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The U.S. infestation of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras

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Asylum Seekers in Tijuana, Mexico
Asylum Seekers in Tijuana, Mexico
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On June 25th Americans were shocked by the photo of Salvadoran refugees Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria lying face down in the water at the edge of the Rio Grande River. They had drowned in an attempt to cross from Mexico to Texas. As AP reported, the girl's "arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments."

This disturbing photo focused attention on a major refugee crisis at our southern border. According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), around 500,000 people are fleeing there each year from the "Northern Triangle" of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala (the NTCA). They are trying to escape from living conditions "comparable to those in the international war zones where MSF has worked for decades." U.S. interventions have been a major cause of that chaos. And the Trump administration's mistreatment of these refugees at the border compounds the evil done by U.S. interventions.

The Northern Triangle is plagued by gang violence. The biggest gangs are MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) and M-18 (the 18th Street Gang). Their combined membership in the Triangle is about 85,000. The gangs are a by-product of a bloody civil war that raged in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992, in which "leftist guerrillas rose up against a wealthy elite and the military state that had long dispossessed the rural underclass of land" (Nat. Geographic, 3/19). The U.S. spent billions supporting the right-wing dictatorship. About 75,000 civilians were killed by the military and its death squads.

The civil war drove tens of thousands of refugees to the United States. They were denied asylum and remained as undocumented migrants, including a large population in Los Angeles. Young Salvadoran males there banded into gangs (MS-13 and M-18) initially in order to protect themselves against other ethnic gangs. But they soon developed into full-scale criminal enterprises known for exceptional brutality.

Beginning in the late 90s the U.S. began deporting (or exporting) thousands of these gang members back to El Salvador, where they recreated the gang culture they had developed in the U.S. and expanded their domain to Honduras and Guatemala. They have made the Northern Triangle one of the most dangerous places in the world to live. Extortions, murders, sexual violence, gunfire in the streets, all are part of the daily lives of ordinary people unable to afford private security available to the wealthy.

As reported in PRISM, the journal of the National Defense University, "gang beheadings and dismemberment of victims are now routine; lynching and burning victims alive are commonplace; and the [gang] recruitment of children as young as 11 is an everyday occurrence. Those who cannot afford to send their children out of the country are forced to seek safety in the shrinking areas of the national territory where the gangs are not fully in control."

In the three NTCA countries there is a racial/social stratification common to many other Latin American nations, as described by Patrick McDermott in The UNZ Review: "a wealthy white elite at the top, the rest of the white population just below them, mixed-race mestizos and mulattos further down, and black and Indigenous peoples at the bottom." The wealthy classes resist paying enough in taxes to support basic social services. As in El Salvador, white oligarchs have worked closely with militaries trained and financed by the U.S. to defeat left-wing parties trying to lessen the economic misery of people of color in the lower classes.

In Honduras U.S. capital dominated banking, mining and agriculture throughout the 20th century. The weak local white elite was heavily dependent on American support for its military in maintaining its ascendancy over restless peasants. During the Reagan anti-leftist crusade in Central America in the 1980s, things got even worse. In the post-Reagan era Honduras "remained a country scarred by a heavy-handed military, significant human rights abuses and pervasive poverty."

In Guatemala "In 1954, the CIA helped overthrow Guatemala's democratically elected president, who supported land reform to benefit the largely indigenous peasantry [at the expense of the US-based United Fruit Company and other private interests]" (Public Radio International, 12/29/16). Six years later a rebellion against the U.S.-supported military regime launched a 30-year civil war that killed over 200,000 mostly indigenous people, with widespread rape and torture. The U.S. continues to support a militarized white oligarchy that rules amid widespread poverty.

In 2018 the NTCA refugee caravans included over 50,000 unaccompanied children. Their grueling trek spans several weeks and a 1000 or more miles on foot or hitching rides. These migrants are regularly subject to extortion by Mexican officials. Large numbers are kidnapped by criminal gangs who demand ransoms from the families they've left behind. Inadequate food and shelter leave many in poor health. Between 60% and 80% of Central American female migrants are raped along the way.

The Trump administration is using its executive power to make life as miserable as possible when these refugees arrive and request asylum. It detains them in overcrowded and unsafe conditions in an unsuccessful effort to deter others from coming. As reported in The Atlantic: "One pediatrician who visited a Border Patrol facility in Texas observed 'extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.' Photographs show migrants huddled together, languishing in filth behind chain-link fences, some with little more than Mylar blankets for shelter."

