Archive for May 11th, 2011

May 11, 2011

Animal’s Hell in Southeast Asia: Asia’s suffering bears exploited for bile

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By Amelie Bottollier-Depois (AFP)

Two Asiatic black bears play at a bear rescue center in the northern Laos province of Luang Namtha (AFP / HO / FREE THE BEARS FUND, Free The Bears Fund)

BOTEN, Laos — A frenzied black bear growls and shakes the bars of a cage barely bigger than itself. Like thousands of others across Asia, it is waiting for its owner to extract bile, a treasured substance in traditional Chinese medicine.

In a windowless building stinking of urine in the town of Boten in Laos, near the Chinese border, about 15 metal cages are lined up. Each holds a bear with barely enough room to turn around, let alone stand.

“If the cages were bigger, it would be very dangerous for the person who takes care of them”, says Se, the Chinese owner of this “farm” which specialises in Asiatic black bears, whose predominant colour contrasts with a white band of chest fur.

In the courtyard four cubs just a few weeks old have been sold for $750 dollars each to traffickers. They will soon face the same treatment.

“Once a day, we take the bile of one bear with a needle. We change bears every day,” says Se, who gave only one name and refused to allow photos of the bears.

In other farms, bears live with a catheter or a hole in the abdomen to allow extraction of the bile, according to animal rights campaigners who call for a ban on the practices.

Asiatic black bears play in water at a bear rescue center set up by the Free the Bears Fund in northern Laos (AFP / HO / FREE THE BEARS FUND, Free The Bears Fund)

“The bile is usually extracted using extremely crude surgery or through permanently implanted catheters. Severe damage to the gall bladders is common and tumours often develop,” says Jude Osborne, who manages a refuge near Luang Prabang created by Free the Bears Fund of Australia.

“The conditions for bears on these farms are horrific, with intolerable pain and mental suffering,” he said.

As a result, their life span is reduced on average to 10 years, says Louis Ng, director of Singapore-based ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society). Bears in the wild can live to be 25.

“After they kill them, (they) take the gall bladder itself for traditional Chinese medicine and then they take the paws for soup. They believe that if you drink that you become as strong as the bear,” says Ng.

According to a report issued Wednesday by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, at least 12,000 bears were living under such conditions in Asia, at places which are “farms” only in name because most do not actually breed the animals.

The majority are Asiatic black bears, also commonly known as moon bears, whose global population is estimated at between 25,000 and 100,000. They are classed as a “vulnerable species” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Trade in the bears is banned by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

China “appeared to be the largest producer” of bile with an estimated production of between six and 30 tonnes annually, TRAFFIC said, adding that the country exports a lot of bear products — which are legal in its territory.

The organisation, based in the United Kingdom, found Chinese-made bile in a number of traditional medicine shops throughout Asia. In various forms including liquid, powder and pills, bile is used to treat all sorts of ailments from sore throats to epilepsy and sprains.

But bear farming has perpetuated demand, and surplus bile is now found even in toothpaste, candy and shampoo, said Kaitlyn Foley, of TRAFFIC.

According to animal welfare groups Laos has 100 to 200 bears, putting it far behind China, Vietnam and South Korea.

Activists however say communist Laos could become a more popular destination for “breeders” under increasing pressure in certain countries.

“A lot of Vietnamese farmers are moving to Laos to start their farm there, because the Vietnamese government is clamping down on them,” says Ng, of ACRES.

Foley said one of TRAFFIC’s concerns is that “with increasing pressure to close down farms in China and Vietnam, there could be a burgeoning market in Laos and Myanmar, just because the restrictions are less”.

In Laos, the breeding is mainly run by either Vietnamese or Chinese, says Osborne, of the bear refuge.

“We need to be vigilant towards any attempts to illegally establish farms within Laos. We are working closely with the authorities here to try to ensure that this situation does not occur.”

At the airport in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, a large billboard shows pictures of bears and cautions that illegal wildlife trafficking is punishable by the law.

“Every time you buy… nature pays,” it says.

But demand is strong.

In Boten, Se’s shop is well established. “I bought some bile for my cousin who has a bad knee,” says one customer who leaves with a tiny vial that he bought for $4.

For those looking for something more, Se also offers bear teeth, elephant skin and serpent wine. All displayed among sex toys and pornographic DVDs.

An Asiatic black bear cub is raised in captivity at a bear farm in Hanoi (AFP / HO / M. Silverberg / TRAFFIC, M. Silverberg)

An Asiatic back bear is raised in captivity at a bear farm in the northern Lao town of Luang Prabang (AFP/ HO / A. Oswell / TRAFFIC, A. Oswell)

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May 11, 2011

ANIMAL’S HELL IN LAOS: Inside a bear bile farm in Laos

Despite increasing international outrage, extracting bile from endangered black bears is still rife in south-east Asia


By Fiona MacGregor
Published: 7:45 AM BST 19 Aug 2010

An Asiatic black bear watches from its cage as bile is siphoned from the gall bladder of another bear at a bile farm in Laos Photo: Fiona MacGregor

Entering the family home behind the sign, I am greeted by a scene of comfortable domesticity. A baby crawls on the dark teak floorboards; a teapot sits on a table in the front room; a dog pants in a shady corner, sweltering in the exhausting summer heat. Through an open door, down a short corridor and out through the rear of the house, the scene is rather different. Trapped in tiny, cramped cages above urine-soaked floors there are eight large Asiatic black bears.

Bear-farming is a relatively new business in Laos. The practice involves keeping Asiatic black bears in battery-farm conditions where they have their bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, regularly extracted.

This small Vietnamese-run farm, an offshoot of a larger one in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is one of at least eight such farms – one of which holds about 100 bears – known to have opened across the country in the past decade. Welfare organisations believe other smaller farms exist in Laos, although they do not appear on government records.

Bear bile has been used in Asian medicine for thousands of years. The bitter yellow fluid is made in the liver, then stored in the gall bladder until it is released to help break down fats during digestion. Traditionally it is believed to ‘relieve internal heat’, but its supposed powers are myriad and it is prescribed for everything from hangovers to cancer and is found in products from edible powders to shower gels.

