by Mumia Abu-Jamal
I’ve been watching for days now as media reports display the growing hatred at the arrival of Central American children across the Mexican-U.S. border.
American voices crackle with bile as they begin the drumbeat for their immediate deportation.
Vile names are called against them, and they are described as “invaders,” “sick” and “dirty.”
In truth, they are refugees from want and war, almost all the result of U.S. interventions in Central America in support of murderous military governments and the mindless drug war.
These are the grandchildren of NAFTA, the economic policy which leached wealth from Mexico and its neighbors for U.S. corporate greed.
That said, this antipathy shown toward children is deeply disturbing.
It reminds me of the era of World War II, when a bill was submitted in Congress to allow the entry of thousands of German Jewish children. The Wagner-Rogers bill would’ve saved 20,000 kids living in Germany, but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opposed it – and the bill quickly died.
Actually, many American elites opposed it, including Roosevelt’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghtelling, and wife of the U.S. immigration commissioner, who argued that “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”
They are refugees from want and war, almost all the result of U.S. interventions in Central America in support of murderous military governments and the mindless drug war.
Such crude racism portrays the ugliness of Americans, and the day will come when we will look back at how these children are treated today – and we will not feel pride.
This frenzy, this political and social fear whipped up by petty, ambitious politicians will yet pass.
But left behind will be our shame at how a nation that claims so much greatness, can be both so small – and so cruel.
© Copyright 2014 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s latest book, “The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America,” co-authored by Columbia University professor Marc Lamont Hill, available from Third World Press, TWPBooks.com. Keep updated at www.freemumia.com. For Mumia’s commentaries, visit www.prisonradio.org. For recent interviews with Mumia, visit www.blockreportradio.com. Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews. Send our brotha some love and light: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.
Child Refugees and the lies that divide us
by Opal Tometi and Gerald Lenoir, co-directors, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
The humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border has precipitated a sometimes acrimonious debate about “border security” and the limits of U.S. responsibility for people seeking refugee status and asylum. The tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and adults with children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have waded across the Rio Grande and walked out of the Sonora desert into a firestorm of controversy about their right to be here and the appropriate response by the Obama administration.
We at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) take the position that the U.S. government has a moral and legal responsibility to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers and to reunite them with any family members they have in the U.S. U.S. law as well as international treaties and laws are unequivocal about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors, and the obligations of receiving countries to provide safe haven.
Beyond the legal imperatives, the U.S. government has a moral responsibility to act humanely. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Honduras has the highest homicide rate outside of a war zone. Guatemala and El Salvador also have extremely high murder rates. Government repression, death squads and drug wars have made life unbearable for millions of families. If the United States is to live up to the moral precepts our leaders say they espouse, then it is a no-brainer that we should support those who are seeking refuge.
U.S. law as well as international treaties and laws are unequivocal about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors, and the obligations of receiving countries to provide safe haven.
More than that, the United States has a moral responsibility to right the wrongs that it has had a major role in creating. For the past five years alone, the U.S. government has funneled tens of millions of dollars to corrupt militaries and police forces in Central America that has greatly contributed to human rights crises in the region. And historically, U.S. government and corporate support for repressive regimes in Central America has severely weakened democratic institutions and has hampered the social and economic development throughout the region.
In addition, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have helped to undermine local economies in Mexico and Central America and have forced the flow of children and families across borders and into the U.S. Subsidized U.S. crops have flooded Latin American markets, for example, and have resulted in the loss of livelihood for millions of farm families who now seek work in the U.S., including the tens of thousands of Afro-Latinos who are often forgotten in this “debate.”
It is a travesty that there are some with a narrow view of the crisis and of structural racism, like Keli Goff, who in her online opinion piece at theroot.com, has given into the tired “divide and conquer” framing that pits African Americans against immigrants. Her piece promoted a false divide. She makes invisible the fact that our communities have much in common in terms of values, traditions and interests, and her argument suggests that we argue over scraps.
The fact is that the U.S. government has a responsibility to all its residents – whether citizen or not. Arguments such as Goff’s do a disservice to the cause of African Americans to suggest that the money slated to support refugees should be used to meet the employment and education support due to African Americans. While it is true that the U.S. government has misplaced priorities, it does no one any good to point the finger at other groups who have been victimized.
