On Sierra Blanca: Should Chicanos Support Bernie Sanders?



photo from sandersguideblog.wordpress.com/

On the 2016 election, in the final analysis this election will not mean much for the struggle for self determination for the Chicano and Mexicano people. Nevertheless the people to a mass extent will participate in the elections. The Democrats under Hillary Clinton are expecting the traditional Latino vote to go to her, helping her win a majority. Bernie Sanders campaign, as a democratic socialist, is attracting many people in opposition to the establishment politics of Clinton, including many Latinos, who are also attracted to his social justice message.

Many others on the Left have commented on the many issues with Bernie Sanders, including his pro-imperialist and pro-Zionist voting records, his appealing to white populism at the expense of non-white peoples, and his votes on immigration issues. One item in particular that Chicanos and Mexicanos should question Sanders on is his stance on Sierra Blanca.

Sierra Blanca is an impoverished community in South Texas populated mostly by Chicanos and Mexicanos. It was also a dumping ground for toxic waste from elsewhere in the country. A failed resort site called Mile High Ranch turned into a sludge dump in this community. (Yardley, Jim. “New York’s Sewage was a Texas Town’s Gold.” New York Times. July 27, 2001.) Sanders pushed to expand its hazardous waste dumping by authorizing Vermont’s nuclear waste to be transported and stored here. This was a move opposed by progressive Democrat Paul Wellstone and many activists.  In 1998, the Juarez-El Paso bridge was blockaded in protest. In May 11, 1998, the Sierra Club met with Sanders, who would not oppose the Texas-Vermont-Maine compact.

It should be well known that under a settler colonial rule, other politicians and other white allies will not have our best interests at heart, and we as an internal colony should strive for self determination in all of our affairs. It also means that we should have no illusions about the meaning of this election, and we should strive to build our own independent power. The stance of Bernie Sanders on Sierra Blanca is further evidence of this, as an avowed socialist is willing to put Chicano and Mexicano people under the bus for his own political interests, that are at odds with ours.

-Antonio Moreno

This excerpt below is from a 4 part series posted by on the progressive feminist blog Shakesville, entitled Looking for Bernie. The entire series is worth reading as it examines the entire history of Bernie Sanders from an intersectional perspective. This passage below deals directly with Sierra Blanca:


Looking For Bernie, Part 4: Turning Right Towards 2016
Posted by Aphra Behn at Friday, July 17, 2015

…Before I end, let me address one more aspect of Sanders’ record in Congress that needs to be talked about, and (I hope) improved upon.

In 1997, Sanders supported the Texas-Vermont-Maine Compact, a bill that would allow the latter two states to dump their nuclear waste at a site near Sierra Blanca, a small, impoverished, hispanophone community in Texas. Then-governor George Bush enthusiastically supported the bill (of course). When the planning for the site had begun in the 1980s, the state of Texas deliberately sought out a Spanish-speaking area for the dump, believing that the less informed the population was about the bill, the less opposition there would be. (Plans for the site would eventually be released in a 28 volume, 60,000 page, English-only document). Sierra Blanca fit the bill:

Sierra Blanca has a largely Mexican-American population, and the percentage of Spanish-speaking residents is high, as one might expect, along the entire length of the border. This is an area where colonias, communities without water and sewage facilities, are still constructed, where US companies build factories in Mexican border towns and house their managerial staff across the river, and where the US Government maintains an army, complete with checkpoints, a network of radar balloons, an electronic surveillance grid laid out over rough, sparsely populated terrain, and, sometimes, camouflaged troops hidden in the brush along footpaths where drug traffic is suspected. Such a patrol last year shot and killed Esequiel Hernández, a high school student herding his goats, in the county immediately downstream from the proposed nuclear dump site. Poverty and unemployment are high, and the seat of government in Austin is over 500 miles distant.

The community rallied against the bill, getting 700 local signatures, and gaining national interest. The deal was hotly debated in Congress, with Senator Paul Wellstone one of its biggest detractors. In 1998, Wellstone decried the dump as “part of a ‘national pattern of discrimination in the location of waste and pollution’ that preyed on those lacking political clout and financial resources.” Sounds like it’s up Bernie’s alley! Did he join Wellstone?

