Mexico Calls U.S. Border Fence Severe Threat to Environment

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 16, 2007

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 15 -- Plans to extend the U.S. fence along the Mexican border are "medieval" and would severely damage the environment, threatening hundreds of plant species and animals, such as Mexican gray wolves, black bears and jaguars, according to a Mexican government report released Thursday.

The 208-page report, which urges the U.S. Congress to seek alternative border protection measures, is the sternest reproach by the Mexican government over an issue that has increasingly divided two nations seeking cooperation in other areas, such as the drug war and commerce.

It is also the second time this week that the Mexican government has sought to influence U.S. politics. On Wednesday, President Felipe Calderón complained of "growing harassment" of Mexican migrants and urged U.S. presidential candidates to stop using them as rhetorical campaign "hostages."

The environmental report compares the proposed border fence to the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China and alleges that it violates a 1983 conservation agreement signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Miguel de la Madrid. It also accuses the U.S. Congress of "legalizing the abuses against the environment" by exempting the Department of Homeland Security from environmental regulations.

"The irony of the situation is that DHS could have cooperated with environmental regulations and built a structure cheaper and quicker," according to the report, which was unveiled by Environment Minister Rafael Elvira Quesada.

A DHS spokeswoman did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Last month, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said Congress had granted him authority to waive environmental laws in the interest of national security and build seven miles of border fence in Arizona. A federal judge had previously halted construction, saying the agency had not studied environmental impacts.

The Mexican report, which includes chapters by U.S. environmentalists and Mexican researchers, says the United States is ignoring environmental laws in the border region while forcing the Mexican government to comply. It raises the question of whether "the United States is a country of laws or not."

The report endorses the use of observation towers and sensors, rather than fences, or building "living fences" that allow animals, water and pollens critical to endangered plants to cross the border. It also suggests reducing the use of night lighting that scares animals.

The report, which grew out of a binational environmental conference, cites as a possible model the border projects near Sasabe, Ariz., which employ unmanned towers, radars and infrared cameras.

"A lot of people object," the report says, "but it's not a fence bisecting the habitat."

More than 4,000 plant species spread across the border area, according to the report, and the fence would place at additional risk 85 endangered species of plants and animals. Fences in Botswana, the report says, are responsible for high death rates among wild animals.

But the report says Mexico shares blame for the border problem because its moribund economy and huge wealth gap drive poor Mexicans to migrate.

"The tragedy of the wall is not only the result of chauvinism and the fear of foreigners in the U.S.," Exequiel Ezcurra of the San Diego Natural History Museum wrote in one of the chapters. "As long as there is so much poverty in Mexico's Deep South, the dream of cultural integration in North America will continue to be crushed by the reality of misery and inequity."

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