A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis

Those seeking asylum today inherited a series of crises that drove them to the border

national spotlight now shines on the border between the United States and Mexico, where heartbreaking images of Central American children being separated from their parents and held in cages demonstrate the consequences of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” on unauthorized entry into the country, announced in May 2018. Under intense international scrutiny, Trump has now signed an executive order that will keep families detained at the border together, though it is unclear when the more than 2,300 children already separated from their guardians will be returned.

Trump has promised that keeping families together will not prevent his administration from maintaining “strong — very strong — borders,” making it abundantly clear that the crisis of mass detention and deportation at the border and throughout the U.S. is far from over. Meanwhile, Democratic rhetoric of inclusion, integration, and opportunity has failed to fundamentally question the logic of Republican calls for a strong border and the nation’s right to protect its sovereignty.

At the margins of the mainstream discursive stalemate over immigration lies over a century of historical U.S. intervention that politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle seem determined to silence. Since Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 declared the U.S.’s right to exercise an “international police power” in Latin America, the U.S. has cut deep wounds throughout the region, leaving scars that will last for generations to come. This history of intervention is inextricable from the contemporary Central American crisis of internal and international displacement and migration.

The liberal rhetoric of inclusion and common humanity is insufficient: we must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States. For decades, U.S. policies of military intervention and economic neoliberalism have undermined democracy and stability in the region, creating vacuums of power in which drug cartels and paramilitary alliances have risen. In the past fifteen years alone, CAFTA-DR — a free trade agreement between the U.S. and five Central American countries as well as the Dominican Republic — has restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weaken domestic industries. Yet there are few connections being drawn between the weakening of Central American rural agricultural economies at the hands of CAFTA and the rise in migration from the region in the years since. In general, the U.S. takes no responsibility for the conditions that drive Central American migrants to the border.

U.S. empire thrives on amnesia. The Trump administration cannot remember what it said last week, let alone the actions of presidential administrations long gone that sowed the seeds of today’s immigration crisis. There can be no common-sense immigration “debate” that conveniently ignores the history of U.S. intervention in Central America. Insisting on American values of inclusion and integration only bolsters the very myth of American exceptionalism, a narrative that has erased this nation’s imperial pursuits for over a century.

As the British immigrant rights refrain goes, “We are here because you were there.” The adage holds no less true here and now. It’s time to insist that accepting Central American refugees is not just a matter of morality or American benevolence. Indeed, it might be better described as a matter of reparations.

further reading:

 

The following timeline compiles numerous sources to lay out an incomplete history of U.S. military and economic intervention in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala over the past century.


Anti-war marchers at Copley Square on their way to Boston Common to protest U.S. military involvement in El Salvador, on March 21, 1981. Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty

El Salvador

1932: A peasant rebellion, led by Communist leader Farabundo Martí, challenges the authority of the government. 10,000 to 40,000 communist rebels, many indigenous, are systematically murdered by the regime of military leader Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the nation’s acting president. The United States and Great Britain, having bankrolled the nation’s economy and owning the majority of its export-oriented coffee plantations and railways, send naval support to quell the rebellion.

1944: Martínez is ousted by a bloodless popular revolution led by students. Within months, his party is reinstalled by a reactionary coup led by his former chief of police, Osmín Aguirre y Salinas, whose regime is legitimized by immediate recognition from the United States.

1960: A military-civilian junta promises free elections. President Eisenhower withholds recognition, fearing a leftist turn. The promise of democracy is broken when a right-wing countercoup seizes power months later. Dr. Fabio Castillo, a former president of the national university, would tell Congress that this coup was openly facilitated by the United States and that the U.S. had opposed the holding of free elections.

1980–1992: A civil war rages between the military-led government and the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The Reagan administration, under its Cold War containment policy, offers significant military assistance to the authoritarian government, essentially running the war by 1983. The U.S. military trains key components of the Salvadoran forces, including the Atlacatl Battalion, the “pride of the United States military team in San Salvador.” The Atlacatl Battalion would go on to commit a civilian massacre in the village of El Mozote in 1981, killing at least 733 and as many as 1,000 unarmed civilians, including women and children. An estimated 80,000 are killed during the war, with the U.N. estimating that 85 percent of civilian deaths were committed by the Salvadoran military and death squads.

