Things That Matter

How Working In Ecuador During The Venezuelan Crisis Helps Me Understand The Central American Asylum Seekers

“Señorita! Puedo preguntarle sobre—”

“Ah, lo siento, no hablo español!” (“Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish!”)

Conversations during my first few months in Ecuador often took this tune: brown-skinned and dark curly-haired, I certainly looked the part. But I didn’t yet speak it.

Once my Spanish grew conversational, I could answer the confusion — somewhat. Always in a cab, the taxista would begin his string of rapid-fire questions, beginning with, “Where are you from?”

“Canada,” I’d respond with a knowing smirk, expecting the next comment.

“But I was born in Pakistan,” would be my eventual answer and the driver’s quizzical expression would shortly dissolve out of sight.

I spent two years living and working in Quito, Ecuador, never had my identities challenge me, or take on new meaning, as they did during my time living in South America.

There were, of course, strange — and comedic — blips in this journey. My first friend there, who I met through work, was Indian, and we took on the label of desi gringas together. Desi, the general grouping of South Asians, and gringa, women foreigners in Latin America. Or so we thought.

“You don’t want to call yourself gringa,” my friend from Costa Rica told me one day, stifling back laughter. Gringo and gringa, she explained, were “annoying white people from the U.S.” We dropped that label quick.

A foreigner, but not white, brown but not Latina.

CREDIT: Courtest of Urooba Jamal

I was slowly falling in love with Latin America but I craved something familiar. So, I took refuge in Quito’s desi restaurants. Surprisingly, there were several.

There was Sher-E-Punjab, the biggest one that always came up first on Tripadvisor searches, with its fancy decor, cloth napkins, and smiling waiters. I’d have to reassure several times that I did indeed want my food “extra, extra, extra picante” (spicy) because I was Pakistani and could certainly more than handle it. It was important to add “extra” many times because Ecuadoreans add tomate de arbol — or the tamarillo fruit — to their aji, or hot sauce.

Then there was the one owned by Pakistanis, where the chefs added literal sugar to their mild curries, I assume to make them more palatable to both Ecuadorean and gringo palates.

Finally, there was the one by my workplace, which was, in all honesty, quite average, with most patrons rarely ordering Indian food, opting instead to sip on cervezas and eat a fast-food staple, papi pollo (fried chicken and fries).

I returned often because of the woman who owned the place. She had fled her abusive husband in India almost a decade ago, working as a cook and chef in many different countries before eventually settling in Ecuador.

She lived above the place she owned and had learned Spanish simply by getting to know her customers. She was so happy to speak to me in Urdu-slash-Hindi every time I came in.

On one of my early visits, I asked the restaurant owner why she had chosen to stay in Ecuador. She smiled, then replied with a laugh, “Because they don’t think we’re terrorists here.”

CREDIT: Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

A decade ago, under the former government of Rafael Correa, Ecuador ended visa requirements for foreigners, earning the credit of having one of the most lenient visa policies in the world. Many South Asians, including many Indians and Pakistanis, as well as people from the rest of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, began migrating to the equatorial country for the first time.

According to Ecuador’s National Immigration Office, while only 92 Pakistani citizens had entered Ecuador in 2006, shortly after the policy came into effect in 2008, 178 had entered. By 2010, 518 — an increase of 550 percent in just four years.

Just last year, the UNHCR applauded Ecuador for its then-new Human Mobility Law — which regularized status for all refugees, asylum-seekers and trafficking victims — but it now appears that the new government of Lenin Moreno is set on reversing many of these policies. Blaming an influx of Venezuelans migrating to the country, it still stands to be seen what this means for migrants to Ecuador from other parts of the world.

While I met many migrants from many places in the region, such as Cuba and Colombia, it wasn’t till more Venezuelans started arriving in 2017, that I became aware of a changing tone in the country.

I was taking Spanish classes at a local university in Quito, one of them a conversational class with a fiery, expressive professor who was half-Colombian and half-Ecuadorean. Always impeccably dressed, she led our class — often just me and another young woman from Norway — with no structure. Instead, she would incite class discussions on hot-button topics from abortion to the death penalty. It was hard to place where her own opinions lay, as she wove in tales of everything from family members kidnapped by guerillas in Colombia, to the first time she snuck out from under her Catholic mother’s eyes to go party at a discoteca.

On one particular day, she started off class sharing news of a taxi driver murdered in the country by a passenger. The man who had stabbed him, she explained, was Venezuelan.