Americans should not limit their outrage to the racism and cruelty of the Trump administration's treatment of Central American refugees. They should also demand that the U.S. stop its century-old policy of supporting right-wing militarized governments that privilege elite white minorities over the vast majority of their non-white populations. The U.S. influence in Central America can be rightly called an infestation.

 

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Brian Cooney Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I'm a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. I also am a regular columnist for The Danville Advocate-Messenger, the local paper in what was my home town (I now live in Connecticut). My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically (more...)
 

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Brian Cooney

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The Trump administration emphasized its contempt for NTCA refugees when it "told operators of shelters for immigrant children to cut back on or end education, legal services and recreation, citing funding problems as it has taken more children into custody.

The administration said the directive was necessary because of a spike in the number of children in its custody."

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019 at 2:47:31 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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Great summation of the history of US intervention in Latin America. One of the biggest obstacles to challenging this government policy is of course the monopolized corporate media that acts as gate keeper of official policy. The conflict of interest in the for profit press is glaring, but the problem of big money controlling elections makes it pretty much impossible to change the system. The pursuit of profit is a death cult.

Submitted on Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019 at 6:58:06 PM

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Derryl Hermanutz

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The same mainstream media propaganda narratives are presented in Central American countries as "the news"; and columnists base their policy prescriptions on the false narratives, not the truth. In Costa Rica's main Spanish language daily, the international "news" and commentary sounds like it was written by the US State Dept or CIA, not by independent investigative journalists seeking the truth. All of the economic news and commentary is based on belief that neoliberalism (imperialism) is the natural state of the world, so there is no looking outside the imperialist status quo and the bank-owned money system for solutions to financial, economic and social problems. The TV stations recite the same "news", and most of the "informed" population believes it. Blogger Caitlin Johnstone has been shouting from the rooftops that this kind of mass brainwashing is the root of the corporate capitalist cabal's power over humanity. The first step toward salvation involves no longer believing the bullsh*t narratives, and informing ourselves about what is really being done in the world.

Submitted on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019 at 10:11:22 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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I'm a big fan of Caitlin's work. Her articles on the power of narrative have been brilliant. I think before we attempt to dismantle this decrepit empire, we need to ridicule the corporate media without mercy. They are guilty of covering up crimes against humanity. That makes them criminally liable. Ridicule is an under utilized tool we have at our disposal for making their jobs extremely uncomfortable. Without their reliable gate keepers, this empire becomes exposed for what it is.

I think of you hearing about the shift to the right where you live. I guess the positive news is that Nicaragua, Venezuela (so far) and Cuba have managed to frustrate the coup plotters. It looks like the people of Honduras are not going to sit still for their imposed dictatorship either. May the tipping point be near for all our sakes.

Submitted on Friday, Aug 23, 2019 at 9:02:03 PM

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Michele Goddard

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Thank you so much for this article. So many Americans are totally ignorant of the decades long wars our government has waged in Central America. When people comment that immigrants need to stay in their own countries and fix things there or when they say its their problem not our problem, I want to scream. The more I learn about history the more I realize that the core of all of it is racism. The imperialism, exploitation, abuse and extermination of people of color throughout the world by white elites is well established in fact. But in our more "politically correct" world, the elites know that thia is unacceptable so they fund proxy wars, lie and created false pretext for wars, play on fears and nationalism and patriotism to get away with their crimes while claiming they are "spreading democracy". It should be the goal of progressives to educate the next generation of U.S. citizens of the REAL history of the U.S. and that it has to stop. People should discourage their children from joining and supporting a military that is never used for defense but for corporate "takeover" of countries at gunpoint. Dick Cheney and George Bush should be in jail and Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange should be freed. Ronald Reagan should not be hailed as some kind of conservative hero but his legacy should be one of betraying the American people and the Constitution in illegally selling arms to fund a secret war behind the back of the entire country. A war that included support for terrorist death squads who tortured and murdered. A war which destabilized the entire region and allowed the infiltration of narcotics trafficers and gangs. Again, thank you for this excellent article and for bringing this part of history to light. Take Care, M

Submitted on Thursday, Aug 22, 2019 at 11:41:40 AM

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