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Maya Srikrishnan's biweekly roundup of stories on the border, immigration and the San Diego-Baja California region (Mondays)
There’s a familiar player at the heart of a bombshell New York Times report on Mexican government spying, last-ditch efforts to save the vaquita continue and more in our biweekly report on news from the border.
The bidding process for new construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall seems to have come to a halt. Homeland Security was expected to begin construction on prototypes last Thursday in an open field in Otay Mesa, but — although Congress allocated $20 million to fund them — the field remains empty and no bids have been approved.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has begun pushing an idea of his own (but not an original one): a solar-powered wall that would generate energy for the United States, even as it kept out people trying to cross over from Mexico.
This is not the first time that environmental and immigration policies have overlapped, points out The Atlantic; in fact, many hardline immigration laws are the products of 1960s-era panics about overpopulation and concern about the “high breeding rates” of Latin American countries, with an especially strong push to appeal to environmentalists. I wrote a piece a few months ago detailing just how deeply entwined population control and immigration arguments are, and how quickly immigration restrictions begin to sound like what they often actually are: eugenics.
A bombshell report has emerged showing that an Israeli company helped the Mexican government spy on reporters’ whereabouts using their mobile phones. In its wake, human rights organizations and the Mexican government are asking for an investigation into use of the program, called Pegasus, which was supposed to help the country fight cartels and terrorism.
If the idea of the Mexican government using Israeli spyware sounds a little familiar, here’s a possible explanation: That’s exactly how José Susumo Azano Matsura, the man who has been at the center of a massive political donation scandal in San Diego, made his money.
But in 2010, Azano hit the big time and, soon after, the headlines. He won a series of secret contracts totaling $355 million with the Mexican defense department. Azano’s company served as the middleman between an Israeli surveillance company and the Mexican government.
Azano’s contracts ultimately were leaked to the Mexican press, revealing that the Mexican government was involved in spying that rivaled the controversial programs of the U.S. National Security Agency.
Azano’s equipment allowed the Mexican government to target cell phones and computers with malicious software, said Kenneth Page, a policy officer at the London-based nonprofit Privacy International. (Page reviewed the contracts at Voice of San Diego’s request.)
Once the government gained access to someone’s phone or computer, it could listen to calls, read email, look at calendars and even turn on and record from a computer’s camera and microphone without its target ever knowing.
Hacker group Anonymous Tijuana has announced that it hacked the servers of the mayor’s office, finding evidence of widespread and ongoing corruption there. Meanwhile, a group of private citizens has sued the mayor’s office, contending that the municipality misused millions of pesos intended for trash collection and disposal, which in turn resulted in trash piling on street corners and in empty lots.
A persistent pungent smell has pervaded Playas’ malecón. The foul odor is apparently from pollution beneath the pathway, where trash, feces (animal and human) and cigarette butts have been piling up. According to reports, without mitigation, the issue will continue to get worse as the summer weather attracts more beach visitors.
The vaquita, the world’s smallest, most adorable big-eyed porpoise, is coming closer and closer to extinction. Fewer than 30 of the once-common sea creatures remain off the coast of Baja California. The numbers have been decimated by nets intended for totoaba, a large white fish that can sell for thousands of dollars in China’s black market.
An agreement signed earlier this month by the Mexican government, the Carlos Slim Foundation and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation includes a permanent ban on gillnets, the vertically dropped nets that are intended for other sea animals but often unintentionally drown the big-eyed cetaceans (also called the “panda of the sea”).
Tijuana: from party town to tech hub? FT explores the city’s latest rebirth, this time as a center for innovation.
A science education initiative involving UC San Diego and 13 separate educational institutions in Baja California launched this month. The program, called Enlace, pairs high school and college students with faculty members to broaden and deepen their interest and understanding of scientific research, reports the Union-Tribune.
• As murder rates rise in the state, the state of Baja California is launching an anti-crime campaign. The goal of the “Crusade for Serenity” is to bring together all levels of government and the private sector in order to push for less corruption and more transparency.
• A nonprofit organization called The First Goal, run by a Mexican-born man who was at one point deported and his American-born wife, aims to interest at-risk youth in San Diego and Tijuana in soccer (and its smaller sibling, futsal.)
• Baja California is experiencing yet another culinary boom, which looks a lot like the same culinary boom it has just about every year around this time.