ACTION ALERT: Invasions, Coups, Guns, and Drugs: How the US Sparked the Central American Refugee Crisis -- In 8 Simple Steps
October 27, 2018
CREDO Action & Roque Planas and Ryan Grim / The Huffington Post
Tell the mainstream media to push back on Donald Trump's lies about the migrant caravan. Since the 1950s, the US has sown violence and instability across Central America. Decades of Cold War gamesmanship -- together with the relentless global war on drugs -- have left a legacy of chaos and brutality in these countries. In many parts of the region, civil society has given way to lawlessness. It's these conditions the women, men and children are fleeing.
ACTION ALERT: Media Must Challenge
Trump's Lies about Migrant Caravan
Heidi Hess / CREDO Action
(October 25, 2018) -- The mainstream media must push back on Trump's lies about the migrant caravan.
Some are fleeing death threats against themselves or their children. Others want to escape some of the highest murder rates in the world. Most seek what we all seek: a job, a way to feed their family or the hope of a better life. A huge number are senior citizens or small children. Day after day, mile after mile, in 90-degree heat, they walk. 
Yet Donald Trump insists the migrant caravan from Central America is an invasion force of "criminals" and "Middle Easterners," without the slightest bit of evidence for his racist lies. 
This week's attempted attacks on Trump's political enemies shows that his reckless lies and incendiary rhetoric are dangerous. His vitriol has turned toward the caravan as a way to gin up his supporters before the midterms. We need to remind the media that we expect them to call out Trump's lies, and let them know that we'll have their backs when they do.
For years, people fleeing horrific conditions in Central America have banded together for safety and headed north. Facing homelands and hometowns with some of the highest murder rates in the world, groups leave every few weeks.
One caravan of migrants is not an invasion or a crisis for the United States. Media coverage of this particular caravan that replicates or elevates Trump's talking points serves only to boost his nativist fear-mongering and distract from the real issues facing the country as we head into the midterms.
The media should be reporting that there is an ongoing crisis for the people of Central America that does not have simple solutions. They should remind Americans of our role in contributing to instability in Central America by overthrowing governments, fueling civil wars, mounting a flawed "War on Drugs" and pursuing a reckless policy of mass deportations of US gang members. [3, 4]
They should be reporting that we have a system for processing asylum requests at the border and letting asylum seekers begin to build lives for themselves in the United States while their cases proceed.
They should be reminding readers and viewers that Trump's attacks on those systems have created long waits, overwhelmed immigration judges and the family detention and separation crisis. They should be calling Trump's tweeting out as a craven strategy to influence the midterms and refusing to play into his hands. 
It is unacceptable but not surprising that mainstream media outlets are tuned in and so responsive to Trump's messaging. There is an entire right-wing media ecosystem, including FOX, Sinclair Broadcasting, online propaganda outlets and AM radio shows, which incubates and amplifies it. That ecosystem's relentless claims of liberal media bias -- though false -- have encouraged mainstream outlets to give far too much room to conservative viewpoints, no matter how unfounded.  And the media itself has been a target of some of the worst of Trump's vitriol, leading to CNN being one of the targets of this week's attacks.
Mainstream media outlets know nativist race-baiting is Trump's strategy.  We have to make sure they refuse to help. While conservatives demand favorable coverage, we need to speak out and demand that the mainstream media provide fair and objective reporting on the caravan, immigration and the issues really influencing voters ahead of the midterms.
ACTION: Tell mainstream media outlets: Push back on Trump's lies about the Central American migrant caravan.
Click the link below to sign the petition:
Thank you for speaking out,
Heidi Hess is the Co-Director of CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. David Agren, "'God will decide if we make it': Central American caravan presses northward," The Guardian, Oct. 23, 2018.
2. Ryan Bort, "What to Know About the Migrant Caravan (Beyond Trump's Lies)," Rolling Stone, Oct. 22, 2018.
3. Leon Krauze, "Trump vs. the Caravan," Slate, Oct. 22, 2018.
4. Roque Planas and Ryan Grim, "Here's How The US Sparked A Refugee Crisis On The Border, In 8 Simple Steps," HuffPost, Nov. 5, 2014.
