XAVIER BEST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A Border Patrol agent's brutal killing of Claudia Gómez González last month in Texas is just one in a growing litany of atrocities committed against Central Americans making the treacherous journey north. Still, her fate in particular stands out as a potent symbol of the legal and moral bankruptcy that has informed US immigration policy for decades.
As an Indigenous woman from Guatemala, González's killing is a distant consequence of policies stretching back to the days of the Dwight Eisenhower administration. Back then, in 1954, the CIA organized a military coup against Guatemala's second democratically-elected leader Jacobo Arbenz. After he enacted land redistribution policies designed to empower the country's farmers, the US government, acting on behalf of the United Fruit Company (UFCO), mobilized its agents to depose him and install a military dictatorship.
Writing in his classic study of this period in Guatemalan history, Shattered Hope, renowned Latin American scholar Piero Gleijeses described the UFCO as a "colossus" that expanded its dominion across Central America with "ruthlessness, skill, and ambition," adding that, "UFCO's annual budget was larger than those of the Central American countries in which it operated." Naturally, a corporation with this degree of economic leverage shaped much more than simply what people purchased at the market. United Fruit also determined how people traveled, how information was transmitted and, as in the case of the 1954 coup, who governed them. Fast-forward to 2018, and Guatemala, along with a host of other nations south of the US border, is still wrestling with the horrific legacy of this period.
The most visceral manifestation of this legacy can be perceived through the surveilled and brutalized bodies of Mexicans, Central American migrants and even US citizens who "fit the description" of looking "illegal." Journalist Sarah Macaraeg spells this out in undeniable terms, documenting a pattern of extrajudicial killings carried out by agents with US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) over 15 years. Using sources from court records, internal CBP logs and media reports, she documents 97 killings carried out by CBP agents since 2003. More disturbingly, "the majority of victims died from bullet wounds, including shots in the back." In Texas alone, 32 killings have been documented, followed by 28 in California.
This policy of violence is happening in the social context of a country that regularly demonizes immigrants as "murderers and rapists" or "animals." Perhaps the ultimate irony of this white-supremacist narrative is that anyone who has a special distaste for murderous behavior would reserve their outrage for the corporate and governmental policies travelling south from Washington, DC, instead of the many families travelling north from the countries Washington has decimated.
For instance, what of the murderous policies of US-backed autocrat and drug cartel darling Carlos Salinas? As president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994, Salinas dutifully followed orders from his northern sponsors. "The great project of the Salinas regime was to privatize the Mexican economy," Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair write in their 1998 book Whiteout. "Land reform initiatives in rural Mexico were rolled back and the heritage of the revolution ruthlessly dismembered. Salinas and his cronies also moved to swiftly suppress the Mexican labor movement."
Meanwhile in Washington, the Clinton administration worked diligently to ensure that all of these assaults on democratic participation remained concealed from the eyes of the US public. Most notably, President Clinton kept secret Salina's close ties with the then-burgeoning Mexican drug trade and the Gulf cartel. When Clinton caught scent of an investigation into Salina's continued cooperation with organized crime in October of 1996, Cockburn and St. Clair write that the president "invoked executive privilege to keep from turning over to Congress an April 1995 memo written by FBI director Louis Freeh and DEA administrator Thomas Constantine," which condemned his inaction.
Moreover, Clinton didn't bat an eye upon learning that, under Salina's tutelage, Mexico became, in the words of an internal State Department memo, "one of the most important money laundering centers in the western hemisphere." By the way, this white-collar crime was made possible in large part by the executives at Citibank who had little to no reservations about laundering Mexican cocaine money, insofar as it didn't interfere with Washington's political ends.
Most of this neglected history is repackaged in current press reports as Mexican and Central American migrants "fleeing violence." The narrative these reports largely follow is devoid of the context in which the US has a role in fomenting this violence. Subscribing to this simplistic, dehumanizing and stereotypical narrative overshadows this crucial history of economic and political exploitation that cries out for witness in the harrowing photographs of migrant children sleeping in cages on the hard floors of US immigrant detention jails.
Instead of talking about the macabre exploits of street gangs like MS-13, we should be talking about the utterly destabilizing effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexico's farming economy, and how it stimulated an exodus of economic refugees in its aftermath. Instead of fear-mongering to the US public through tragic stories about white suburbanites being killed by undocumented immigrants, we should be discussing the political sabotage behind the US-backed coup in Honduras in 2009, and how that anti-democratic policy opened the floodgates for that country to become one of the most violent in the Western hemisphere.
One of the organizations at the forefront of breaking through this narrative of demonization is the American Civil Liberties Union, which published a report recently stating that, "CBP's abuses are not only unconscionably inhumane, but they also violate United States law and international human rights law, which give protections to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers -- no matter their country of origin."Humanizing commentary of this kind will be critical in giving the general public an education on the legal and moral dimensions of the Trump administration's current policies.
Popular opinion suggests positive changes in this regard. The latest polls published by Pew Research show that 74 percent of Americans are in favor of granting permanent legal status to children brought to the US illegally, and 60 percent of Americans oppose expanding Trump's notorious "border wall."
Too many families have been traumatized by generations of US policy, and it's long overdue that the US public demands justice on behalf of the millions of those like Claudia Gómez González, who manage to persevere in the face of enemies who seek to deny them a safe home, whether it be north or south of the border.