[Marxism] Re: The Latin American-US Realignment

Tony Abdo gojack10 at hotmail.com
Tue May 11 10:41:10 MDT 2004


Since I have driven through this town many a time, I thought I would post 
the New York Times article about the mood there.  It tells a lot about the 
current general frame of mind in both the Texas and Northern Mexico areas.

Texas Town Pays High Human Cost for Iraqi War

Michael Stravato for The New York Times
San Diego, Tex., with about 4,800 residents, has lost two residents in Iraq. 
Photos of those serving in the military in Iraq are on a church altar.
By SIMON ROMERO

Published: May 8, 2004
SAN DIEGO, Tex., May 3 — Baldemar Benavides cannot seem to banish the war in 
Iraq from his thoughts. Reminders are everywhere.

The road into this South Texas town, through cotton fields and cattle 
ranches, is lined with yellow ribbons and recruitment billboards for the 
Marines. Bumper stickers on pickup trucks read, "Half of My Heart Is in 
Iraq." In businesses throughout the town, there are photos of Mr. 
Benavides's grandson José Amancio Pérez III, a 22-year-old Army specialist 
killed last year in an ambush north of Baghdad.

"You can put this in there, I don't care, I'm an old man and I'm humble and 
poor but I want to be heard," Mr. Benavides, 69, a retired welder, said in 
Spanish in an interview at his home as he clutched a photo of his grandson. 
"His death wasn't necessary. None of the deaths in that place were 
necessary."

"Iraq" is not a word Mr. Benavides likes to utter. The Persian Gulf is not 
an area he likes to talk about. A son, Baldemar Benavides Jr., a private 
first class in the Army who was known as Billy, was killed in the region in 
1992 shortly after hostilities there ended.

San Diego, with 4,800 residents, on the grasslands between Corpus Christi 
and Laredo where the wet heat sticks to shirts in early May, is paying a 
hefty price for the war in Iraq. Last month, the town lost a second 
resident, Lance Cpl. Ruben Valdez Jr., 21, of the Marines in an attack in 
Husabayah near the Syrian border, making this one of the smallest 
communities in the nation to have more than one resident killed in the war.

Corporal Valdez and Specialist Pérez were buried next to each other in San 
Diego's cemetery, down the street from the neighborhood of trailer homes and 
decaying bungalows where they grew up and played together. For this 
tight-knit town that is 97 percent Hispanic, where many residents are 
related by blood or marriage or both, the deaths have created a feeling of 
dread over who might be killed next.

Luis Pizzini, the principal of San Diego High School, said the town had more 
than 25 residents in the military, with most serving in Iraq and a handful 
in Afghanistan. After Corporal Valdez's death, which was mourned in April at 
a candlelight vigil at the St. Francis de Paula Roman Catholic Church in San 
Diego's plaza, Mr. Pizzini said he was considering steps to curtail military 
recruiting at the school.

"One more death would cripple our community," Mr. Pizzini said in an 
interview in his office. "I definitely wish this war was over, but it's too 
late for that."

The school graduates about 90 students a year, and just a handful go on to 
college. With jobs in the area hard to come by, military service provides an 
alternative. Some graduates join the military a year or so later after not 
finding work.

Many people here are openly critical of the war and saddened by the 
continuing casualties. Others question whether they would have supported the 
invasion of Iraq, as most people here did, if they had known that no 
unconventional weapons would be found in the country more than a year later.

"Enough is enough," said Mary Aleman, owner of the Mauro P. Garcia Funeral 
Home, where services for the two dead soldiers were held. "We should be out 
of there already."

Still, nearly everyone in San Diego voices strong support for the soldiers 
in Iraq. The town, as many residents are quick to point out, is no stranger 
to war. A plaque in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building lists the 
losses from past wars: 9 in World War I, 16 in World War II, 1 in the Korean 
War and 2 in the Vietnam War.

All of the surnames on the plaque are Hispanic, a reminder that many people 
in San Diego trace their roots to settlers who came here more than two 
centuries ago when the Spanish crown granted them land in 1800. Since then, 
San Diego has retained a strong Hispanic influence even if newer immigrants 
from across the border seek out the "greener pastures of Houston or San 
Antonio," as Ruben Escobar, the retired postmaster, put it. Those who have 
stayed in San Diego have done so largely because of strong family and 
emotional ties.

"We got a little bit of oil fields, a little bit of agriculture and the 
military," said Mr. Escobar, who served in the Air Force in the Vietnam War. 
"With those career options I can't blame anyone for signing up. It's just 
sad that our kids are bearing the brunt of this situation."

Outside the St. Francis de Paula Church, a support group for parents with 
children in the war holds prayer meetings every Wednesday night.

San Juanita Gonzalez, whose son, Dagoberto Gonzalez Jr., is in the Army in 
Iraq, said she was selling patriotic bumper stickers for $1 each so she 
could send him and others in his unit packages of insect repellent, beef 
jerky seasoned with chili and surgical masks so they can breathe easier in 
desert sandstorms. The First State Bank of San Diego bought 50 of the bumper 
stickers, Ms. Gonzalez said.

"When the latest little boy died, I went to his family and told them, `I'm 
here for you today, you might be here for me tomorrow,' " said Ms. Gonzalez, 
between sobs, a photo of her son pinned to her shirt.

Her husband, Dagoberto Gonzalez Sr., a natural-gas pipeline worker who calls 
his son D.J., said he, too, was afraid.

"I don't care how much of a man you are, I cried for that boy and I cry with 
worry for my own son," Mr. Gonzalez said. "I don't want to get into 
politics, but the middle class and the poor are fighting this war for 
everyone else."

Middle class might not be the best way to describe San Diego, where the 
average family income is $19,250 a year, according to the 2000 census, and 
the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. The potholed tarmac of State Highway 
44, which runs through the town, is bordered by shuttered gas stations and a 
view of abandoned, graffiti-splattered rail cars from the old Texas-Mexican 
railroad. Wal-Mart has deemed San Diego not important enough for a store, 
locating its nearest 10 miles east in the town of Alice, which is four times 
larger.

The military, however, has recognized San Diego as fertile ground, filling 
the halls of the high school with informational pamphlets and visits by 
recruiters. Heavily Latino communities like San Diego are increasingly 
important sources of enlistment for the military, especially among those who 
possess the necessary educational credentials — mainly a high school diploma 
or the equivalent — and the right immigration status.

Latinos make up 8.2 percent of the work force qualified to join the military 
but represent 9.5 percent of the military's enlisted ranks, according to a 
study by the Pew Hispanic Center. Latinos are also overrepresented among 
soldiers who handle weapons on the front lines, accounting for 17.7 percent 
of that category. (The casualty rate for Latinos in Iraq is hard to 
determine since the Department of Defense has not released casualty data by 
ethnicity.)

For Ruben Valdez and José Amancio Pérez, San Diego was a place to escape 
from. Friends who attended school with them described Ruben as a joker and 
Amancio, as he was known, as more serious, though the two had a lot in 
common.

After Amancio's parents separated, he moved to a relative's home less than a 
hundred yards from Ruben's house. Their friends said the two would often 
play together outside their homes on Luby Street, the same road residents 
now take to visit their graves.

"They were a different generation from me, but I understood them perfectly," 
said Ana Garcia, 41, who attended Specialist Valdez's funeral in her desert 
fatigues after returning from a year in Iraq with the Army National Guard.

"The pull of the military is dangerous and kind of irresistible," said Ms. 
Garcia, who plans to work at a temporary agency in Corpus Christi before 
re-entering the National Guard later this year, possibly to return to Iraq. 
"It's the pull of the world out there."

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