1984: Despite the raging civil war funded by the Reagan administration, a mere three percent of Salvadoran and Guatemalan asylum cases in the U.S. are approved, as Reagan officials deny allegations of human rights violations in El Salvador and Guatemala and designate asylum seekers as “economic migrants.” A religious sanctuary movement in the United States defies the government by publicly sponsoring and sheltering asylum seekers. Meanwhile, the U.S. funnels $1.4 million to its favored political parties in El Salvador’s 1984 election.

1990: Congress passes legislation designating Salvadorans for Temporary Protected Status. In 2018, President Trump would end TPS status for the 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States.

2006: El Salvador enters the Dominican RepublicCentral America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), a neoliberal export-economy model that gives global multinationals increased influence over domestic trade and regulatory protections. Thousands of unionists, farmers, and informal economy workers protest the free trade deal’s implementation.

2014: The U.S. threatens to withhold almost $300 million worth of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) development aid unless El Salvador ends any preferences for locally sourced corn and bean seeds under its Family Agriculture Plan.

2015: Under the tariff reduction model of CAFTA-DR, all U.S. industrial and commercial goods enter El Salvador duty free, creating impossible conditions for domestic industry to compete. As of 2016, the country had a negative trade balance of $4.18 billion.


Honduran soldiers operate a mortar for members of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division during a joint exercise, March 1988. (Photo: Department of Defense, NARA)

Honduras

1911: American entrepreneur Samuel Zemurray partners with the deposed Honduran President Manuel Bonilla and U.S. General Lee Christmas to launch a coup against President Miguel Dávila. After seizing several northern Honduran ports, Bonilla wins the Honduran 1911 presidential election.

1912: Bonilla rewards his corporate U.S. backers with concessions that grant natural resources and tax incentives to American companies, including Vaccaro Bros. and Co. (now Dole Food Company) and United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International). By 1914, U.S. banana interests would come to own one million acres of the nation’s best land — an ownership frequently insured through the deployment of U.S. military forces.

1975: The United Fruit Company ( rebranded as the United Brands Company) pays $1.25 million to a Honduran official, and is accused of bribing the government to support a reduction in banana export taxes.

1980s: In an attempt to curtail the influence of left-wing movements in Central America, the Reagan administration stations thousands of troops in Honduras to train Contra right-wing rebels in their guerrilla war against Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. U.S. military aid reaches $77.5 million in 1984. Meanwhile, trade liberalization policies open Honduras to the interests of global capital and disrupt traditional forms of agriculture.

2005: Honduras becomes the second country to enter CAFTA, the free trade agreement with the U.S., leading to protests from unions and local farmers who fear being outcompeted by large-scale American producers. Rapidly, Honduras goes from being a net agricultural exporter to a net importer, leading to loss of jobs for small-scale farmers and increased rural migration.

2009: Left-leaning and democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, who pursued progressive policies such as raising the minimum wage and subsidizing public transportation, is exiled in a military coup. The coup is staged after Zelaya announces intentions to hold a referendum on the replacement of the 1982 constitution, which had been written during the end of the reign of U.S.-backed military dictator Policarpo Paz García. Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, a graduate of the U.S. Army training program known as the School of the Americas (nicknamed “School of Assassins”), leads the coup. The United States, under Hillary Clinton’s Department of State, refuses to join international calls for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.

2017: Honduras enters an electoral crisis as thousands of protesters contestthe results of the recent presidential election, which many allege was rigged by the ruling party.

Further reading:


A present-day Guatemala City mural memorializes deposed President Jacobo Árbenz and his historic land reforms. Credit: Soman via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

Guatemala

1920: President Manuel Estrada Cabrera, an ally to U.S. corporate interests who had granted several concessions to the United Fruit Company, is overthrown in a coup. The United States sends an armed force to ensure the new president remains amenable to U.S. corporate interests.