While scientific studies have found a substance contained in bear bile – ursodeoxycholic acid – can help in the treatment of gallstones, it can be produced synthetically or taken from the gall bladders of domesticated animals slaughtered for the meat trade. There is little or no scientific evidence that bear bile is effective in treating other conditions.

Until about 30 years ago, the only way to acquire bear bile was by killing a wild animal and removing its gall bladder (itself a popular ingredient in Chinese medicine). Then, in the early 1980s, bear farms began appearing in North Korea, before spreading to China, where the practice gained popularity, and south into Vietnam.

The Chinese government supported bear farming, claiming that the farms promoted captive breeding and helped to reduce the need to hunt wild bears. But the difficulty of breeding captive bears means hunting has continued, with adult females killed and their cubs taken to farms. There are now some restrictions on how farms operate, but the Chinese government estimates that there are currently between 7,000 and 10,000 bears kept for their bile in China.

In the face of international pressure Vietnam banned bile farming five years ago, since when the number of farms in Laos is said to have grown steadily, many run by Vietnamese bear farmers who have taken their operations across the border.

Politicians in Laos, in response to international pressure, recently reviewed legislation, revoking the licences of all wildlife farms pending inspection by national authorities, but major loopholes remain. While it is illegal to capture a wild bear and keep it in captivity in Laos, bear farmers are allowed to keep bears as long as they claim the animals have been bred from bears born in captivity – and there has been little legal pressure on them to prove where the bears come from.

With a population of only six million and a traditional, impoverished rural lifestyle, Laos provides easy pickings for entrepreneurs and traders from its powerful neighbours. The bear bile industry is highly lucrative. With a seemingly in­satiable demand for the product in China, Korea and beyond, and these countries facing diminished supplies as other nations clamp down on farming and hunting, unless the Lao government tightens its laws it seems inevitable that bear farming there will keep growing.

Mary Hutton, the English-born founder of the Australian animal welfare charity Free the Bears, is one of the most vocal critics of bear farming, and has grown increasingly concerned about the situation in Laos. ‘The farming of Asiatic black bears for their bile is an incredibly cruel and unnecessary industry,’ she says. ‘What’s more, it can easily be replaced in traditional Chinese medicine by synthetic and herbal alternatives. Bile farming has no proven conservation benefit for this magnificent, globally threatened species. Bears in bile farms suffer terrible physical and psychological pain and suffering, something that is expressly forbidden under Laos laws for wildlife.’

Statistics on wildlife populations in Laos, one of the world’s least developed countries, remain scant. Researchers are only now beginning to study wild black bears there. It is no easy task given the reclusive nature of the species, which spends much of its life high in the trees of shrinking forest regions. Black bears are omnivorous and will eat anything from small mammals to whatever crops farmers plant, a habit that leads to conflicts with villagers that can be fatal for bears and humans. In rural Laos, the ferociousness with which an angry bear will attack is legendary.

Even globally, details on Asiatic black bears are unclear. Also known as moon bears, after the cream-coloured crescents on their chests, they are found in Eastern countries from Afghanistan to Vietnam, yet only a few nations have population estimates, and figures from those that do – particularly China – are questioned by conservationists. Worst-case figures suggest there could be as few as 25,000 left in the world; even the higher estimates put the number below 100,000.

What is known is that a combination of habitat destruction through deforestation and hunting, either for body parts or to quell crop raiding, has led to the Asiatic black bear being categorised as globally vulnerable under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Mammals, meaning that the population is believed to have declined by more than 30 per cent in the past 30 years.

In the wild an adult black bear would roam across a territory 100 square miles in size, but here, in the Luang Prabang farm, they are confined in barred enclosures measuring 15 sq ft. Some of the animals cannot stand fully upright and some display the repetitive swaying movements of severe stress. Most also have mange, and scratch incessantly at their patchy fur. Despite the 100F heat outside, there is no water in any of the cages.

Disturbing as all this is to witness, these bears are luckier than others. In some bile farms the bears live with a catheter inserted into their gall bladder. To enable farmers to extract the bile without risk of attack, the animals are often confined in ‘crush cages’ so tight that they can hardly move at all. A bear in a well-run zoo or safari park can live for up to 35 years. Most bile-farm bears are unlikely to survive much beyond eight years, according to Free the Bears.

The manager of the Luang Prabang farm, a 28-year-old Vietnamese man who lives here with his wife and baby, and whose family runs the bigger operation in Vientiane, says he started this farm five years ago. Bear protection organisations in the area learnt about it only a year ago when, in a spirit of entrepreneurship, the manager approached Western shopkeepers and restaurateurs in Luang Prabang to see if they might like to offer the bile to tourists. He received a cool reception, and campaigners have been trying to persuade the local authorities to close the farm ever since.

Sitting in his wood-panelled front room, he produces four photocopied pages, written in English, of what appears to be a government licence for the farm, and a ‘scientific report’ promoting the health benefits of bear bile. (He tells me that bear bile can be good for a lot of things, but I should never take it if I am pregnant.) Then, after preparing the injections that the bear will need for the procedure to extract its bile, he leads me to the back of the house where the bears, aged between three and seven, are kept. I am told to watch out for a small, sharp-toothed monkey in the corner because it ‘doesn’t like women’.

Near the cages there stands a dirty green operating table and, next to it – incongruously, in the dirty, gloomy surroundings – a Chinese-made ultrasound machine, of the same kind used for pre-natal scans in humans.

Earlier, I had watched as one of the bears allowed the farmer to scratch it playfully on the head through the bars. Now, the animals seem agitated as he approaches the cages, carrying a large stick and a medical box. The farmer pushes the stick into one of the cages and prods the animal head-first towards a lasso-like tether. The bear growls as it is pulled forwards and swiftly injected with an anaesthetic. It throws itself at the bars, snarling. (Poachers recount graphic stories of fellow hunters whose faces have been ripped off by angry black bears, but they say that in captivity the animals are comparatively docile.) Within a few minutes the anaesthetic begins to take effect.

