July 1, 2019

The Roots of the Migrant Crisis – Part II

Story by Risa Peris

This is a several-part focus on the migrant crisis in the United States and Central America. 

It was a few years ago that I visited Trujillo, Honduras. Trujillo had just begun attracting US cruise ships to the area. They have no large pier so the cruise ships docked in deeper waters and then smaller boats brought us to the small pier that was dotted with shops and restaurants. Trujillo had started to invest in tourism and they had created a botanical park, bar that seemed to attract bees, and a pool. The green, warm waters of the sea were very near. I had to swim far out to escape the bees. I could hear the howling of the monkeys in the cages in the botanical park and in the distance I could see the large mass of the cruise ship. Beyond the botanical park was a dense jungle. Later, dried by the intense sun, we took a tour of the city. The guide pointed to a pale ivory and pink house with a satellite on top. The guide, a man with good English who seemed to lack some confidence, said the house was the source of their cable and internet. Trujillo was both black and brown – a diverse mix of peoples with competing cultures. . The children were released from school early to welcome the cruise ship and there was impromptu drums and dancing. Everything was lively and happy. The guide said Trujillo harvested bananas and pointed to a plantation, heavily shaded, that had once belonged to the business leader of the United Fruit Company. The Guide spoke, sheepishly and forgivingly, that there was slavery in Trujillo and then he struggled, with great difficulty, to mention exploitation. He then said the waters outside Trujillo were clogged with ships, back in the 1950s and beyond, loading bananas. What I knew about Trujillo before I set foot in the friendly land was that Che Guevara had visited it. I think I learned that in The Motorcycle Diaries. 

My mother was a 1950s housewife and made jello molds suspended with bananas and pineapple. Tropical fruit. Why was tropical fruit so prevalent? We can give thanks, or not, to The United Fruit Company. It competed with the Dole Fruit Company. United Fruit is now the Chiquita Company. Both companies thrived. The United Fruit Company was very involved in the infrastructure of Guatemala at the request of the government. However, those governments were corrupt and already infiltrated by the CIA. The United Fruit Company became so powerful the term ‘Banana Republic’ was coined. We use that term now to refer to corrupt Central American governments without any cognizance that it is Americans who formed these so called republics. 

There were strikes in the Northern Triangle against the company in an attempt to defy exploitative behavior by the company. Guatemala had several attempts at democratic elections and in 1954 the US helped organize a coup in Guatemala. Democracy was quashed and so was the sovereignty of the countries in the Northern Triangle. In Guatemala this led to a 36 year long civil war. The CIA was continuously involved and not just in Guatemala but the entire Northern Triangle. 

In now unclassified CIA documents, we learn the following:

“One of the paradoxes of legislative oversight of intelligence in the early Cold War period was that the United States Congress could give strong, if de facto, support of aggressive covert action while, with the exception of a few leaders, not really knowing which such policies were being carried out. Guatemala is a perfect example. Following its 1944 revolution, which brought democratically elected leftist governments to power, this Central American government faced an increasingly hostile neighbor to the north, the United States. Guatemala’s treatment of US-based corporations, especially the United Fruit Company, in expropriating land and other assets, did nothing to improve relations. Elites in Guatemala helped persuade US journalists and members of Congress, not to mention the executive branch, that their government was veering further and further leftward toward Communism in the early 1950s.”

The report goes on to state:

“One of the paradoxes of legislative oversight of intelligence in the early Cold War period was that the United States Congress could give strong, if de facto, support of aggressive covert action while, with the exception of a few leaders, not really knowing which such policies were being carried out. Guatemala is a perfect example. Following its 1944 revolution, which brought democratically elected leftist governments to power, this Central American government faced an increasingly hostile neighbor to the north, the United States. Guatemala’s treatment of US-based corporations, especially the United Fruit Company, in expropriating land and other assets, did nothing to improve relations. Elites in Guatemala helped persuade US journalists and members of Congress, not to mention the executive branch, that their government was veering further and further leftward toward Communism in the early 1950s”

For more about the CIA’s actions and reports go to:

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol44no5/html/v44i5a03p.htm

This site lists the unclassified documents. 

Honduras seemed like a nice country with pleasant people. However, as I stared at the jungle from the sea at the botanical garden I was struck by the progress Honduras is trying to make and the decades and decades of exploitative labor farming the jungles and banana fields for a US company with the CIA on speed dial. I read recently that Che Guevara should not be mythologized or respected given the deaths that trailed in his wake. Yet, we do the same with Ronald Reagan (mythologize and respect) and he had blood on his hands for his entire presidency across the globe. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueNWlMyUNy4

This article brings us to the 1980s where violence and instability reached a crisis in the Northern Triangle and has inexorably led to the current migrant crisis. 

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