5. Joan Walsh, "Trump's Midterms Strategy Is Fear, Lies, and (White) Nationalism," The Nation, Oct. 23, 2018.
6. Matthew Yglesias, "The hack gap: how and why conservative nonsense dominates American politics," Vox, Oct. 23, 2018.
7. Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey, "Trump and Republicans settle on fear -- and falsehoods -- as a midterm strategy," The Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2018.
Here's How The US Sparked
A Refugee Crisis on The Border, In 8 Simple Steps
Roque Planas and Ryan Grim / The Huffington Post
(November 5, 2014) -- The 57,000 children from Central America who have streamed across the US-Mexico border this year were driven in large part by the United States itself. While Democrats and Republicans have been pointing fingers at each other, in reality the current wave of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has its roots in six decades of US policies carried out by members of both parties.
Since the 1950s, the US has sown violence and instability in Central America. Decades of Cold War gamesmanship, together with the relentless global war on drugs, have left a legacy of chaos and brutality in these countries. In many parts of the region, civil society has given way to lawlessness. It's these conditions the children are escaping.
1: 1954: US Overthrows Arbenz
The story of the US-led destabilization of Central America began in 1954, with the overthrow of the elected Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. A populist leader inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal," Arbenz had plans for an ambitious land redistribution program that aimed to help a nation composed largely of landless farmers.
But those plans butted against the interests of the United Fruit Company, a US corporation that owned much of Guatemala's arable land, along with railroad infrastructure and a port. The CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Arbenz government, laying the foundation for decades of government instability and, eventually, a civil war that would claim more than 200,000 lives by the 1980s. That war wasn't fully resolved until the 1990s.
"Our involvement in Central America has not been a very positive one over the last 60 years," Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, told The Huffington Post. "You can go back to the coup that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, fully backed by the Eisenhower administration and the Dulles brothers, who had an interest in the United Fruit company, whose fight with the government really precipitated the crisis that led to the coup."
It set a pattern. "You look at the decades following that, and the military strongmen, and the juntas, and the mass killings, and it's no wonder Guatemala is in such terrible shape today," O'Rourke said.
2: US Fuels Civil Wars
Along with the decades-long war against leftists in Guatemala, the US organized and funded El Salvador's protracted war with the FMLN, a left-wing guerrilla movement. The US also funded counterinsurgency efforts in Honduras, which became a staging ground for the Contras. Death squads flourished, more than 75,000 people died and civil society collapsed.
If today's crisis were simply a result of Central American confusion about the president's policy regarding immigrant children, as is widely alleged, one might expect children to be coming in equal numbers from every Central American country. But notably, Nicaragua -- a country that borders Honduras, and one in which the US failed to keep a far-left government from coming to power -- is today relatively stable and not a source of rampant migration. It is led by President Daniel Ortega, whose Sandinista movement took power in 1979 and held off the US-backed Contras until an opposition government was elected in 1990.
"You see the direct effects of these Cold War policies," Greg Grandin, a professor of Latin American history at New York University, told The Huffington Post. "Nicaragua doesn't really have a gang problem, and researchers have traced this back to the 1980s and US Cold War policy."
3: Refugees Flee Central America For The US
With wars come refugees. The young people who streamed into the United States from Central America in the late '70s and '80s had deep experience with violence. When Alex Sanchez, the executive director of Homies Unidos in Los Angeles, made his first journey from El Salvador to the United States in 1979, he was only 7 years old.
Like many of the 57,000 children stopped at the US-Mexico border in 2014 -- most of them from Central America -- Sanchez came to the US searching for his parents, who had immigrated to Los Angeles five years before. When the adults he was traveling with handed him and his 5-year-old brother to their parents in L.A., Sanchez no longer recognized them.
"All I had was a black-and-white picture of my mother from when she was 16," Sanchez told The Huffington Post. "These two people were complete strangers to us now. We didn't know them anymore. We thought initially that we had been sold, given to strangers -- we didn't know what to make of it."
4: The US Launches The Drug War As Cities Are Hollowed Out
In the mid-'80s, President Ronald Reagan and his Democratic ally, then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.), joined forces to implement draconian drug penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences and penalties for crack that were famously much harsher than those for powdered cocaine.
The total US prison population surged from 330,000 inmates in 1980 to 1.57 million in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics -- making the American prison population the largest in the world.