Instead, all of us should champion the cause of the current refugees and asylum seekers and begin to coalesce an inclusive human rights movement that fights for racial, social and economic justice for all people who are left out.
Child refugees: The consequences of the 2009 coup in Honduras
by Hector Luis Alamo Jr.
If we’re going to discuss the root causes of the current Honduran refugee crisis, let’s get a few things straight.
First, the U.S. government continues to fund, orchestrate and support coups across Latin America.
Most Americans who know anything about Latin American history will readily highlight Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1972 and Nicaragua in the 1980s as prime examples of the United States’ antidemocratic tendencies in the region. A few might even mention Panama in 1903 and 1989, Honduras in 1911, Haiti and the Dominican Republic under Wilson, Nicaragua in 1934, El Salvador in ‘44, Cuba in ‘61, Brazil in ‘64, the D.R. again in ‘65, Uruguay in ‘73 and Venezuela in 2002.
There are countless other instances. I’ve just picked the least disputed.
Yet how many people would cite the most recent U.S.-backed coup in Latin America?
In the early morning hours of June 28, 2009, soldiers stormed Palacio “José Cecilio del Valle” in Tegucigalpa, detained the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya (still in his pajamas), and put him on a plane to Costa Rica. Within hours the National Congress accepted Zelaya’s letter of resignation and voted to make the president of the Congress and next in line, Roberto Micheletti, interim president – though the deposed president later called the letter dated June 25 a complete fabrication.
The military was deployed to secure the streets of the capital city, killing at least 12 people following a severe crackdown. Lines of communication were cut, public transportation halted and a curfew imposed.
While I could point to several circumstances showing how what transpired that summer amounted to nothing less than a military coup, I merely need cite the report released by the Honduras Truth and Reconciliation Commission two years after the fact. Reviewing the events leading up to and following Zelaya’s removal from power, the commission concluded that, while Zelaya broke the law by ignoring a Supreme Court ruling against a referendum on a potential constitutional convention, and while the Honduran Constitution lacks provisions for dealing with such a conflict, the National Congress overstepped its authority by removing Zelaya from power.
A cable from the U.S. State Department’s own embassy in Tegucigalpa dated July 2009 put it even more plainly:
“Regardless of the merits of Zelaya’s alleged constitutional violations, it is clear from even a cursory reading that his removal by military means was illegal, and even the most zealous of coup defenders have been unable to make convincing arguments to bridge the intellectual gulf between ‘Zelaya broke the law’ to ‘therefore, he was packed off to Costa Rica by the military without a trial.’”
While President Obama was dragging his feet on whether to continue funding the Honduran military police or not, State Department officials argued that “there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.”
The United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union and the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and Cuba, among others, all called for the immediate restoration of Zelaya’s presidency – all of whom were ignored by the Honduran government.
President Obama paid lip service to democracy by verbally condemning the coup, but his administration didn’t go so far as calling it a military coup, a distinction which would’ve automatically forced the U.S. government to freeze all aid to the regime.
The reasons behind U.S. support for the results of the coup, if not its means, have been quite clear to this day.
Zelaya, elected on the center-right Liberal Party ticket, attracted the ire of Washington when he defected from the neoliberal camp and began buddying up with the Castros in Cuba and the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, eventually having Honduras join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in 2008.
Other sins leading to his ouster included raising the minimum wage 60 percent, providing free education to all children (including free lunch to the poorest children), reducing poverty by 10 percent during his first two years in office and considering an expansion of the reproductive rights of women. Only weeks before the coup, Zelaya had agreed to review the land title claims of the campesinos living in the Aguan Valley, where currently security forces controlled by a rich landowner are engaged in a campaign of severe repression against the same campesinos.
The rich landowner in question is Miguel Facussé, a known narcotrafficker and coup supporter who met with U.S. State Department officials before and after the coup. His security forces conduct their operations in tandem with the Honduran military police, which in turn receives its funding and training from (you guessed it) the U.S. government.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we give countries over to thieves.
