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Old 01-14-2010, 01:03 AM
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Default The Mexican Refugees, Overview (Thunder Empire)

The Mexican refugee crisis of 1998 had its roots in circumstances centuries old as well as modern developments. While the nuclear strikes that destroyed most of Mexico’s oil refinement capability were a product of the Twilight War, the policies that the PRI followed in the wake of the nuclear strikes reflect cultural biases going back to Cortez and beyond. For the United States, the outcome of the practices and policies of Mexico’s ruling classes was, in 1998, a massive surge of desperate humanity into the American Southwest. There was no small irony in the fact that circumstances in Mexico were somewhat better than they were throughout most of the American Southwest. At least partially as a consequence of the movement of an estimated 2.5 million Mexican nationals across the US-Mexico border in the first half of 1998, the United States and Mexico went to war at a time when both nations needed their armed forces in their respective interiors. Civil disorder that might have been managed in the wake of the limited nuclear strikes on both the United States and Mexico spun out of control. The race history of Mexico, coupled with bad blood from the Mexican-American War, served to plunge both the US and Mexico deeper into the twilight.

When Cortez arrived in Tenochtitlan, he discovered a highly stratified society ruled by a small nobility and a large priesthood. In many ways, the Aztec social structure—indeed the social structure of most of the indigenous peoples of Mexico—resembled the social structure of Catholic Spain. All the Europeans had to do was replace the upper strata of society with their own nobility and Catholic clergy. The deaths of some ninety percent of the original population of Mexico only solidified the hold of the European nobility and clergy on the local populace.

Racism has been an endemic feature of virtually all of the former Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Where sufficient locals of European blood were available, they formed the local ruling class. In a few cases where citizens of pure European stock have been scarce, the ruling class has been comprised of mestizos. In virtually all cases throughout Spanish America, highly stratified societies emerged from the colonial period: fair-skinned people came to comprise the ruling class, while dark-skinned people more directly descended from the pre-Columbian inhabitants came to occupy the lower classes.

Mexico certainly was no exception to the rule at the start of the Twilight War. Mexicans of European ancestry owned most of what was available to own, possessed the preponderance of wealth, and controlled the political process through the PRI. Though adjacent to a powerful and populous Western country, Mexico much more closely resembled a Third World nation, albeit a comparatively advanced Third World country like Iraq before Saddam Hussein’s rise to power or Iran under the Shah. Restrictive rules regarding property and corporate ownership, combined with crippling official interest rates, ensured that neither foreign investors nor motivated Indian or mestizo Mexicans would upset the established order.

Over the course of Mexican history, the disparity in wealth and power and consequent lack of opportunities for most of the Mexican population has led to varying degrees of social upheaval. The most noteworthy such upheaval was the Mexican Civil War, which by some accounts lasted from 1910 to 1920 and cost as many as ten million lives. The causes were the usual ones: redistribution of land, redressment of Church power, and the like. The ruling elites came out on top and secured their power through the PRI for the next eighty years.

Mexico was not much affected by the start of the Sino-Soviet War, although some manufacturing business came to Mexico from China. Mexican farmers saw an increased demand for their products as Chinese men came off the land and entered the People’s Liberation Army, but the gap was quickly filled by the United States, Canada, and Australia. In most regards, the Sino-Soviet War did not directly impact Mexico.

The start of the war in Europe, though, had a much more serious effect on Mexico. The Mexican elites recognized that this conflict might go nuclear. A general East-West exchange could not help including Mexico, which was a major producer of petroleum. As in most countries around the world, the West German invasion of East Germany prompted a review of Mexican contingency plans. Those responsible for planning quickly realized that under most nuclear scenarios there would be significant shortages of food, fuel, and electricity in Mexico. Existing contingency plans were re-drafted to ensure that the military, police, and power elites would receive the lion’s share of what resources were available. An addendum to the official plans noted that in the wake of the Zapatista trouble in southern Mexico the deliberately unequal distribution of resources would lead to civil unrest. Measures would have to be taken.

The first use of nuclear weapons in July brought the danger of a general exchange into sharp relief in Mexico City, as with all national capitals. Although officially the Mexican government assured its citizens that Mexico was highly unlikely to be a nuclear target in the highly unlikely event of a major East-West exchange. As quietly as possible, though, the Mexican government began supplementing its stockpiles of food, fuel, and medical supplies for the Army. The reserves, which had been drilling with increasing frequency and duration, were fully mobilized as a “purely precautionary measure”.