He did not. He spoke in favor of the plan, introduced to the House as H.R. 629, the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Consent Act. There’s a full transcript of Sanders’ remarks from C-Span, but here are a few highlights:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of H.R. 629. Mr. Chairman, the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act and its 1985 amendments make commercial low-level radioactive waste disposal a State and not a Federal responsibility…One of the reasons that many of us oppose nuclear power plants is that when this technology was developed, there was not a lot of thought given as to how we dispose of the nuclear waste. Neither the industry nor the Government, in my view, did the right thing by allowing the construction of the plants and not figuring out how we get rid of the waste.

But the issue we are debating here today is not that issue. The reality, as others have already pointed out, is that the waste is here…It would be nice if Texas had no low-level radioactive waste, or Vermont or Maine or any other State. That would be great. That is not the reality. The environmental challenge now is, given the reality that low-level radioactive waste exists, what is the safest way of disposing of that waste.

No reputable scientist or environmentalist believes that the geology of Vermont or Maine would be a good place for this waste. In the humid climate of Vermont and Maine, it is more likely that groundwater will come in contact with that waste and carry off radioactive elements to the accessible environment.

There is widespread scientific evidence to suggest, on the other hand, that locations in Texas, some of which receive less than 12 inches of rainfall a year, a region where the groundwater table is more than 700 feet below the surface, is a far better location for this waste….

From an environmental point of view, I urge strong support for this legislation.

So that was Bernie Sanders making an “environmental argument” for dumping nuclear waste near a poor Hispanic community. Because it has to go somewhere, and Texas is really dry.

When it came up for a vote in May 1998, Sanders listened to 12 anti-dump delegates as they outlined their concerns. The next day, he spoke in favor of the bill because of its “strong support” in all three states.

But at least he listened politely that time. In September of that year, Sanders faced protestors in Vermont, joined by Texans from the Sierra Blanca area. Here’s how independent Socialist Sanders reacted, as originally reported in the Texas Observer:

The marchers from Vermont were careful to restrain the West Texans from protesting aloud on any platform occupied by Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s independent Socialist candidate for re-election to the U.S. House. Sanders’ campaign committee had warned march planners that Bernie wouldn’t show if the West Texans were on the platform.

…Before the rally Sanders invited the three West Texans to meet with him privately, and the Texans eagerly agreed. The meeting was no longer than Sanders’ attention span – when it comes to Sierra Blanca. “He didn’t listen,” Curry said. “He had his mind made up.” Afterward, Bernie was giving his pro forma campaign speech, never mentioning nuclear power or nuclear waste. Sierra Blanca activist Bill Addington, who’d arrived just that morning to join the march, along with his neighbor María Méndez, had had enough, and he yelled from the crowd, “What about my home, Bernie? What about Sierra Blanca?”

Several others joined in. “What about Sierra Blanca, Bernie?”

Sanders left the stage, which surprised no one in the small Texas delegation. Earlier, he had told them, “My position is unchanged, and you’re not gonna like it.” When they asked if he would visit the site in Sierra Blanca, he said, “Absolutely not. I’m gonna be running for re-election in the state of Vermont.”

“Absolutely not. I’m gonna be running for re-election in the state of Vermont.”

The guy who can visit Mexico and Nicaragua and the Soviet Union can’t go to a poor community in Texas because he’s running in Vermont.


And that is what I found when I went looking for Bernie.


This entry was posted in 2016 election, Aztlan, environment, Texas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On Sierra Blanca: Should Chicanos Support Bernie Sanders?

  1. Cat Dynes says:

    Thanks for posting this. I too researched this story and was disgusted. As a Filipina American, I cant vote for Bernie because anyone capable of this is morally bankrupt. The one mainstream news outlet that covered this story was CNN. I had to look on left wing media sites, including a Socialist journal to find it. People I know, that are Bernie supporters don’t want to hear it or minimize the story altogether..

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