In recent weeks there have been innumerable debates and thousands of protests around the subject of immigrant asylum and the separation of children from their families. The far right while claiming “christian values” are more in line with the fearful spirit of their biblical King Herod who ordered all the babies born at the time he thought “the messiah” would be born. Meanwhile their own bible also says:
“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
My purpose for writing this is to give a history lesson to those that are unaware or an education for those to lazy to do the research themselves. I know much of this history firsthand. By the time you finish reading this if you don’t believe the United States is responsible for the violence these people and therefor responsible for granting them asylum then you either are devoid of conscience, of intellect, or both.
Before I even begin this I want to preface it by saying that the majority of the people seeking asylum are Indigenous People who have been in the Americas for over 10,000 years. How in the hell people who are relatively “off the boat” in this world think they have the right to deny these people the right to move wherever they wish is beyond me.
Central and South America
The U.S. interference began in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War with the occupations, police actions, and interventions on the part of the United States in Central America and the Caribbean known as the “Banana Wars” due to the connection to the United Fruit Company. These military operations were for the most part carried out by the United States Marine Corps, which developed a combat strategy manual based on its expediences called, “The Strategy and Tactics of Small Wars“. In addition to the marines army troops also participated and the U.S. Navy provided offshore heavy gun support.
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service,” USMC Major General Smedley Butler once wrote, “and during that period, I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers.”
This was a time when mistreated workers across Central America were getting fed up with working long hours in harsh conditions for less than a living wage. Workers started grumbling. Some went on strike. Some threw together militias and waged full-on rebellions to fight for better conditions.
But for the American government, all this fighting for freedom was bad for business. Companies like the United Fruit Company had a vested interest in keeping their Central American plantations stable and so they called in the American Army to crack down on those who were disrupting the system.
Smedley Butler and the other well meaning, orders following soldiers like him were sent by the U.S. Government to Central America to fight in the so-called “Banana Wars.” In protecting U.S. Corporate interests in a country where they had no business being, the U.S. Military interfered on seven separate occasions during the early 20th century to crush worker strikes or to stop rebellions, but in every case the main motivating factor was to keep U.S. business booming. During the Banana Wars thousands of civilians were killed and hundreds of U.S. Troops died all in the name of protecting corporations and the region has never been stable since.
During this same period U.S. Troops were also sent to the Caribbean for the same reason, to protect U.S. Corporate interests. When a rebellion in the Dominican Republic, for example, damaged an American-owned sugar cane plantation, American troops were sent in, starting in 1916. They took over a small castle called Fort Ozama, killed the men inside and set up a military presence to protect their business interests.
Troops also moved into Haiti to quell the Cacao Rebellion in 1915, partly to protect the interests of the Haitian-American Sugar Company. The U.S. Army stayed behind even after the war was over, patrolling the streets of Haiti and making sure that no one got out of line.
With the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. Thereafter, the United States conducted military interventions in Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The series of conflicts ended with the withdrawal of troops from Haiti in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
At the turn of the 20th century political unrest in Nicaragua gave the U.S. an excuse to send in the Marines, who occupied Nicaragua for over 30 years. A Nicaraguan named Augusto Cesar Sandino organized an army to oust them and they waged guerrilla warfare for several years in the 1930’s until Sandino was lured into Managua to sign a truce and was assassinated. To keep the “peace,” a Nicaraguan named Anastasio Somoza Garcia, one of the few who spoke English, was put in charge by the U.S., establishing a family dynasty that ruled Nicaragua for 40 years until the Sandinistas ran his son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and his cronies out of the country in 1979.
Somoza’s grip on power started crumbling after Nicaragua suffered a cataclysmic earthquake in 1972. The capital city, Managua, was the epicenter. The downtown was almost completely destroyed and more than 10,000 people were killed. International aid flooded into the country. Nicaraguans believe Somoza put most of it in his pocket or used it to expand his business interests. He was widely criticized and the assassination of his main critic, newspaper owner Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, sparked an uprising of the general population which was the beginning of a year-long, armed struggle.
Somoza’s ouster was finally accomplished in July 1979 after more than 40,000 people paid with their lives. The U.S. tried to set up an interim government but the Sandinistas had clearly won the hearts and minds of the people. So the U.S. had to step back and watch as Cubans stepped in to help the Sandinistas learn how to consolidate popular support and convert it into a political force. The Cuban presence, coupled with President Reagan’s distaste for the Sandinistas leftist politics, resulted in the infamous Contra War, in which former National Guardsmen encamped in Honduras made raids deep into Nicaragua with the intention of destroying everything the Sandinistas had built – schools, clinics, coops, hydroelectric plants and roads. The Contra War, which lasted 10 years, was made possible by the U.S. government, whose agents trafficked in weapons and drugs to underwrite it.
The U.S. Congress declared an embargo, which was outlawed by the World Court in The Hague. After ten years of devastating conflict, Nicaraguans voted the Sandinistas out of power, knowing that U.S intervention would continue as long as the Sandinistas remained in office. They elected Violeta Chamorro, the matriarch of an old, anti-Somoza family. She was acceptable to the U.S. with her more conservative, pro-business stance and the Contra war ceased, leaving much of the country’s infrastructure in ruins and tens of thousands of people killed, maimed for life, and dislocated.
Now that a Chinese company has signed a contract with the Nicaraguan government to build an alternative canal in Nicaragua, the U.S. is once again paying close attention to Nicaragua. The House Sub-Committee on Hemispheric Affairs has threatened to withdraw U.S. aid since Ortega’s re-election to a third term, after a judicial removal of a Nicaraguan Constitutional impediment to serving more than two consecutive terms and the uncertainty that action has raised about Nicaragua’s political future.
