Until the end of the Second World War, Europe was a continent of emigrants. Tens of millions of Europeans left for the Americas in order to colonize, escape famine, financial crises, wars and European totalitarianism and the persecution of ethnic minorities. Today, I’m following the process of the so-called “Returns Directive” with concern. The text, approved on June 5th by the Interior Ministers of the European Union’s 27 member countries, must be voted on in the European Parliament on June 18th. I feel that it drastically hardens the conditions for detention and expulsion of undocumented migrants, whatever their length of stay in the European countries, their work situation, their family ties, their will and their achievements at integration.
Europeans arrived en masse in the countries of Latin America and North America, without visas or conditions imposed by the authorities. They were always welcome, and they continue to be, in our countries on the American continent, which therefore absorb the economic misery of Europe and its political crises. They came to our continent to exploit its wealth and transfer it to Europe, with a very high cost for America’s original population. Such is the case in our Cerro Rico, in Potosi, where the fabulous silver mines provided the European continent its coinage from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The goods and personal rights of the European migrants were always respected.
Today the European Union is the main destination for the world’s migrants, as a consequence of its positive image as an area of prosperity and public freedom. The vast majority of the migrants come to the EU to contribute to this prosperity, not to take advantage of it. They occupy jobs in public works, construction, personal services and hospitals, which Europeans can’t or don’t wish to fill. They contribute to the European continent’s dynamic demographic, to maintaining the relationship between the active and inactive that in turn makes possible its generous systems of social security, internal market stimulation and social cohesion. Migrants offer a solution to the EU’s demographic and financial problems.
For us, our migrants represent the development aid that the Europeans don’t give us – considering that few countries actually manage to achieve the minimum objective of 0.7% of their GDP in development aid. In 2006, Latin America received $68 billion dollars in remittances; more than the total foreign investment in our countries. At a world level, they reach $300 billion dollars, which surpasses the $104 billion dollars granted through the concept of development aid. My own country, Bolivia, received more than 10% of its GDP through remittances ($1.1 billion dollars), or a third of our annual natural gas exports.
This is to say that the migration flows are just as beneficial for the Europeans and marginally for those of us in the Third World, considering that we’ve also lost the equivalent of millions of skilled workers, in which our states, poor as they are, have invested human and financial resources in one way or another.
Unfortunately, the “Returns Directive” complicates this reality terribly. If we conceive that each state or group of states may define its fully sovereign migratory policies, we cannot accept that fundamental personal rights should be denied to our Latin American brothers and compatriots. The “Returns Directive” provides for the possibility of incarceration of undocumented migrants for up to 18 months before their expulsion – or “removal,” according to the terms of the directive. 18 months! Without trial, or justice! As it is today, the Directive’s text clearly violates Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Specifically, Article 13 of the Declaration states:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
And worst of all, there is the possibility of imprisonment for mothers and children, without taking into account their family or school situation, in these detention facilities where we know depression, hunger strikes and suicides take place. How can we accept undocumented Latin American compatriots and brothers who’ve worked and integrated themselves over years, being put in concentration camps, without reacting? On what side is today’s duty of humanitarian intervention? Where is the “freedom of movement,” the protection against arbitrary imprisonment?
In parallel, the European Union is trying to convince the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) to sign an “Association Agreement” which includes a Free Trade Agreement as its third pillar, with the same nature and contents as those imposed by the United States. We are under intense pressure from the European Commission to accept profoundly liberalized conditions for trade, financial services, intellectual property or our public services. Furthermore, under the heading of legal protection, we are being pressured over our process of nationalization of water, gas and telecommunications, as realized on International Workers Day. I ask, in this case, where is the “legal security” for our women, adolescents, children and workers who seek better horizons in Europe?
Freedom of movement is promoted for merchandise and finance, while we are faced with imprisonment without trial for our brothers who try to move freely. This is to deny the foundations of freedom and democratic rights.
Under these conditions, to approve this “Returns Directive,” we would find it ethically impossible to extend the negotiations with the European Union, and we reserve the right to regulate European citizens through the same visa obligations that have been imposed on Bolivians since the first of April, 2007, according to the diplomatic principle of reciprocity. We have not exercised it until now, as we awaited favorable signs from the EU.
The world, its continents, its oceans and its poles face difficult global challenges: global warming, pollution, the slow but sure disappearance of energy resources and biodiversity, while hunger and poverty increase in all countries, weakening our societies. To make migrants, documented or undocumented, scapegoats for these global problems is no kind of solution at all. It doesn’t correspond to any reality. The problems of social cohesion suffered by Europe are not the fault of migrants, but the result of a development model imposed by the North, which is destroying the planet and dismembering the society of mankind.
In the name of the Bolivian people, of all my brothers in the continental regions of the world such as Maghreb, Asia and the countries of Africa, I call on the conscience of the European leaders and parliamentary members, the people, citizens and activists of Europe, to reject the first draft of the “Returns Directive.
That which we have before us today, is a shameful directive. I also call on the European Union to elaborate, in the coming months, a migratory policy that is respectful of human rights, that would maintain this beneficial dynamism for both continents and might repair once and for all the enormous historical, economic and ecological debt that the European countries have with a large part of the Third World, which might close at once Latin America’s still open veins. They must not fail today at “policies of integration,” as they failed with their supposed “civilizing mission” in colonial times.
Fraternal greetings from Bolivia to all of you, authorities, Members of Parliament, and comrades. And in particular, our solidarity to all those who are “hidden.”
Evo Morales Ayma, President of the Republic of Bolivia