USA: Central American refugees are a product of past genocide and recent atrocities – By Mohamed Hamaludin

  – By Mohamed Hamaludin

In the 100 years after Christopher Columbus landed in what became known as the Americas in 1492, so many indigenous peoples died that it affected the climate.

Ninety percent of the 60 million natives perished from warfare and diseases which accompanied the invaders, taking 212,000 square miles of land out of farming. Trees that subsequently grew absorbed enough carbon dioxide to cool the earth by 0.15 degrees Centigrade, producing a “Little Ice Age” around the globe, University of London scientists Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis reported in 2019.           

The Spanish Conquistadors destroyed the Aztec, Inca and Maya empires which had “developed sophisticated systems of agriculture, engineering, timekeeping and astronomy, and their peoples lived strictly in accord with their spiritual beliefs and ancient moral codes,” Tom Gjelten reported in The Washington Post in August 2019.

“Today, the region is impoverished, dysfunctional and violent,” Gjelten added. “Of the 50 cities with the highest rates of homicide on the planet, 43 are in Latin America. The level of income and wealth inequality, though diminishing, remains the highest in the world.”

Europe, and especially Spain, is responsible for the genocide and its consequences. But it is the United States which later destabilized the region in its Cold War ideological confrontation with the Soviet Union, causing the abject misery which the people are facing today.

The extent of the ongoing tragedy can be seen in even a glance at what happened in some countries and which lay the foundation for mass flight – ironically, to the United States. Sixty million of their ancestors did not have this option and they cannot be blamed for taking it.

The countries include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In several cases, the military, installed by CIA machinations, ousted and often killed democratically elected leaders and slaughtered their supporters in the hundreds of thousands.

Also, at the suggestion of Argentina, the dictators, in November 1975, launched Operation Condor, which Giles Tremlett, writing in The Guardian on Sept. 3, 2020, called “one of the 20th century’s most sinister international state terror networks.” Besides Argentina, the regimes included Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Condor was responsible for the murder and disappearance of “tens of thousands of people” in the 1970s and ’80s,” Tremlett wrote. The U.S. did not try to rein in these murderous client regimes, except to block a plan for Condor hit squads to kill opponents in Europe.

At another level, Lee Fang, writing in The Intercept on Aug. 9, 2017, pointed to a different kind of campaign to reinforce a “rightward shift” in Latin American politics which the Atlas Network headed. It “has reshaped political power in country after country” and “has also operated as a quiet extension of U.S. foreign policy, with Atlas-associated think-tanks receiving quiet funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a critical arm of American soft power,” Fang reported.

That is the background against which the United States has been responding to the mass exodus from the region by mostly blocking them at the border. The U.S. has indeed tried to alleviate at least the economic suffering which causes the flight of the oppressed, pouring billions of dollars into initiatives to stabilize the region. That, however, has not been working. The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 900,000 refugees in just the first five months of this year, Philip Bump reported in The Washington Post on June 9, 2021.

The U.S. can continue to support efforts that create conditions in which would-be refugees will want to stay home but, given its history of interfering in the region, it does not have the moral authority to turn them away. Just as for Black Lives Matter and the reckoning over systemic racism left over from slavery, so, too, to paraphrase Hosea 8:7 in the Bible, the refugee flood is today’s whirlwind from the wind sown yesteryear.

The region lives with “its colonial and post-colonial scars,” as Peruvian writer Marie Arana puts it in her book, “Silver, Sword and Stone,” which Gjelten reviewed – silver the exploitation, killings the sword and religion the stone.

Arana also relates that the Aztec Emperor Montezuma was “hygiene-conscious” and his aides were so offended by the “foul, slovenly” soldiers accompanying the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes at meetings that they had them fumigated with incense.

Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, sort of channeled Montezuma in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Speaking on Sept. 20, 2006, a day after President George W. Bush, Chavez said he could still “smell sulphur” left behind by the “devil.” Chavez declared, “This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire.” Empire still smelled 500 years later.

And Yuval Noah Hariri, in his book “Sapiens,” recounts a “story – or legend” of an encounter between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and an old Native American while training for their space flight. On learning that the astronauts  would be going to the moon, the man told them that “the people of my tribe believe that holy spirits live on the moon.”He asked if they “could pass an important message to them from my people.”

They agreed and the man got them to memorize the message in his tribal language but refused to give its meaning, saying it was a secret. On returning to base, Armstrong and Aldrin promptly sought out an interpreter, who burst out laughing. He told them the old man’s message to the moon spirits was: “Don’t believe a single word these people are telling you. They have come to steal your lands.”

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Guyana Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating in 1984 to the United States, where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a column for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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