"Technologies of Dispossession: Waste, Money, and Movement" - Rodrigo Parrini
The day the new United States ambassador to Mexico visited the Tenosique border with Guatemala, they assassinated the Cachorro, a young working-class man from this town. The ambassador's visit made headlines in the national media and it was the first time that an official of that level had visited this border area. Photos of El Cachorro's death were posted on Facebook and some rumors circulated. El Cachorro joins a long list of dead and assaulted people. Along with a gradual securitization of the border, violence has increased.
It seems that militarization does not stop violence, but rather encourages it or, at least, is contemporaneous with it. In this presentation I would like to think about the ways in which the bodies of subordinate and vulnerable subjects and collectives are exposed to the systematic operation of what I will call technologies of dispossession, which produce what Elizabeth Povinelli calls a wear and tear constant of bodies, psyches and forms of sociability. These technologies are socio-material and subjective-body assemblages that wear down and close the existential and material horizons of the migrants who pass through that locality and of other groups, such as young people from the popular classes. The coincidence between the visit of the US ambassador and the death of a popular boy is a warning of the distances that arise between the strategic interests played in that area and the structural dispossessions that mark the daily life of diverse groups, subjected to systematic forms of violence. The border that I am interested in exploring is the one that arises between the Cachorro's body and the Ambassador's visit. It is not exactly about the political border between Mexico and Guatemala but about the historical and structural space between the corpse of a young man and the body of a diplomatic representative.
In that distance we can explore the multiple dispossessions that some populations experience. This is not just about borders, but I think that unique dynamics of dispossession occur within them. And this is not only related to migration processes, although they are of central importance. There are multiple connections that are important to consider in order to understand why borders, in their polysemic sense, are zones of dispossession in which specific social and discursive technologies operate. Therefore, I think we must understand the relationship between the visit of the US ambassador and the murder of Cachorro, although it is strictly sense, there are no causal links. These links are historical and political, they are not sharply defined, but are being created at the moment. And they will change in the near or relatively near future.
In the research that I have carried out since 2006 in the municipality of Tenosique, bordering the Department of El Petén, in Guatemala I have witnessed a border that was of little interest to the Mexican government, through which hardly any migrants and from another that is at the center of Mexican immigration policies and that seems to be relevant to the relationship with the United States. That is why her current ambassador visited her. I will not be able to describe all the changes that I have documented, but I would like to highlight the transformation of an area barely mentioned in the media, with little traffic and very little police control into another that is part of the agendas of different institutions and that has been militarized. gradually. In just 15 years.What converges in that area? What social and cultural processes are taking place at the moment? Why does the intensification of security coincide with the increased vulnerability of some groups? The installation of macro-infrastructure projects such as the Mayan Train, which crosses the municipality of Tenosique and which has been designed as a tourist corridor that connects the archaeological site of Palenque in Chiapas, with the city-resorts of the Mexican Caribbean, how Can we understand it? What relationships exist between these “development” projects with the rearrangements of organized crime groups and the flows of legal and illegal economies in that area of Mexico? The dispossession that I investigate stops at the micro-social experiences of some collectives and subjects and in them I find threads that allow me to tentatively link these experiences with the macro-processes that I mentioned earlier.
I am interested in the connections that can be identified and described in an ethnography. In this presentation I propose to describe some discursive changes on the southern border of Mexico, analyze some technologies of dispossession, in a very brief way, and link both objectives with what I will call zones of presence and observation points. I would like to say that my analyzes are tentative and ongoing, so you may notice gaps and unresolved issues. Nobody’s land (Tierra de nadie) Alan Bersin argued in September 2012, when he was Undersecretary for International Affairs of the Department of Internal Security, that "the border between Guatemala and Chiapas is now our southern border". For a senior US government official to consider that the borders of his country had shifted thousands of miles south, a lot had to happen. Three years later, this statement, made at a meeting of the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC could be made with greater certainty. Since the implementation of the Southern Border Program by the Mexican government, the southern border of Mexico was clearly linked to the immigration and internal security interests of the United States government.
strategies But Bersin's assertion is the product of a long process in which the southern border of Mexico began to acquire increasing importance i in the internal security policies of both countries and in their diplomatic relations. In a decade it went from being a “forgotten border” to a militarized one. During that same decade, at least, different reports from national and international organizations, academic articles and journalistic reports, among other materials, insisted that this territory was a lawless zone, with little control and little presence of the Mexican State, irregular, porous and fragile.