Once the creature is unconscious, the farmer struggles to lift it on to the operating table (male black bears can weigh more than 440lb, and although the undernourished farm bear appears considerably lighter, it is still a large animal). There it is tied to each corner by its paws, exposing its abdomen and chest. Squirting a clear gel on to the bear’s belly, the farmer then uses the ultrasound machine to locate its gall bladder. With his wife’s assistance he inserts the draining apparatus, a simple set-up involving a needle attached to a narrow plastic tube and a small suction machine.

Soon a dirty brown liquid begins trickling down the clear pipe that snakes across the bear’s body and into a glass bottle of the sort you would see in many family larders. A lurid yellow foam forms on top. After about 20 minutes, the procedure is over. The tube is withdrawn, the bear is injected with ‘vitamins’ to help it recover, and then manhandled back into its cage.

Back in the front room, where the bottle of freshly drained, still-frothy bile sits on the table, the farmer shows us a price list, helpfully laid out in Lao kip and US dollars for the customers who visit his home. It states that 1ml (less than a third of a teaspoon) of bear bile costs $15. But there’s a promotional deal on just now: buy 5ml get 1ml free reads a notice on the wall. In Laos, where the average monthly wage is $30, such sums are beyond most people’s budgets. The farmer tells us the majority of his customers are private clients from Vietnam, Korea and China.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia and its inhabitants make a living however they can. Over the past 10 years it has modernised significantly, but its improved infrastructure has come at a considerable cost to the nation’s wildlife. The country’s animals have become easy targets for experienced Vietnamese wildlife traders who, having all but wiped out many of their own nation’s species, now smuggle animals dead and alive (anything from lizards to elephant parts) across the border.

A sinewy man in his early forties, Aye Wong Phet is among the growing number of former poachers who have turned gamekeeper in Laos. He was recruited from his village to work for a wildlife protection agency, and the skills he once used to track and kill animals are now used to help conserve them. ‘There is much more hunting in Laos than there was 10 years ago,’ he says.

Phet is one of three former hunters who has been working with Lorraine Scotson, a biologist from the University of Bristol, to help monitor bear populations in Laos, the first such survey of its kind. Scotson says his knowledge of bears and their habitat is remarkable and invaluable.

‘In the past we would go and kill a bear if someone was sick,’ Phet recalls. ‘It was the only medicine we had. [Even today modern medicine is scarce in rural Laos.] We only killed them for their gall bladder, but we would eat the meat too. Now people from Vietnam want all the different parts for medicine.’

Phet doesn’t know what they want the parts for – it is not a Lao tradition, he says – but as long as the hunters are being paid well, they will continue to deliver the goods. ‘A few years ago nobody took the paws, but now they want them too,’ he says. Bear paw soup is considered a delicacy in Vietnam, Cambodia, China and other parts of Asia.

Phet joins me on a visit to a rescue centre at Tat Kuang Si, just outside Luang Prabang, run by Free the Bears, and he is full of delight seeing the bears there, helping to hide food in the large enclosure where the bears will have to forage for it as they might in the wild.

There are 23 adult bears here, either confiscated by the authorities or handed over by individuals after the sanctuary was set up in 2003. Jude Osbourne, from Hastings, East Sussex, who runs the centre, has just taken delivery of five orphaned cubs, whose mothers are believed to have been killed by poachers and who would otherwise have almost certainly ended up on a bile farm. A bear cub can sell for up to $600 – enough to keep a family in Laos for more than a year.

So far, prosecution against hunters is rare and as there is no pressure for farmers to prove that the bears on their farms did not come from the wild, the risks are low. Osbourne believes this means bear farming will become more widespread.

‘We’re not yet at the stage it reached in Vietnam,’ he says, ‘where there are still more than 4,000 bears held in farms’ – even five years after the ban on bear bile farming came into force. ‘It is illegal to take bile from them, but they can’t be released back into the wild either.’

Osbourne and others believe that many farmers defy the law and continue to take bile from these bears. ‘The danger is that bile farming will expand to similar levels very rapidly in Laos if a full ban on the farming of bears is not enacted soon.’

At the bile farm in Luang Prabang, the owner is busy sealing lids on several tiny bottles of the precious liquid that he has just extracted from the bear. Once that task is completed, he mixes the dregs in the jar with vodka and, with a toast to the good health he promises it will deliver, downs the bitter mixture in a single gulp.


Auditioning for ‘Glee’?

Polish wildlife photographer Marek Paluch captured this fuzzy squirrel, which looks like it’s brushing up on its dance moves.

May 11, 2011

Xayaburi put on hold – CK must await review of its study

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Construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam will be delayed after the Laotian government officially informed its Thai contractor that more study of the environmental impact is required for the $3.8-billion project on the Mekong River.

Ch. Karnchang Plc (CK), Thailand’s second largest contractor, said it had suspended work at the site of the 1,280- megawatt project pending the review of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) study.

“We have been informed by the government of Laos that it will hire independent consultants to review the EIA report of the Xayaburi dam,” said Anukool Tuntimas, a company director and executive vice-president for human resources and general administration.

“Consequently, construction would be pending the completion of the additional report.”

He brushed aside a news report that the Laotian government had asked CK to finance the review.

“I think this is some kind of misunderstanding,” he said, adding that CK did not know how long the additional study would last, but that it took the company less than six months to finish the first EIA report.

“We have done our part and all processes required by law,” Dr Anukool said. “Now we are waiting for the Laotian government to finish its work, so we can begin the construction of the project.”

Earlier, CK stated that work at the dam would start soon after the company signed a construction contract and loan agreements with banks to finance the project.

So far, the company has done some road construction near the dam, which is located 80 kilometres from Luang Prabang.

The Xayaburi dam is the most advanced project of 11 proposed dams on the Lower Mekong. Environmental groups have criticised the project for the potential damage they say it could do to ecosystems and river communities.