Mexico was not directly affected by the Soviet nuclear strikes on the United States during the Thanksgiving weekend in 1997. However, the Soviets had a plan for eliminating American support for US forces overseas in 1998. With luck, the combination of limited nuclear strikes on American targets and diversions in North America would so thoroughly reorder things that the United States would be unable to intervene in Eurasia even after the USSR recovered.

On 20 DEC 97, the Soviet ambassador to Mexico approached the President of Mexico with sensitive intelligence and an offer of cooperation. The intelligence was regarding a planned nuclear attack on Mexico by the United States. Soviet agents had learned of a scheme by the US to prevent Mexico from using the nuclear exchange to shift the balance of power north of Panama. The ambassador provided the Mexican President with a thick document outlining various plans of action against Mexico in the event of an East-West nuclear exchange. The central idea was that the United States recognized that nuclear attacks by the Soviet Union would seriously affect American dominance of the Western Hemisphere; American rivals, if not attacked by the Soviets, would have to be knocked down to size by American nuclear arms. Mexico ranked at the top of the nations to be attacked.

The Soviet ambassador offered the President an updated version of the Zimmerman Telegram. If, in the event of an American nuclear or conventional attack on Mexico, Mexico joined the war on the side of the Soviet Union, the USSR would in turn recognize Mexico’s claims to all pre-1848 territory. The USSR would continue to provide military assistance with ongoing actions in the Pacific Northwest, which would divert American resources from the Southwest. Additionally, the Soviets would arrange for further cooperation between all Left-leaning states in Latin America, foremost among them Cuba. When practicable, the USSR would provide Mexico with arms, armaments, and logistical support.

The President of Mexico was no fool. He was well aware that the Soviets were capable of fabricating any document to support their case. He also knew that the Soviets would like nothing better than to start a war between the US and Mexico for the purpose of diverting American resources from Europe, the Far East, and the Persian Gulf. He understood the Soviet way of doing business: “Let’s you and him fight!”

Yet, the President believed that the Americans were perfectly capable of launching limited nuclear attacks on Mexico for the purpose of preserving their position of privilege in the Western Hemisphere. If preliminary reports reaching Mexico City about the effects of the surgical East-West exchange were at all accurate, the US had been badly hurt. Certainly, the status quo was in serious jeopardy…

On 22 DEC 97, a series of ballistic missiles rose from the sea south of the Azores and arced towards Mexico. Re-entry vehicles separated from their carriers and descended on their targets: Mexican oil infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. By noon, Mexico’s petroleum industry had been cut off at the knees.

Mexico’s economy already was tottering due to the disintegrating global trade network. Now the federal government declared martial law and took control of virtually everything it could lay hands on. The military had been fully mobilized since July, when the first use of nuclear weapons caused the ruling PRI to consider the fallout of a more general nuclear exchange. Food and fuel reserves were brought under federal control, insofar as this was possible.

Among the senior Mexican leaders, there was clear division of opinion as to the source of the nuclear warheads. The attacks on Mexico’s oil infrastructure, which closely but not precisely matched a scenario outlined in the documents provided by the Soviet Ambassador, seemed suspiciously and conveniently tied to the Soviet warnings. If the attacks came from American forces, why hadn’t any military targets been hit? Among pro-Soviet leaders, the answer was clear: the Americans wanted to destroy Mexico’s economy without provoking a military response. They hoped that Mexico would do nothing so long as there was reasonable doubt about the source of the missiles.

Public opinion was divided as well. Long-simmering anti-American sentiment clashed with good common sense. Even as the nation struggled to deal with the nuclear blows, militant voices used the media to whip up anti-American sentiment. The West had started the war in Europe, after all. The West Germans had invaded the East, but what reasonable person could believe that the Americans hadn’t been behind the whole thing? Once the invasion went sour, hadn’t the Americans stepped in to finish what their German pawns hadn’t been able to accomplish? Nor had American aggression stopped there. Not satisfied with reuniting the Germany that had caused the world so much anguish in the Twentieth Century, the Americans launched an invasion to subjugate the free people of Poland and the Soviet Union. The Soviets, eager to avoid world destruction, had only used nuclear weapons against the Americans when Soviet soil was at risk. Even then, the Soviets only used what they had to use to protect their homes. Escalation was the product of American perfidy. The war was the fault of the American aggressors, who had changed their spots little since robbing Mexico of half her territory in the 1840’s. Was it any surprise that they had used nuclear weapons to prevent Mexico from achieving her rightful place among the nations of the Americas?

