Reaping What We’ve Sown

On one side of the current migrant crisis we have rabid haters eager to see blood spilled on the border as desperate people try to storm our boundary fences in illegal entry. On the other side we have kind-hearted sympathizers wanting to bring them in, feed them, and let them apply for asylum.

Some news reports say it could take two to four years of processing to verify whether any of these folks deserve asylum. What happens in the meantime, no one knows. Trump wants this to be a warning shot to all of Central Americans — don’t come to the U.S.

What Trump could have done is to send a team to work with these folks when the caravan first crossed into Mexico, giving the U.S .government time to process their claims before they ever neared our southern border. He could have made provisions but instead preferred to incite fear in order to portray himself as some kind of hero.

He could have expanded what other U.S. presidents have done, which is to work within those countries to help those governments get control over violent gangs, build better infrastructure, and enhance job opportunities. Instead, he has threatened to cut programs offering that kind of support, virtually guaranteeing that more people will flee their homelands in search of safety and economic opportunity.

Now we have a situation where all these people can’t possibly be processed fast enough to keep them from starving or spreading disease in ramshackle encampments. As they become more desperate, some will attempt entry. Trump’s solution is to shoot them, which might please his cult of hate, but will remain a blood stain on our nation for the rest of time.

And it won’t solve the problem.

I’m reminded of something my dear friend Virginia said to me back in the early ‘70s. We’d been talking about U.S. foreign policy in Africa and the problem of hunger. Somehow the conversation came around to how many people were starving as Ethiopia and the west African Sahel suffered drought.

“They’re going to come after us someday,” she said.

“What?” I said, thinking there was no way starving people of sub-Saharan Africa were going to swarm our shores.

I couldn’t imagine it. But I’ve remembered her words.

Her premise acknowledged the colonial and imperial mindset of the U.S., the centuries-old tradition of Western European nations who as early as 1500 began raiding less advanced places and looting their wealth. It didn’t matter if the wealth was gold and other precious metals and gems, slaves that could be exploited or sold, or mostly unspoiled land where the Europeans/Americans could commandeer the natives into producing crops of sugar, coffee, tea, bananas, cotton, tobacco, and much more.

In the process of capitalizing on virgin landscapes for timber and crops, Europeans destroyed local traditions, religions, and social structures.  What we’re experiencing now is the fallout. In our rush to grow rich on the wealth of undiscovered lands and defenseless natives, we assumed that the people would either remain subordinate to us and/or that they would assume the traditions, religions, and social structures of the West. Because we were, after all, the ‘most advanced’ societies of the world. Who wouldn’t want to be like us?

Well, it’s now obvious they do want to be like us, but they don’t have 2,000 years of Western Civilization to back up their desires. There is no tradition of capitalism in El Salvador or Ethiopia or anywhere else in these so-called Third World countries. No tradition of schools and literacy, central authority, or democratic institutions predates the invasion of European conquerors. Generally speaking, the conquerors did not see any reason to instill those traditions among those considered useful only to the extent they could work the plantations we built for our benefit, not theirs.

Oh, we might have appeased our consciences with the idea that instilling our values and traditions among these ‘savages’ constituted a beneficent act. We might have believed, as some still do, that without us, they’d still be living in dirt floored huts without any of the advances we enjoy. We ignore the fact that for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, these natives had gone about the business of life in well-ordered societies with their own spiritual beliefs, hierarchies of governance, and social traditions that served them very well. It was our arrogance to believe that we could impose our culture onto them and expect it to work out.

Here’s just one example of where it’s ended up.

When Donald Trump said [in January 2018] he would end temporary protected status for almost 200,000 Salvadorans, the number of immigrants standing to lose protections under this president approached the 1 million mark. This includes people, like those from El Salvador, that now stand to be deported to countries where their lives could be in danger. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest homicide rates—due in no small part to the policies of the country now trying to expel them.

In the early ‘80s, El Salvador was receiving more such aid than any country except for Egypt and Israel, and the embassy staff was nearly as large as that in New Delhi. For Reagan, El Salvador was the place to draw the line in the sand against communism.

