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The president, in his frenzied attempt to distract and deceive American voters, has reverted to the alleged dangers of Central American immigrants. In the face of the huge caravan of Central Americans now passing through southern Mexico, he calls this mass of unarmed women and children an invading army. He threatens Mexico with blowing up the newly renegotiated trade agreement (aka, NAFTA2) if they fail to stop the migrants. And he expresses determination to cut off aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, home countries of most of the migrants.

caravan

These are three of the poorest and most unjust countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is clear from published interviews of the migrants that most of them are fleeing poverty and hoping for a better life (albeit underground as illegal immigrants on the informal economy in the United States). It is telling that such a life would be better than what they leave behind.

Amidst the vast swaths of what Trump doesn’t know—and doesn’t care to find out—is a strong case that the present misery of most Central Americans is largely the result of a century of US policies and direct interventions.

Amidst the vast swaths of what Trump doesn’t know—and doesn’t care to find out—is a strong case that the present misery of most Central Americans is largely the result of a century of US policies and direct interventions.

Take Guatemala. Early in the twentieth century the US government strongly backed the United Fruit Company in its successful pursuit of preferential treatment by the Guatemalan government. The company had a dictator they could work with (Ubico), and the US government was fine with him even though he was a murderous tyrant. When he was finally overthrown in the aftermath of World War II, the US government worked systematically with United Fruit to overthrow the reformist, democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. This (along with the contemporaneous overthrow of the elected reformer Mossadegh in Iran) was an early example of CIA covert interventions to overthrow democratic governments around the world and replacing them with pliable anticommunist dictators. See also the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973.

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The result of the Guatemalan coup was three decades of right-wing military dictatorship, culminating in a brutal campaign of destruction directed against the country’s indigenous majority, in the 1980s. The Reagan administration did nothing to stop the violence. The result of this history is a society that is pervasively violent and miserably poor.

Take El Salvador. Herbert Hoover stood by while the Salvadoran Army seized power in 1932 and killed thousands. The resulting dictatorship lasted through the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (now a saint) in 1979. Successive US administrations did nothing to promote peace and social justice in El Salvador. Indeed, Reagan provided massive military aid to the very armed forces that were responsible for Romero’s assassination.

An earlier wave of Salvadorans fled the country’s violence and poverty for the US in the 1980s and 1990s. Their underground existence led to the emergence of Salvadoran gangs, members of which were deported back to El Salvador, where they established new gangs that worsened the problem of violence. The substantial aid that the country has received from the US in recent decades has done nothing to eliminate either violence or poverty.

Take Honduras. Even poorer than El Salvador or Guatemala, it was for most of the 20th century the classic banana republic, in which United Fruit essentially bought the national government. The United States government was fine with that. Finally, in the 1990s, a somewhat democratic regime with credible competitive elections was established. But after a serious reformer was elected president, there was a military coup in 2009 that reestablished a right-wing, nominally elected regime. There is no way the Honduran army would have staged a coup without at least the tacit consent of the US. The new administration of Barack Obama accepted the new regime without protest. The result has been nearly a decade of renewed violence and poverty.

With this background, Trump’s threat to withdraw aid to Central America is ironic. Central America would have been better off with no aid than with the “aid” it got from the US over decades. Indeed, it is puzzling that Trump has failed to take the opportunity to blame Obama for the mess in Honduras. To lay such a charge at Obama’s door would be the only known instance of truth-telling by Trump.

impeachment unavoidable

John Peeler