GUATEMALA — I spent part of this last week in Guatemala. I was invited there for “Day of the Dead,” which is celebrated the day after Halloween.
Day of the Dead is a big deal in Guatemala, and Halloween is celebrated among the wealthier classes and is only beginning to take hold. I did not visit the people who were part of the caravan, but I did talk to many people who have studied what happened with the people of the caravan.
On my way to Guatemala, I also read a new book on American history, These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lapore. I was surprised to find out the racism currently claimed by many has been a part of the American debate since the early 1800s.
We all know the arguments about slavery and the Civil War, but Lapore cites other justifications for taking land and property. She talks about Juan Gines de Sepulveda, who said: “How are we to doubt these people, so uncultivated, so barbarous, so contaminated with such impiety and lewdness, have not been justly conquered?”
Lapore says although Marx did not have his writings published until later, America had Thoreau instead of Marx. Thoreau was very worried about what he saw as the advent of modernization – which at that point meant the telegraph and the steam motor-driven train.
Lapore notes thatduring President Andrew Jackson’s time, the Cherokees might have prevailed in terms of their own government; but in 1828 gold was discovered and that “doomed the Cherokee cause.”
Jackson extended the powers of the presidency. One judge said: “We are in fact under the absolute rule of a single man.” Lapore says at one point Jackson dismissed his entire cabinet. One senator noted at the time, “The man we have made our president has made himself our despot, and the Constitution now lies in a heap of ruins at his feet.” President Jackson came up with the Indian Removal Act.
Sound familiar? We are certainly seeing the Democratic party go after the current president; and although they don’t call him a despot, they call him everything but. However, we do hear the migrants being blamed for the caravan(s). Some of the press say America has allowed the disruption to happen, hence the current migration.
We certainly have a history of using Central and South Americans for our own uses, much as we used the Native Americans’ land and property for our uses as we built a nation without them.
We fought the democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile in the 1970s. (I did not get this from reading, but knew the CIA agent who was then in charge of the area.) We helped overthrow a leader and therefore terrorized a nation.
Noam Chomsky has termed what we’re going through currently as “social distress,” and that’s a good word for it. But we need to remember history, and that our current times are similar to what they have been in the past.
Vice News interviewed Elizabeth Oglesby, a professor at the University of Arizonia. She said that at the very minimum, the United States has covered up and excused the bad actions of some of the leaders in Central and South America. She says this will result in people paying criminal networks to help them get to America, many of whom risk the dangers of reaching the border by crossing the desert.
The history of our interference in Central and South America is huge. When I was coming of age in 1975, we heard how United Fruit (they were known for importing bananas) had been accused of bribing an official to the tune of $1.25 million, a lot of money at the time.
In 2009, there was a coup that exiled Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, and the U.S. backed the military leader. By my calculations, that would have been under President Obama.
What we are learning is that we have little or no respect for the will of people who are indigenous, and that the more things change in the U.S., the more they remain the same.