A brief history of US Latin America policy, its relevance for today, and analysis of what is going on now
July 16, 2019 by epoetus
Putting aside whether or not there really is a spike of migrants from Latin America, as a previous Islanders’ Voice article argues that Trump administration statistical changes have served to “game” those figures, why does Trump continue to treat these migrants so inhumanely?
US policy in Latin America has not been benevolent and focused on helping these countries ‘rise up,’ increase their quality of life or maintain a healthy democracy – it has been about seizing control of the region and maintaining it in a way that benefits US interests. Initially, with the Munroe doctrine in 1823, the goal was to stop the Europeans from continuing to exploit Latin America via encouraging these countries to gain independence – with the support of the US, of course. This policy saw the US actively involved in military interventions, which culminated in what is referred to in history as gunboat diplomacy at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. Throughout the 20th century the basic approach to foreign policy in Latin America has not changed – in fact these policies became much more actively interested and involved in regime change. Not only have these policies not encouraged the development and maintenance of democracies, our policies towards these nations have been and continue to be deeply racist and therefore is framed in a dehumanizing, exploitative and colonizing manner.
Over the past 50 years our overt policies have shifted away from their origins of keeping Europe out of the region towards keeping communism and socialism out of Latin American nations, thus preserving the need to oversee these lesser nations in our backyard. What has happened most recently is US trade policies of Bush Sr. and Clinton Administrations with NAFTA and the Bush Jr. Administration’s CAFTA-DR, have disrupted the economies of the countries associated with the most immigration activity to the United States. Previously it was Mexico, which signed NAFTA in 1994 and had significant impacts to its economy, and now it is Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who signed CAFTA in 2006.
To illustrate, let’s look at Honduras. With the implementation of CAFTA, the US dumped agricultural products like corn, soybeans, wheat and rice at prices below their cost to produce into the Honduran market. The forced migration caused by CAFTA was due to the farmers in Honduras being unable to compete with these dumping practices. Corporate plantations are now actively displacing the indigenous farmers who cannot compete. In addition, more recently climate change has made areas of Honduras – the dry corridor – impossible to farm due to years of drought followed by flooding. This, and the policy of the Trump administration to stop sending aid to address the impacts of climate change, has also contributed to an increase in forced migration to the United States.
And before that it was NAFTA in Mexico, because the whole corn industry in Mexico was destroyed overnight. This triggered the Zapatista revolution in Mexico, and they still control an entire region in Mexico. Two million farmers in Mexico were displaced by NAFTA in the mid 1990s, where the last great spike in forced migrants to the United States occurred.
What has been the US response to these trends? We have never taken responsibility for these crises of our own creation. With respect to NAFTA, our own workers and unions suffered as manufacturing moved offshore. Neither the Democrats and certainly not the Republicans have done anything to stem the suffering caused by these cruel trade policies that have served to accelerate the rise of wealth and income inequality. With Trump, instead of trying to quietly tackle the crises brewing in places like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and now Venezuela by providing aid to help take the trade policy edge off of these countries, his policy has been to remove the aid that we have been providing, thus making the situations in these countries dramatically worse. If anything it is these Trump policies which may have created any supposed rise in migration activity – effectively a Von Munchausen by Proxy problem created by the Republicans who seem to have perpetuated the success of their party using this tactic over and over again. For Trump this is obviously a political win for his racist base, and serves to justify the fascist and increasingly oligarchic policies that he wants to pursue – democracy be damned.
To frame this discussion in a way that takes us down a constructive path and results in the implementation of solutions, is to acknowledge the essence of these terrible trade policies: they are designed to give mega-corporations power over governments and the sovereignty of nations. These trade policies are designed to undermine democracy so that these mega corporations can exploit new markets. For the Corporate Establishment neoliberal Democrats this is a tough pill to swallow, as they have been architecting these policies with the Republicans for decades, but for the progressive wing of the Democratic party this is a very real opportunity to gain ground within the party. In a way this explains why the Corporate Establishment neoliberal Democrats have been so complicit with the Republicans in their response to this issue – if your campaign donors paid you to enact NAFTA, CAFTA, and TPP then it would be difficult for you to identify them as root causes. It may also help explain why their overall agenda contrasts so sharply with the emergence of more liberal and progressive factions within the Democratic party.
Mother Jones on US history of imperialism in Latin America
NPR US Imperialism in Latin America
History of US imperialism in Latin America – a poetic overview
Reuters: There’s money in this: privatization privateer Comprehensive Health Services is paid $750/day/person in detention center and it costs $250/day
Oxford Research – 19th century US policy/imperialism in Latin America
wikipedia US policy in Latin American 19th and 20th centuries
wikipedia US relations
Medium: US intervention set the stage for the immigration crisis
Where are they coming from: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala
Honduras, CAFTA and Berta Caceres
Democracy Now! Immigration policy is bipartisan
Democracy Now! Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya
Climate Change and CAFTA causing forced migrations