Even as the militant voices in the PRI whipped up public sentiment against the United States, the federal government was practicing its own version of triage. Food and fuel could only be used to support certain Mexicans and certain communities. Almost immediately, areas with high Indian populations began to feel the pinch. As 1998 matured, shortages spread. The police and the Army were used to seize stocks of food, fuel, and other supplies for the purpose of combating the national emergency. Perhaps not coincidentally, the seized goods belonged to Indian and mestizo populations, along with dissidents and rivals to PRI power. The class consciousness and race consciousness that had led to events like the Zapatista rebellion in 1994 came to full flower.

The anti-American propaganda notwithstanding, a tide of refugees began moving towards the US-Mexico border. The refugees principally were people who realized they were on the bottom rung of the post-nuclear Mexican society. Hungry and desperate, they moved by whatever means they could to seek aid in the United States. Tens and then hundreds of thousands died along the way or were detained and pressed into labor gangs. Although no accurate records exist, estimates of the number of Mexican internal refugees who never reached the US border run as high as three million by June, 1998.

At the US border, Mexican refugees were most unwelcome. The situation in the United States was dire. No one wanted to feed Mexicans. Yet they came in numbers too great to turn away. The Border Patrol was entirely inadequate for the job. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, units of the State Guards (under various names) were sent to the border to help manage the situation.

California and Texas were the main recipients of Mexican refugees. By the end of March, three hundred thousand Mexican nationals had entered both states. The desperate refugees behaved as desperate refugees will: they begged for food, prostituted themselves for food, sold whatever they had of value for food, stole food, and committed violent acts to obtain food. Given the already insuperable stressors being placed on American border states in the aftermath of the TDM (which fell particularly heavily on Texas and California), the situation along the border quickly spiraled out of control. Along the Rio Grande and in the very southern parts of California, violence begat violence. Armed citizens’ militias took the law into their own hands. The bloodshed spread.

Although a comprehensive picture of the refugee situation along the border defies formulation, certain patterns do emerge from the events leading up to war in June. The number of refugees in January was the leading edge of a tidal wave. In California, an estimated fifty thousand crossed the border; in Texas, about twenty thousand crossed the Rio Grande. Arizona and New Mexico received much smaller numbers of refugees—about five thousand for each state. The reasons were fairly straightforward. Numerous interviews (many would later say interrogations) with Mexican refugees revealed a belief that work could be found on the farms of the Imperial, Central, and Salinas Valleys in California and throughout the agricultural areas of Texas. Rumors were rife in Mexico that American mechanized agriculture would require legions of field hands in the post-Exchange era. California and Texas both had very well-established agricultural industries. Arizona and New Mexico were viewed as desert states with few prospects for field hands. Property-less and impoverished Mexicans fleeing their nation in January hoped to beat what they felt would be a tsunami of humanity once the PRI’s triage measures began bearing their awful fruit. January’s refugees were right.

In California, the number of refugees increased dramatically as 1998 matured. In February, an additional 100,000 Mexicans entered the state. In March, another 150,000 arrived. April brought a quarter million more, and May saw as many as 200,000 more Mexicans arrive. Initially, the refugees arrived principally in the Imperial Valley, which was opposite substantial Mexican farmlands. Brigada Mexicali was deployed throughout the area and ensured that the refugees continued moving north after the local farms had absorbed all the excess labor they could handle. This pattern continued through June.

