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”

The Bashful Imperialists: An Elite Intelligence Group on US Empire

Coming to Terms With the American Empire

[Editor’s note: The following interesting piece is from an ‘independent’ group of private US intelligence analysts, and reflects the views of ruling elites. We should note, however, that there is nothing accidental or new in the US empire, embodied from the early days of the Republic in the widely embraced notion of ‘Manifest Destiny.’]

By George Friedman
Stratfor’s Geopolitical Weekly

April 14, 12015 – "Empire" is a dirty word. Considering the behavior of many empires, that is not unreasonable. But empire is also simply a description of a condition, many times unplanned and rarely intended. It is a condition that arises from a massive imbalance of power. Indeed, the empires created on purpose, such as Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany, have rarely lasted. Most empires do not plan to become one. They become one and then realize what they are. Sometimes they do not realize what they are for a long time, and that failure to see reality can have massive consequences.
World War II and the Birth of an Empire

The United States became an empire in 1945. It is true that in the Spanish-American War, the United States intentionally took control of the Philippines and Cuba. It is also true that it began thinking of itself as an empire, but it really was not. Cuba and the Philippines were the fantasy of empire, and this illusion dissolved during World War I, the subsequent period of isolationism and the Great Depression.

The genuine American empire that emerged thereafter was a byproduct of other events. There was no great conspiracy. In some ways, the circumstances of its creation made it more powerful. The dynamic of World War II led to the collapse of the European Peninsula and its occupation by the Soviets and the Americans. The same dynamic led to the occupation of Japan and its direct governance by the United States as a de facto colony, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as viceroy.

The United States found itself with an extraordinary empire, which it also intended to abandon. This was a genuine wish and not mere propaganda. First, the United States was the first anti-imperial project in modernity. It opposed empire in principle. More important, this empire was a drain on American resources and not a source of wealth. World War II had shattered both Japan and Western Europe. The United States gained little or no economic advantage in holding on to these countries. Finally, the United States ended World War II largely untouched by war and as perhaps one of the few countries that profited from it. The money was to be made in the United States, not in the empire. The troops and the generals wanted to go home.

But unlike after World War I, the Americans couldn’t let go. That earlier war ruined nearly all of the participants. No one had the energy to attempt hegemony. The United States was content to leave Europe to its own dynamics. World War II ended differently. The Soviet Union had been wrecked but nevertheless it remained powerful. It was a hegemon in the east, and absent the United States, it conceivably could dominate all of Europe. This represented a problem for Washington, since a genuinely united Europe — whether a voluntary and effective federation or dominated by a single country — had sufficient resources to challenge U.S. power.

The United States could not leave. It did not think of itself as overseeing an empire, and it certainly permitted more internal political autonomy than the Soviets did in their region. Yet, in addition to maintaining a military presence, the United States organized the European economy and created and participated in the European defense system. If the essence of sovereignty is the ability to decide whether or not to go to war, that power was not in London, Paris or Warsaw. It was in Moscow and Washington.

The organizing principle of American strategy was the idea of containment. Unable to invade the Soviet Union, Washington’s default strategy was to check it. U.S. influence spread through Europe to Iran. The Soviet strategy was to flank the containment system by supporting insurgencies and allied movements as far to the rear of the U.S. line as possible. The European empires were collapsing and fragmenting. The Soviets sought to create an alliance structure out of the remnants, and the Americans sought to counter them.

The Economics of Empire

One of the advantages of alliance with the Soviets, particularly for insurgent groups, was a generous supply of weapons. The advantage of alignment with the United States was belonging to a dynamic trade zone and having access to investment capital and technology. Some nations, such as South Korea, benefited extraordinarily from this. Others didn’t. Leaders in countries like Nicaragua felt they had more to gain from Soviet political and military support than in trade with the United States. (Continued)

Continue reading “The Bashful Imperialists: An Elite Intelligence Group on US Empire”

Guns, Settlers & Race

Black Panthers made headlines.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Z Communications Daily Commentary

A front page story in the Washington Post struck me. [David A. Fahrenthold, “GOP field backs gun rights with both barrels,” March 29, 2015]  As one would expect, the potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are jumping all over themselves to show how ‘pro-gun’ they are.

In the USA we have discussions about guns that pretend to be based in history, but actually miss certain key features. In so doing, the heart and soul of the gun debate is overlooked and the issue devolves into questions of morality and gun safety.

The gun issue in the USA is related to history but not particularly to the 2nd Amendment (the supposed right to bear arms). The debate precedes the 2nd Amendment by more than a century and it revolves around settlers and race.

The gun debate in the USA started in the 1600s and, while there were always matters of safety and hunting, the key question was actually one of who had the right and authority to possess weapons. The second question centered on why the centrality of weapon possession at all.

The settlement of North America, and specifically the original thirteen colonies, was not a non-violent act.  It represented an invasion.  There immediately arose the question of the protection of the invaders, i.e., the colonists.  Thus, weapons, at all costs, had to be kept out of the hands of the indigenous population—the Native Americans or First Nations.  Severe penalties were created for any settler who sold or traded weapons to the Native Americans. This notoriety made its way into the popular media over the years with stories about so-called mavericks who supplied Native Americans with weaponry. During much of the colonial era, and into the 19th century, by the way, this form of activity was frequently associated in the minds of much of the white public with Irish dissidents who were in opposition to the British colonization of Ireland.

Weaponry was also essential for handling an ‘internal’ problem within the emerging settler state:  indentured servants and slaves.  The 1600s was a period of regular uprisings carried out by indentured servants and slaves.  The indentured servant workforce was originally composed of Africans, Europeans and some Native Americans.  It was the turmoil during this period that drove the colonial ruling elite to identify the need to splinter the workforce in order to retain power.  In that context arose the modern usage of “race,” based largely upon the successful experience of the British in the occupation and suppression of the indigenous population in Ireland. (Continued)

Continue reading “Guns, Settlers & Race”