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Berlin Wall relic gets ‘second life’ on US-Mexico border

As the US government built its last stretch of border wall, Mexico made its own statement by laying the remnants of the Berlin Wall just steps away.

The 3-ton pockmarked gray concrete slab sits between the bullring, a lighthouse and the border wall that stretches out into the Pacific Ocean.

“Let this be a lesson in building a society that tears down walls and builds bridges,” reads beneath the towering Cold War relic, attributed to Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero, and titled “A World Without Walls. “.

For Caballero, as for many of Tijuana’s 2 million residents, the American wall is personal and political, part of the urban fabric and a reality. She considers herself a migrant, having left Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, when she was 2 years old with her mother, who fled “the vicious circle of poverty, physical violence and illiteracy”.

The facility was inaugurated Aug. 13 in a ceremony attended by Caballero and Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s former foreign minister, now a top presidential candidate.

Caballero, 41, is married to an Iranian who has become an American citizen and lives in the United States. She and their 9-year-old son were crossing the border from Tijuana to San Diego.

Since June, Caballero has lived in a military barracks in Tijuana, saying she acted on credible threats brought to her attention by US intelligence officials and a recommendation from the Mexican federal government. A few weeks earlier, his bodyguard had survived an assassination attempt.

Caballero said she didn’t know who wanted to kill her, but she suspected revenge for seizing the weapons of the violent criminals plaguing her town. “Somebody’s probably mad at me,” she said from her spacious City Hall office.

Fragments of the Berlin Wall scattered around the world after its collapse in 1989, and collectors deposited them in hotels, schools, transit stations and parks. Marcos Cline, who makes commercials and other digital productions in Los Angeles, needed a home for his artifact and found an ally in the mayor of Tijuana.

“Why in Tijuana?” Caballero said. “How many families have shed their blood, their labor and their lives to get over the wall? Social and political conflict is different from the Berlin Wall, but it is a wall in the end. And a wall is always a sphinx that divides and bloodies the nations.

Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero speaks during an interview in his office in Tijuana, Mexico, August 24, 2023. Caballero, 41, is married to an Iranian man who became a U.S. citizen and lives in the United States .

President Joe Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office to halt construction of the wall, ending a signature effort by his predecessor, Donald Trump. But his administration has moved forward with small projects already under contract, including replacing a two-layer wall in San Diego, measuring 5.5 meters (18 feet) high, with another rising 9.1 meters (30 feet) and extending 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) to the ocean.

The wall crosses Friendship Park, a cross-border site opened by Pat Nixon, then First Lady of the United States, in 1971 to symbolize binational ties. For decades, families separated by immigration status met through barbed wire and, later, a chain-link fence. It is a popular party destination for tourists and residents of Mexico.

At an arts festival in 2005, David “The Human Cannonball” Smith Jr. showed his passport in Tijuana as he descended into a barrel and was shot over the wall, landing in a net on the beach with US border agents nearby. In 2019, artist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana covered the Tijuana side of the wall with paintings of adults who immigrated to the United States illegally as young children and were deported. Visitors who waved their phones at barcodes were redirected to a website that told their first-person stories.

Cline said he was turned away at the White House while trying to deliver the Berlin Wall relic to Trump, then trucked it across the country to find a suitable home. He said the artwork had found “its second life” in Tijuana Park, alongside the colorful paintings on the border wall that express views on politics and immigration.

The US government has gradually restricted access to the park from San Diego over the past 15 years, in a state park that once allowed yoga classes, church services and cross-border music festivals. After much consideration, the Biden administration has agreed to keep the wall at 5.5 meters (18 feet) for a small section where some access will be allowed.

Dan Watman of Friends of Friendship Park, which campaigns for cross-border access to the park, said the 18.3-metre (60ft) section that will remain at the lowest height is just a token gesture. “The park on the Mexican side has become a kind of one-way party,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it plans to replace the “deteriorating” two-layer barrier by November and that the taller barrier under construction will “provide much-needed improvements.”

The Berlin Wall installation has received rave reviews from visitors. Lydia Vanasse, who works in the financial sector in San Diego and lives in Tijuana, said the relic took her back to her twenties when the Soviet empire fell and Germans were suddenly allowed to roam freely.

“San Diego and Tijuana are sister cities,” she said. “The wall separates us, but we are united in many ways. It would be better if there was no wall.”

USA voanews

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