1947: President Juan José Arévalo’s self-proclaimed “worker’s government” enacts labor codes that give Guatemalan workers the right to unionize and demand pay raises for the first time. The United Fruit Company, as the largest employer and landowner in the country, lobbies the U.S. government for intervention.

1952: Newly-elected President Jacobo Árbenz issues the Agrarian Reform Law, which redistributes land to 500,000 landless — and largely indigenous — peasants.

1954: Fearing the Guatemalan government’s steps toward agrarian reform and under the influence of United Fruit propagandist Edward Bernays, President Eisenhower authorizes the CIA to overthrow democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz, ending an unprecedented ten years of democratic rule in the country, colloquially known as the “ten years of spring.” In Árbenz’s place, the U.S. installs Carlos Castillo Armas, whose authoritarian government rolls back land reforms and cracks down on peasant and workers’ movements.

1965: The CIA issues Green Berets and other counterinsurgency advisors to aid the authoritarian government in its repression of left-wing movements recruiting peasants in the name of “struggle against the government and the landowners.” State Department counterinsurgency advisor Charles Maechling Jr. would later describe the U.S.’s “direct complicity” in Guatemalan war crimes, which he compared to the “methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

1971: Amnesty International finds that 7,000 civilian dissidents have been “disappeared” under the government of U.S.-backed Carlos Arana, nicknamed “the butcher of Zacapa” for his brutality.

1981: The Guatemalan Army launches “Operation Ceniza” in response to a growing Marxist guerrilla movement. In the name of “counterattacks” and “retaliations” against guerrilla activities, entire villages are bombed and looted, and their residents executed, using high-grade military equipment received from the United States. The Reagan administration approves a $2 billion covert CIA program in Guatemala on top of the shipment of $19.5 million worth of military helicopters and $3.2 million worth of military jeeps and trucks to the Guatemalan army. By the mid-1980s, 150,000 civilians are killed in the war, with 250,000 refugees fleeing to Mexico. Military leaders and government officials would later be tried for the genocide of the Maya victims of military massacres.

1982: A second U.S.-backed military coup installs Efraín Ríos Montt as president. Montt is convicted of genocide in 2013 for trying to exterminate the indigenous Maya Ixil.

2006: Ten years after a U.N.-brokered peace deal and the resumption of democratic elections, Guatemala enters the CAFTA-DR free trade deal with the United States. Ninety-five percent of U.S. agricultural exports enterGuatemala duty free.

Further reading:

Continue reading “A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis”

Life in the Second Gilded Age

New Mexico Medicare for All Rally – Our Revolution New Mexico

By Mark Rudd

One year after the Resistance began, I think we’re doing ok. A year ago we discussed broad strategy–to build the mass movement on issues such as racism, poverty, war, and environmental destruction, and to work toward power, meaning turning the Democratic Party to becoming a party of the people. We’ve taken a year’s worth of initial steps, and we’ve even had a few successes.

It’s going to be a 20-40 year struggle to replace the current neo-fascists and to undo the damage they’ve done in the last year. But we are the majority. All we have to do is get ourselves organized–both the mass movement and the structured movement for power.

The far-right is our model. They’ve been organizing continually since 1964, when Goldwater was defeated soundly. They were able to take hair-brained articles of religious faith, like trusting the market to solve all problems, while shrinking government, and build a mass base among Christian fundamentalists to take power (Reagan, GW Bush). They created a cultural hegemony that made the slogan Government is Bad common sense. Without a better idea, Democrats became the slightly more moderate neo-liberal party, also working for corporations and finance, as thoroughly controlled by capital as the rival Republican Party. Since its high point of 1970, organized labor has diminished in size and power, and there was no counterweight to capital, which won both coming and going.

That’s how we got in the Second Gilded Age, just like the first, imbalances.

A half of our country is suffering. But those of us who still have our wits about us have been organizing, and the possibilities are great. We just need time and help.

Statewide around 25,000 people turned out for the Jan. 21 Women’s March against Trump. That energy has been carrying over to organizing.