Many Americans would prefer to forget that chapter in American history; those under the age of 40 may not even be aware of it. Salvadorans haven’t forgotten, however. In El Mozote and the surrounding villages of subsistence peasants, forensic experts are still digging up bodies—of women, children, and old men who were murdered by the Salvadoran army during an operation in December 1981. It was one of the worst massacres in Latin American history. But while Trump might smear the country’s image with crude language, today El Salvador has a functioning legal system—more than three decades after the event, 18 former military commanders, including a former minister of defense, are finally on trial for the El Mozote massacre.

The U.S.-fueled war drove tens of thousands of Salvadorans to flee the violence for safety in the United States. In the mid-90s, Clinton allowed their “temporary protected status” to expire. This decision contributed to the gang violence that marks El Salvador today—not long ago, when a day passed without a murder, it was banner news. Thousands of the refugees sent back were young men, who had either deserted from the army or the guerrillas during the war. And when they got back to El Salvador, with little beyond their fighting skills, they formed the nucleus of the gangs. (Citation)

These gangs were shaped by the decade-long civil war that began in 1980. Leftist groups battling the government materialized as gangs when hundreds of thousands of young Salvadorians fled to Los Angeles, California. They formed gangs to protect themselves from other marginalized minority groups in the city. Many members were deported from the U.S. years later and brought the gangs with them back to their home country. (Citation)

An informed and thoughtful president thinking in terms of our nation’s future would have acknowledged our history of exploitation in Latin American. A president determined to “make America great” would have brought in the best and brightest advisors to develop and implement foreign policy that would address the problems forcing people to flee their homelands. Instead, Trump has done nothing to work toward solutions. He evidently can’t be bothered to become informed on the root cause of these migrant caravans.

At the margins of the mainstream discursive stalemate over immigration lies over a century of historical U.S. intervention that politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle seem determined to silence. Since Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 declared the U.S.’s right to exercise an “international police power” in Latin America, the U.S. has cut deep wounds throughout the region, leaving scars that will last for generations to come. This history of intervention is inextricable from the contemporary Central American crisis of internal and international displacement and migration.

The liberal rhetoric of inclusion and common humanity is insufficient: we must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States. For decades, U.S. policies of military intervention and economic neoliberalism have undermined democracy and stability in the region, creating vacuums of power in which drug cartels and paramilitary alliances have risen. In the past fifteen years alone, CAFTA-DR — a free trade agreement between the U.S. and five Central American countries as well as the Dominican Republic — has restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weaken domestic industries. Yet there are few connections being drawn between the weakening of Central American rural agricultural economies at the hands of CAFTA and the rise in migration from the region in the years since. In general, the U.S. takes no responsibility for the conditions that drive Central American migrants to the border. (Citation)

So yes, Virginia, you were right. They’re coming after us.

Widely circulated image off tear-gassed migrants trying to gain entry to the U.S., Nov 25, 2018. https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1050269/migrant-caravan-border-US-news-mexico-tijuana-update-trump-live-2018-pictures-video

 

 

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A Presidential Stain

Just like in every other aspect of his privileged yet miserable life, Donald Trump can see only the surface. His “shithole” description of nations like Haiti or those in Africa is apt if you only see the poverty and political chaos. A thoughtful educated person would see beyond that surface to the culpability for all that of white Europeans.

African tribes lived fruitful happy lives in their native state, just as did the natives of the Americas. But their natural progress was interrupted by those from more developed cultures who took them as slaves and exploited the resources indigenous to their lands. Since emerging from the dark ages, European countries have sailed around the world trying to enforce their religious beliefs while at the same time seeking slaves and resources to enrich their nations.

