The caravan currently traversing Mexico has drawn attention to the exodus of Central Americans, primarily moving toward the United States, but it is a phenomenon with a long history. In 2017, the International Organization for Migration, an agency of the United Nations, reported that 450,000 immigrants, predominantly Central American, cross Mexico annually, headed in the direction of Mexico’s northern neighbor. This phenomenon started to take off in the 1980s as a consequence of Washington’s massive support of the armies and repressive forces of El Salvador and Guatemala in a bloody war against liberation movements in those countries which, along with Honduras, were seriously affected. Particularly in El Salvador, the war started a large outflow of refugees, among them thousands of young orphans, toward the northern superpower.
It wasn’t the first intervention by the imperialist U.S. in the Central American countries, and it won’t be the last. From the beginning of the 20th century, Washington sent the U.S. Marines dozens of times to impose its will on that region of our Americas. The heroic actions of Augusto César Sandino and his crazy little army against Yankee military intervention in Nicaragua in the first quarter of the 20th century is well known. Decades later, that country and the Sandinista National Liberation Front government suffered a ruthless and bloody assault by the Ronald Reagan administration. A counter-revolutionary army illegally organized and armed by the United States was supplied by air in a CIA operation, known as the Iran-Contra operation, which was carried out from the U.S. by terrorists of Cuban origin. The planes arrived from the U.S. filled with arms and returned home with drugs. At the same time, the CIA coordinated death squads that kept the Honduran revolutionaries at bay, but at the cost of serious human rights violations. In 1989, George H. W. Bush ordered the clandestine invasion of Panama that cost the lives of 3,000 people.
In 2009, the coup d’état against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was orchestrated from Air Base Soto Cano in Honduras, the base of operations of Joint Task Force-Bravo, part of the United States Southern Command. This action had much to do with the events that led to the mass migration of Central Americans. Zelaya joined ALBA* and established a fluent relationship of cooperation with Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela. He succeeded in getting the Organization of American States to lift the exclusion of Cuba in a meeting of the General Assembly of the organization held in Honduras. He tried to organize a constituent assembly to transfer control of the national sovereignty and natural resources of Honduras back to the Honduran people. None of this was acceptable to Washington, which not only ordered the coup, but did everything in its power to consolidate it. Since then, every election in Honduras has been fraudulent, including the election that propelled the current ruler, Juan Orlando Hernández, to power. Zelaya, an ally of Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, would have been an obstacle to the plans for looting and territorial expansion using the transnational mining companies and Special Economic Zones.
The genesis of the current uncontrollable flow of migrants was in the strict application in Central America of the neoliberal policies crafted under the so-called Washington Consensus. These policies have continually become harsher and more unsustainable. The nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are being subjected to a second reconquest and recolonization by large companies and by United States-led militarization, including military bases in our countries. Imperialist satellite states provide the transnational companies with all the facilities for their plans for accelerated depredation of natural resources and overexploitation of the labor force. All this comes through the plundering of the lands and waters of indigenous, African-descended and peasant communities, who are suppressed when they rebel, and not only by law enforcement authorities. They are also frequently subject to crackdowns by organized crime, which is paid in return. Linked to this is disruption of the chains of production, which has led to de-industrialization and the loss of thousands of jobs.
This neoliberal attack on the former ways of organizing production, with the consequent unemployment and collapse of the social fabric, is the main cause of the increasing displacement and the forced migration of thousands toward the United States. But it is made much worse by the unstoppable rise of the criminal organizations and the brutal violence perpetrated by them on people and communities, whose plan of action is overwritten by the plans for the neoliberal megaprojects.
It is not in Caracas but in Washington where the tragedy of migration in Central America and Mexico has been building for some time.
*Translator’s Note: ALBA is the Spanish acronym for the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América; in English, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. It is an intergovernmental organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.