By Matthew Hayes
The tragic death of two teenagers from north of Cuenca who tried to stow away on a Latam jet bound for the U.S. draws attention to the privileged mobility of North Americans relocating to Ecuador — some of whom have commented on these deaths in ways that draw attention to these inequalities.
For instance, one comment on a CuencaHighLife story posted Wednesday, echoing what I am sure others might think as well, stated the following: “Of course this is a major tragedy. However it should serve as a lesson to other illegal immigrants, that doing wrong carries with it an element of high risk and danger.”
Re: “María Cruz said the families’ knew of the boys’ intentions to move to the U.S.” Then the families also knew the boys were going to try and enter the U.S. ILLEGALLY. So in my opinion, these families share a responsibility in their deaths. And this is the result of people that lack respect for other countries and their laws, but then make a decision that none of it applies to them. Like I said, “a major tragedy”, and in so many ways. RIP”
I can see how some people would find this just makes common sense, but it really doesn’t.
Over the last few decades, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have done at least two things that have led directly to these types of risk-taking. First, they have helped destroy the social infrastructure of Latin American countries, turning a blind eye as financial interests in New York reap huge returns on debts contracted on usurious terms, at interest rates that reflect “country risk.” This colonial financial left-over justifies an unequal global financial system that serves high consumption North American lifestyles, allocating credit to things like mortgage markets and consumer debt, rather than the education, health care and professional training needs of countries like Ecuador. These latter are deemed insufficiently profitable. Any attempt to bring about a more just and democratic allocation of global credit is blocked by entrenched financial interests in Congress, who refer to long debunked economic theory to justify their survival of the fittest mentality of free economic competition. There are human consequences to this so-called ‘free competition’, and they are going to get more severe as time goes on.
Second, over the last few decades, Congress has eliminated all legal means for non-nationals to pursue work in the United States (in part because large corporations have cut back Americans’ jobs, and these latter are worried about those that are left). Despite this, there is huge demand in low-paying service industries for non-national labour — but there are most often enough so-called ‘illegals’ to fill this demand adequately. Moreover, those who employ this labour — farmers, meat packers, franchise rentiers and many others — benefit most from border exclusions, since Latin American workers end up vulnerable to detention and deportation and can be manipulated to accept sometimes dangerous and lower paid positions that citizens would never accept.
For Latin Americans, closing the border leaves LITTLE CHOICE but to enter ‘illegally.’ Sure, these kids could have stayed home. But it is not hard to see why so many like them don’t. It is not just that there are few opportunities for rural youth in Ecuador, where many are discriminated against (note: these kids were initially presumed to be Peruvian, perhaps because of their more indigenous features). Like a lot of Americans and Canadians who retire to Ecuador, these kids wanted to pursue adventure and broader horizons; they wanted to ‘get ahead’ and ‘develop themselves’ as individuals. The tragedy here is that the dreams of kids like Marco and Luis are not considered legitimate or equal to Americans’ dreams. They don’t mean anything to most Americans, who, unaware of their complicity in the poverty and lack of opportunity these kids have, continue to elect politicians who make matters worse (both Republicans and Democrats).
If Americans did know how complicit they are, they would be shocked and I believe they would do something about it – because there are solutions that are fair for everyone. Alas, the press is not free in America. It is owned by billionaires who live a good life by the misery of others, and who benefit from a vision of the world similar to the comment above – “they are illegals, they deserve what they got, and their families are complicit.”
These are crappy and unfair ideas, but it is not difficult to see where comments like the ones above come from, and why they seem sensible to some. Yet, they draw attention to a certain social position in global society. In some ways, the commenter has too much power and is, unfortunately, not yet aware of it – they are out of touch with reality.
What the commenter and others like him/her need is a mirror that might gently remind them how big they are. In its absence, wecan all end up with distorted worldviews that contribute to heartless mistakes in judgement with real human consequences. Of course, we can stand by the status quo and defend global inequalities as an order of nature if we want to. But nature provides no empirical foundation for them – we arbitrarily identify with our dreams and life goals putting them ahead of others’ at all costs. By doing so, we also fail to hold even more powerful people to account. We fail to be the mirrors they also need.
Matthew Hayes is a Canadian sociology professor and researcher who has studied Cuenca and the impact of North American expats on the city. He published an article about his research in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies. Click here to read it.