In California, the response was badly disordered as a result of the nuclear attacks on Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Vandenburg and March Air Force Bases. The attacks on the Bay Area had surprisingly few long-term consequences, other than the loss of refineries. Benicia, Martinez, and Avon were destroyed by three overlapping half-megaton airbursts aimed at their refineries. Damage throughout the western end of Suisun Bay was catastrophic. Topography helped limit the damage somewhat: the southwestern end of Suisun Bay, where the refineries were located, was to a large degree hemmed in by low hills that served to protect Pittsburg on the east, Lafayette to the south, and Berkeley to the southwest. Also, the overall effect of these three attacks was somewhat diminished by the fact that the three detonations were quite close together physically. Nevertheless, Vallejo was very badly damaged by fire, as were Concord and Pleasant Hill. A much larger attack—1.5 megatons—was directed at the Richmond petroleum facilities at the southern end of San Pablo Bay. Like many Soviet nuclear attacks, this one did not achieve optimum effects; the warhead came in nearly three miles north of its intended target and detonated nearly 500 meters lower than expected. Still, the attack destroyed the Richmond petroleum facilities and devastated the entire southeastern shore of San Pablo Bay from north Richmond to the Mare Island Naval Complex. To the west, southern Marin was generally spared the worst effects of the blast by topography. San Rafael was mostly shielded by the hills of China Camp, although McNears Beach was utterly destroyed. Most of the smaller cities and towns strung out along Highway 101 were protected by dint of being in small valleys that ran southeast into the bay; the hills offered good protection from the blast effects, although had the blast originated where intended these municipalities would have been extremely badly damaged. San Francisco was far enough away that it was not much affected, although the northeastern shoreline of the city saw a good deal of broken glass and many injuries from thermal effects and flying objects. One final factor that helped limit the spread of fire in the wake of the four nuclear attacks on the Bay Area was the very high rainfall California had been receiving. The 1997-1998 winter was marked by an El Nino pattern that had soaked the land by Thanksgiving. Hillside fires and urban fires that might easily have burned completely out of control in a summer attack made headway only in those areas closest to the actual points of detonation. Fortuitous very heavy rain greatly aided firefighting efforts in the Bay Area.1

Southern California was much more badly damaged by the nuclear attacks. The nuclear strikes against petroleum facilities in El Segundo, Torrance, Carson, and Wilmington in the Los Angeles metropolitan area also had overlapping areas of effect. Virtually the entire shoreline from Santa Monica to Seal Beach was devastated. Topography offered little assistance in mitigating the blast and thermal effects. Despite the dampening effect of the higher-than-usual El Nino rains, a firestorm developed in western Los Angeles that spread east and south. The southern half of Los Angeles County was devastated. It was later estimated that the death toll in Los Angeles and its surrounds was more than 500,000 within twenty-four hours.

Inland, March Air Force Base was struck by a 1.5-megaton ground burst. The ground burst somewhat mitigated the effects of the thermal pulse across the San Bernadino Valley. The nearby municipalities of Moreno Valley, Riverside, and Woodcrest were eradicated. Elsewhere—particularly eastward—fallout created other problems.

Vandenburg Air Force Base also was struck by a large ground burst. The nearby cities of Lompoc and Santa Maria were not nearly as close to the epicenter as the cities adjacent to March AFB had been, and so they were much less affected. Nevertheless, damage and loss of life as a result of the attack were significant.

The combined effects of the attacks on the Los Angeles refineries and March AFB were to throw southern California into utter chaos. The transportation infrastructure rapidly filled, clogged, and broke down completely. The nightmare of post-attack flight, injuries, violence, and privation that affected so much of the United States was nowhere more prevalent and widespread than Metro Los Angeles and the western Inland Empire. Volumes have been filled describing the events in horrific detail.

For the purposes of this work, it is sufficient to say that the attention of the federal and state agencies associated with disaster relief were wholly and totally fixed on the disaster in southern California. The Bay Area received some attention and resources, but by good fortune a combination of location, topography, and weather had limited the destruction to the southern shore of Suisun Bay and the southern shore of San Pablo Bay. Loss of life and property in the Bay Area would have counted as a national catastrophe before the nuclear exchange. Compared to the virtual annihilation of Los Angeles and much of the Inland Empire, the strikes on the Bay Area were a mere flesh wound. Thus as the first Mexican refugees began to enter the Imperial Valley in January, 1998, scant attention was paid anywhere but in the Imperial Valley.

Everywhere along the border, the Border Patrol and local officials were taken by surprise by the sudden spike in Mexican refugees. No one had anticipated that Mexicans would continue to come after a nuclear attack. Interviews with refugees revealed the shortages and other issues arising from the attacks on Mexico’s oil infrastructure. Reports were sent, but initially neither state nor federal agencies paid much attention. Now, in addition to their other problems, the border areas had to cope with numbers of hungry and thirsty Mexican nationals.