The anti-fracking movement in Sandoval County and statewide won a big victory this month by forcing the County Commission to reverse a previous decision to let the oil and gas companies do anything they pleased, as long as it wasn’t near Rio Rancho. Statewide the Chaco Coalition is doing well.

The movement for a renewable energy economy is doing well, with major victories over PNM by New Energy Economy out of Santa Fe and also a coalition on energy led by various groups such as the Sierra Club, Wild Earth Guardians, and Conservation Voters NM. 350.org needs some youth energy and revitalization, though, as the struggle against global climate change should actually be the center of our work. (See Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.”

The movement to defend immigrants, essentially an anti-racist movement, has had a number of successful organizing events, such as the 2,000 people who attended

A rare opportunity came out to NM from N. Carolina when Rev. William J. Barber held a mass meeting in August at a church in Albuquerque announcing the National Moral Revival: Poor Peoples Campaign and 1200 people attended, with 400 signing pledges to engage in direct action nonviolent civil disobedience at the Roundhouse in May and June. The goal is 1000 people in each of now 32 states all protesting various local variants of four issue areas, known as Fusion issues because they’re all interconnected: racism, poverty, environmental destruction, and war and the effects of militarism. As with the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, this nation-wide Poor Peoples Campaign, commemorating Martin Luther King’s post-humous Poor People’s March on Washington 50 years ago.

A Steering Committee to launch and coordinate the next six months’ campaign in New Mexico is getting started. The goal is to create a united mass movement on these issues by June. After that, who knows? How about a school for organizing, say a NM version of the Highlander Folk School?

The NM Progressive Coalition, while still not yet a coalition of mass membership groups, the only one being Progressive Democrats of America, is still puttering along, laying the basis for a future progressive alliance. Our goal has always been to build the progressive movement. We are working on a big People’s Rally Feb 5 at the Roundhouse, echoing the one last year at which 1000 people attended; developing a draft progressive platform (still in process), lobbying at the legislature; forming a People’s Electoral Alliance to pool our movement’s knowledge of candidates in order to assess them; another small project, transforming the Democratic Party into a party of the people, through our work with two progressive caucuses within the party (more on this below); and a leadership training team that has been offering groups help at figuring out story, strategy, and structure, ie., building leadership for the movement. Again, we sure could use help.

At the other side of the strategy lies the structured movement for power, ie., the movement to transform the Democratic Party to become the party of the people. Approximately 350 new people came forward last February to volunteer to become ward and precinct captains for the previously moribund Democratic Party. A good number of groups, such as the Nasty Women and the Equalists, and an incipient progressive caucus of ward and precinct captains are all working to figure out how to build a progressive voter base at for the Party. Another committee is working at the state party level to create a formal progressive caucus in the party to push progressive platforms and ideas, to democratize the party rules, and to elect progressives to party offices and positions.

Tim Keller’s landslide election as Mayor of Albuquerque was the result of the mobilization of hundreds of volunteers, raising almost three quarters of a million dollars, and building electoral organization to get out the votes. Now the job is to create good government for Albuquerque and to show that progressives can make life better for all, especially the people at the bottom. It’s going to be a tough four years, but I’m hopeful. Tim’s not only a very effective candidate and campaigner, he’s a brilliant manager and office holder. We’ve all got to help.

Tim was the only viable progressive in the race. (Don’t get me started on poor Gus Pedrotti). That’s not the case in Santa Fe where four people who claim to be progressive are running against a single Democrat in Name Only (DINO). The Dino may be elected unless there’s a landslide for Alan Webber, the front runner among the progressives. How do progressives sort these things out? Shouldn’t there be a council of elders or something to say who should run and who shouldn’t? Or does this smack too much of bossism? Maybe a better way is to establish definitions of progressive, as we’re attempting to do with the People’s Electoral Alliance (above).

There’s so much work to do it’s incredible. In general we’re all learning about goals, strategy, structure, and leadership. As I mentioned at the start of this rant, it’ll take years to win, so we’d best not waste any more time.

If you’d like to help–old retired people who have time, young people with kids who are concerned about the future, and anyone in between–please drop me a line at mark@markrudd.com. Please no Fb Messenger. I’ll try to help you find a place in this growing movement for power.

