Why refugees leave their homes in South America

They fear for their lives, the corrupt police and judiciary ignore their plight, they have no land to grow food due to corporate land grabs, and, for many, they have no other choice

PUTNEY — The brutal Trump administration, which has absolutely no grasp of history and no compassion, need look no further than the sad and violent history of U.S. intervention in Central America to learn why so many people are fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Each of these countries, plus Nicaragua, has its own story to tell about the many and terrible military interventions made more violent and heavily weaponized in order to make Central America safe for United States corporate interests and the local elites supporting those interests.

In Honduras, during the first decade of the 21st century, the legally elected president, Manuel Zelaya, worked to create a (low) minimum wage, provide school lunches for hungry children, and spend money on human needs such as public transportation. In 2009, this humanitarian bent was too much for the entrenched powers, and a brutal coup was staged.

The general who took power was a graduate of Georgia's School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, an infamous training ground for military death squads and coup perpetrators throughout the Americas.

This was the first foreign-policy test for the new Obama administration - were they really different? No, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed. Despite fierce lobbying from human-rights defenders, she was unwilling to label this atrocity a coup, recognizing the general who took over state power.

Had this been called what it was, the law would have necessitated cutting back on the millions in military aid send yearly to Honduras. The military government immediately began a brutal crackdown on environmental activists, human-rights workers, community leaders, and indigenous leaders. This includes the assassination of world-renowned environmental leader Berta Cáceres.

I was in Honduras in 2010 on a food-justice trip. I will never forget meeting a group of women and children living in rough lean-tos in a small community around a corn field. I was told that the police had come in and burned the field when it was about to be harvested, because these families were squatters on unused land. These families had absolutely nothing and lived in fear that the police would again destroy their only source of food and income.

The U.S. again supported a corrupt election in 2017, ensuring continued brutal military control. The respective stories in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are different in detail, but so similar in the effect. In all of these countries, the drug cartels that are supplying the habits of drug users in North America have created a far-greater level of danger, and the poorest and most marginalized are rarely helped by the police.

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People are leaving these countries because they fear for their lives, because the corrupt police and judiciary ignore their plight, because they have no land to grow food due to corporate land grabs, and, for many, because they have no other choice.

These countries are beautiful, with amazing climates, and warm and kind people. It is hard to imagine how desperate your life would have to be to force you to leave for a harsh desert crossing and the challenge of creating a new life in the U.S., starting with nothing.

The more we learn about Central America, the more it is clear the the United States has never been on the side of the people, but has always been on the wrong side - the cruel and inhumane side, the anti-indigenous people side, the disruptive side - in these conflicts.

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