Originally published in the Greenfield Recorder, May 29, 2019

“We are here because you were there.” — Slogan of 1980s immigrants rights campaign in Britain.

Why would so many Guatemalans make the arduous journey to the U.S.-Mexican border seeking refuge, knowing the hatred heaped on them by the Trump administration? A short list of our long history of corporate exploitation and military aggression in that country might explain.

In 1928 the American United Fruit Co. (present-day Chiquita Banana International) instigated a massacre of thousands of Guatemalan workers who struck for better working conditions. In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the overthrow of democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz, who had issued the Agrarian Reform Law, which redistributed land to some 500,000 landless indigenous peasants. Ten years of democracy in that country (1944-54) was gutted, and the U.S. installed an authoritarian government to roll back agrarian and worker reforms and, thus, protect United Fruit’s land interests.

Throughout the 1960s-1980s Cold War era, the U.S.-backed coups and right-wing leaders with troops and weapons to repress left-leaning social movements. One president we championed, Efrain Rios Montt, was convicted of genocide in 2013 for trying to eliminate Mayan peasants. The inequality and violence that we have fostered and aided forced those Guatemalans under attack, rendered landless and impoverished, to leave and migrate north. They are here because we were there.

In 2009 reform-minded President Manuel Zelaya, who had raised the minimum wage, built new schools and provided pensions for the elderly, was kidnapped by the Honduran military and flown out of the country to Costa Rica. The Obama administration tacitly supported the 2009 coup and assisted in preventing Zelaya’s return to Honduras. The U.S. has continued to approve subsequent illegal presidents who have intimidated and violently suppressed rural and indigenous farmers’ land rights in favor of large agro-corporate land grabs. Over the past 10 years, police, military and hired militias have murdered thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, journalists, human rights and union activists, opposition candidates and judges. By 2016, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world.

Meanwhile U.S. border patrol agents have tear-gassed Honduran asylum seekers fleeing police, drug gang violence and the loss of their land. They have separated thousands Central American children from their families and dumped them into cold, crowded detention centers with filthy toilets and insufficient running water. They are here because we were there.

El Salvador
Over the last eight decades, U.S. military support for right-wing coups and authoritarian candidates has strangled social movements for self-determination, worker rights and economic development in El Salvador. In 1932 the U.S. and Britain, owners of large export-oriented coffee plantations, sent naval support to quell a peasant rebellion led by the communist Farabundo. What follows is a short list of our interventions in this country that have driven the displaced, impoverished and endangered to travel a trail of tears to our border.

In 1960, President Eisenhower, fearing a leftist government, facilitated a right-wing coup and openly opposed the holding of free elections. The same Cold War ideology drove President Reagan to provide generous military assistance and training in 1983 to the authoritarian military-led government in its civil war against a leftist front. Eighty thousand Salvadorans were killed in the 1980-1992 civil war, with the majority of civilian deaths caused by Salvadoran military. In the early 1990s some 200,000 Salvadorans were given Temporary Protected Status (TPS). However, their TPS was revoked in 2018 by President Trump, emblematic of his hostile and hate-mongering history toward the poor, displaced and endangered who arrive here because we were there.

Since 1890, the United States has intervened in Latin American elections, civil wars and revolutions at least 56 times according to historian and author Mark Becker, to bolster U.S. corporations’ interests and eliminate democratically elected governments and leftist movements. In synch with this legacy, the Trump administration has enacted crippling economic sanctions, supported an attempted coup and threatened military action against the socialist government of Venezuela. Adding fuel to his scorched earth policy, Trump’s proposed 2020 budget increases the Pentagon budget by 5 percent and decreases the State Department by 31 percent — a signal of our increasingly belligerent, non-negotiating role in the world.

Perhaps the only way to attract the well-financed, educated and presumably white immigrants Trump seeks is to declare war on a Nordic country, hoping they will come because we are there.

Pat Hynes, a retired professor of environmental health and environmental engineer, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts.