FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2018 - 12:00am

Last year, several hundred poor Latin American economic refugees walked hundreds of kilometers to make it to the US-Mexico border. They wanted asylum, the Trump government gave them the iron fist. Children were pulled away from their parents and sent to distant detention facilities all over the US.

In the face of global outcry, US immigration authorities tried to reunite the children with their parents. They did a bad job of it.

None of the asylum seekers, as far as I know, was admitted into the US. They were detained and thrown back, nearly with intentional rudeness. The Trump government has hardened its stance on immigration, pandering to the apprehensions of white Americans about the “browning” of America.

For the Trump government, and much of American media, this was principally an immigration policy issue. There was very little discussion of the humanitarian calamity that forced thousands to walk on their blistered feet up the entire length of Mexico to reach the Rio Grande.

A few weeks ago, a new caravan of asylum seekers crossed from Honduras to Mexico in their northward trek. This very long trek will probably take many more months to complete. The number of participants will likely dwindle before they reach the US border.

Donald Trump cynically and deceitfully seized upon this event to use it for partisan electoral purposes. He described the poignant march of the dispossessed as an “invasion.” He blamed the Democrats for failing on immigrations policy. He illegally called on the military to deploy troops to the southern border to stop what he characterized as a national security threat.

With a large dose of racism, he dehumanized the march of the dispossessed and characterized the women and children, who compose the bulk of the caravan, as dangerous criminal elements. He dehumanized a phenomenon that most needed a humane interpretation.

On the last day of the campaign for the US midterm elections, Trump issued racist ads that even the conservative Fox News refused to air. The ad reeked of racism. More important, it was untrue.

The Republican Party establishment wanted their midterm campaign to focus on the good performance of the US economy. But Trump wanted to throw red meat to his less educated political base. He raised the false specter of an “invasion” of the US homeland emanating from the poverty-stricken economies of Central America. He appealed to the basest instincts: racism, fear and bigotry.

We will know from the outcomes of the midterm elections if Trump was correct in his demeaning estimate of the American voter.


The caravan that Trump decided to wrongly characterize is merely symptomatic of a larger crisis gathering in the countries of Central America.

Many years ago, a Mexican statesman bemoaned his country’s sad fate: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!” The people in the small countries south of Mexico might rightly repeat the same lament.

It is a cardinal principle of US foreign policy that Central and South America are exclusively under Washington’s sphere of influence. This is why the Americans are so riled by Cuba. This is why, over the past century, Washington intervened in Latin America with impunity: plotting coups, conducting invasions and freely interfering in the internal politics of the region.

Most of those participating in the poignant trek northwards to the US border come from Honduras. This is a country beset with grinding poverty and extreme criminal violence. Instead of threatening to confront the economic refugees fleeing northwards with the might of the US military, Trump’s government should be looking into means the US might be of help to restore economic hope and political order to Honduras.

Trapped in the US “sphere of influence,” Honduras is left with no option but to depend on American benevolence. That benevolence does not show. This banana republic teeters on the brink of total economic failure.

Honduras is not alone. In neighboring Nicaragua, the tyrant Daniel Ortega (of Sandinista fame) has been generous in the use of wholesale repression to keep the lid on his people’s discontent. El Salvador is not much better off.

Venezuela, once the wealthiest country south of the US border, is crumbling. There is shortage of everything and malnutrition everywhere. One million Venezuelans have poured across the border into Colombia with nothing more than the clothes they have on. The more prosperous neighbor, once Venezuela’s poorer cousin, is now saddled with the huge costs of caring for the refugees pouring across their border.

But, unlike Trump, the Colombians have not called on the military to seal the border.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled into Brazil. The wealthier Venezuelans (to the extent they may be called wealthy given the circumstances of Chavismo) have migrated to Spain. Soon the socialist tyrants of this once prosperous country will rule over a wasteland where the inflation rate is approaching a million percent.

The economic crisis in the failing countries of this region is deepening at a fast pace. Soon we could be staring at a large humanitarian calamity.

We cannot hope the Trump government will lead in organizing a broad international effort to rescue the people of the failed economies of this region. Trump has neither the empathy nor the intellect to imagine the scale of this economic crisis. All he wants is to keep the victims of economic failure from entering the US.

The rest of the world must respond to this brewing calamity before it takes a more horrible toll.

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