5: The Drug War And Mass Incarceration Leads To A Rise Of Gang Violence
Once in the US, 7-year-old Alex Sanchez had trouble adapting at school. As a Salvadoran, he was an outsider. As a young boy recovering from the trauma of seeing decapitated bodies on the way to school, or avoiding shortcuts across the railroad tracks because of gunfire, he was doubly isolated from his peers. Classmates beat him up.
One day, when a bully started giving him trouble, Sanchez fought back. "I punched him until I started crying," Sanchez said. "And for me that moment was my own therapy. I just released all this anger that I had inside on this kid."
The next chapters in Sanchez's life serve as a microcosm of the United States' dysfunctional relationship with both Central America and its own communities of color. When Sanchez got to middle school, he banded together with a group of Salvadorans who'd had experiences similar to his. With strength in numbers, they protected each other. It was the 1980s, and like other American teenagers, they listened to heavy metal and wore their hair long. It wasn't quite a gang -- at least not at first -- but it evolved into one.
For Sanchez, what began as way of protecting himself as an outsider developed into an increasing involvement in gang culture. He was arrested and placed first in juvenile detention, then in prison. It didn't bother him at the time. He knew that the more time he spent in jail, the more cred he'd have with the gang when he got out. "I actually had a bet with one of my friends over who would go to jail first," Sanchez said. "I beat him by a week."
Sanchez and his friends grew hardened by their run-ins with the law. Authorities shaved the long hair they had once favored.
"Once people started coming out from juvenile hall, they were bringing this different culture to the neighborhood," Sanchez said. "It didn't help us to be rehabilitated. It made us worse."
Sanchez's experience in the prison system paralleled dramatic changes in the US's approach to law enforcement and incarceration. "You've taken people who've been petty criminals at best and turned them into hardened gang members by their exposure to these extremely violent, very sophisticated criminal networks that operate out of US prisons," O'Rourke told HuffPost.
6: With Some Stability Restored, The US Sends
A Wave Of Gang Members Back To Central America
After serving their sentences, many gang members were deported back to Central America, where they quickly became a dominant force. "They set up their own fiefdoms within these borderline failed states," said O'Rourke, "and again, you see how you can have the situation that we have today in Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras."
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) recalled growing up in Los Angeles and watching the gang problem evolve into a deportation problem. "I do remember us deporting many, many Salvadorans," Bass said at a press conference last month. "One of the things that we exported was a gang problem that then flourished in their country, and now we're having this boomerang effect."
Robert Lopez, who covers gangs for the Los Angeles Times, told NPR that many of the deported gang members thrived in the countries of their birth. "I've talked to veteran gang members who recall the early days when they arrived in the early 1990s and late '80s, and they were there with their baggy pants, their shaved heads, their gang tattoos. And this was just such an attractive thing for Salvadoran youths," Lopez said. "One gang member recalled inducting several hundred new members in a matter of several days."
Sanchez was among those who returned. In the summer of 1994, he was deported back to El Salvador -- a country he no longer knew. He arrived with his grandfather's address scrawled on a piece of paper.
In El Salvador, Sanchez found an environment where gang culture was thriving. Just two years earlier, the Chapultepec Peace Accords had ended more than a decade of civil war, but the country remained violent. The homicide rate stood at 139 per 100,000 in 1995 -- far higher than any country in the world today. El Salvador's public institutions were hobbled and its families broken up by both war and migration.
The streets were filled with homeless kids, known colloquially as "huelepegas," or "glue sniffers," whom police harassed as they went about begging for change. Like Sanchez in Los Angeles, those kids found refuge in gangs. They especially looked up to people like Sanchez, who had belonged to what local youths viewed as the more glamorous American gangs they'd seen portrayed on television, Sanchez said.
"All those kids had to do was put a number on their face and go ask for money and now people were terrified of them," Sanchez said. "Before, they treated them like shit. Now they were like, 'Please don't hurt me.'"
The US-born gangs of El Salvador like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) or 18th Street are perhaps the best known, but similar street gangs popped up throughout the so-called "Northern Triangle" countries of Central America -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
While deportees brought many of these gangs to Central America, Steven Dudley, director of InSight Crime, a publication that covers security in Latin America, said it would be wrong to conclude that deportees created the region's problems with violence.