Although the timing and specifics varied from place, the overall pattern of reaction to the growing numbers of Mexican refugees was fairly consistent across the border states. Initially, the refugees were a nuisance to be ignored, jailed, or ushered back across the border. As the numbers grew, crimes of desperation grew. Locals demanded action from their law enforcement. Temporary camps were established. As the numbers of refugees further swelled, local militias were formed to deal with theft and growing violence by the refugees. In Arizona and New Mexico, State Defense Force (SDF) units were available to supplement the Border Patrol, police, and local posses. In California, the SDF was completely committed to disaster relief through March. In Texas, the very considerable Texas State Guard was largely deployed in disaster relief throughout the many areas affected by nuclear attack, although a handful of small units were available along the Rio Grande.

The number of refugees continued to grow throughout February and March. Thievery was increasingly accompanied by violence. In the Imperial Valley, Mexicans in a holding camp established by local militia and police rioted. The American militia opened fire, killing dozens before withdrawing. The situation continued to spiral out of control. Mexican refugees spread further inland through the mountains and to San Diego. By late March, state and federal forces in California had begun to take the Mexican refugee situation more seriously, although there was little enough they could do about it until more of the American refugees were assisted and settled.

In Texas, the length of the border made control impossible in the face of overwhelming numbers. In January, an estimated 20,000 Mexicans crossed the border looking for food, shelter, and work. By the end of March, the total had jumped to nearly 300,000. The well-armed Texan citizenry increasingly took matters into their own hands in the face of what they felt were flagrant violations of their homes and property. Bloodshed was widespread; and still the Mexicans came.

In Arizona, the situation was substantially better. Fort Huachuca had been well-stocked with tents, Quonset huts, and emergency supplies in anticipation of flight from Phoenix and Tucson. By the end of March, many of the American refugees had gone home. The number of Mexican refugees by this time was much more manageable than in California or Texas: about 35,000 by the end of March. Although considerable lawlessness and abuse existed throughout southern Arizona, things remained more-or-less under control. Troops from Fort Huachuca and the Arizona State Guard were available to assist police and Border Patrol personnel in corralling Mexican refugees and getting them into camps.

In April, the situation in California took a decided turn for the worse. Open fighting erupted in the Imperial Valley. By the end of the month, the Americans had lost control of the valley. State and federal officials finally took notice; the Imperial Valley was an important source of winter vegetables and figured prominently in plans for recovery. Also, water for San Diego passed through the area. It was at this time that the infamous Palm Springs incident occurred, in which a C-130 equipped with spray tanks killed an estimated 9,000 Mexicans with nerve agent.

As has been well-documented elsewhere, Mexico City used this incident and others of lesser scale to justify intervention by the Mexican Army. In fact, the PRI had been considering military action since the nuclear attacks on Mexico’s oil industry. Many had convinced themselves that the Americans were responsible for the attacks. Others had become convinced that a foreign adventure was necessary to unite the people of Mexico and gloss over the privations of the lower classes. Still others saw this as an opportunity to recover lands lost 150 years before. While continuing to encourage refugee movement, Mexico City prepared to launch Operation Aztlan against the American border states.

By the end of May, 1998 the Americans had effectively lost control of the interior of California south of Interstate 10. The coastline from San Diego to northern Orange County was more-or-less in American hands. US military and police forces were still consumed with coping with the fallout of the Los Angeles strikes and were unable to spare much manpower to control the estimated 750,000 Mexican nationals now in southern California. Arizona, which had absorbed about 100,000 Mexicans, had not lost control of any locales, although large numbers of squatters and would-be brigands plagued Yuma and some border communities. New Mexico had absorbed about 100,000 refugees as well with considerably less success and control, due to the need for state assets in Albuquerque. Texas, which had received nearly 1.5 million Mexican refugees by the end of May, had lost control of large swaths of territory along the border.

The Second Mexican-American War officially began on June 2, 1998 as Mexican forces crossed the border to protect Mexican lives.

1 The strikes on Benicia, Martinez, and Avon were all delivered by independent re-entry vehicles carried by SLBM launched from the Arctic Ocean. For reasons unknown, Richmond was not attacked at the same time. Some believe the warhead intended for Richmond malfunctioned. In any event, the Richmond attack was launched the next day by an ICBM based in Siberia.

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