Vietnam, in particular, has proposed that the dam be deferred for a decade.

Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director-general of Laos’s Department of Electricity, was quoted in a news report as saying that Laos would ask CK to finance the review of the project.

“We are delaying the project but not permanently,” Mr Daovong said. “We are just discussing the process and then requesting the developer finance the additional review.”

Laos wants its own study to verify the findings of the work of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which served as the basis for countries to object to the dam.

“The cost of the review depends on how many experts we have to hire,” he said. “The timing should be something like six to 12 months.”

The MRC secretariat said that it had not been informed of any formal suspension of the project by the Laotian government and would not comment further until it had confirmation.

“However, we have asked for clarification from the Vietnamese and Lao authorities. The Vietnamese authorities have confirmed the news report. We are still waiting for a response from the Lao authorities,” it said.

Shares of CK closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at eight baht, down 25 satang, in trade worth 246.99 million baht.

About the author

Writer: Nareerat Wiriyapong
Position: Business Reporter

A new geopolitics of mekong dams?

The dispute over the Xayaburi dam has caused a shift in relations between countries on the river and made unilateral moves unlikely

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On April 19, the four country members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) met to consult on Thai company Ch Karnchang’s proposal to build a 1,260MW dam in Xayaburi province on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Laos. The dam would be financed by Thai banks and sell most of its power to consumers in Thailand. At the meeting, members of the MRC Joint Committee, made up of senior officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, agreed to disagree and to elevate the decision to the Ministerial Council level.

Messy and inconclusive though the interim outcome on the Xayaburi dam may seem, it nevertheless carries considerable significance for the way in which river policy decisions are conducted in the Mekong. It reflects a maturing of the relationship between the four riparian countries, and it represents a tentative step toward a much more inclusive and informed process of decision-making and influence around the all-important question of the Mekong’s future as a flowing river or a stepped series of lakes.

To date, two main constraints have limited rational, balanced and open decision making around dams with potential transboundary impacts in the Mekong River basin. The first is that transboundary discussions have been restricted to governments, which have wanted to maintain good political relations with one another and hence avoid any impression that they are imposing on their neighbours’ sovereign rights to develop resources within their own countries. Moreover, within governments the decisions have been devolved mainly to ministries with an in-built predisposition to support hydropower.

The second main constraint is that decisions have been made behind closed doors, with little opportunity for public scrutiny. Proposals for dams have been assessed by interested parties, and environmental assessments have been limited in scope and well below international quality standards. As a consequence, environmental and social impacts and costs have been dismissed and ultimately passed on to relatively powerless rural communities whose livelihood dependence on the river makes them vulnerable to impacts on fisheries, fluctuating water levels, and so on. Where affected communities have had a voice, it has mainly been articulated through post-construction grievances, as in the case of the Pak Moon Dam’s decimation of fishing livelihoods or Vietnam’s Yali Falls project and its downstream impact in Cambodia _ in other words, after the fact.

The case of Xayaburi has seen a shift in both these limitations. While consultations within the country concerned, Laos, have been very limited, a series of meetings facilitated by the MRC through its prior consultation procedures has provided for a wider degree of public input into the decision-making process. Similarly, by commissioning a set of technical reviews of the documentation submitted by the country nominating Xayaburi, the MRC provided a more reasoned basis on which the Joint Committee could make a recommendation. At one level, therefore, the interim outcome represents a success of MRC’s procedures for notification, prior consultation and agreement under which the consultation was mandated.

But all this would not and could not have happened without prior building of awareness and knowledge about the implications of mainstream dams on the Mekong. For some years, NGOs have mobilised under the Save the Mekong Coalition, bringing together a wide range of civil society groups including riverside communities, livelihood- and environment-oriented NGOs, environmental scientists and other university-based academics. A petition with 23,000 signatures was presented to four heads of government who met in April 2010 at the MRC summit in Hua Hin, expressing concern over mainstream dams and demanding that they not go ahead.

The MRC commissioned a strategic environmental assessment, which pulled together the best available knowledge on the Mekong to give an objective picture of what mainstream dams would mean for the river, its fisheries and the people who depend on them. The picture that emerged was not a pretty one, and the MRC’s team recommended putting the dams on hold for at least 10 years while further studies were carried out and alternatives sought. Yet even here, it was not the MRC report itself that carried the day, so much as the championing of its findings and recommendations by civil society groups, MRC donors and others. Probably the most significant development has been the emergence of a courageous, articulate and strategically organised group of scientists within Vietnam, who helped convince the Vietnamese National Mekong Committee, and more senior political leaders, of the threat posed by mainstream dams to the livelihoods and well-being of 20 million people in the Mekong Delta.

There are other political factors that have brought the four countries to this point. It seems that downstream countries have called the bluff of the upstream dam proponents. Prior to the meeting, the Lao government gave the impression that the dam was a fait accompli. It brought up the valid legal point that MRC rules and prior consultation ultimately have no regulatory bearing on what Laos may do within its own national territory, whatever the opinion of its neighbours may be. The bluff in this, it seems, was that by taking such a strong stand the Lao authorities believed that other countries would follow past practice and put consensus and the political culture of non-interference above concerns over downstream impacts. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that this was a misreading of neighbouring countries’ resolve over such a key issue. The strong statement issued last week by prime ministers Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam and Hun Sen of Cambodia sent an unequivocal message to the Lao authorities and the Thai developer that to proceed with the dam would be unacceptable.

Of course, the process is far from over. In the less than two weeks since the Joint Committee consultation, events have moved fast and continue to do so. Initially, both the Lao government and the project developer indicated an intention to proceed regardless. At its annual general meeting just a few days after the Joint Committee meeting, Ch Karnchang’s CEO indicated to shareholders that the project would proceed, implying that their expectations of dividends were well founded. A few days later, the Lao government quite properly responded to its partner countries’ concerns by stating that it would commission a review of the critiques of the environmental impact assessment, even though this may take months or years. At least one of the Thai banks lending money to the project has since stated that loans will not be forthcoming in this climate of uncertainty, which could foreshadow an unravelling of the commercial arrangements necessary for the project to proceed.

