Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A little context, please

The Seattle Times recently devoted a page to Latino subjects. One story contradicted the unusually common notion these days that the Latino “contribution” to the economy is stealing a “native’s” job. Latino business is apparently a fast-growing sector of the economy, and, believe-it-or-not, they even pay taxes. A second story reported on the anti-immigrant vigilantism occurring in Utah, where rogue state employees for the Workforce employment agency drew-up a list of people with Spanish names who they alleged were illegal aliens, which they released to the public, doubtless for the purpose of allowing the terrorizing of the named people.

But the Times could not resist throwing in the disingenuous gender politics bone, in keeping with the Times’ usual portrayal of Latinos as drug terrorists, murderers and criminal aliens. The story concerns the plight of women in Guatemala, who claim that they are not seen as “human beings” and deserve special status as a “persecuted” group, and that to deport them constitutes a “death sentence.” Unfortunately, the Times’ neglected to check the gender of the writer of the story, who turns out to be a male reporter without an agenda to push. He noted that while 709 women were murdered in Guatemala in 2009, this rather paled in comparison to the 6,498 men who were murdered. I don’t know how many of these men were seen as “human beings,” by their killers, but I suspect that they were not viewed much differently than the women.

According to these numbers, less than 10 percent of all murder victims in Guatemala are women, compared to 9 percent over-all in Latin America, the figure quoted in the story. These numbers shouldn’t be diminished; murder rates per the population in Latin America are high (especially in Colombia), although murder rates in other countries, such as in Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, may be even higher, but do not make any lists because their governments don’t release crime statistics, or adequately compile them. But if activists claim that Latin American is a “deadly place” for women, what do we compare that to? The rest of the “civilized world?” In the U.S., 23 percent of all murder victims are female, according to FBI statistics (if you watch the news, however, you’d think the percentages are reversed). Is the U.S. a “deadly” place for women? It depends on your level of activism. In Great Britain, murder is a much less common activity than in the U.S., but of those who are murdered, 35 percent are women.

The reality is that women in Latin America do seem to be a “special case,” but not quite in the fashion that is suggested. This kind of propaganda feeds into the already hyper-stereotyping of Latino males. And while we are on the subject of propaganda, I read in some entertainment magazine that the Lifetime Channel’s “Army Wives” introduced a new character, a Latina with an abusive husband. It wasn’t enough to make him “macho” like the husband-soldiers of the other wives, they had to make the Latino male the designated wife-beater too. By the way, I spent seven year in the Regular Army, and while I encountered a few “gung-ho” types in the enlisted ranks, in general the “macho” types were the officers—and female officers even more so than the males, probably because they thought they needed to act “tougher” to make an impression on male soldiers who were not in admin or signal corps jobs.

But back to Guatemala. Human life has been “cheap” there for a long time, especially during the rebellion against the oppressive CIA-backed regime from 1969 to 1996 that was fought along racial lines between the Euro-elite and the oppressed indigenous people. Today, much of the violence involves the spill-over of the drug trade from Mexico, but not all of it. The military (accused of conducting many mass killings during the rebellion) and “secret” security teams deployed by holdovers of the prior regime continue to murder indigenous activists. According to the human rights group Human Rights First “much of the continued lawlessness in Guatemala may stem from the culture of impunity that has grown out of the failure to prosecute the heinous crimes committed during the conflict.” Few, if any, murder cases ever end in the arrest of a suspect, let alone reach trial.

What should we take from all of this? That we should be wary of claims made without context, that we should look at the overall reality first before we accept those claims as a true picture?

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