Death of a “Mule Woman”

The ugly side of the Spanish enclaves in Morocco has surfaced once again. The two enclaves — Ceuta and Melilla — are the focus of a host of social ills, notable among them the cross-border duty-free manual portage of goods by desperate and impoverished women. The women — colloquially known as porteadoras or “Melilla mules” — carry hundred pound packs on their backs into Morocco for a few euros a day. So long as the woman are able to carry the goods on their backs, they are classified as “personal items” and therefore are not subject to customs. The authorities justify this barbaric arrangement as an economic benefit to the community. The trade is hugely profitable; the BBC estimates that it brings in at least $300 million euros a year to Melilla alone, and perhaps double that.

The issue received a flicker of attention yesterday when the Middle East Monitor reported
that the crowd crossing the border crushed a woman to death, another anonymous casualty of the cross-border trade. Michael Kinsley once said that the scandal is not what is illegal, it is what is legal. He might have been thinking of Ceuta and Melilla.

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