Formally, the consultation process over Xayaburi has been elevated to the council, which meets once a year in October. It is conceivable that a special meeting could be convened prior to this. In principle, Laos could even go it alone, but just as decisions to date over dams have been bound in a wider regional geopolitics geared at respecting national sovereignty, the Xayaburi decision is now caught up in a regional geopolitics in which a decision to proceed would represent a snub to downstream countries and also poison the normally close relationship between Laos and its larger political ally to the East.

Philip Hirsch is a professor of human geography at the University of Sydney and director of the Australian Mekong Resource Centre.

About the author

Writer: Philip Hirsch
Position: Writer

Mekong Mainstream Dams

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The revival of plans to build a series of dams on the Mekong River’s mainstream in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand presents a serious threat to the river’s ecology and puts at risk the wellbeing of millions of people dependent on the river for food, income, transportation and a multitude of other needs.

Since the 1960s, several mega-schemes to dam the Lower Mekong River’s mainstream to generate electricity have been proposed. The most recent plan, prepared by the Mekong Secretariat in 1994, was shelved in part due to public outcry over the predicted impacts on the river’s fisheries and the large number of people who would be displaced or otherwise affected.

But now there are troubling signs that the tide is turning. Since mid-2006, the Governments of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand have granted approval to Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese companies to investigate eleven mainstream hydropower dams. The projects are located at Pak Beng, Luang Prabang, Xayaburi, Pak Lay, and Sanakham in northern Laos; Pak Chom and Ban Koum on the Thai-Lao border; Lat Sua and Don Sahong in southern Laos; and Stung Treng and Sambor in Cambodia (see map). That these projects are once again being actively investigated is cause for alarm.

Already serious concerns have been raised by non-governmental organizations and scientists over the Xayaburi Dam, which is at the most advanced stage of development.  In September 2010, this dam became the first mainstream dam to be submitted for approval by the region’s governments through a regional decision-making process called the “Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement” (PNPCA), facilitated by the Mekong River Commission (MRC). This leapfrogged the publication of the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment report by a mere three weeks, which provided a critical appraisal of the dam plans and recommended that decisions on whether to proceed with the mainstream dams be deferred for a period of ten years until further studies can be conducted to ensure that decision-makers are fully informed of the risks.  With so much at stake, it is crucial that the Mekong region’s decision-makers endorse and adopt the SEA’s recommendations before it’s too late.

China’s dam construction on the Upper Mekong has already caused downstream impacts, especially along the Thai-Lao border where communities have suffered declining fisheries and changing water levels that have seriously affected their livelihoods. By changing the river’s hydrology, blocking fish migration and affecting the river’s ecology, the construction of dams on the Lower Mekong mainstream will have repercussions throughout the entire basin.

International Rivers is working with partners in the region and internationally to keep the Lower Mekong River’s mainstream flowing freely.


Pressure Mounts to Delay “Dangerous” $3.5 Bln Mekong River Dam

Mekong River Dam Decision Delayed

Mekong River Dam at Center of High-Stakes Conservation Fight

A Reprieve For The Mekong

Lao Disagrees with Neighbors on Xayaburi Dam


Carl Middleton
+1 510 848 1155

Ame Trandem
+1 510-848-1155

May 11, 2011

Obama Pressures GOP on Immigration

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EL PASO, Texas—President Barack Obama Tuesday tried a new tack on a tough domestic issue, saying that beefed-up security along the U.S.-Mexico border has proved effective enough to justify an overhaul of the immigration system.

In a speech at the border, Mr. Obama said his administration had met Republican concerns by increasing manpower to record levels and installing new surveillance technology and fencing at the border.

“We have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible,” he said.

Now, Mr. Obama said, it is time to begin new efforts to overhaul what he called the “broken immigration system.”

The White House has come under growing pressure from Hispanic groups and other advocates of revamping immigration laws to take more aggressive action on the issue. Mr. Obama offered no new policy proposals, and set out no timetable for legislation. Instead, he called for those who support his proposals to build pressure for congressional action from outside Washington

That partly involves changing American perceptions of the Mexican border. The president tried to reassure Americans that another wave of illegal immigrants will not flow into the country if those already here are allowed to stay. If he can do that, strategists in both parties say, Republicans may feel the political space to support a bipartisan immigration bill.

There is virtually no Republican support in Congress for the legislation Mr. Obama wants, though some Republicans have embraced these ideas in the past. Mr. Obama predicted that no matter what he does, Republican opponents of his approach will demand more. “Maybe they’ll need a moat,” he said. “Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.”

Mr. Obama spoke at the Chamizal National Memorial, on U.S.-Mexican border, where a giant Mexican flag waved from the other side of the Rio Grande river.

Immigration is a sensitive issue for both parties. Mr. Obama’s speech was aimed in part at building support among Hispanic voters he needs to boost his re-election campaign, particularly in Rocky Mountain states. At the same time, Mr. Obama sought to reassure voters worried about border security, citing a series of statistics—drug seizures, up 31%; criminals deported, up 70%.

Leading Republicans say it’s not enough. Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have crafted a $4 billion, 10-point plan that calls for double fencing where there is now single fencing and another 5,000 border patrol agents, on top of the 20,700 now in place.

“We hear from our constituents on a daily basis, and, while some progress has been made in some areas, they do not believe the border is secure,” Sens. McCain and Kyl, said in a statement Tuesday.

They also pointed to a Government Accountability Office report that found the U.S. has “operational control” over 44% of the Southwest border with Mexico, meaning it has the ability to detect, respond and interdict illegal activity. The administration says that’s not a good measure and officials are working on a better one.

Republicans face pressure inside their party to keep the focus on tougher immigration enforcement. But some GOP leaders say the party also needs to improve its standing with Hispanics, the fastest-growing voter group in America.

