A beautiful looking lady, perhaps in her mid-twenties, smiles into the camera. The chubby-cheeked child she is carrying is wearing a cap, but he is shirtless. They are part of the over 7,200 Latin Americans who embarked on an estimated 17-day walk towards the United States’ border.
They had bid goodbye to their ancestral homes, mainly in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Many have just the clothes on their backs, the bags (some nylon) they are clutching, and their lives. Their determination is to get into the U.S. by any means necessary. For this, they are trekking on roads and highways, through forests and fording waters, including swimming and rafting through the Suchiate River which separates Guatemala and Mexico. For such a desperate movement, virtually no threat can dissuade them, at least not the massive deployment of Mexican police and the threats of American President Donald Trump to cut aid to the countries they have left behind and deploy the mighty American Army against them.
Except the children being carried, these are thousands of mainly young and physically fit people, because only such persons can undertake such a grueling migration. These Latinos are like the Biblical Abraham who heard a voice in his native Ur, in today’s Southern Iraq, telling him “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The marked difference is that unlike Abraham, this exodus has a promised land it is headed to – the United States. The marchers are no different from the desperate African migrants who travel through the desert and take to the seas in unsafe rickety boats to get to Europe.
The fact that this exodus was spontaneous, and its huge size, might be an indication of the desperate situation in some Latin American countries, characterised by mass unemployment, organised and unorganised violence, hunger and bad governance.
The current state of many Latin American countries is the result of mindless American exploitation and political intervention, which turned them into ‘Banana Republics.’ Take, for example, Honduras where the caravan took off. It has virtually been an American colony since the 1890s, with the American banana companies seizing most of its fertile land and rendering the farmers destitute.
The idea of this caravan had started when Bartolo Fuentes of the Freedom and Refoundation Party of Honduras, reproduced a poster on his Facebook page inviting people for a migrant march with the slogan: “We’re not leaving because we want to, but because we are being expelled by violence and poverty.” The march commenced last week with 160 people from the gang-plagued city of San Pedro Sula, deciding to leave for a safe haven which they identify as the U.S. By the time this group reached the Guatemalan border, it had swelled to over 1,600 due partly to words of mouth, the mass and social media and the panicky response of President Donald Trump, who was issuing threats, rather than engaging a more organised response to tackling a desperate human convoy. This is more so, when American law gives those fleeing violence, the opportunity of applying for asylum.
Thousands of the marchers sleep and bath in the open. Despite assistance by ordinary Mexicans, and some help from the Mexican government, the marchers are in need of water, food, medicine and blankets. The world, especially the United Nations, need to come to their aid. Some may argue that the marchers predicament is a choice they consciously made. I will say, no! Hunger and poverty are never a choice; they are mainly imposed. As I watched them on television and video, I was conscious of the fact that almost all the marchers will not reach their destination; some will end up living in Mexico, some will return to their countries, while some may even die. But that will not deter the next wave of marchers because they want their tomorrow to be better than their yesterday. Mexico itself is highly volatile and crime-infested, with hunger and violence forcing some Mexicans to make illegal crossings into America; as such, I foresee many of the marchers opting to stay in Mexico, making attempts in future to cross into America. It will be a continuous test of endurance and human will.
The current state of many Latin American countries is the result of mindless American exploitation and political intervention, which turned them into ‘Banana Republics.’ Take, for example, Honduras where the caravan took off. It has virtually been an American colony since the 1890s, with the American banana companies seizing most of its fertile land and rendering the farmers destitute. Additionally, the Americans dominated the banks and mines, imposed structural adjustment, while turning the country into one huge American military base. The country’s military had a free hand violating human rights and running American-backed death squads, like Battalion 3-16, which physically eliminated hundreds anti-American activists. When a reformist president, Manuel Zelaya came to power in 2006 and tried to carry out changes in favour of the populace, the military kidnapped him on June 28, 2009 and exiled him to Costa Rica, without their bosses in Washington calling them to order. Incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández is authoritarian, with no respect for democratic values. He changed the electoral rules to be eligible for re-election in the November 2017 elections. When opposition politician, Salvador Nasralla was in the lead in that election, the results were suspended for 30 hours, with the incumbent eventually being declared as winner. When people protested, they were shot at, with over thirty killed, while America asked the people to accept the announced results.
Guatemala, where the caravan gathered strength before forcing its way to Mexico, is another American Banana Republic. When a patriot, democratic President Jacobo Arbenz took 1.4 million acres of uncultivated lands, mainly from the American United Fruit Company, paid compensation, and redistributed them to about 500,000 farmers (a sixth of the population), then American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, got permission from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to overthrow the government. The coup, executed between June 18-27, 1954, was supervised by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headed by Allen Dulles, the secretary of state’s brother. It was Code-named Operation PBSUCCESS. Subsequently, brutal military regimes and anti-people governments were imposed.
Another large number of the marchers came from El Salvador, a country the Americans ran like Honduras, except in this instance, it was the showcase of American–backed killer squads, including a private one. In one of its most infamous atrocities, the Atlacatl Battalion, newly trained by the U.S., was sent on its first mission in December 1981 to the El Mozote area. It killed over 1,200 Salvadorans, including at least a hundred children.
The human caravan is a reminder to America and most rich countries that centuries of dominating and exploiting other peoples, and the prevailing unfair globalisation, will have to be addressed in favour of the victims. Like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated in its May 10, 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia: “Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere.”
Owei Lakemfa, former secretary general of African workers is a human rights activist, journalist and author.