Although the orientation of these texts was diverse, many agreed on this description. The southern border of Mexico was described as a "nobody’s land." (Tierra de Nadie). Some advocated applying the same surveillance and control mechanisms that the United States had built on its southern border; thers, due to the free movement of migrants who crossed it and the rule of law; still others, for a respectful control of human rights that would facilitate regional integration. We do not intend to establish a causal relationship between these discourses and the government measures that have been taken along that border and that have transformed it, at least for the migrants who cross it, into an even more hostile place than it already was I am interested in showing how multiple actors and narratives coincided in a way of describing a complex social space in full reconfiguration. I believe that during the first decade of this 21st century there was a discursive shift, which today is fully consolidated, and that replaced a sociocultural perspective with a legal or police-military perspective on borders. Undoubtedly, the changes in the national security policies of the United States had an important influence on this change, but the effects of what was called the “war against drug trafficking” were also added, which produced a redistribution of the territories and actors involved in that conflict: some Central American countries acquired an important place in drug trafficking and the border became a space for dispute between state and criminal actors.
Viewed from a historical perspective, the border between Mexico and Guatemala was porous, poorly defined, poorly policed, and far from the interests of the federal government. What is the ambassador doing in that part of the border? Did he go to inspect what was happening there? Why didn't he travel to more problematic parts like Tapachula? I think that official made an appearance, his visit is a message that highlights the importance for the government of the United States of what is happening in that area. But the murder of the Puppy is also an act of presence, although of another order, because if the rumors were true, a rival group of drug traffickers would be responsible for his death Cachorro On the same day, two acts of presence, although dissimilar to each other. The important thing is that something is trying to say and settle: political surveillance of the southern border of Mexico or dominance over a territory and its movements. political surveillance of the southern border of Mexico or dominance over a territory and its movements.
The government of the state of Tabasco published a note on the ambassador's visit in which it is highlighted that the official A border is a zone of presence in whichcan appear individuals or groups, for example, hundreds of migrants moving along a road or parking in a locality, but also disappear as has happened with thousands of migrants during the last two decades. An area is a spatial configuration that arises from the interaction between territory and power relations. In that sense, a border is an area delimited in a certain way, marked by some power relations, which implies a defined territory.
But it is also a transit zone and, to that extent, an indeterminate space or one that is constantly being delimited. The ambassador's visit, for example, to El Ceibo produces a point of observation of migratory phenomena: there, some media report, Haitian migrants are deported who have been transferred by airplanes from the cities of northern Mexico to Villahermosa and then to that border port However, says a journalistic note, Haitians "return to Mexico at other points, mocking the immigration authorities." Between the expulsion and the mockery are delimited , transit zones through which authorities, migrants, traffickers, among other actors, move. The ambassador went to observe one of these areas, because his gaze is important. It is not just any visit or any observation. How to observe a border? How are its controls established? What technological supports do these controls and those views have? It is not just a technical issue, I would like to emphasize that it is also a political issue. I think that the ambassador knows it and goes personally to look from a certain point and chooses just the limit, the place where he walks.
At that point the migrants are deported, but also thousands of other Central American migrants enter Mexico without papers The political and material threshold that, in an instant, makes them undocumented. Technologies of dispossession cannot be understood without locating them in a specific socio-historical context. And this threshold, these observation points, the zones of presence that we mentioned earlier, are part of the material and symbolic infrastructure of dispossession technologies: they cannot function without them. But let's stop at that moment and movement in which a migrant crosses the border and enters Mexico as undocumented.