“Since Venezuelans have started arriving here,” my professor started off slowly. “Crime has gone up.”

CREDIT: Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

I sat there stunned, unable to string a sentence together in Spanish — or any language for that matter. This story would be the topic of discussion in my grammar class the next morning, where my other professor implied the same. I began noticing headlines from local papers, eyeing newspaper vendors as they snaked through Quito’s traffic, and their use of the same alarmist tone about Venezuelan migrants.

For the restaurant owner from India, along with many other migrants from around the world, Ecuador was a chance to start over. The country that is Latin America’s largest refugee-hosting country became their refuge.

Elsewhere in Latin America, thousands from mostly Honduras and Guatemala are currently fleeing their homes, hoping to escape poverty and violence by seeking asylum in the United States. Their own governments have long been allied with the country they hope to reach, with the United States having backed military dictatorships and coups there. These coups are as recent as 2009 in Honduras, and as early as 1954 in Guatemala. The migrants stay stranded, having been met with tear gas by U.S. border patrol agents, amidst threats of deportation.

Before the migrants had even reached towns bordering the U.S. in Mexico, where thousands are still awaiting their destiny, U.S. President Donald Trump made inflamed remarks against them, chastising the caravan as one “full of criminals.” Residents of Tijuana, Mexico have also marched against the migrants’ arrival — with even Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum echoing Trump’s comments.

As I follow their journey, I often flick through my Canadian passport, stamped with visas from Latin America and the world: my own family immigrated to Canada when I was two years old, leaving Pakistan forever.

Getting my Ecuadorean visa with my Canadian passport my first year was as simple as gathering my forms and picking it up four days later. By my second year, it required several more trips, many more forms, and a couple hundred dollars more; I got it four months later. The lines and wait times had multiplied: many were Venezuelans who may not receive visas at all, in not four days or even four months.

I think about these Venezuelan migrants, fleeing Central Americans, the Indian woman, about my own experiences.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Urooba Jamal

I’m finally reading Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America,” the classic 1971 literary indictment of five centuries of pillage and plunder on the continent. Galeano once said: “We must not confuse globalization with ‘internationalism’…We know that the human condition is universal, that we share similar passions, fears, needs and dreams, but this has nothing to do with the ‘rubbing out’ of national borders as a result of unrestricted capital movements. One thing is the free movement of peoples, the other of money.”

Despite the despair in his writings, Galeano remained hopeful all throughout his life. On this (open) vein, I probe: What if we never had to escape to find refuge?

Woman Alleges She And Two Other Women In ICE Custody Were Raped Hours Before Being Released And Deported

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Woman Alleges She And Two Other Women In ICE Custody Were Raped Hours Before Being Released And Deported

David McNew / Getty

The United States continues to detain migrants and refugees in detention centers across the country, despite a global health crisis that poses an immense risk to detainees. However, along with the threat of Covid-19 infection – longstanding abuses such as sexual assaults continue to happen inside detention centers.

One brave woman has come forward with her story about a sexual assault that happened at a detention facility outside Houston, Texas.

A federal lawsuit alleges that three women were sexually assaulted hours before being deported back to Mexico.

In a federal lawsuit that was filed on Wednesday, a Mexican woman, who was being held inside an immigration detention facility, said she was raped along with two other women. The woman, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, is suing CoreCivic – a major private prison company that operates several ICE detention facilities across the U.S.

While in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, the plaintiff said she and two other women were taken from their dorms and placed inside a dark small room. Around midnight, three men in street wear entered the cell and sexually assaulted all of the women. The attackers hit the women in the face, used brutal force and raped each of them.

Hours later, all three of the victims were put on buses and deported back to Mexico – without even being given the chance to shower after the attack.

“She was in a very vulnerable position,” said the plaintiff’s lawyer, Michelle Simpson Tuegel. “I don’t think by chance that these women were targeted on the eve of deportation, and that she was sexually assaulted right as she was being deported.”

“It wasn’t really a position where she had anyone or could do anything at that point,” Tuegel said. 

The woman said she became pregnant as a result of the rape.

The alleged attack occurred June 1, 2018. The plaintiff released a video statement detailing some of the alleged incident. In it, she reveals that shortly after returning to Mexico, she discovered that she was pregnant.

“I became pregnant as a result of the rape and am now the mother of a girl,” she said in the video. 

Attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel said that while the plaintiff loves her daughter regardless of how she came into the world, the mother suffered a difficult birth. 

“She conceived a child as a result of this rape and then had a pretty difficult…birth in a rural area of Mexico. She would not have had that, had it not been for this rape,” Simpson Tuegel said. 

