What goes around south of the border comes around                 

Published: 4/6/2019 8:14:05 AM

There is an expression from the African-America community of the 50s and 60s that I cannot get out of my head: “What goes around comes around.” As thousands of immigrants flee violence and terror in Central America, that expression takes on profound contemporary meaning.

Most of my readers may ask ‘Why?’ The answer is quite simple: because our country, the United States, has contributed mightily to creating the conditions that make countries like Honduras and El Salvador virtually unlivable. Smedley Butler, described by General Douglas MacArthur as one of the truly great generals in American history, would have understood exactly what that expression meant.

When he retired as commandant of the Marine Corps, he wrote about how he had spent most of his 33 years in the Corps: he had been, he wrote, “a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers,” serving, as “a racketeer for capitalism.” And now the searing confession of an honest man: along with hundreds of other Marines, he had taken part in “the rape of five Central American republics.”

So there could be no mistaking his intent, Butler grounded his claims in precise commercial details: “I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1919. I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903.” Al Capone, Butler wrote, thought he was hot stuff because he had three U.S. counties where he and his gang of thugs held sway, whereas this U.S. Marine Corps general and his men were free to prepare the way for the ravishing of whole countries.

The American public has almost no knowledge of our country’s role in turning the countries of Central America into what might be called “plantation dependencies,” states theoretically independent but actually little more than colonies. And whenever one of them has achieved real independence, it is only a matter of time before Washington turns loose the C.I.A., with the result that, in the case of Guatemala, for example, a civil war follows and a ruthless military government proceeds to undertake wholesale slaughter of its citizens.

This picture is not a pretty one. According to Stephen Shalom, author of “Imperial Alibis”: “In 1954, the United States overthrew the elected government of Guatemala and organized a brutal security apparatus to maintain the status quo. Over the next three and a half decades, the U.S.-backed security force was responsible for as many as 200,000 killings, with the help of intelligence files set up by the C.I.A.”

Today, such countries as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala still suffer from this history of oppression and violence. Several years ago in Honduras a group of rightwing crooks overthrew a democratically elected government; President Obama allowed his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to recognize the new government as legitimate. Throughout Central America, jobs are scarce and educational opportunities often lacking. It is small wonder that thousands of men and women, even children, head north in search of a new home relatively free of grinding poverty, oppression and violence.

Donald Trump claims that a wall is required on our southern border to prevent rapists and drug dealers from entering the U.S. illegally. But he ignores the facts: most of the cocaine and other drugs are smuggled in through authorized entry facilities, and there is no statistical evidence that emigrants from south of the border are more given to sex crimes than are U.S. citizens. The vast majority of those attempting to cross over from Mexico are our brothers and sisters, far more products of our history than most of us can possibly imagine.

Preston Browning Jr. is director
of Wellspring House Retreat in Ashfield and Associate Professor Emeritus of English at the
University of Illinois at Chicago.


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