend us the same attention as the victims of those tragedies. Deaths slowly pile up, unyielding, ever so quietly.
Of course, those who undertake this journey are not following some suicidal impulse: economic necessity pushes them on this perilous track.
Dishonest Mexican officials have lied to us, presenting the economic flight of millions as natural. Rather than creating jobs or providing people with dignified work conditions, education, health, or housing, they have allowed this migration to continue unchecked; the result has been a true humanitarian catastrophe. They no longer question the fact that one of the greatest sources of foreign currency in our country is the remittances those banished workers send to their families.
On this side of the border, one finds the hypocrisy of an economic system hungry for cheap labor that legislates their persecution, that seeks to fortify the border and greatly increase deportations. The truth is that U.S. politicians themselves do not seek to impede the entrance of foreign laborers but regulate it according to their will, depending on the demands of the labor market. In truth, U.S. immigration policy has been a valve that regulates the workforce at the will of U.S. business.
Trump’s persecution of migrants is mere electoral demagogy; he has deceived many U.S. citizens with the narrative that Mexicans are stealing their jobs, and now he intends to exploit that lie to extend his time in the White House. But he knows perfectly well that the U.S. economy cannot sustain itself without migrant labor and the very low salaries those migrants receive. To a large degree they sustain America’s ability to stay competitive in agriculture, industry, and services worldwide.
The pretense of building a wall follows this hypocritical logic. If it is ultimately built, this wall will not staunch the flow of workers from one country to another; it will simply make things much more dangerous. This is a criminal idea.
History teaches us that no wall will stand forever. Neither the wall of Troy nor the wall of Jerusalem could withstand sackings and attacks; the Great Wall of China could not prevent the Mongol invasion, and the Maginot Line did not prevent the German invasion of France during the Second World War. This wall will do still less, because south of the U.S. exists not an enemy but a country sacked by greedy officials, and by dishonest politicians that have left millions with no recourse but to find a living elsewhere.
As the U.S. southern border faces no real threats against which to defend, Trump’s wall will not be defensive. On the contrary, it would function oppressively, like the Berlin Wall, or be exclusionary, like the enormous fence built by Israel to confine the Palestinians. But, above all, it would exist as a propaganda tool to deceive U.S. workers battered by neoliberalism and the fear of criminality. Trump will use this wall to make these people feel that the government is doing something to protect their jobs and secure their safety, while ensuring construction firms can make astronomical profits.
I want to stress that the construction of this wall would impede the free transit of members of indigenous cultures; the yaqui, the pápago and others, original owners of these lands between Sonora and Arizona.
As the great novelist Carlos Fuentes wrote, “When we exclude, we lose. When we include, we win, and we shall never recognize our own humanity without recognizing that of others.”
We reject the erection of this monument to hypocrisy and cruelty because we want no more families separated and no more bones in the Arizona desert. We must join forces with the people of this great country that repudiate the persecution of migrants, that stand against oppressive fences and that still treasure the wise words of the great American poet Robert Frost:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Though we remain in a region dominated by conservatism, we must not stop appealing to the better instincts of the people of Arizona. Human beings are not bad by nature; if they are pushed to reflection and empathy, they will act with compassion and discover their own inner goodness.
All human beings possess a conscience. One must not believe, as oppressors have maintained for generations, that only they, the oppressors, were men of “science and conscience,” a claim that was used to uphold infamies like subjugation, exploitation, and slavery.
It’s evident that for diverse reasons—poverty, ignorance, manipulation, and others—human beings are often slow to identify the meaning of existence, which transcends our material needs. But it’s never too late. It’s always possible from one moment to the next for our conscience to awaken and ask: “What is the meaning of life?”
Reflection of this sort brings out the best in every individual. In that moment, we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of our baser instincts, and we begin the process of unlearning the many lies we have been taught.
With these truths we must convince the American people that they are blinded by hate against migrants, that they persecute these people for no reason but racial, class, religious, or cultural prejudice.
We must speak with those who were deceived by Trump until they reflect on the inhumanity of erecting a wall to close off the U.S. and convert it into a spiritual wasteland. We must make them understand that this is an affront to liberty, justice, human rights, and universal fellowship, and a negation of their nation’s fundamental values. We must explain, moreover, that this grotesque wall won’t fix any of the problems it aims to solve, though it will produce a great deal of suffering. We must recall that peace and tranquility, here and in Mexico, as everywhere else, are not fruits of the use of force, but of justice.
Let’s touch the hearts of the American people; let’s remind them that true happiness resides not in the accumulation of material goods, titles, or fame, but through spiritual well-being; that is to say, being at peace with ourselves, our conscience, and our neighbors.
From A New Hope for Mexico: Saying No to Corruption, Violence, and Trump’s Wall by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Used with permission of O/R Books. Copyright © 2018 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Translated and edited by Natascha Uhlmann.