The facts are simple: around 7000 migrants from Central America are making their way on foot through Mexico and hope to seek asylum at the US border in the next few weeks. As of today, PBS NewsHour reports that they are about 1000 miles from the US Southern border.
President Trump has made outrageous claims about this caravan of migrants.
Daniel Dale, from the Toronto Star says, “Trump escalated his immigration dishonesty on Monday morning. Seizing on a groundless claim from a host on his favourite Fox News morning show, he tweeted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” to a caravan of Latino migrants that began in Honduras.”
Anne Gearan and Jeremy Duda in the Washington Post write – “Democrats, Trump said, want to give immigrants free livelihoods with no strings. “Next thing you know, they’ll want to buy ‘em a car,” Trump said. Maybe, he said, a “Rolls-Royce, made not in America so I hope that’s not what we do.” Vice President Mike Pence joined the chorus saying it’s inconceivable the caravan includes nobody from the Middle East. These are statements made to inflame sentiments of all Americans that there are Honduran freeloaders who want to just come here and make the American taxpayer pay for everything in their lives.
This inflammatory rhetoric has to be called as lies, not false claims said Daniel Dale emphatically on the PBS NewsHour evening news report today. On Twitter, he wrote “I’ve fact-checked every word Trump has uttered for two full years. This is one of his most dishonest weeks in political life. He’s lying about so many different things at once, and in big ways — not exaggerating or stretching, completely making stuff up.” Today’s editorial in the New York Times has a title that says it all – Donald Trump is Lyin’ Up a Storm: Is there an election or something?
Even if Dale and others are constantly calling out the lies as they seem to swarm the news cycle every day, they are working. They are working to create the narrative of the us versus them. They are working with the Republican base that pushed him into power. They are making insidious inroads into the minds of Democrats too. Comments in the New York TImes articles in the past few days from registered Democrats mirror this split, with some readers saying – “I am an avowed Democrat; but, I do not want open borders.”
In this dangerous us vs. them rhetoric fanned not by elements on the right or the left but by President Trump who stands behind the seal of the Government of the United States when he speaks, conversation based on facts is lost; historical reasoning is completely shoved aside; reasons for why this is happening don’t even figure in the conversation. When men and women leave behind all that is familiar to come to this country, there must be compelling reasons which makes life unbearable for them in their home country. Really compelling reasons, don’t you think?
Take this 2017 report on human rights abuses committed in Hondurans by their own government. A report filed by the US State Department. “There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.”
A drug czar who was working assiduously to change the stranglehold that the drug trade had on high ranking members within political circles and law enforcement was gunned down by his country’s policemen. In 2009, according to TIme magazine, Julian Aristides Gonzalez had just dropped off his daughter at school. A ‘fake’ police block was set up and eleven shots were fired into the car by policemen. The article goes on to state – “The drug conflicts have pushed up the Honduran murder rate, which hit 53 per 100,000 last year — one of the worst rates in the world. Few homicides are solved.”
Joseph Nevins, professor at Vassar College says, “The mainstream narrative often reduces the causes of migration to factors unfolding in migrants’ home countries. In reality, migration is often a manifestation of a profoundly unequal and exploitative relationship between migrant-sending countries and countries of destination. Understanding this is vital to making immigration policy more effective and ethical.”
The unequal relationship extends all the way to the beginning of the 20th century where the name of the game has always been to exploit. Nevins says, “U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.” By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.”
Fast forward to the 1980s. Nevins writes, “As part of its effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua and “roll back” the region’s leftist movements, the Reagan administration “temporarily” stationed several hundred U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Moreover, it trained and sustained Nicaragua’s “contra” rebels on Honduran soil, while greatly increasing military aid and arm sales to the country. The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.”
In 2006, Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist came to power hoping to change his country’s destiny and its entanglement with the military establishment. Nevins says, “He tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.” He goes on to say, “The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.”
This is why men, women and children are walking. Not because the Democrats are ready to hand them the keys to a Rolls Royce – let’s get some historical perspective about this migrant caravan.
Most importantly, let’s get some truth into the national conversation on the caravan to counter the lies of the President. His lies dominate the news cycles. He’s loud and brash. He cares about the midterm results – we do too. We don’t have to speak lies. We should not support them.
We just need to walk into that voting booth and vote, quietly.
Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing Editor of India Currents magazine.