Humanitarian Crisis Has Roots in U.S. Policy

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Humanitarian Crisis Has Roots in U.S. Policy


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Reuben Zahler, Edward Olivos and Ken Neubeck

The recent wave of migrants from Central America, many of them mothers and children or unaccompanied children, has caused powerful and varied responses in the United States. To a large degree, this humanitarian problem has been treated with disturbing historical short-sightedness.

Across the political spectrum, much of the debate has failed to recognize fundamental truths: The seeds of this migration were sown decades ago and have been growing ever since. The United States is complicit in creating the disastrous political, economic and security conditions that have compelled tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. The United States has a compelling responsibility to help clean up the terrible conditions it has created.

U.S. dominance in the Caribbean basin began in earnest after the Spanish- American war of 1898 and became particularly dangerous during the Cold War, as officials viewed Latin America as a front in the battle against Soviet-led world communism. Our government gave preference to security over development, supporting repressive military regimes rather than economic or political development. It tended to see democratic or nationalist movements as potentially pro-communist, and sought to suppress them.

Central America suffered from widespread poverty and illiteracy; economic reform was blocked because a tiny, wealthy minority, along with foreign corporations, owned almost all of the decent agricultural land. In 1951, Guatemalans democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz as president, and he initiated reforms to give the poor more economic and political opportunity. The Eisenhower administration determined that Arbenz might be a communist with ties to the Soviet Union. In 1954, the CIA went into Guatemala, organized a coup and installed a military-led government.

The military, with CIA support, refused to allow new elections. By 1960 a civil war broke out because there was no chance of legal or political reform. This war lasted until 1996, terrorizing the population. During the 1980s, the military regime, with support from the Reagan administration, engaged in genocide against its own people.

El Salvador, a poor country controlled by a wealthy minority, suffered a similar fate. Its military suppressed any reformist social movements. El Salvador's horrific civil war lasted from 1979 to 1992, with a U.S.-backed military killing rebels and civilians indiscriminately. As in Guatemala, the government engaged in state terror: kidnappings, torture, disappearances, rape, wiping out entire villages, and more. Investigators have found that among Salvadoran officers cited for torture, massacres and war crimes, 75 percent trained at the U. …

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