What records are the documents that you do not have, for example, a visa that authorizes you to legally transit through Mexico? We speak of dispossession to indicate what some subjects or groups are private or to which access is denied for example, to basic rights, material goods, possibilities of survival, but also dignity, care and protection. The dispossessions that I have observed during my ethnography in Tenosique range from stealing shoes to losing my life. Dispossession intensifies precariousness, read as a lack of resources and means, and vulnerability, understood as exposure to power relations and violent practices. In the example I gave, we can see that crossing the border is not only entering a certain legal status, it also implies an intensification of dispossession. The absence of documents is also a problem of presence: without legal documents a migrant is not registered in the databases of the Mexican state, therefore, to some extent, it does not exist for him.
In the Home-refuge for migrants La 72, located in Tenosique, Tabasco, a requirement for a migrant to be able to stay in its facilities is that they have an official identification. Once it is presented, it is registered in a database in which some important data such as age, education, migratory history, gender identity, among others, are recorded. I remember that once a young migrant asked those who ran the Refuge to check the database to see if they could find any clues about his brother who had left Honduras months before and from whom he had no news. That record could be the only evidence of his presence in Mexico, because for now his family only knew that he was missing. What had happened to that young man? Where could another record of him be found? If it had entered the US, would there be any record? The technologies of bureaucracies are also borders, understood as zones of presence and transit, as technologies in which the relationship between dispossession, existence and survival is resolved. How can you find someone you don't have clues about? These registers, in their multiple forms, are observation points in the zones of presence that we are trying to delineate In the La 72 database, not very sophisticated, but constant, all migrants were registered, each one.
It is necessary to consider that these data may be the only ones that exist for many migrants who are now missing. To undocument is to remove presence and intensify dispossession. Documenting, in some circumstances, is to grant or reinforce presence and lessen dispossession. Having an identity is, perhaps, the first form of possession. The presence has a series of technological mediations that can intensify
dispossession or collaborate in the constitution of mobilefields protection. Here are some examples: a closed-circuit camera can record the presence of a person at a border post or in the same refuge in Tenosique (I don't know what the destination of these recordings is); Such a record may be the only evidence that someone was in a certain place at a certain time. But broadening this idea, I believe that a place like Hogar-Refugio La 72 constitutes a social protection technology and carries out technological mediations of care. If a migrant has health problems, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to be cared for in the health system; nor could you file a complaint if you are the victim of a crime. By dispossession technologies I mean the relationships that certain institutions and infrastructures establish with some groups and subjects, the range of possibilities of what the anthropologist Veena Das calls "control over the real" and, thirdly, the injunctions that the first two produce in the subjects to relate to themselves.
But also the technologies of dispossession point to the fissures in the institutions or state apparatuses that allow alternative, unregulated, but extremely harmful and dangerous fields to emerge, for example, organized crime gangs that, sometimes in collusion with state officials , kidnap and / extort migrants. I believe that technologies point to procedures and modes of action. What is unique about the technologies of dispossession is that they are first and foremost negative Unlike, for example, the technologies of the self that Foucault defines as “those techniques that allow individuals to carry out a certain number of operations on their own bodies, on their souls, on their thoughts, on their behaviors, and that in such a way that it transforms them themselves, that it modifies them ” the technologies that interest us prevent subjects from carrying out operations on themselves or on their lives, subtracting possibilities of existence. That is why they are linked to the wear and tear of which E. Povinelli speaks: wear is a process that happens systematically,
but slowly and that, finally, translates into suffering and suffering of different kinds, in diseases or loss of years of life. life, among other effects that can be discerned. It's about poor nutrition, strenuous working hours, poor quality housing. In the case of migrants who cross through Tenosique, there is little food, long walks, assaults, the unbearable heat, the absence of rights. Burnout is physical and mental, individual and collective. We can include the extortion of a policeman, the insults of an immigration agent, a robbery, a xenophobic practice, days without food, lack of water, fatigue.
