The roots of the immigration crisis
Tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them unaccompanied children and teenagers, have flooded into the US illegally in recent years: they are a growing part of a human tsunami that has hit the southern border and caused what many refer to as a humanitarian crisis, overwhelming the local and federal authorities – and becoming a major political issue.
On the one hand, we have immigration restrictionists like Donald Trump, who say that “we cannot be a country and have no borders,” and who vow to build a Wall – “and make Mexico pay for it.” On the other hand, we have Hillary Clinton, who says we should be “knocking down barriers, not building walls,” and claims that Trump and his supporters are motivated by “bigotry.”
Like most partisan political debates, this one gives off plenty of heat without shedding much light. Because the real question is: why are hundreds of thousands of people suddenly abandoning their homes, their families, and their countries to make the long and dangerous trek through Mexico and into the United States? And where are these people coming from?
Contrary to what the Trumpistas seem to believe, the influx of Mexican illegal immigrants has tapered off. Increasingly, the floodtide consists of Central Americans, who are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And while the circumstances surrounding the Great Migration have particular causes in each of these countries, in general the causes are the same: a wave of criminality and chaos, which has its origins in decades of misgovernment and repression. Grinding poverty, the rule of a landed oligarchy, and the de facto dominance of brutal militaries – supported by the US – have stunted and deformed these resource-rich countries, forcing their citizens into what is surely one of the largest population transfers in recent history.
The history of US-Honduran relations is the story of endless meddling by Washington on behalf of crony capitalists, notably United Fruit, now known as Chiquita. A series of invasions and military occupations in the early part of the twentieth century – seven between 1903 and 1925 – ensured that American investors would get good returns on their investments, while keeping the restless natives under the boot of local oligarchs. During the cold war era, the Jeanne Kirkpatrick doctrine of preferring “pro-American” dictators to left-wing democrats prevailed, and the Reagan administration used the country as a base for undermining the leftist Sandinista regime: the contras, funded by Washington, were based in the country, from which they regularly launched terrorist raids targeting civilians.
Ruled by a series of military dictators and juntas since 1955, Honduras returned to civilian rule in 1981, but the military – trained in the US and superbly equipped due to generous aid from Washington – retained its dominance over the political landscape and much of the economy. “Recruiting” consisted of forays into the slum areas and countryside by military patrols, who would then kidnap young men and forcibly conscript them. In this way, the Honduran military resembled a criminal gang, engaging in wholesale extortion, as well as murder and torture of political dissidents. Whatever party occupied the presidency and controlled the legislative branch, the same landed oligarchy, backed by the military, called the shots.
In 2006, however, change was in the air. Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the scion of a wealthy family and head of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise, was elected President. Although he campaigned on a conservative platform, Zelaya soon turned to social reform, including the institution of free public education, free meals for poor students, government aid to small farmers, and other measures aimed at reducing poverty, with some 80% of the population living on a subsistence level.
This turn to the left enraged the oligarchs and the final straw was the entry of Honduras into the ALBA alliance, founded by Venezuela’s leftist caudillo Hugo Chavez. When Zelaya put a constitutional reform measure on the ballot, which would have overturned articles of that document deemed unchangeable, the military used this as a pretext to make their move: they invaded the presidential palace, and bundled Zelaya into exile while he was still in his pajamas. (Coup leaders and their American cheerleaders accused Zelaya of wanting to extend his term in office, limited by the constitution to one term, and set up a dictatorship: today, however, their narrative has undergone a curious reversal: the same people who supported the coup have changed the constitution to allow their candidate to extend his term.)
The role of the US State Department, with Hillary Clinton in charge, was to lurk in the background, quietly supporting the coup leaders while making ambiguous noises in public about the need for “reconciliation.” Meanwhile, behind the scenes, longtime Clinton confidante Lanny Davis, who served as Bill Clinton’s lawyer during the impeachment proceedings against him, was hired by the coup leaders to curry favor in Washington. Mrs. Clinton’s emails, released by the State Department as part of the investigation into her private server, reveal that Davis succeeded.
Instead of cutting off all aid to the Honduran government, as required by law, Clinton’s State Department continued it, albeit at a slightly reduced rate. And while publicly deploring the coup, behind the scenes the Secretary of State utilized her old friend Lanny to open up a back channel to the coup leaders, a process that culminated in a proposed “deal” that would keep Zelaya out of office, while supposedly allowing for his return. The coup leaders, however, broke their part of the bargain, pressuring the legislature to keep Zelaya out of the country. They then held “free” elections characterized by widespread violence, the shutdown of opposition media outlets, kidnappings, and intimidation. Unsurprisingly, the coup leaders won the “election,” and have retained control to this day.
The Clinton State Department rushed to give their imprimatur to the fraudulent election, and Lanny Davis made a pot of money.
In her memoir, Hard Choices, Hillary wrote about her efforts to make the return of Zelaya “moot” by brokering a phony deal, openly admitting her key role in legitimizing the coup. This section was deleted from the paperback edition.
She defends her actions to this day, but the reality is that Honduras descended into chaos and criminality. The drug cartels – who have strong links to the military and the coup leaders (the son of the ex-president and coup leader Porfirio Lobo recently pled guilty to drug trafficking) – instituted a reign of terror, motivating tens of thousands to flee the country. They wound up in the US, where they are welcomed by a woman who shares a large part of the blame for their predicament.
Create a problem – and then pose as the great humanitarian with a solution. That’s the Clinton method, in all its hypocritical sleaziness. Maybe we should send the tens of thousands of Hondurans victimized by her ruthlessly cynical policy straight to Chappaqua, where they can stand outside the gates of her palatial estate chanting “Crooked Hillary!”
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.