- Well, it could have been true.
- That's what Senator Hillary Clinton had to say after
finding out that five Pakistani men did not actually sneak into the
United States through Canada so they could blow up New York on New
Year's Eve. Because they were never in the United States at all, and
they weren't terrorists, and the whole thing was dreamed up by a man
who forges passports for a living.
- At the height of the search for the professional
liar's imaginary nonterrorists, Clinton blamed Canada and its
"unpatrolled, unsupervised" border. But even when the hoax came to
light, she didn't rescind the accusation: Because the Canadian border
is so porous, she reasoned, "this hoax seemed all too
- It was, in other words, a useful hoax, helping US
citizens to see how unsafe they really are. And that is useful,
especially if you are among the growing number of free-market
economists, politicians and military strategists pushing for the
creation of "Fortress NAFTA," a continental security perimeter
stretching from Mexico's southern border to Canada's northern
- A fortress continent is a bloc of nations that joins
forces to extract favorable trade terms from other countries--while
patrolling their shared external borders to keep people from those
countries out. But if a continent is serious about being a fortress,
it also has to invite one or two poor countries within its walls,
because somebody has to do the dirty work and heavy lifting.
- It's a model being pioneered in Europe, where the
European Union is currently expanding to include ten poor Eastern bloc
countries at the same time that it uses increasingly aggressive
security methods to deny entry to immigrants from even poorer
countries, like Iraq and Nigeria.
- It took the events of September 11 for North America
to get serious about building a fortress continent of its own. After
the attacks, it wasn't an option for the United States to simply build
higher walls at the Canadian and Mexican borders--in the NAFTA era,
the business community wouldn't stand for it. General Motors claims
that for every minute its trucks are delayed at the US-Canadian
border, it loses about $650,000.
- On the other US border, dozens of industries, from
agriculture to construction, are reliant on "illegal" Mexican
workers--a fact not lost on George W. Bush, who knows that, after oil,
immigrant labor is the fuel driving the Southwest economy. If he
suddenly cut off the flow, the business sector would rebel. So what's
a wildly pro-business, security-obsessed government to do?
- Easy: Move the border. Turn the Mexican and Canadian
borders into glorified checkpoints and seal off the entire continent,
from Guatemala to the Arctic Circle. Bush officials don't talk much
about the continental fortress, preferring terms like "North American
area of mutual confidence." But a US-run security perimeter is
precisely what is being built. In the past year, Washington has
pressured Canada and Mexico to harmonize their refugee, immigration
and visa laws with US policies. And in July 2001, Mexican President
Vicente Fox introduced Plan Sur, a massive security operation on
Mexico's southern frontier that immigration experts refer to as "the
southern migration" of the US border.
- Under Plan Sur, the Mexican government has deported
hundreds of thousands of mainly Central Americans on their way to the
United States. And the United States has been providing much of the
funding. In one bizarre incident last year, Mexican guards caught a
group of Indian refugees on their way to the United States, bused them
to a squalid refugee detention center in Guatemala, and Washington
paid the cost ($8.50 a day per detainee).
- Fox had hoped to be rewarded for policing the
undeclared US southern border, and he used to have reason for
optimism. As recently as September 6, 2001, Bush was pledging to
"normalize" the status of the roughly 4.5 million Mexicans living
illegally in the United States. After September 11, however, the
status of these workers became even more precarious.
- This points to another truth about fortress
continents: Being on the inside may be better than being locked out,
but it's no guarantee of equal status. Washington is constructing a
kind of three-tiered fortress in which the United States rules by
decree, Canada and Mexico serve as guards and Mexican workers are
banished to the continental equivalent of the servants'
- Across the Atlantic, a similar three-tiered process
is under way. Inside Fortress Europe, France and Germany are the
nobility, and lesser powers like Spain and Portugal are the sentinels.
Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic are the postmodern
serfs, providing the low-wage factories where clothes, electronics and
cars are produced for 20-25 percent of what it would cost to make them
in Western Europe--the EU's own maquiladoras.
- The huge greenhouses of southern Spain, meanwhile,
have stopped hiring Moroccans to pick the strawberries. They are
giving the jobs instead to white-skinned Poles and Romanians, while
speedboats equipped with infrared sensors patrol the coastline,
intercepting ships of North Africans. Increasingly, the EU is making
"repatriation agreements" an explicit condition of new trade deals:
We'll take your products, the Euros say to South America and Africa,
as long as we can send your people back.
- What we are seeing is the emergence of a genuinely
new New World Order, one far more Darwinian than the First, Second and
Third World. The new divisions are between fortress continents and
locked-out continents. For locked-out continents, even their cheap
labor isn't needed, and their countries are left to beg outside the
gates for a half-decent price for wheat and bananas.
- Inside the fortress continents, a new social
hierarchy has been engineered to reconcile the seemingly contradictory
political priorities of the post-September 11 era. How do you have
air-tight borders and still maintain access to cheap labor? How do you
expand for trade, and still pander to the anti-immigrant vote? How do
you stay open to business, and stay closed to people?
- Easy: First you expand the perimeter. Then you lock
- Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at
the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows:
Dispatches >From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate
- Copyright © 2003 The Nation
- By Naomi Klein