I wonder if each of the practices or events that I mention constitutes a technology or if it is its sequence. This technology is a web of dispossessions that operate at the most microphysical level of the migrant experience. Unlike what Nikolas Rose suggests, I do not believe that there is a rationality that guides a montage of knowledge, practices, intentions, spaces and forms of organization that is oriented towards certain goals. The technology of dispossession is a chain of abuses and precariousness that only exists when we recognize its effects on migrant lives and bodies. Its assemblies are subsequent to its operation. In this way, a disconnected sequence of events and events can be read as a technology of dispossession due to the wear and tear it produces. The most relevant effect that I can discern for now is the thinning of reality or its coordinates, in tune with the reality control over, of which Veena Das speaks.
I believe that migrants, in certain circumstances, are deprived of a sense of reality. I want to point out two things: space and time The coordinates of space are altered by the ignorance of the routes and the forms of travel; those of time, due to the uncertainty and dislocations that can occur between expectations of mobility and waiting. This is very clear when a refugee request is made: months can go by without the institutions giving an answer, it is not known when they will give it or the meaning of it. Some migrants wait many months to be told that their application has been denied. I want to mention some examples to understand this thinning of the real that I try to think: A Honduran teenager with whom I spoke in La 72 told me that he grew up in an orphanage in San Pedro Sula and that, although he has a name, he doubts that it is his "real name", because he never knew his parents. He says that he is going to the United States to be detained by the immigration authorities and that when they find out that he is a minor and has no family they will give him one to take care of him. In September 2015, the human rights officer at Hogar-Refugio para Migrantes La 72 told me that a group of Honduran migrants had been assaulted on the outskirts of Tenosique, while they were trying to take the train to travel to Veracruz.
The assailants took everything they were carrying, including their shoes. I saw them sitting at the entrance of the Refuge barefoot; they were 5 or 6 silent young people. The manager went with them to a supermarket to buy them sandals and they had to enter the store barefoot to try on some that fit them well.
When paying at the cashier and delivering the document that allows billing the expenses, this volunteer realized that the name of the civil association in charge of the shelter was Pies descalzos. I knew it, but the name acquired a strange materiality when observing those barefoot migrants, as advertised. In a publication that Fray Tomás González, when he was director of La 72, uploaded to Instagram, recounts the following story: “He left his country on January 2, said goodbye to his two daughters and his wife; He crossed the Mexican border on the 4th and arrived at @ la72tenosique on the 5th. Today, January 6, he "asked the wise men" to get to the US to help his family. The train ripped off one leg and broke another. The only thing they found in his wallet was his "identity", 15 Lempiras and 7 Quetzales.
What does it mean to say happy new year? How and where is happiness achieved? When I was able to chat with him, two streams of tears came from his eyes silently. "It was my fault, tell my family to forgive me" he told me. The absence of a name and the search for a family that will emerge from an arrest somewhere on the northern border. The loss of shoes. The guilt experienced by a mutilated migrant by the train that passes through Tenosique. They are very different situations and experiences, but I would like to link them by means of some questions: do we know what can happen to us? What does this terrifying opening imply in which we cannot be sure that certain limits will not be crossed? What are we if we lack a name, or a garment, or a leg? I think we have to observe arbitrariness as one of the most powerful and determining manifestations of power. The stories I tell are very different from each other and require detailed analysis.
But they all have negativity and loss in common. Is there an underlying rationality in these micro-technologies of dispossession? Can they be assembled together to create a technology of greater scope? Parallel lives The distance between El Ceibo and the center of the city of Tenosique is approximately 60 kilometers, but between the US ambassador and El Cachorro is infinite. They are parallel lives. I said that the presence ambassador'swas an observation point in what I called presence zones. But the corpse of the young man is also an observation point from which we could look at the strategic rearrangements that occur on the southern border of Mexico and the social actors that circulate through it. In these distances, the descriptions that were made of the border as a “no man's land” or a “lawless place” are fulfilled, in some way, although it went without saying that this “land” would not be the same for the ambassador or for the murdered young man.