Mr. Obama’s legislative goals have not changed since his last speech on immigration last summer, including a path to citizenship for the 10.8 million people already in the U.S. illegally, a program many Republicans oppose as a reward for lawbreaking. Mr. Obama said the U.S. should make it easier for foreign students educated in the U.S. to stay.

The president faces skepticism, even from supporters, heading into this latest push. “The moment to use pressure is gone. You missed it. The train left the station,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.). “I want to be honest with my constituents and with the American people…. I don’t want to rev them up for something that doesn’t have any possibilities of success.”

“Is this a little late?” asked John Engler, the former governor of Michigan who now heads the Business Roundtable. He participated in of the recent White House meetings on immigration but came away unsatisfied. “The sentiment in the room was we need a plan. We need something to sell.”

Write to Laura Meckler at


Text of Obama’s Speech on Immigration

Here is the White House transcript of President Barack Obama‘s remarks on immigration as delivered Tuesday in El Paso, Texas. (This post was updated from the text, as prepared for delivery.)



Chamizal National Memorial

El Paso, Texas

1:21 P.M. MDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, El Paso!  (Applause.)  Well, it is wonderful — wonderful to be back with all of you in the Lone Star State.  (Applause.)  Everything is bigger in Texas.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back!  (Applause.)  Even the welcomes are bigger.  (Applause.)  So, in appreciation, I wanted to give a big policy speech outside on a really hot day.  (Laughter.)  Those of you who are still wearing your jackets, feel free to take them off.  I hope everybody is wearing sunscreen.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We live here.

THE PRESIDENT:  You say you live here?  You don’t need it, huh?  (Laughter.)  Well, it is a great honor to be here.  And I want to express my appreciation to all of you for taking the time to come out today.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  I appreciate it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

You know, about a week ago, I delivered a commencement address at Miami Dade Community College, which is one of the most diverse schools in the nation.  The graduates were proud that their class could claim heritage from 181 countries around the world — 181 countries.  (Applause.)

Many of the students were immigrants themselves, coming to America with little more than the dream of their parents and the clothes on their back.  A handful had discovered only in adolescence or adulthood that they were undocumented.  But they worked hard and they gave it their all, and so they earned those diplomas.

And at the ceremony, 181 flags — one for every nation that was represented — was marched across the stage.  And each one was applauded by the graduates and the relatives with ties to those countries.  So when the Haitian flag went by, all the Haitian kids — Haitian American kids shouted out.  And when the Guatemalan flag went by, all the kids of Guatemalan heritage shouted out.  And when the Ukrainian flag went by, I think one kid shouted out.  (Laughter.)  This was down in Miami.  (Laughter.)  If it had been in Chicago, there would have been more.

But then, the last flag, the American flag, came into view.  And everyone in the room erupted in applause.  Everybody cheered.  (Applause.)  So, yes, their parents and grandparents — some of the graduates themselves — had come from every corner of the globe.  But it was here that they had found opportunity.  It was here that they had a chance to contribute to the nation that is their home.

And it was a reminder of a simple idea, as old as America itself:  E pluribus unum.  Out of many, one.  We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants — a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s ideals and America’s precepts.  That’s why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here — so they could be free to work and worship and start a business and live their lives in peace and prosperity.  The Asian immigrants who made their way to California’s Angel Island.  The German and Scandinavians who settled across the Midwest.  The waves of Irish, and Italian, and Polish, and Russian, and Jewish immigrants who leaned against the railing to catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

This flow of immigrants has helped make this country stronger and more prosperous.  (Applause.)  We can point to the genius of Einstein, the designs of I. M. Pei, the stories of Isaac Asimov, the entire industries that were forged by Andrew Carnegie.

And then when I think about immigration I think about the naturalization ceremonies that we’ve held at the White House for members of our military.  Nothing could be more inspiring.  Even though they were not yet citizens when they joined our military, these men and women signed up to serve.

We did one event at the White House and a young man named Granger Michael from Papua New Guinea, a Marine who had been deployed to Iraq three times, was there.  And you know what he said about becoming an American citizen?  He said, “I might as well.  I love this country already.”  That’s all he said.  Marines aren’t big on speeches.  (Laughter.)

Another was a woman named Perla Ramos who was born and raised in Mexico and came to the United States shortly after 9/11, and joined the Navy.  And she said, “I take pride in our flag and the history we write day by day.”

That’s the promise of this country — that anyone can write the next chapter in our story.  It doesn’t matter where you come from — (applause) — it doesn’t matter where you come from; it doesn’t matter what you look like; it doesn’t matter what faith you worship.  What matters is that you believe in the ideals on which we were founded; that you believe that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  (Applause.)  All of us deserve our freedoms and our pursuit of happiness.  In embracing America, you can become American.  That is what makes this country great.  That enriches all of us.

And yet, at the same time, we’re here at the border today — (applause) — we’re here at the border because we also recognize that being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants.  This, too, is our heritage.  This, too, is important.  And the truth is, we’ve often wrestled with the politics of who is and who isn’t allowed to come into this country.  This debate is not new.

At times, there has been fear and resentment directed towards newcomers, especially in hard economic times.  And because these issues touch deeply on what we believe, touch deeply on our convictions — about who we are as a people, about what it means to be an American — these debates often elicit strong emotions.

That’s one reason it’s been so difficult to reform our broken immigration system.  When an issue is this complex, when it raises such strong feelings, it’s easier for politicians to defer until the problem the next election.  And there’s always a next election.

So we’ve seen a lot of blame and a lot of politics and a lot of ugly rhetoric around immigration.  And we’ve seen good faith efforts from leaders of both parties — by the way, I just noticed, those of you who have chairs, if you want to sit down, feel free.  There’s no rule about having to stand when I’m –

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  — we love you!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  But we’ve seen leaders of both parties who try to work on this issue, but then their efforts fell prey to the usual Washington games.  And all the while, we’ve seen the mounting consequences of decades of inaction.

Today, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants here in the United States.  Some crossed the border illegally.  Others avoid immigration laws by overstaying their visas.  Regardless of how they came, the overwhelming majority of these folks are just trying to earn a living and provide for their families.  (Applause.)

