The Central American Refugees of US Imperialism

Hamid Assian

The hypocritical response of the Obama administration to the influx of child refugees from Central America is tied to US imperialist policies over the last century – Editors

33_bp033There has been more and more exposure of the inhumane conditions of US border detention centers, which are treating women and children without dignity and respect. Back in June, a whistleblower leaked startling photographs of poorly treated children, many from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In the last year, almost 70,000 unaccompanied children have been subject to this treatment and it is estimated that this will double by the end of 2014. There has been an outcry to bring aid and relief to these children. Most loving, empathetic people would support this but there are some US citizens that just don’t want these “immigrants” in America. The UN and human rights advocacy groups believe these women and children are in fact refugees, fleeing for their lives.

As a result of rightwing demagoguery over this influx of refugees, the Obama administration has decided to delay any immigration reform until after the November elections. Obama’s decision is a cowardly, political driven attempt to not “rock the boat.” His decision expresses the typical hypocrisy in the relationship between his rhetoric and his policy. We have seen the same pandering to pro-immigration voting blocs since the early 90s. Both Clinton and, yes, even George W. Bush, promised positive immigration reform during various election periods, but, as with Obama, no action was taken to fulfill their promises. We see that Obama’s rhetoric follows suit with the lies that both Democrats and Republicans have historically propagated. In 2008, Obama stated, “It’s time for a president who won’t walk away from comprehensive reform just because it becomes politically unpopular.” This is a wonderful example how Obama’s criticism of former presidents is now a criticism of himself. Recently on Meet the Press, Obama said, “I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country but it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands the facts on immigration, what we’ve done on unaccompanied children, and why it’s necessary.”

The public certainly needs to know the facts, which seem to be unseen in the political debate. What these refugees are fleeing from and who the oppressors are will shed light on the responsibility the US has for these displaced children. The United States Military Industrial Complex and other US corporate interests have direct involvement in destabilizing these countries and much of Latin America, creating a violent and depriving environment where no child can survive. US invasion and intervention into Latin America began when a third of Mexico was seized illegally in 1848, but let’s focus on the three Central American countries from where these children directly come.

Guatemala has been victim of US imperialism and capitalism since 1901, when the United Fruit Company (UFC), backed by the US government and a military dictatorship in Guatemala, seized much of the country’s fertile land. Through a series of puppet regimes, the most brutal of them under General Jorge Ubico, UFC enforced cheap, inhumane working conditions, high-profit/low-wage business practices, and assisted the military financially to squelch any activism or dissent. Many people fled the oppression and those who stayed were subject to illness and poverty. The US has been supporting the deaths, slow or quick, of Guatemalan women and children since the start of the last century.

There was a brief period, from 1944-1954, when the people reclaimed Guatemala and social and economic reform started to change the landscape. UFC and the CIA were not happy about the lost profits coming from these reforms and repeatedly funded rightwing military coups to regain power. Under the guise of claims that the democratically-elected government allowed a Communist party in their democracy, in 1954, the CIA was successful and installed another military dictator and regime. It didn’t take long for the US and corporate-funded Guatemalan military to reverse the social reforms and destabilize the country. Again, the people of Guatemala feared for their lives.

1960 saw the beginning of a 36-year civil war in Guatemala that led to an estimated 200,000 accountable deaths. The CIA and military funding from the US provided the primary resource for these human rights violations. At its height in the 1980s, then dictator Gen. Rios Montt, a strong ally of President Ronald Reagan, used his death squads to eradicate indigenous Mayan populations. The US supported this genocide and continues to back military or faux-democratic interests that only work to support US interests. Since this has created mass inequality, violence and displacement for Guatemalans, the US needs to take responsibility for their treatment of these women and children who have nowhere to go.

The abusive imperialism of the US also reigns in El Salvador, which was subjected to oppression and military control under US corporations, the US government, and the CIA in a manner similar to that of Guatemala. In particular, El Salvador experienced an increase of US aid and training to the El Salvador military, which focused on executing the US-drafted “Partnership for Growth” — a partnership of murderers and thieves. US corporations, promoting “democracy” and economic growth, seized lands with the military to modernize and expand. The sole purpose of this US proposal was to remove labor unions and steal land. This goes on still today and has created an unstable and violent environment in which no child could thrive, let alone survive.

It is no different in Honduras, another banana republic of the US and its corporate partners. As in Guatemala and El Salvador, the US has been backing Honduran military dictatorships since the early 20th century. In the 1980s, it was used as a base for the Contra insurgents in Nicaragua. In 2009, a military coup backed by US corporate/government interests overthrew Manuel Zelaya, a president moving to make positive social reform for Hondurans. The chaos of military rule since then has decimated the country’s economy and security. Again, the US agenda is transparently working to destabilize with deadly force and there is nowhere to which the vulnerable women and children now crossing the border into the US can turn.

Many people from these countries come to the US to find a better future. What they find is a capitalist system where decent jobs are scarce and they are subject to massive poverty and racial discrimination. Desperation sets in, some join gangs and then they are jailed for crimes of survival and deported back to their home countries. Once back home, these desperate men sometimes send their displaced frustrations into the streets, creating chaotic gang violence wherein in some areas, children cannot walk or play, visit a friend, or find a decent meal.

The Obama Administration’s response to these refugee children follows the continued pro-corporate, anti-democracy policies the US has held worldwide. The administration wants to grant “aid” to the tune of $3.7 billion. The money will be used solely to expedite the process of deportation. Most of the detention centers where the refugee youth and their families are held are located hundreds of miles from any town where adequate legal representation could be obtained. If the women or children cannot speak proper English or cannot find a lawyer in time, they are fast-tracked into the deportation process. The Obama Administration is consciously throwing these women and children back into the destabilized environment the US government, the CIA, and corporate interests created for these Central Americans.

The sad fact is these women and children risk their lives to find sanctuary in the only place they believe might help them: the US. Yet the very country they run to is the country that has indiscriminately killed and tortured their people for over a century.

Instead of using billions of dollars to expedite deportation, showing compassion to the very people the US has directly burdened should be a priority. It could be easily done by granting special asylum to unaccompanied minors, which is an international standard for children who fear their lives are being threatened. Obama, like presidents before him, uses seductive yet false rhetoric to undermine the citizens he represents and is beholden to his corporate and political masters.

We need to demand the safety of these children and women. We should demand the safety of ourselves while we are at it.


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