One thing you’ll never hear about in Donald Trump’s (or any other Republicans’) incendiary rally speeches about so-called “illegals” trying to come to this country for asylum is the crucial role that three decades of misguided American foreign policy, coupled with Americans’ insatiable appetite for cocaine, played in creating the dismal, murderous and inhuman conditions in the countries those people are fleeing.
Instead, if you attended one of Trump’s mini-Nuremberg spectacles filled with his braying, red-capped, flag-waving goons you’d probably be left thinking these “caravans” of impoverished refugees slowly trudging up through Mexico from Central America just magically materialized because some sudden, random idea popped into their heads one day, compelling them to try to relocate their entire families and all their worldly possessions to the Southeastern U.S, or die of thirst or exposure in the attempt.
You’d be led to believe they just decided on a whim to pick up and leave behind the only homes they’d had ever known, their families, jobs and friends, all their social and economic ties to those countries, just to face the horrors of crossing the barren Mexican desert with little food or water, newborn babies and raggedy-clad toddlers in tow, paying extortionate sums to abusive “coyotes” and human traffickers likely to abandon them after stealing or holding hostage their life’s earnings of a few thousand pitiful pesos. And that’s before they face near-certain rejection (or have their children kidnapped) by thuggish U.S. border patrol agents drunk on power.
It’s mighty inconvenient to point out to Americans that it’s…Americans who are pretty much responsible for the travesty that allowed lethal drug gangs to run rampant and so dominate these Central American countries that ordinary citizens are now forced to flee for their lives. That fact really doesn’t sit well with Republicans trying to demagogue and race-bait the issue back home to their lily-white constituents, and it sure doesn’t sit well with a fascist blowhard trying to get himself re-elected by the same ignorant rubes who he bamboozled the first time around (with a friendly nudge from the Russians).
But it happens to be true. What Donald Trump calls a ” crisis” (and now, we are told, a “national emergency”) on our Southern border is practically 100% American made. Those people are there, trying against all odds to get in, to escape certain death back home, because of us.
The causes behind these dirt-poor migrants’ flight from the hell-holes we callously created and left for them to suffer in has been well-documented for years. But just in case anyone forgot or just doesn’t want to remember, Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has penned a comprehensive indictment of the causes underlying the “caravans” of those immigrant Guatemalan, Honduran and El Salvadoran people who Trump and Fox News impugn with their practiced fearmongering, now on a near-daily basis. The article, titled, The Migrant Caravan: Made in the U.S.A. appears in the newest edition of the New York Review of Books and it describes, in broad strokes, the march of American folly and disregard spanning four decades since the failed “war on drugs” began in earnest, that caused the conditions these poor people are trying to escape.
First, a reality check on the so-called “caravans” is in order:
The migrant caravan that left Honduras and headed north toward the US last October is the largest flight from drug trafficking in history. Though the phenomenon of Central American caravans isn’t new, never before have thousands of people decided to flee from criminal organizations in such numbers. It is, in a sense, the biggest anti-mafia march the world has ever seen.
The “caravans” (which no evidence suggests include any hard-core criminals, gang members, or drug smugglers) form when these poor people, unable to afford any other means of transportation, attempt to protect each other from robbery by sheer force of their numbers. The October 2018 group (that Trump incessantly demonized in his failed attempt to influence last fall’s U.S. midterm elections) originated in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, near the Guatemalan border. From 2011—2014, thanks to a cascade of events all tracing back to American drug consumption and heedless U.S. policies occurring over decades, San Pedro Sula was the most violent city on the planet. Honduras itself ranked just behind El Salvador as the country most dominated by organized crime.
The only thing to do there is escape. The crime syndicates, which have complete control over the region and the power of life and death over its people, have in recent years plunged Honduras into an unofficial state of war. In 2012 the country had the highest murder rate in the world…
The main reason Honduras enjoys this dubious distinction is that it sits directly between the largest cocaine-producing nations, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and the largest cocaine trafficking nation, Mexico. Which in turn supply the biggest cocaine-consuming nation, the United States of America.
It is effectively impossible for its citizens to alter or improve their dismal situation in Honduras. As Saviano points out, those who try, the “activists,” are routinely killed there, as are journalists. Their murders, for the most part, are ignored and unpunished by any governmental authority, because the government itself is a thoroughly corrupt narco-state, with its main currency, cocaine, feeding the hungry noses of Americans since 1975 when the Cali Cartel used Honduras as a staging area for drug shipments to Florida. When U.S. authorities stepped up their interdiction of those sea-borne shipments, a land route, through Mexico, was created for the distribution of the always-demanded cocaine.