Notwithstanding the reasons for the coup, the fact of the matter is that there was a coup in Honduras, one subsequently supported and reinforced by the United States. As Honduras experts like Dana Frank have been pointing out for the past few years, the coup regime that the U.S. government initially pretended to oppose has seen its military police strengthened thanks to increasing levels of aid and training from the U.S. government.
President Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton both endorsed the election of Porfirio Lobo only months after the coup, even while much of the international community deemed it illegitimate and called for the restoration of President Zelaya.
The coup regime continues its rule over Honduras to this day in the person of Lobo’s successor, Juan Orlando Hernández. And, again, outspoken criticism from the likes of Professor Frank have proven invaluable in their insight, showing how the violence, corruption and impunity already endemic to Honduras before the coup were only inflamed by the coup and the regime that came to power.
Be that as it may, whereas most of the finger-pointing has been directed at gangs, the Honduran government, drug users and U.S. foreign policy, I would include yet another culprit: the American people. Yes, the American people are also at fault here – not for something they’ve done, but for something they didn’t do.
Namely, they didn’t give a damn.
For 100 years the U.S. government and its business interests have preserved their little banana republic in Honduras while the American people have hardly taken notice. When they did notice, it was to mock Honduras’ political prostration, dipping so low as to name a clothing store after it. Even now you can Google the term “banana republic” and the first thing you’re confronted with are ads for polos and chinos instead of discussions on U.S. imperialism in Latin America.
Most Americans were glued to their TVs, computers and smartphones in late June 2009, though few people knew about the concurrent coup in Honduras, much less had an opinion. It wasn’t the death of democracy in Honduras they were concerned about then, but the death of a beloved singer.
The international community condemned the coup and called for Zelaya’s reinstatement, while most Americans were completely oblivious to the travesty of justice occurring 1,400 miles south of the border, allowing the U.S. government to continue its tacit support of the coup.
The international community refused to legitimate the elections that brought to power a political rival of the deposed president, while the American people were focused on a golfer’s extramarital activities, allowing the U.S. government to endorse the presidency of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, whose administration subsequently committed all sorts of human rights atrocities in the name of fighting narcos.
Under the banner of the war on drugs, the U.S. government has increased military aid and training in Honduras in the years since the coup, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to a regime known to use death squads and attack defenseless campesinos, LGBT rights supporters, child advocates, political opponents and other critics of the regime. All the while the American people never paid Honduras any mind, which ensured that the U.S. government would never be held accountable for any of it.
To their credit, some members of Congress have voiced their concern over what’s happening in Honduras, even before 13,000 Honduran children seeking asylum showed up at the Rio Grande.
Still, it’s clear that the current refugee crisis was made possible only by the complete and willful ignorance of the American people. I say “willful” because most Americans have purposefully avoided learning anything about Central America, much less Honduras. The military coup came and went, and most Americans viewed it as they do disturbances in Sub-Saharan Africa – being of no importance or consequence to the United States and its way of life.
That’s how much of American foreign policy operates: out of sight, out of mind.
Now that conditions in Honduras have placed the country directly in sight of most Americans, suddenly everyone’s deeply concerned, wondering why and how. Now every newspaper and talk show is decrying the tragedy that is Honduras.
Which brings me to the last issue that needs to be cleared up.
Take it from the son and grandson of Honduran immigrants, the people of Honduras are not “backward.” That’s not why their government is evil, why violent gangs control their neighborhoods, and why women and children are fleeing by the tens of thousands. If Honduras seems “backward,” it’s only because it’s been kept back by the U.S. government and U.S. business interests, which have overthrown the sovereign will of the Honduran people whenever promising reforms were on the horizon.
Between the U.S. government, the American people and the Honduran government, I place the least amount of blame on the “thugocrats” in Tegucigalpa, because as the coup and the United States’ increased aid and training have shown, the Honduran government is only capable of doing what the U.S. government allows it to do.
And the U.S. government is only capable of doing what the American people allow it to do. If not, then the current state of democracy in the United States is no better than it is in Honduras.
But if the U.S. government is still answerable to the American people, then shame on them for looking the other way while their government subverted democracy in Honduras for so long.
And shame on them if they even consider turning their backs now on the children they’ve left nationless.