In 1954, a CIA-orchestrated coup d’etat put an end to the first ten years of democratically elected government Guatemala had ever experienced.
Installed in the wake of the coup were a series of military, authoritarian governments, funded and advised by the United States. These governments waged a brutal war of repression against not just the guerrilla opposition that sprung up to oppose them, but against the indigenous way of life in Guatemala as a whole.
The US supported tactics of repression which would lead to the deaths of 200,000 civilians, and which would rekindle stark ethnic, economic, social and political divisions in society – legacies of colonialism – which the 1944-54 governments had gone a significant way to repairing.
The civil war which erupted as a result of American intervention stifled Guatemala’s economic growth, put an end to its political independence, and allowed a corrupt ruling class to dominate the country for its own political and economic gain. Furthermore, the Guatemalan army’s use of indiscriminate torture, rape, executions and massacres were arguably among the worst human rights abuses of the cold war. And all under the auspices of maintaining ‘freedom’ in the world. The US’s goal was to contain the spread of communism in Latin America, and in this it technically succeeded. But Guatemalans paid a high price.
Economically speaking, Guatemala was almost entirely agricultural in 1944. The American United Fruit Company owned 550,000 acres of land, much of which was uncultivated. Guatemala’s main exports were bananas and coffee, but since the land that produced these was largely held by Americans, the Guatemalan economy received little benefit from production, aside from meager wages for workers and the profits siphoned off by graft to the ruling classes.
United Fruit and its sister company, International Railways of Central America, effectively held monopolies on two of Guatemala’s most important economic assets (fruit and cross-border transport,) and the profit from these monopolies rarely passed through Guatemalan hands.Furthermore, due to their immense influence, they were able to secure concessions meaning they paid low taxes and were free from regulation.
The U.S. Drug War
The American War on Drugs has contributed mightily to the violence and poverty individuals, families, and children must endure or escape just to survive in Latin America. The region will never achieve full political and socio-economic stability until the US changes its policies at home.
The War on Drugs causes violence between criminal organizations, and drug prohibition creates a violent underground market in which the lives of both civilians and officers are endangered. In Colombia, 15,000 people were killed in a 20-year war against cartels, while the Mexican government’s war against cartels has led to more than 120,000 Mexican deaths and disappearances since 2006. Nevertheless, drug addiction rates in the U.S. have remained about the same.
“The Balloon Effect” explains why cartels are still powerful despite the military-grade pressure put on them: Squeezing one side of a balloon makes the balloon burst from the other side. Similarly, if the U.S. cracks down on drug production in one part of Latin America, the market will simply move to a new area, where it will cause long-term socio-economic damage. For example, in the early 2000s, the U.S. poured billions of dollars into Plan Colombia, and Colombia’s cocaine production dropped, so the production market moved to Peru and Bolivia.
Cartels flourish in parts of Latin America with underfunded and poorly trained criminal justice systems because they corrupt the police with bribes and threats. In Mexico, it is estimated that 92% of crimes go unreported. In Colombia, the same police that have received billions of dollars in U.S. aid have long-standing ties to counter-revolutionary militias fueled by drug money called ‘paramilitary’ groups. As a Honduran pastor quoted in the New York Times said, “You never call the cops. The cops themselves will retaliate and kill you.”
Indiscriminate aerial fumigation under Plan Colombia hit one family five times. Their eleven year-old boy, Javier, recalled the incidents, “You see the planes coming—four or five of them—from far away with a black cloud of spray behind them. They say they are trying to kill the coca, but they kill everything. After the fumigation, we’d go days without eating. Once the fumigation spray hit my little brother and me…. I was sick for a long time and my brother was sick even longer.”
Cartels also recruit young children in schools, who are easily lured by the prospect of a high income and sense of community. In Ecuador, U.S. policy promises aid in return for a certain number of drug arrests, which has led to an increase in police targeting of low-level female drug mules. Because imprisoned mothers in Ecuador often bring their children to take care of, spikes in the populations of women’s prisons mean more children are living behind bars.
In Colombia, as Javier explains, people starve to death and there are no government assistance programs. People do not want to grow coca, but prohibition has ironically made illegal drugs the most lucrative crops. High value, low-weight processed coca is easier to transport through the underdeveloped road system, especially during the rainy season when produce trucks are easily stuck. “I know that if I was offered support, a government program that allowed me to farm and survive, I wouldn’t go back to coca,” says Javier. Unfortunately, not many programs exist to help Latin Americans struggling with poverty.
Thankfully, the War on Drugs is also being fought from a more compassionate side, and we know there are successful alternatives to prohibition. Cartels are already being weakened economically by legalizing medical and recreational marijuana in a handful of U.S. states. Drug policy reform advocates across the globe are fighting for policies that prioritize treatment instead of punishment to ultimately reduce criminal activity and profits for cartels and their destructive impact on Latin America.
The ONLY solution to stopping the violence that results from these failed drug policies is to end the failed War on Drugs and therefor eliminate the demand that invigorates drug cartels and criminal organizations. Indeed, in states and countries that have legalized cannabis alone there has not only been a drastic decrease in crime but also a reduction in addiction and overdose deaths due to opiates.
Now, after reading all of this can you SERIOUSLY tell me that the United States isn’t responsible? How can this government possibly turn ANY refugee from south of our border away when the U.S. Government is responsible for the violence and turmoil they are fleeing.
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