"The idea of deportees in and of themselves being the cause of the gang problem in Central America is erroneous," Dudley told HuffPost. "It certainly has been a contributing factor, but there is every reason to believe that it is the conditions in which these deportees have integrated themselves that has allowed these gangs to surge."
7: The US Escalates The Drug War
The vast majority of cocaine consumed in the United States is produced in Colombia. In the 1990s, the US and Colombian governments, operating together under a security pact called "Plan Colombia," decimated Colombia's Cali and Medellín cartels and broke up Caribbean transit routes.
So power shifted to Mexican cartels. In 2006, with the backing of the US, Mexico launched an all-out war on its cartels. The war has left more than 70,000 dead and severely undermined the Mexican people's faith in their government.
The violence has since drifted southward. The cartels -- some led by the same people who had belonged to US-funded Central American special forces like Guatemala's Kaibiles -- have pushed into Central America, where they've encountered gangs ready to participate in the now-lucrative trade and carry out smaller jobs.
"Today, you have an increasingly large consumer [drug] market there that these criminal organizations are taking advantage of to grow and become more sophisticated," Dudley said. "The transnational cartels are much bigger-picture. Those groups, while they might have contact with and in some cases use the gangs for specific tasks, like assassinating a rival, their relationship is not one that is integral or organic . . . [The local gangs] do spot or contract work."
8: 2009: Another Coup
In 2009, the Honduran military, with the backing of the Supreme Court, illegally overthrew the elected government of President Manuel Zelaya, a populist reformer. In contrast to the governments of Latin America -- many of whose histories are marred by US-backed coups -- the American government balked at using the term "coup" in this case, and made little effort to get Zelaya returned to power, instead pressuring Honduras' neighbors to recognize the new government.
The de facto government in Honduras used the military to quell protests and re-establish order in the capital. Drug cartels stepped in along the Honduras-Guatemala border, exploiting the power vacuum, according to a report published in June by the International Crisis Group.
"Local law enforcement, always weak, fell into disarray," the report says. "The US, concerned about providing assistance to an unaccountable and illegitimate regime, suspended non-humanitarian aid, including counter-narcotics assistance. The result was a 'cocaine gold rush,' as traffickers hurried to secure routes through the region."
They succeeded. A 2012 State Department report estimated that as much as 90 percent of the 700 metric tons of cocaine shipped from Colombia to the US every year passes through Central America.
A sharp escalation of violence accompanied the 2009 coup and the expansion of cartel operations. The Honduran homicide rate spiked from an already high 61 per 100,000 in 2008 to 90 per 100,000 in 2012 -- the world's highest murder rate, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Today, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are horrifyingly dangerous places. Children are fleeing. The response from much of Congress and the tea party has been to argue for the repeal of immigration laws so that the US can quickly deport the children back to their devastated home countries.
But that, said O'Rourke, is an abdication of responsibility. "Just on basic humanitarian grounds we should do the right thing by these kids and accept them as refugees -- or the legal term is 'asylum seekers' -- but we also own this problem, we have culpability in it, whether it's our involvement with thuggish governments there in the past, or whether it's the fact we are the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs that are transited through these countries, or whether it's the war on drugs that we've foisted upon these countries," he said.
"All of those things contribute to the destabilization, the insecurity, the failed governance, the lack of civil society development. So, one, we should help now that we've done so much to create this situation and, two, we should work constructively with regional partners to rebuild these societies to the best that we can."
Why Latin Americans Really Come To The US
The Huffington Post
It's not just about the 'American Dream'
The conventional wisdom says that most Latin American migrants who come to the United States are looking for a better life, inspired by the "American Dream." And it's hard to deny that there's a lot of truth in that.
But there's another side to the story. People leave Latin America because life there can be very hard. Poverty, political instability and recurring financial crises often conspire to make Latin American life more challenging than in the US, a wealthy country with lots of job opportunities living on the northern side of the US-Mexico border, it's easy to view Latin America as another world, isolated from the United States.
But the truth is that the US government has historically made life in Latin America harder by overthrowing democratically elected governments, financing atrocities and pushing trade policies that undermine Latin American industries, dealing blows to local economies. Perhaps instead of building walls, the United States should focus on being a better neighbor.
Here are 19 ways the US government has helped
spur immigration by making life harder in Latin America.