That’s how Haiti became a predominantly black society. When Spanish explorers arrived in 1492, they found a widespread population of the Taino people, a Native American tribe. Disease and genocide pretty well eradicated the Taino by 1625 when Spain’s grip on the island loosened in the face of French, English, and Dutch incursions. France seized control of Haiti and by 1700, France had established plantations for tobacco and cotton and imported African slaves to work the fields. Within the next century, the agricultural focus turned to sugar cane.[1]

Intimidating slaves with unimaginable brutalities didn’t require many whites. Accounts of horrific tortures are preserved in Haitian histories. The island’s populations suffered not only the brutalities of enslavement but also the irregular devastation of earthquakes and tidal waves. The current status of Haiti resulted from the most recent earthquake eight years ago with “a death toll estimated by the Haitian government at over 300,000, and by non-Haitian sources from 50,000 to 220,000.” The quake destroyed the country’s capital city and in the intervening years, hundreds of thousands have died of starvation.

Clone this story of Haiti into a long list of other “shithole” countries referenced by our Moron-in-Chief, with a few tweaks and details thrown in. No one in Africa asked for Europeans to come into their midst to enslave their people and steal their natural resources. Just as Native American tribes had enjoyed a sustainable lifestyle in the lands now called the United States,  African tribes maintained long-held religious practices and lived in stable communities.

Facts about the exploitation of places now referred to as “Third World” are available to anyone with a modicum of curiosity and reason. In a world before Trump, knowledge of these facts by a person elected president would have been taken for granted. Such knowledge would inform attitudes as well as foreign policy, most especially our immigration policies as, allegedly, the most advanced nation on earth.

Slavery became common within much of Europe during the Dark Ages and it continued into the Middle Ages. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. David P. Forsythe wrote: “The fact remained that at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.”[2]

The conquest of African nations occurred for two reasons: Christian zealotry convinced of its supremacy and the acquisition of wealth. Christian and Muslim missionaries still plague Africa, preaching sin and redemption to people who originally possessed sophisticated spiritual beliefs that had served them well for millennia. Social disruption and war resulted—my religion is the true one and infidels must die. Much of the warfare in Africa today is based on conflicts between Christians, Muslims, and tribal traditions. This serves several objectives—it keeps the local people at a disadvantage so they’re more easily exploited and it sells weapons of war, fattening the wallets of First World industrialists.

As for the direct acquisition of wealth, in the ages before modern machinery, slaves were the machines who tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested the crops. Crops for food, crops for textiles like cotton, and crops for rope and other industrial materials enriched farmers. More slaves equaled more money. If advancing social conscience hadn’t eliminated slavery, likely the advance of the machines would have accomplished much of the same thing. (Or, arguably, the elimination of slavery helped push the development of machines.)

But slaves weren’t the only wealth captured from these “shithole” countries and exploited by European conquerors.[3] “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources, including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits.”[4] Once European nations discovered these resources, they couldn’t keep their hands off. Using primarily enslaved indigenous people to perform the labor in mining these resources, European nations built their wealth on the backs of African people and their native wealth.

This smash-and-grab mentality continues today. Much of the chaos of Central and South American countries is a result of American agricultural interests controlling the vast majority of suitable cropland. Here in these winter-free zones, crops can grow year round and keep the supermarket shelves full even in January. The story of American exploitation and criminal interference among our neighbors to the south portends a timebomb waiting to go off in our faces.

Under previous presidents and as the United States has tried to become more than an imperialist power in the world, programs to help improve conditions in “shithole” countries have been an important objective. Unlike our current president, previous holders of that formerly-prestigious office have supported programs to help improve conditions for native peoples. Education, health care, and social reforms have been part of an outreach that included a proportioned immigration quota.

The denigration of nations and even an entire continent by racist labeling shows nothing about those places or their people compared to what it shows about the person uttering the denigration. What Trump’s profanity reveals is a man totally bereft of curiosity, respect, and knowledge about the world around him, a man whose only goal in life is self-aggrandizement. That his petulant narrow vision should spread such shame over our entire nation is a horror that can end none too soon.

~~~

This post is dedicated to Martin Luther King, a man who rose to the pinnacle of human achievement, unlike the man current soiling the White House.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Haiti

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_colonialism

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_resources_of_Africa