Hampered by our country’s endemic short attention span and insatiable craving for instant gratification, don’t expect a resolution to the crisis on our country’s southern border anytime soon.
Surely it will take more than Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott coming up with more “frontier theater” pranks to do to the despised Democrats. (We can almost hear them giggling in the playground.)
The roots of what we call the 40-year-old “crisis of immigration policy” as it affects Latin America stretch back more than 100 years into US history. Currently, the majority of undocumented Central American migrants to the United States come from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, as well as from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela. (As well as countries outside the western hemisphere.)
A common thread between these countries is their colonization by European powers such as Spain, France, Portugal and England who sought gold, silver, trade routes and the production of sugar and tobacco by enslaved people imported from West Africa. When they gained independence in the early decades of the 19th century, their economies were and continue to be based on agriculture. The European colonizers took much but left little.
While most Americans are unaware, Central Americans know a great deal about US involvement in their countries, beginning with the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the construction of the Panama Canal in 1903. Over the next 20 For years the US government has been involved in putting down Central American disputes, uprisings and revolutions, whether with the support of neighboring governments or American-owned companies.
As part of the so-calledbanana wars“Around the Caribbean American troops intervened in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. The US Marine Corps occupied Nicaragua between 1913 and 1933. The CIA led a coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954 and again in 2009. And these are just some of the American interventions.
Now we fast-forward through decades of single-crop economies, subsistence farming, primitive living conditions, a geography prone to natural disasters, and incessant political turmoil, particularly between 1825 and the 1950s—due in part to being colonies one day and independent the next . The 1980s also saw a democratization movement away from military dictatorships, but not without violence and bloodshed in a decade of severe economic crisis.
Parallel to these developments, US foreign policy in the region has been confused, contradictory and reactive in every respect. In the decades since, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, it has been the theatre, the posturing, and the scaremongering that have grabbed the headlines. Some efforts have resulted in short-term changes, but the problem is not solved or even alleviated – there was no “quick fix”.
Since the year 2000, there have been a variety of “push” factors that prompted people to go north: warfare between drug cartels with disastrous effects on people’s everyday lives, political instability, drought and hurricane devastation, food instability, poverty and an increasing inability of Central Americans to maintain sustainable livelihoods.
Compounding the situation are US “pull” factors such as available jobs and employers willing to hire undocumented workers, particularly in agriculture, construction and manufacturing.
Let’s be honest: As a nation, we work on the topic marginally and lose valuable time. The challenge of immigration will only increase as people become more desperate for a better life. Demagogy, theatrics and pranks will not solve the challenge.
We must break away from our national penchant for quick fixes to life’s complications and delve deeper into history for accurate context for problem-solving in partnership with the peoples of the United States America Latina. It is desperation that drives people to tear their families apart and travel thousands of miles into the unknown instead of preserving their native language, customs and history.
We should know from our own American history that people who are desperate for a better life will take desperate measures when it is necessary to win it.
Peter D. Fox has been a keen observer of Central American affairs since the early 1980s, traveling as a civilian in Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua and later as a National Guard officer in the 1990s in support of the US-Nicaragua partnership humanitarian efforts. He lives in Big Timber.