But we have to acknowledge they’ve broken the rules.  They’ve cut in front of the line.  And what is also true is that the presence of so many illegal immigrants makes a mockery of all those who are trying to immigrate legally.

Also, because undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, where they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses that skirt taxes, and pay workers less than the minimum wage, or cut corners with health and safety laws, this puts companies who follow the rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime or just a safe place to work, it puts those businesses at a disadvantage.

Think about it.  Over the past decade, even before the recession hit, middle-class families were struggling to get by as the costs went up for everything, from health care, to college tuition, to groceries, to gas.  Their incomes didn’t go up with those prices.  We’re seeing it again right now with gas prices.

So one way to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else.  I want incomes for middle-class families to rise again.  (Applause.)  I want prosperity in this country to be widely shared.  (Applause.)  I want everybody to be able to reach that American dream.  And that’s why immigration reform is an economic imperative.  It’s an economic imperative.  (Applause.)

And reform will also help to make America more competitive in the global economy.  Today, we provide students from around the world with visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities.  (Applause.)

But then our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or a new industry here in the United States.  Instead of training entrepreneurs to stay here, we train them to create jobs for our competition.  That makes no sense.  In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses — not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contribution will benefit all Americans.

Look at Intel, look at Google, look at Yahoo, look at eBay.  All those great American companies, all the jobs they’ve created, everything that has helped us take leadership in the high-tech industry, every one of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant.  (Applause.)

So we don’t want the next Intel or the next Google to be created in China or India.  We want those companies and jobs to take root here.  (Applause.)  Bill Gates gets this.  He knows a little something about the high-tech industry.  He said, “The United States will find it far more difficult to maintain its competitive edge if it excludes those who are able and willing to help us compete.”

So immigration is not just the right thing to do.  It’s smart for our economy.  It’s smart for our economy.  (Applause.)  And it’s for this reason that businesses all across America are demanding that Washington finally meet its responsibilities to solve the immigration problem.  Everybody recognizes the system is broken.  The question is, will we finally summon the political will to do something about it?  And that’s why we’re here at the border today.

And I want to say I am joined today by an outstanding Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who’s been working tirelessly on this issue.  (Applause.)  Our commissioner who’s working diligently on border issues, Alan Bersin, is there, and we appreciate him — Bersin.  (Applause.)

So they’re doing outstanding work.  And in recent years, among one of the greatest impediments to reform were questions about border security.  And these were legitimate concerns.  What was true was a lack of manpower and a lack of resources at the border, combined with the pull of jobs and ill-considered enforcement once folks were in the country.

All this contributed to a growing number of undocumented people living in the United States.  And these concerns helped unravel a bipartisan coalition that we had forged back when I was in the United States Senate.  So in the years since, “borders first, borders first,” that’s become the common refrain, even among those who were previously supportive of comprehensive immigration reform.

But over the last two years, thanks to the outstanding work of Janet and Alan and everybody who’s down here working at the border, we’ve answered those concerns.  Under their leadership, we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible.   They wanted more agents at the border.  Well, we now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history.  (Applause.)

The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents — more than twice as many as there were in 2004.  It’s a build-up that began under President Bush and that we’ve continued, and I had a chance to meet some of these outstanding agents, and actually saw some of them on horseback who looked pretty tough.  (Laughter.)  So we put the agents here.

Then they wanted a fence.  Well, the fence is –


THE PRESIDENT:  The fence is now basically complete.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Tear it down!

THE PRESIDENT:  Then we’ve gone further.  We tripled the number of intelligence analysts working at the border.  I’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California.  We have forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries.  (Applause.)  And for the first time — for the first time we’re screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments to seize guns and money going south even as we go after drugs that are coming north.  (Applause.)

So, here’s the point.  I want everybody to listen carefully to this.  We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement.  All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done.  But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  They’re racist!

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol.  Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol.  Or they’ll want a higher fence.  Maybe they’ll need a moat.  (Laughter.)  Maybe they want alligators in the moat.  (Laughter.)  They’ll never be satisfied.  And I understand that.  That’s politics.

But the truth is the measures we’ve put in place are getting results.  Over the past two and a half years, we’ve seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more currency, 64 percent more weapons than ever before.  (Applause.)  And even as we have stepped up patrols, apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago.  That means far fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally.

And also, despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in southwest border counties has dropped by a third.  El Paso and other cities and towns along this border are consistently among the safest in the nation.  (Applause.)  Of course, we shouldn’t accept any violence or crime.  And we’ve always got more work to do.  But this progress is important and it’s not getting reported on.

And we’re also going beyond the border.  Beyond the border, we’re going after employers who knowingly exploit people and break the law.  (Applause.)  And we are deporting those who are here illegally.  And that’s a tough issue.  It’s a source of controversy.

But I want to emphasize we’re not doing it haphazardly.  We’re focusing our limited resources and people on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes — not just families, not just folks who are just looking to scrape together an income.  And as a result, we’ve increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent.  (Applause.)

That’s not to ignore the real human toll of a broken immigration system.  Even as we recognize that enforcing the law is necessary, we don’t relish the pain that it causes in the lives of people who are just trying to get by and get caught up in the system.

And as long as the current laws are on the books, it’s not just hardened felons who are subject to removal, but sometimes families who are just trying to earn a living, or bright, eager students, or decent people with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)

And sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself.  But that’s not how a democracy works.  What we really need to do is to keep up the fight to pass genuine, comprehensive reform.  That is the ultimate solution to this problem.  That’s what I’m committed to doing.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yes, we can!  Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, we can.  We can do it.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Yes, we can!  Yes, we can!  Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT:  The most significant step we can now take to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole so that fewer people have the incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place.  This would allow agents to focus on the worst threats on both of our — both sides of our borders, from drug traffickers to those who would come here to commit acts of violence or terror.  That’s where our focus should be.

So, El Paso, the question is whether those in Congress who previously walked away in the name of enforcement are now ready to come back to the table and finish the work that we’ve started.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to put the politics aside.  And if we do, I’m confident we can find common ground.

