Migrant caravans keep leaving Central America traveling across Mexico toward the U.S. border Who are these emigrants and why are Republicans so anxious to stop their progress?
President Trump’s assertion is that these are rapists, killers, terrorists and the worst sort of people. He would have us believe that the members of the caravans are merely criminals and that they have no reason to seek asylum. The facts are somewhat different.
To begin to understand the present we have to first look, briefly, at history.
Central America is a region consisting of seven small countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama. With the exception of Belize, a British colony, the various states within Central America were Spanish colonies. All but Belize and Panama won independence from Spain in 1821. However, they were annexed at the hands of the army of the First Emperor of Mexico the following year. The next year, 1823, the empire fell and Mexico became a republic.
As Mexico became a republic the independent status of Central America was acknowledged, and the region became the United Provinces of Central America in 1824. The United Provinces of Central America UPCA (PUCA – Provincias Unidas de Centro-America) was briefly the Federal Republic of Central America. Envisioned as a Republic in the fashion of the United States of America or France by liberals, the Republic was almost immediately threatened by factions seeking independence. One of the most notable leaders of the movement toward unification was Francisco Morazan who, during the 1820s and 1830s led a number of movements to unify. Morazan was captured in Costa Rica by conservatives in September of 1842 and assassinated, effectively ending the UPCA. The conservatives who killed Morazan wanted a conservative government under tight control by the Catholic Church.
A number of attempts to unite the area were made during the remainder of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Leaders were not enthusiastic, but there were compelling reasons for some form of alliance. These reasons included military protection, pooling of resources and enhanced trade. For a brief period (1856-57) there was a military coalition that successfully fought off the efforts of William Walker, an American adventurer, to invade Central America.
The Spanish-American War had more influence on the Pacific than the Caribbean nations, but the Treaty of Paris forced Spain to give Cuba independence and cede Puerto Rico to the United States effectively giving Spain no residual presence in the northern part of the Western Hemisphere. The role of the church, however, was not immediately diminished.
Any discussion of Central America and the current conditions must talk about Banana Republics. Neruda, the Chilean poet’s second stanza of Canto General (translated from the Spanish) sums the problem up well.
“…The Fruit Company, Inc.
Reserved for itself the most succulent,
The central coast of my own land,
The delicate waist of the Americas.
It rechristened its territories
As the "Banana Republics",
And over the sleeping dead,
Over the restless heroes
Who brought about the greatness,
The liberty and the flags,
It established a comic opera ...”
Banana Republic is a term coined by American author O. Henry in Cabbages and Kings (1904), a thematic collection of short stories. In short, a banana republic is a state with a ruling plutocracy of politicians, landowners and businessmen that enjoy great wealth at the cost of independence from a multinational corporation such as the United Fruit Company, and the reduction of the rest of the population to impoverished cheap labor to produce a limited product such as bananas or minerals.
In Central America during the early 20th Century, particularly in Guatemala and Honduras, the United Fruit Company – with the occasional assistance of the U.S. government – created a political and economic climate similar to the imaginary country of Anchuria of which O Henry wrote.
Following World War II the U.S. government, in order to “stem the tide of communism” established the Central Intelligence Agency. In Central America the CIA propped up right wing governments, supported political coups and further aggravated the problems of poverty in countries like Nicaragua and Honduras.
"...The vast majority of Central Americans today live in perpetual misery alongside tiny elites that enjoy unparalleled prosperity. The average cat in [the U.S.] eats more beef than the average Central American. In Nicaragua, 54 percent of the people have no safe drinking water. In Guatemala, 44 percent are illiterate, and Indians, who constitute half of the country's population, have an average life-span of forty-eight years. Seven out of ten Hondurans live in desperate poverty, only one rural resident in ten has electricity, and less than two in ten have access to safe drinking water. Infant mortality was seventy per 1,000 births in 1990, compared to less than nine per 1,000 in the United States."
- from the chapter "Central Americans: Intervention Comes Home to Roost" in Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez (2)
U.S. policy on granting asylum does not count poverty as justification. It does not count escape from gang violence as justification. It does not count escape from domestic violence as justification. It does not recognize economic oppression from right wing plutocracies as justification. It favors granting asylum for those escaping socialist or communist led countries.
Asylum seekers coming from countries like Honduras or Guatemala are simply escaping conditions set in place by U.S. supported multinational corporations.
These are not the “huddled masses” that our government wants to welcome. We want huddled masses of engineers and computer technicians.
The absolute vilification of residents seeking asylum from Central America is necessary to hide from North Americans the fact that the U.S. created the conditions that the migrants are fleeing. It is one thing to recognize on an intellectual level that cheap goods come at the expense of child labor. It is another to actually meet the child.
It is also possible that U.S. leaders do not want us to see that they have in mind for us what they produced in Central America; a tiny incredibly wealthy group who control government in order to protect their wealth and a business model that excludes the vast majority of Americans from sharing in that wealth. The same mind-set that produced problems in Central America would take away our social safety net, eliminating healthcare services and social security, leaving us all to die in our youth from malnutrition and outbreaks of diseases like cholera.
There is just one problem with that picture. Where will the market for our cheap products be if the whole world is made up of banana republics?
The first boatload of bananas coming from Honduras and Guatemala to Boston sold at a 1000% profit to the merchant.
There has to be a Boston in which to market the bananas.