How to turn the US-Mexican border into a war zone [profitable for the few]
al Jazeera, 3 August 2013
The first thing I did at the Border Security Expo in Phoenix this March was climb the brown “explosion-resistant” tower, 10 metres high and 3 metres wide, directly in the centre of the spacious room that holds this annual trade show. From a platform where, assumedly, a border guard would stand, you could take in the constellation of small booths offering the surveillance industry’s finest products, including a staggering multitude of ways to monitor, chase, capture, or even kill people, thanks to modernistic arrays of cameras and sensors, up-armored jeeps, the latest in guns, and even surveillance balloons.
Although at the time, headlines in the Southwest emphasised potential cuts to future border-security budgets thanks to Congress’s “sequester”, the vast Phoenix Convention Center hall – where the defence and security industries strut their stuff for law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – told quite a different story. Clearly, the expanding global industry of border security wasn’t about to go anywhere. It was as if the milling crowds of business people, government officials, and Border Patrol agents sensed that they were about to be truly in the money thanks to “immigration reform”, no matter what version of it did or didn’t pass Congress. And it looks like they were absolutely right.
All around me in that tower were poster-sized fiery photos demonstrating ways it could help thwart massive attacks and fireball-style explosions. A border like the one just over 161 kilometres away between the United States and Mexico, it seemed to say, was not so much a place that divided people in situations of unprecedented global inequality, but a site of constant war-like danger.
Below me were booths as far as the eye could see surrounded by Disneyesque fake desert shrubbery, barbed wire, sand bags, and desert camouflage. Throw in the products on display and you could almost believe that you were wandering through a militarised border zone with a Hollywood flair.
To an awed potential customer, a salesman in a suit and tie demonstrated a mini-drone that fits in your hand like a Frisbee. It seemed to catch the technological fetishism that makes Expo the extravaganza it is. Later I asked him what such a drone would be used for. “To see what’s over the next hill,” he replied.