In the meantime, brutal and bloody civil wars (aided in the 1980s by venal U.S. policymakers like Bush-pardoned criminal Elliot Abrams, Trump’s new nominee as envoy to Venezuela, and funded and guided by the CIA and the Reagan state department in its Anti-communist crusades) broke out in neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador. These wars were exacerbated by American aid to dictators in the region, provided in the name of fighting communism, but their practical effect was to concentrate wealth among a select few brutal regimes, such as those of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua and Oswaldo López in Honduras, who proceeded to turn their resources on their own people to maintain control.
To save their children from government death squads and massacres like the one that occurred in El Mozote, El Salvador (and subsequently covered up by the Reagan administration as “left-wing propaganda”), parents sent their children, especially their boys, to escape to the United States. These boys, most without any meaningful resources or prospects, found themselves in Los Angeles, and immediately formed gangs to protect themselves from already-existing L.A. gangs of African-Americans (remember the “Crips” and “Bloods?”), Asian-Americans and Mexicans. This is how gangs such as the infamous MS-13 came to be—the “13” is the number of the Los Angeles street where they were headquartered.
The United States ultimately deported thousands of these young men back to their (by then) wrecked native countries, where they were unable to find any legitimate work. Since drugs were the only game in town, they became the foot soldiers and enforcers of the drug cartels that fed the U.S. market. Honduras, in particular, by that time had become an intermediate hub for Reagan’s arms shipments to the “contras,” which Reagan backed to attack the legitimate Sandinista government of Nicaragua, with drug lords being tapped as conduits for clandestine shipments by the by the American government. Engorged with profits from the sale of drugs and arms, these drug lords quickly became the most powerful people in the country, while the U.S. government in its myopic, “anti-communist” fixation, looked the other way. That and a military coup in 2009 which forced out the country’s President Zelaya, helped set the stage for making Honduras the narco-state it is today: the son of Zelaya’s post-coup successor in 2009 was convicted of drug trafficking in 2016. And the brother of the current Honduran President was arrested in 2018 in Miami, again for drug trafficking.
But, as Saviano points out, there was another catalyst:
The involvement of the United States goes further. In 2008 the US government signed the Mérida Initiative with Mexico and the Central American countries, a multiyear agreement under which it pledged to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking by providing those countries (especially Mexico) with economic support, police training, and military resources. This crackdown pushed the Mexican cartels—already under pressure from the war on drugs that Mexican president Felipe Calderón had begun in 2006—to lean increasingly on Central America and its drug gangs.
As a result of the enormously profitable narcotics trade and not indirectly as a result of American policies in the region over the past thirty years, those drug gangs now effectively control such countries as Honduras and El Salvador. The result is what ordinary citizens of these countries have to face on a daily basis:
Gangs control the territory and protect the trafficking of the big cartels. Businesses are subjected to shakedowns, streets become the scenes of clashes between rival gangs competing for dealing locations, and the jungle is a no-man’s land in which clandestine runways are carved for planes loaded with cocaine. Some urban areas are off-limits to ordinary citizens; a perpetual curfew reigns. The maras recruit boys—younger each year—as drug-trafficking foot soldiers; refusing to join can be fatal.
Because no one protects the populace from the abuses and threats of the gangs, people feel abandoned and in constant danger. This feeling is exacerbated by the extraordinary level of impunity in Honduras. In 2013, Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí caused an uproar by declaring before the Honduran Congress that law enforcement had the manpower to investigate only about 20 percent of the nation’s murders, and that therefore the remaining 80 percent were certain to go unpunished. In Honduras (as in other Central American countries) being a sicario—a contract killer—is a real profession: in the morning you wake up and wait for a call asking you to commit a murder, for which you’ll be paid more than you could hope to make at any other job.
What those people in the caravan are trying to “escape” is a life so terrible and fraught with danger that they will risk anything—use any means– to get away from it. So when Donald Trump squeals to his followers about “gang members” and criminals,” what he’s talking about are the monsters those ordinary folks in those caravans are desperately trying to escape, the same monsters that we Americans, our misguided economic and foreign policies, and our “war on drugs” played a large part in creating.
The truth is that we owe these people for what we did to them, and what we did to their countries.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.