Good Neighbors, Mr. Pence

Mr. Pence, on Thursday, [June] 28 you will be in Guatemala. You have said that it is a visit by “good neighbors.” I don’t know your agenda, but good neighbors take advantage of these meetings to talk about what makes them happy, worried and uncomfortable. Knowing that President Jimmy Morales will tell you it is good to have you here and that he will give you his blessings and try to appear the obedient sardine (remembering the beautiful fable of Juan José Arévalo), I will go ahead and welcome you, and put the good neighborly treatment that you are giving to immigrants out on the table.*

In order to win the votes of working people and the religious fundamentalist population, your administration under Donald Trump has dangerously developed a racist, anti-immigrant narrative that encourages violence. With respect to the neighbors seeking the American dream, President Trump has gone so far as to call them “animals,” and he has called United States neighbors Honduras and El Salvador “shithole countries.”

You’re right about something: between the takeover of the government by criminal groups, the inequality, the poverty, impunity, and remnants of the Cold War, and the violence provoked by the providers of drugs to the booming American market, living in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras is a tragedy for the majority.

Nevertheless, there are innumerable facts that allow us to affirm that what is experienced today in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is, to a large extent, the result of decisions that were made in Washington. It ranges from the changes in trade and investment deals and the agreement to reduce the role of the government which has limited economic development, to the strength that you and your companies (with their wide-ranging support and who act according to their own interests) have wielded to influence the politics of these countries, which go from authoritarianism and internal war, to peace and democracy. Another strong link that defines our relationship is the family relationship forged by immigrants who left these places to seek a better future and to devote their strength and knowledge to building the enormous economy that you boast about.

In that sense, you have decided to close the borders, but good neighbors must be empathetic. Have you listened to the cries of more than 2,000 Central American children who have been separated from their families by your administration? Can you imagine your children in this situation? It’s unacceptable. Not one immigrant should be treated the way you have treated your neighbors, Mr. Pence. Understand that while people continue to live between misery and violence, your discourse on the wall and your increasingly harsh measures against immigrants far from discourages them; it motivates them to arrive to the United States as soon as possible.

It is important to consider that the United States, in its position as the world leader, is called upon to find constructive solutions to migration caused by poverty and violence. If you want to help, help in the design and implementation of national plans that seek, at a minimum, compliance with the 2030 Development Agenda; with economic and fiscal reforms that increase wealth and distribute it better, and that universalize food, education, healthcare and work.

No more death or cages. Help us out of the economic and social backwardness. That’s what a good neighbor should do, Mr. Pence, if it does not want to see additional immigration. Hopefully, you’ll see that.

*Editor’s note: The author is referring to “The Shark and the Sardines,” by Juan Jose Arevalo, who served as president of Guatemala between 1945-1951, a fable which depicts the United States as a shark and Latin American ‘have-nots’ as poor sardines.

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