As I said before, that distance is the border itself. El Cachorro is not distant from the migrants I have referred to. Perhaps the same technologies wear out their bodies and their lives at different speeds and with different effects The story of this young man is that of a very early death. I don't know if he carried any identification with him, but having it did not prevent his murder. In other ways,
he was also undocumented and his life was shaped by some technologies of dispossession. Being dispossessed, says Athena Athanasiou in a dialogue with Judith Butler, “refers to processes and ideologies by which people are deprived and humiliated by the normative and normalizing powers that define cultural intelligibility and that regulate the distribution of vulnerability loss of land and community; the ownership of one person over the body of another, as in the stories of slavery; subjection to military, imperial or economic violence; poverty, security regimes, biopolitical subjectivation, liberal possessive individualism, neoliberal governmentality and precariousness. " I would like to add that this dispossession is practical and microphysical. It is not enough to point out macro-processes such as neoliberalism or biopolitics even if they mark it. It is necessary to know and describe its most intimate functioning,
the most imperceptible forms of its incarnations. The technologies of dispossession are plural, heterogeneous and dissimilar. They do not operate with a dispossession program. Rather, in them multiple power relations and precariousness converge; structural violence and forms of vulnerability. For now, it is difficult for me to know if they constitute sequences of acts and practices: if the assaults at some point in the migrants' journey are linked to the delays in the procedures they carry out with state institutions; if the lack of food is related to the absence of rights. But if I approach them from their effects, which I have called wear and tear (desgaste) and, I can see how they accumulate in a life or a body (or in many, of course), how they settle in the relationship with oneself between migrants, women who experience violence people queer who are marginalized, AIDS patients who are denied care in a hospital, trans women who are discriminated against. Working-class youth who are murdered, like El Cachorro. I could add many other cases.
Finally, I would like to link what I called zones of presence, observation points and technologies of dispossession. To say that one made "an act of presence" means, in Spanish, that he wanted to make it known that he was in a certain place or at an event. The important thing is the act. It can be a sporadic presence, but for it to turn out it must be noticeable. I argued that the ambassador's visit and the murder of the young man from Tenosique fulfilled that objective: they were noticed.
But this brings us closer to the issue of the registry and the documents that we also mentioned: someone who is registered in a database is “noted” in it. That is, it is also noticed, it is perceived, it exists, it is present. A record can be understood as an act of presence and a database a zone of presence. A record can be understood as an act of presence and a database a zone of presence. It can also be read as an observation point.
To investigate the technologies of dispossession, we need to first trace zones of presence and points of observation that make them visible and palpable. They are spatial, temporal, territorial, but also political coordinates, in which a technology happens, is practiced, is realized. The Home-Refuge La 72 is a zone of presence and has different observation points. But if we want to refine our gaze further, we can argue that the entrance to the Refuge, where the offices where migrants are registered and surveillance cameras are located, is an area of resence important but more delimited.
On one side of these offices there is a map of Mexico that covers an entire wall and that constitutes an observation point from which migrants can observe the routes to the north of the country. If one looks at the symbology of the map in detail, one will notice that in some parts it is noticed that kidnappings or assaults occur. From that point, a migrant can know that the technologies of dispossession that interest us operate there. That map includes El Ceibo or the street where the puppy was murdered, that is, it contains the other observation points that I pointed out in this presentation. Also many other zones of presence. In a few meters from La 72, we can find several areas of presence and different observation points. In that same place I spoke with the Honduran boy who doubted his name and the barefoot migrants were sitting.
There, zones of presence and technologies of dispossession converge.This implies that these technologies are situated and embodied and arise in some areas of presence and enable some observation points. They are palpable, they can be described, they produce effects. Perhaps, I say to conclude, they allow us to regain some control over the real by avoiding the ghostly functioning of power and its invisible intentions.