Washington is lagging behind the country on this.  There is already a growing coalition of leaders across America who don’t always see eye-to-eye, but are coming together on this issue.  They see the harmful consequences of a broken immigration system for their businesses and for their communities, and they understand why we need to act.

There are Democrats and Republicans, people like former Republican Senator Mel Martinez; former Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York; evangelical ministers like Leith Anderson and Bill Hybels; police chiefs from across the nation; educators; advocates; labor unions; chambers of commerce; small business owners; Fortune 500 CEOs.

I mean, one CEO had this to say about reform:  “American ingenuity is a product of the openness and diversity of this society.  Immigrants have made America great as the world leader in business, in science, higher education and innovation.”  You know who that leader was?  Rupert Murdoch, who owns FOX News, and is an immigrant himself.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with Rupert Murdoch’s views, but let’s just say he doesn’t have an Obama sticker on his car.  (Laughter.)  But he agrees with me on this.  (Applause.)

So there is a consensus around fixing what’s broken. And now we need Congress to catch up.  Now we need to come together around reform that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants; reform that demands that everybody take responsibility.  So what would comprehensive reform look like?

First, we know that government has a threshold responsibility to secure our borders and enforce the law.  And that’s what Janet and all her folks are doing.  That’s what they’re doing.  (Applause.)

Second, businesses have to be held accountable if they exploit undocumented workers.  (Applause.)

Third, those who are here illegally, they have a responsibility as well.  So they broke the law, and that means they’ve got to pay their taxes, they’ve got to pay a fine, they’ve got to learn English.  And they’ve got to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they get in line for legalization.  That’s not too much to ask.  (Applause.)

And fourth, stopping illegal immigration also depends on reforming our outdated system of legal immigration.  (Applause.)  We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to not only stay here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here.  In recent years, a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the U.S. were founded by immigrants.  That led to 200,000 jobs here in America.  I’m glad those jobs are here.  I want to see more of them created in this country.  We need to provide them the chance.  (Applause.)

We need to provide our farms a legal way to hire workers that they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status.  (Applause.)  And our laws should respect families following the rules — reuniting them more quickly instead of splitting them apart.  (Applause.)

Today, the immigration system not only tolerates those who break the rules, but it punishes folks who follow the rules.  While applications — while applicants wait for approval, for example, they’re often forbidden from visiting the United States.  Even husbands and wives may have to spend years apart.  Parents can’t see their children.  I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families.  That’s not right.  That’s not who we are.  We can do better than that.  (Applause.)

And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents.  (Applause.)  We should stop denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military.  And that’s why we need to pass the DREAM Act.  (Applause.)  Now, we passed the DREAM Act through the House last year when Democrats were in control.  But even though it received a majority of votes in the Senate, it was blocked when several Republicans who had previously supported the DREAM Act voted no.

That was a tremendous disappointment to get so close and then see politics get in the way.  And as I gave that commencement at Miami Dade, it broke my heart knowing that a number of those promising, bright students — young people who worked so hard and who speak about what’s best in America — are at risk of facing the agony of deportation.  These are kids who grew up in this country.  They love this country.  They know no other place to call home.  The idea that we’d punish them is cruel.  It makes no sense.  We’re a better nation than that.  (Applause.)

So we’re going to keep fighting for the DREAM Act. We’re going to keep up the fight for reform.  (Applause.)  And that’s where you come in.  I’m going to do my part to lead a constructive and civil debate on these issues.  And we’ve already had a series of meetings about this at the White House in recent weeks.  We’ve got leaders here and around the country helping to move the debate forward.

But this change ultimately has to be driven by you, the American people.  You’ve got to help push for comprehensive reform, and you’ve got to identify what steps we can take right now — like the DREAM Act, like visa reform — areas where we can find common ground among Democrats and Republicans and begin to fix what’s broken.

So I’m asking you to add your voices to this debate.  You can sign up to help at  We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform that’s gathering strength from coast to coast.  That’s how we’ll get this done.  That’s how we can ensure that in the years ahead we are welcoming the talents of all who can contribute to this country and that we’re living up to the basic American idea that you can make it here if you try.  (Applause.)

That’s the idea that gave hope to José Hernández.  Is José here?  Where’s — José is right over there.  (Applause.)  I want you to hear — I want you to think about this story.  José’s parents were migrant farm workers.  And so, growing up, he was too.  He was born in California, though he could have just as easily been born on the other side of the border, if it had been a different time of year, because his family moved around with the seasons.  So two of his siblings were actually born in Mexico.

So they traveled a lot, and José joined his parents picking cucumbers and strawberries.  And he missed part of school when they returned to Mexico each winter.  José didn’t learn English until he was 12 years old.  But you know what, José was good at math and he liked math.  And the nice thing is that math was the same in every school, and it’s the same in Spanish as it is in English.

So José studied, and he studied hard.  And one day, he’s standing in the fields, collecting sugar beets, and he heard on a transistor radio that a man named Franklin Chang-Diaz — a man with a surname like his — was going to be an astronaut for NASA.  So José decided — right there in the field, he decided — well, I could be an astronaut, too.

So José kept on studying, and he graduated high school.  And he kept on studying, and he earned an engineering degree.  And he kept on studying, and he earned a graduate degree.  And he kept on working hard, and he ended up at a national laboratory, helping to develop a new kind of digital medical imaging system.

And a few years later, he found himself more than 100 miles above the surface of the Earth, staring out of the window of the shuttle Discovery, and he was remembering the boy in the California fields with that crazy dream that in America everything is possible.  (Applause.)

Think about that, El Paso.  That’s the American Dream right there.  (Applause.)  That’s what we’re fighting for.  We are fighting for every boy and every girl like José with a dream and potential that’s just waiting to be tapped.  We are fighting to unlock that promise, and all that holds not just for their futures, but for America’s future.  That’s why we’re going to get this done.  And that’s why I’m going to need your help.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END           1:56 P.M. MDT

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