From the November-December 2018 issue of News & Letters
Mexico City—On the same day that Trump issued his racist dictate against Central American immigrants fleeing violence and extreme economic hardship—saying they would be treated as criminals if they crossed into the U.S. at other than designated entry portals—we spoke to a few of the hundreds of Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans who had arrived in Mexico City to recuperate before continuing to the U.S. to request asylum.
To arrive here they had to overcome the attempts of the Federal Police to block their entry into Mexico. With hundreds streaming across the border, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s repressors could do nothing. Furthermore, hundreds of Mexican citizens—the Other Mexico—and many civil organizations supported the caravan with clothes, food, and shelter along the route to Mexico City.
As against Trump and his supporters’ slurs of Central Americans as thugs, criminals, diseased, druggies, etc., as well as his ordering thousands of armed troops to the border to cover it with razor wire, we heard the realities of the hardships in their home countries and their hopes for a different life:
JOSE: “I’m from Nicaragua. I decided to leave because we are at war since April. Daniel Ortega is killing many young people because they want him out and he does not want to let go of the presidency. One does not want to die, one wants to continue living for the family. If we stay we can be killed.
“The more people in the caravan, the more unity there is, the more strength. It has been difficult walking. I have blisters on my feet. Entering Mexico was not a problem; we came peacefully. In most towns along the way we were given food, clothes, water, places to sleep, lots of medicines. I want to go to the U.S. for a good life. If Ortega resigns, I would go back to my country in five minutes.
NORMA: “In Honduras there is no work, there is too much crime, we do not have a home and there is a lot of poverty. It is very dangerous. They can kill you for a phone, for anything, even because they do not like someone. People over 30 cannot get any work. I had to take a lot of tests, I passed them and they said: ‘We will call.’ They never call. We live near the terminal where the caravan left and decided to go too. The trip to Mexico has been quite difficult because we had to walk, to go at dawn, got caught in the rain, soaked. Everything has happened to us, but thank God we are here. I am with my family, with my two babies and my husband.”
VIVIANA: “I am from Guatemala, I left because of lack of employment. There is employment, but those of us who only have basic or primary education, we do not have opportunities. There was a hurricane that ruined our house. My family has no home. Because I am the oldest, I decided to emigrate, to work to stabilize my family economically.
“As the caravan passed through Guatemala, I decided to follow them, my family stayed. This trip was difficult because I’m alone, you walk too much. My feet are sore. The people of Mexico have shown solidarity with us. My intention is to travel north, enter, work and then return.”
THE MEANING OF THE MIGRATION
Those hundreds of thousands of Central Americans who self-organized to flee extreme conditions of life and labor in their countries are not simply victims of difficult lives. They are in the process of becoming subjects of social transformation, and exposing the grave contradictions of capitalism in the less technologically developed lands of Central America.
To comprehend the massive exodus from Central America, occurring over decades, we must consider the imperialist role of the U.S. That history began with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, with the U.S. declaring that no European power could play a dominant role in the Americas. It did not protect the Americas from Yankee domination, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean. The twentieth century witnessed so many U.S. military invasions of Central American countries that we cannot take the space to even list them here.
When, in the 1950s through the 1980s, various Latin American peoples demanded self-determination, the U.S. could not always directly invade—though we must not forget the military actions at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Grenada. Instead they massively supported Contras (counter-revolutionaries) in Nicaragua, the counter-revolutionary military in El Salvador, and used Honduras as a main base of operations for U.S. military support. In the Ronald Reagan years the U.S. gave military support to the murderous Guatemalan regime of Ríos Montt. This, after the U.S.- sponsored military coup against a democratically elected government in 1954.
More recently, the 2009 military coup against the populist Honduran president Manuel Zelaya during President Barack Obama’s administration is revealing. The U.S. looked the other way, and has continued “security assistance” to this devastated country where hundreds have been murdered, including the activist-environmentalist Berta Cáceres.
Trump’s current attack on Central American immigrants is not only narrow electoral politics. His worldview is one of racism, misogyny, and cruelty as seen in his policy of separating families at the border. His sending the army to the border and his dictate changing the rules of asylum are part and parcel of this antihuman world view.
The caravans in Honduras, and perhaps in El Salvador and Guatemala, were organized by those opposing the various corrupt governments of Central America. The greater truth is that hundreds and then thousands of Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans spontaneously—after the fear of violence and pain of years of deprivation and poverty—decided, “We must go!” Go in order to escape this impossible reality, and seek a new beginning. Perhaps such a new beginning cannot be found in the U.S. as it is, but only in social transformation in their countries as well as the U.S. But their journeys reveal the truth of present-day reality for millions, and must be supported in every way.