Phil McManus: Past policies pushing child migration

By Phil McManus

Notably missing was a justice lens informed by the historically troubled relations between the U.S. and Central America. In its absence, questions about what unfathomable levels of violence lead parents to send their kids on such a dangerous journey, what is causing that violence, and how to reduce it are difficult to answer.Even the case of those primarily fleeing poverty begs the question: Historically, has U.S. policy been aimed at reducing disparities or, instead, taking advantage of them to access cheap labor and resources? Nine years after the US pushed through the Central America Free Trade Agreement, the fleeing children’s utter lack of hope in their future at home (an attitude obviously shared by the gangs some are fleeing) suggests the latter.Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras account for 74 percent of the surge in child migration, Part of its self-proclaimed “backyard,” the U.S. has treated these countries as assets to be exploited. U.S. efforts to undermine democracy were spectacularly illustrated in Guatemala. Its “democratic spring” was ended by a CIA coup in 1954. A bloody, three-decade civil war followed. Hundreds of thousands, mostly noncombatants, were killed. Guatemala today is still characterized by extreme social inequality, pervasive drug violence and corruption, and impunity for human rights violations. During El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, the U.S. funded a rapacious military in the service of the economic elite (the so-called “14 families”). Over 75,000 were killed. More than a half-million Salvadorans fled to the U.S. Because the military they were fleeing was U.S.-funded, very few received asylum. Left to fend for themselves, some joined gangs. When violent gangsters were deported to El Salvador, they brought their gangs with them.The term “banana republic” originated from the fact that the United Fruit Company, with its close ties to the U.S. government, effectively ran Honduras. When Honduran President Zelaya, a son of the oligarchy, turned populist and advocated for reform, the jilted oligarchy staged the 2009 coup. Since then, and while U.S. aid has continued to flow, protests have been violently repressed, at least 30 journalists have been murdered, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, and pervasive institutional corruption makes the government itself look like a gang.

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