Here’s How The U.S. Sparked A Refugee Crisis On The Border, In 8 Simple Steps | Huffington Post
The 57,000 children from Central America who have streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border this year were driven in large part by the United States itself. While Democrats and Republicans have been pointing fingers at each other, in reality the current wave of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has its roots in six decades of U.S. policies carried out by members of both parties.
Since the 1950s, the U.S. has sown violence and instability in Central America. Decades of Cold War gamesmanship, together with the relentless global war on drugs, have left a legacy of chaos and brutality in these countries. In many parts of the region, civil society has given way to lawlessness. It’s these conditions the children are escaping.
1) 1954: US Overthrows Arbenz
The story of the U.S.-led destabilization of Central America began in 1954, with the overthrow of the elected Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. A populist leader inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Arbenz had plans for an ambitious land redistribution program that aimed to help a nation composed largely of landless farmers.
But those plans butted against the interests of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation that owned much of Guatemala’s arable land, along with railroad infrastructure and a port. The CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Arbenz government, laying the foundation for decades of government instability and, eventually, a civil war that would claim more than 200,000 lives by the 1980s. That war wasn’t fully resolved until the 1990s.
“Our involvement in Central America has not been a very positive one over the last 60 years,” Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, told The Huffington Post. “You can go back to the coup that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, fully backed by the Eisenhower administration and the Dulles brothers, who had an interest in the United Fruit company, whose fight with the government really precipitated the crisis that led to the coup.”
It set a pattern. “You look at the decades following that, and the military strongmen, and the juntas, and the mass killings, and it’s no wonder Guatemala is in such terrible shape today,” O’Rourke said.
2) U.S. Fuels Civil Wars
Along with the decades-long war against leftists in Guatemala, the U.S. organized and funded El Salvador’s protracted war with the FMLN, a left-wing guerrilla movement. The U.S. also funded counterinsurgency efforts in Honduras, which became a staging ground for the Contras. Death squads flourished, more than75,000 people died and civil society collapsed.
If today’s crisis were simply a result of Central American confusion about the president’s policy regarding immigrant children, as is widely alleged, one might expect children to be coming in equal numbers from every Central American country. But notably, Nicaragua — a country that borders Honduras, and one in which the U.S. failed to keep a far-left government from coming to power — is today relatively stable and not a source of rampant migration. It is led by President Daniel Ortega, whose Sandinista movement took power in 1979 and held off the U.S.-backed Contras until an opposition government was elected in 1990.
"You see the direct effects of these Cold War policies," Greg Grandin, a professor of Latin American history at New York University, told The Huffington Post. "Nicaragua doesn’t really have a gang problem, and researchers have traced this back to the 1980s and U.S. Cold War policy."
3) Refugees Flee Central America For The U.S.
With wars come refugees. The young people who streamed into the United States from Central America in the late ’70s and ’80s had deep experience with violence. When Alex Sanchez, the executive director of Homies Unidos in Los Angeles, made his first journey from El Salvador to the United States in 1979, he was only 7 years old. Like many of the 57,000 children stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 — most of them from Central America — Sanchez came to the U.S. searching for his parents, who had immigrated to Los Angeles five years before. When the adults he was traveling with handed him and his 5-year-old brother to their parents in L.A., Sanchez no longer recognized them.
“All I had was a black-and-white picture of my mother from when she was 16,” Sanchez told The Huffington Post. “These two people were complete strangers to us now. We didn’t know them anymore. We thought initially that we had been sold, given to strangers — we didn’t know what to make of it.”
4) The U.S. Launches The Drug War As Cities Are Hollowed Out
In the mid-’80s, President Ronald Reagan and his Democratic ally, then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.), joined forces to implement draconian drug penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences and penalties for crack that were famously much harsher than those for powdered cocaine. The total U.S. prison population surged from 330,000 inmates in 1980 to 1.57 million in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics — making the American prison population the largest in the world.
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