Russiagate has been almost completely obscured by the media’s crocodile tears over Latino toddlers being torn from their mothers’ arms at the Mexican border. Neither Gaza nor Yemen — not to mention Syria — have favored the press with comparable tear-jerking moments. The Attorney general, Jeff Sessions, known for his racism as Alabama’s Senator, and who was Trump’s earliest congressional backer, confessed to having ordered this inhumane policy in order to deter Latino families from illegally entering the United States — or even legally seeking asylum. As the President for several days refused to back down until his wife intervened, together with the wives of previous Republican presidents, MSNBC and CNN inundated the airwaves with the sounds of little children crying for their mothers in Spanish.
None so far have asked the obvious question: What has made the people in the US’s back-yard so miserable that they are willing to risk temporarily — or even permanently — losing their children as they try to get into a country where they are not wanted? A recent book titled Crusade and Jihadby William Polk an Arabist and former diplomat, documents all the ways in which the North committed crimes against the South since Great Britain used gains from piracy to take over India two centuries ago. Alas, little attention is paid by academics or journalists to America’s historic treatment of its Hispanic neighbors.
For two centuries, the tiny countries of Central America extending from Mexico to the southern American hemisphere have lurched from one US-backed government to another and from what sociologists call one development path to another, until politically motivated revolts and revolutions were succeeded by gang violence.
Benign neglect is the best one can say about these fiefdoms which United Fruit ruled for over a century. By the 1930s, the vast conglomerate was the single largest land owner in Guatemala. With a total of 3.5 million acres in Central America and the Caribbean, it hadabsolute power over the governments of these small, under-developed countries. (The phraseBanana Republic says it all.)
In 1944, a popular uprising in Guatemalaled to the country’s first democratic election, introducing near-universal suffrage, and a minimum wage. What happened later made it the poster child for Caribbean turmoil until the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The revolution’s second government, led by Jacobo Árbenz, broke up large estates, distributing property to landless peasants, and legalized the Communist Party. These actions threw up red flags in Washington, and when 40% of United Fruit Company’s land was expropriated, the powerful conglomerate persuaded the Truman and Eisenhower administrations that Arbenz planned to align Guatemala with the Soviet Bloc.
As with subsequent U.S. interventions in Central and Latin America, there was little proof of a growing communist threat, however, U.S. foreign policy was — and still is — largely driven by corporate interests. In 1954, the United Fruit Company‘slobbied successfully to have the democratically elected Arbenz governmenttoppled by his opponents. Armed and trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, they made short shrift of Árbenz’sefforts to arm civilians, and he was forced to resign. His US chosen successor assumed dictatorial powers, banning opposition parties, imprisoning and torturing political opponents, and reversing the revolution’s social reforms. Nearly four decades of civil war followed, as leftist guerrillas fought a series of U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes who among other things carried out a genocide among the Mayan inhabitants.
The 1954 coup against Arbenz, which stunned the international left, contributed to long-lasting anti-U.S. sentiment in Latin America, culminating in the Cuban revolution of 1959, which in turn caused the US to redouble efforts to keep the rest of the southern hemisphere under its influence, preventing Central America’s governments from revitalizing their economies and providing a more equitable distribution of wealth. (Efforts to introduce manufacturing were hampered by Central America’s limited mineral and energy resources and by the restricted size of its market, with artisans outnumbering factory workers. The processing of food, beverages, and tobacco and the manufacturing of textiles, shoes, furniture, and leather are the main industries, however agriculture still employs a larger proportion of workers than any other sector—except in Panama, where servicesrelated to the Panama Canal dominate.)
By the 1980s, as the conflict between free-market and Marxist development modelsbrought revolts to every state, up to 1,000,000 people, including an estimated 500,000 Salvadorans, had left their countries, migrating to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Latin America and the US. The ‘Sandinista Revolution’ came to Nicaragua, however its leader shifted gradually to the right and is still in power. In 2009, the legitimately elected president of Honduras Oscar Zelayo, was escorted out of the country by the CIA…..
In the nineties, a resumption of modest economic growth was insufficient to combat endemic poverty, contributing to record levels of formal unemployment as women worked at home for a subsistence income. By 2001Ecuador and El Salvador had adopted the U.S. dollar, which was accepted in Panama and Guatemala as well. In 2016, the U.S. Congress ratified the Central America–Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) to facilitate trade between U.S. and Central American markets. Workers and indigenous groups staunchly opposed it, while business and the government believed it would attract more foreign investment and promoteeconomic growth.
Today, there are still three types of political regimes among the five Central American nations: military-authoritarian (Guatemala, El Salvador), liberal democratic (Costa Rica), and traditional dictatorial (Honduras, Nicaragua), which remain vulnerable to the vagaries of world markets. The US backed several attempts at unification, favored at least in principle, by liberals, however the strength of local elites in each of the republics prevented them succeeding. The formation of the Organization of Central American States in 1951, followed by the formation of the Central American Common Market in 1960 and the 1987 Central American peace plan, included plans for a Central American national parliament along lines similar to those that established the European Union but it never got off the ground, in large part due to the fact that the US wanted to be in charge.
The largely haphazard neo-liberalism that succeeded the iron grip of the United Fruit Company kept Central America hostage to poverty, social injustice and the rule of knife-wielding gangs whose violence harks back to Aztec sacrifices, putting children especially at risk. By the time President Trump was elected, economic stagnation and the increasing presence of murderous gangs had set the American political stage for a clash between humanitarian impulses and a minority’s determination to maintain white supremacy over the North American continent — part of a world-wide movement that is condemned to fail, as I have written on numerous occasions.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.