opinion

OPINION: American imperialism in Honduras is part of what led to mass migration



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Ileana Gonzalez holds back tears as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administer the Oath of Allegiance to America’s newest citizens during a special naturalization ceremony July 3 at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Homestead, Florida. The citizens originate from Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Venezuela. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Several reports have come to light describing the abhorrent conditions migrants face after being detained at the border. Many are rightly describing the migrant facilities as concentration camps.

Children are being kept in crowded cages and being forced to drink from toilets. Adults are being forced to sleep on crowded concrete floors without blankets. Both are given little food or medical attention and are not allowed to shower for weeks on end. 

One El Paso border agent describes them as “the new normal.”

Naturally, immigration is a hot topic in American politics. Conservatives in America cite jobs and fairness in their opposition to illegal immigration. Few openly cite the obvious xenophobia or racism. Liberals have played a largely reactionary role, pushing back on draconian efforts of the right and suggesting some pathway to citizenship. 

However, America’s role in generating the flow of migrants from the global south has been largely ignored in the debate. If we want to stop the flow of migrants, part of the solution is looking at our own actions.The first major caravan originally set off from Honduras during the spring of 2018. Since then, many other migrants have followed suit from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, but the bulk are still Honduran. 

In the United States, Central American countries are synonymous with poverty, crime and violence. We must ask ourselves how it got to this point. 

The United States has a long history of wreaking havoc in Central America. Since the early 20th century, United Fruit Company and other U.S. corporations have been concerned with the threat to profitability posed by democratic governments of places like Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba and many others. These governments had the crazy notion that the profits from their country’s resources should flow primarily to its citizens and not to foreign corporations. 

If a popular government raised wages and increased social services, the contagion could spread to other countries in the region. This is unacceptable to U.S. planners. 

The U.S. backed right-wing governments for decades through military aid, special training and diplomatic support. The U.S. even went so far as to use Honduras as a base of operations for the terrorist wars against Nicaragua’s left-wing government in the 1980s. After the 80s, social movements took place which began to turn Honduras away from authoritarianism and U.S. influence.

Today, the United Fruit Company is called Chiquita. Along with other industries, these are the power centers motivating U.S. policy of keeping corporate friendly leaders in power. 

Modern Honduras is emblematic of this trend. 

In 2009, the U.S. encouraged a military coup that removed the democratically elected left-leaning Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office. According to emails leaked in 2016, this was exactly what the State Department under Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama intended. The U.S. then legitimized the coup by accepting the largely fraudulent elections.

With a weakened central government, crime rose sharply. The spike prompted the U.S. to send millions in military aid to help the coup government to help fight the war on drugs. As is usual with this type of arrangement, the money wasn’t just used to fight drug trafficking.

The government quickly turned to domestic political repression. The U.S. helped train and equip high tech police and military units. These have been unleashed on the Honduran population for the last decade. 

There has been widespread state violence including death squads who carry out political assassinations. High-level activists are targeted with their corpses being strewn in the streets. 

Nothing has changed under the Trump presidency. In 2017, Hondurans held another fraudulent election, which the U.S. recognized. Hundreds of migrants are leaving the country every day. Austerity measures are cutting social services even more. The public objections to these measures are met by harsh violent repression. Recently Max Blumenthal of The Gray Zone interviewed anti-government protesters who described their conditions as “worse than Venezuela.”

It is clear that U.S. support has helped keep the Honduran government in power despite the will of the Honduran people. Economic interests in the area have prompted America to support dictators as part of the growing global right-wing alliance

The case against locking people up in degrading conditions is obvious. The case for allowing people a way out of the nightmare we helped create can only be made to those aware of the facts. Any conversation about the flow of migrants must address the U.S.’ role in destabilizing migrants’ countries of origin.

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