Although ICE hasn’t commented on the lawsuit, they have defended the actions of their employees.

Credit: US DHS

ICE said in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation, but said lack of comment should not be taken as agreement with any of the allegations.

“ICE employees and contractors are held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct,” the agency said. “Incidents of misconduct are treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated thoroughly. When substantiated, appropriate action is taken.”

Unfortunately, sexual assault and rape are extremely common in ICE detention centers.

Credit: Sally Whitfield / Getty

According to reporting done by The Intercept, between 2010 and 2017, there were 1,224 complaints involving sexual assault. Perhaps even more startling, is that of these more than 1,200 sexual assault allegations – only 43 were ever investigated.

It’s also important to note the extreme obstacles encountered by those wanting to report assaults – from fear and retaliation to outright lack of resources. These patterns suggest that sexual assault and harassment is ICE detention centers are not only widespread but systemic, enabled by an agency that regularly fails to hold itself accountable.

The US, Colombia Deny Any Involvement In What Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro Calls Failed Invasion

Things That Matter

The US, Colombia Deny Any Involvement In What Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro Calls Failed Invasion

nicolasmaduro / Instagram

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused both the U.S. and Colombian governments of trying to stage an invasion. President Maduro accused made the accusations towards the beginning of May when two Americans were arrested with a group of other people.

Both the U.S. and Colombia have denied any report of an attempted coup on Venezuela.

On May 3, a group of Venezuelan rebels and two Americans allegedly began a coup attempt in Venezuela. They began on the northern tip of the country and reportedly had plans to take control of Maracaibo and Caracas. They were all immediately captured and 8 Venezuelans in the group were killed during the conflict.

According to the Daily Mail, Jordan Goudreau, 43, was involved with the coup and told a close friend about it. It is alleged that Goudreau bragged about having a contract with the U.S. government to protect oil interests in Venezuela.

The mercenaries behind the attempted coup claim to have done security for a President Trump rally in 2018.

Goudreau, who has been described as the mastermind of the coup attempt, owns the security company Silvercorp. An old Instagram post shows the Florida-based company running security for a Trump rally back in 2018. The company has since deleted the Instagram posts after news broke about their failed attempt to train Venezuelan rebels and capture the South American country.

“He came out to Colorado,” Drew White, Goudreau’s former business partner told Daily Mail. “He said he had a deal from the State Department to protect oil interests in Venezuela. He was saying it was handed to him directly. He was saying it was directed and passed down by the State Department, that it was a legitimate operation and they also had some private funding backing, which isn’t unusual with these kinds of things. Essentially he was like, ‘We’re going to topple Maduro.’ At that point I was like, ‘This doesn’t seem legitimate” and we broke ways.”

Goudreau claims that the Trump administration and Venezuelan resistance leader Juan Guaidó green-lit the operation.

The U.S. and Venezuela have had a contentious relationship over the past few years. The political unrest in Venezuela has continued to draw criticism from the international community as Venezuelans have protested for a new leader. When the relationship with Trump soured, Maduro began to claim that the U.S. was attempting to overthrow the government.

Both the U.S. and Colombian governments have denied any involvement in the alleged coup.

Reports state that the group of men attempting to topple the Venezuelan government did nothing to hide their plan. The security group was tweeting their plans to the open-world alerting anyone with a Twitter account to their plans. SilverCorp USA has since deleted their Twitter account. Experts and officials have decisively denied any collaboration between the mercenaries and the two governments.

“There is no way that I can see any kind of U.S. involvement,” Fernando Cutz, who served as a Latin America adviser on the National Security Council under both Obama and Trump, told the Huffington Post. “There were no logistics, the numbers were a joke, they clearly didn’t have any intel. A group of high schoolers would have done a better job.”

Social media has spent time dragging the security company over its failed coup attempt.

There is still a lot of speculation swirling around the “coup.” However, Goudreau’s friend is pretty sure that the missions was not as official as Goudreau claims.

“He’s a good man,” White told Daily Mail. “He was the best man at my wedding. We have a lot of history together and it never seemed like he was lying like that. But once you started looking at it, none of it really added up. He kept asking to meet with people for funding. But typically with a State Department contract, the funding is shored up. You might have some private entities helping here and there. But it was pretty obvious that it was not a state-sanctioned activity.”

READ: Venezuela’s President Maduro And Opposition Leader Guaidó Are Allegedly In Secret Talks And The World Wants To Know The Details