2018 should be a pretty good year if we keep organizing at this local level, build our numbers, our structures, our leadership, our power.

A Path to Power for the American Left

By ETHAN YOUNG
The Indypendent / NYC

Dec 22, 2017 – Living through this era of rotten feelings is like being trapped in an endless dystopian movie. We now live under an alliance of the old-guard conservatives and the far right (evangelicals, Tea Party and overt white supremacists), funded up the yin-yang by billionaire lunatics. This alliance includes theocrats like Vice President Mike Pence and open fascists, and their beliefs are surging into the mainstream.

The goal of this real-life hydra, which now dominates all three branches of government, has gone beyond the old conservative dream of dismantling the social benefits brought about by the New Deal. Now they are set on destroying what’s left of bourgeois democracy. A Hunger Games story is emerging in its place: a tightly controlled state, militarized police, unregulated monopolies, privatized services, a powerless and destitute working class and a culture pulsing with the venom of war and racial hatred.

The role of the electoral opposition largely falls to the corporate-friendly Democratic Party centrists, now decidedly in the minority in Congress despite the GOP’s low polling numbers. The centrists did not plan it that way. They play that role because no one else is in any position to put up a fight at that level of politics. But they’re lousy at it. They blew the election and they know it, but they don’t want to confront their mistakes.

Instead, they are praying for the cavalry, a fairy godmother, any superhero from the power centers of society to come to their rescue. Their appeal has always been to the moderate wing of capitalists: You need us, keep us funded and we’ll keep them dogies rollin’. To the public, their appeal is: We’ll protect you if you come through with the votes. Between the money guys’ indifference and being out-organized in key sectors of key states, those appeals fell flat. Yet they seem to know no other way to play politics.

The Democratic centrists’ main hope right now is that the Mueller investigation will bring Trump down with a crash, à la Watergate. They envision a scenario in which Trump’s Russian ties get him legally branded a traitor to America. This would get them off the hook for their bungling the election and tarnish the Republicans’ image enough to give them a path back to power. It would also enable them to win without offering a strong alternative that would draw on their base’s eagerness for change; for more, not less, social welfare and stability, for peace at home and abroad and for democratic rights.

This works out nicely under the tunnel-view formula the center-clingers have cultivated for decades. Follow the shift to the right halfway, keep the left at bay and eventually the public will get sick of the Republicans and return to Old Faithful. So in the face of an active attack on every principle they purport to be about, the centrists still insist on a half-assed response. They are afraid of their party’s base. They are afraid of losing favor and financial support from big business and Wall Street.

That’s their problem. Our problem is that the stakes are much more than just win or lose for the Democratic Party. The country and the world are at a critical tipping point. Government is being transformed amid widespread voter disenfranchisement, rampant privatization and monopolization, shrinking wages and the destruction of basic democratic and human rights. And, of course, all the money in the world can’t deal with the ravages of a wrecked environment.

We can’t afford the Democrats trying to fight the rightist siege with their usual tactics of “bipartisan” halfway tradeoffs. Their working assumption is that the more balls-out crazy Trump performs, the more power he’ll lose, as Republicans and more moderate supporters defect. Some see Roy Moore’s defeat in that light. But generally, without a strong progressive alternative, the crazy becomes normal.

Centrists will be centrists, dependent on support from corporate donors even when they use leftish-sounding rhetoric for votes or back some leftist goals.

When the media talk about “the resistance,” they are usually referring to Democrats in office. Secondarily, they mean the crowds of angry civilians confronting elected officials in town halls, on the heels of the massive women’s marches in January. Below the radar, there is widespread opposition, anger and revulsion. This is where the left should come in. Situations like this call for a solid, politically coherent left, but that’s what seems to be missing.

The left’s role is to move this unrest and opposition in the direction of politics — enabling working-class people to apply pressure where and when it can change the situation in their favor, building their (small-d) democratic strength. This is our mission inside and outside the Democratic Party, in social movements, in unions and in intellectual settings. Continue reading “A Path to Power for the American Left”