Over a century ago, land owners in Central America - specifically El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala (otherwise known as the Northern Triangle area), and in Nicaragua - came to an unofficial agreement with the power brokers in the U.S. aimed at creating political and financial stability at the cost of democratic institutions. As a result, dictatorships became the norm and the local populations were essentially stripped of self-governance. Ever since, the region has been continuously plagued by numerous uprisings, revolutions, counter revolts, severe corruption, and crippling poverty and chaos. Not surprisingly, the U.S. has been a steady supporter of destructive regimes ruling over the area, which has only exacerbated these issues.
In the past four decades alone, the United States has poured countless resources into propping up its chosen governments in Central America under the guise of fighting the communists, terrorists, and gangsters. The result has been a vicious cycle of violence, leading to the rise of criminal gang activity and control.
The U.S. is intertwined in the history of all of these countries. In El Salvador, a coup in 1979 killed key members of a coalition of several left-leaning democratic groups and led to more than 12 years of civil war. The U.S. government was directly aiding the ruling military in committing atrocities, which included recruitment of child soldiers, death squads, and disappearance of dissidents. U.S. tax payers paid the bill for our involvement, to the tune of at least $1M per day, which resulted in the death of over 75,000 people. In just one incident, U.S.-trained soldiers slaughtered over 700 men, women, and children in El Mozote and surrounding villages.
The Guatemalan civil war, caused primarily by multiple U.S. interventions, lasted over 36 years. Over 200,000 people died and the cost to the U.S. taxpayer was immense. In the process, the Guatemalan economy remained stagnant, with corrupt politicians ruling the country, carrying on the deadly cycle of cronyism to this day.
In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, another leftist coalition, came to power in 1979. Less than a year later, Ronald Reagan sent troops to Honduras to train anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan resistance forces - the Contras - on Honduran soil.
The fighting resulted in hundreds of thousands dead in Nicaragua. And, neighboring Honduras became extremely militarized, while civil society went on life support. Both countries lost their attempts at democracy and to this day are suffering from extreme poverty and corruption. Honduras, in particular, has earned the dubious recognition of being one of the most violence-stricken countries on the planet.
Mayhem and upheaval created over the past few decades has led to today, where a caravan of impoverished refugees, made up mostly of women and children from the Northern Triangle area, is now literally walking north to save their lives. Immigration attorneys, faith-based organizations, and others have taken action to ease this human suffering.
President Trump, and many other elected leaders, have chosen to use this time and the bully pulpit to beat down this extremely vulnerable population. To the surprise of the military brass at the Pentagon, President Trump went beyond his original 5,200-troop order for border support and called for thousands more troops, potentially the largest number ever deployed to the US-Mexico border. Both the president and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have at times suggested that soldiers might be ordered to shoot at these refugees! Trump also has suggested vast tent cities and internment camps reminiscent of America's shameful WWII era legacy. The initial cost for this operation is estimated to be over $50 million, but that is certain to rise manifold.
Decades of choices by America's leaders have led to the conditions that these terrified people are fleeing. Ramping up border security to threaten desperate people with more violence is wrong. The world deserves better from us or we are doomed to repeat our most inhumane and shameful history.