1: US took over almost half of Mexico
In 1846, shortly after the annexation of Texas, President James Polk ordered US troops into disputed lands, precipitating a war against Mexico. The war ended with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. This is what Chicano activists mean when they say "the border crossed them." Today, 33.5 million people of Mexican origin live in the United States.
2: Colonized Puerto Rico in 1898
The United States invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish American War and has retained control of the island ever since. More people of Puerto Rican descent currently live in the United States than on the island.
3: Took over Cuba, put a naval base there, and only left when the new government allowed them the right to intervene at will
And yet somehow, US politicians viewed themselves as liberators. Later US administrations would use the naval base to jail suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, also submitting them to torture tactics, according to Human Rights Watch.
4: Invaded and occupied Cuba two more times
Because once wasn't good enough, the United States invaded and occupied Cuba again in 1906 and once more in 1912. It retained the legal authority to intervene in Cuba's affairs until the 1933 Sergeants' Revolt overthrew US-backed dictator Gerardo Machado.
5: Invaded Nicaragua and occupied the country for two decades
The United States invaded Nicaragua in 1912 and occupied the country until 1933. Shortly after the US forces left, Anastasio Somoza took over, launching a decades-long dynastic dictatorship with US support.
6: Invaded Haiti and occupied the country for nearly 20 years
Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to invade and occupy Haiti in 1915 after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn't leave until 1934.
7: Invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916
Mainly to collect debts, the United States invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916. The occupation lasted eight years.
8: Overthrew Guatemala's elected government in 1954
At the behest of United Fruit Company, a US corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
9: Organized the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961
The CIA organized and financed a group of anti-Fidel Castro exiles in an ill-fated attempt to overthrow the revolutionary government. The botched invasion ended in disaster and Castro declared himself a "Marxist-Leninist" eight months later.
10: Supported the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Brazil
The administration of Lyndon Johnson assisted the overthrow of the democratically elected Brazilian government in 1964. The resulting military dictatorship, which tortured thousands of opponents and "disappeared" hundreds, ruled the country until 1985.
11: Helped overthrow Chile's elected government in 1973
Gen. Augusto Pinochet, with the support of the Nixon administration, overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, ushering in decades of violent dictatorship.
12: Backed a military dictatorship in Argentina that killed 30,000 people
When the military overthrew the Argentine government and installed a dictatorship in 1976, the Gerald Ford administration responded by offering its wholehearted support and financial assistance. The dictatorship lasted until 1983.
13: Paid a failed rebel army to overthrow the Nicaraguan government
When the left-wing Sandinista government rose to power in Nicaragua, it did not please Washington. In 1979, the US began years of financing the "Contras," a right-wing group responsible for committing atrocities and smuggling drugs into the US with the Reagan administration's knowledge.
14: Invaded Haiti again in 1994
One invasion wasn't good enough. The US military returned in 1994.
(A US Army soldier monitors the surroundings of the National Palace, on Oct. 15, 1994, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.)
15: Fomented a rebellion in Panama in order to build a canal
The Theodore Roosevelt administration helped a group of Panamanian nationalists break away from Colombia, after that country's Senate rejected the terms of a deal to allow the US to use its territory there to build a canal. After Panama broke away, the new country ceded permanent control of the canal zone to the US government, which finally returned it in 1999, after years of protests.
16: Backed the Salvadoran military as it committed atrocities in the 1980s
El Salvador's military committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with US funding, including -- but not limited to -- raping nuns, assassinating priests and killing hundreds of children in a single massacre at the village of El Mozote.
17: Refuses to control the flow of weapons into Mexico
Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of US origin from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the US Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels.
18: Helped create today's drug cartels
The US funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of US military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel.
19: Pushes trade policies that lead to unemployment
One of the things that prompted millions of low-wage workers to abandon Mexico over the last two decades was the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
With NAFTA, cheap imports, particularly agricultural products, flooded the Mexican market, leaving farmers and other low-skilled workers without jobs. NAFTA is just one manifestation of free trade policies pushed in Washington that often have adverse effects in Latin American countries.
Former President Bill Clinton acknowledged as much after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, saying that opening up the Haitian market to cheap US rice "may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. . . . I had to live every day with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did, nobody else."
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