Mike Phipps

Caravan of hope

Mike Phipps
Caravan of hope

Is someone funding the thousands-strong caravan of migrants currently crossing Central America? “I wouldn’t be surprised,” President Trump told reporters.

“George Soros?” asked one. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Trump repeated. “A lot of people say yes.”

It’s a ludicrous myth, exposing the depths Trump and his supporters will plumb to win votes. But it’s no more ludicrous than many of the other myths that are being peddled about the thousands of people heading for the US in search of a better life. Like the myth that they are seeking to infiltrate the US illegally - in fact, they hope to reach regular ports of entry and make their applications for asylum, as they are entitled to under US and international law. The reason they are making illegal crossings, yet immediately surrender to border patrols, is because the Trump administration has cynically closed the legal entry points.

Given recent media coverage about the long-term forcible separation of migrant children from their parents at the border, it seems all the more remarkable that so many people are prepared to make this journey at all. That they do in indicative of their desperation and the far worse evils they are fleeing.

US human rights activist Jennifer Harbury, in an interview with Democracy Now, the independent current affairs programme, documented a recent case of a 20 year old from El Salvador “who fled north after the second time the gangs told him they would kill him and the people close to him if he didn’t join… The day after he left, the gangs had bludgeoned his mother and younger brother to death and had gang-raped his 12-year-old sister, who was in a mental hospital, unable to speak. That young man has been sent back to Salvador.”

This is an extreme case but not an isolated one. Yet it is the victims fleeing such atrocities who are endlessly demonised by opportunist US politicians, while the US government props up elites that work hand in glove with local death squads. One of the biggest contingent of refugees -perhaps 80% - is from Honduras, the murder capital of the world, where half the population live in poverty and opposition activists are assassinated with impunity. In the last nine years, thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, human rights activists and others have been murdered.

In June 2009, a military coup overthrew the popular government of Manuel Zelaya, who introduced free education for all children, subsidies to small farmers and school meals for more than 1.6 million children from poor families. Less than two and a half years into his presidency, he was kidnapped by the army in a coup that was condemned by the UN, EU and OAS, and forced into exile.

The US simply refused to recognise that a coup had occurred and resumed military aid to the new regime. The Honduran government progressively militarised society as crime skyrocketed. In 2017, in a replica of earlier 2013 presidential election, widespread and blatant fraud re-elected the coup president Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was duly congratulated by the Trump Administration.

With little prospect of taking control of their own country, Hondurans leave, fleeing the terror that the US itself created. They travel in numbers to avoid the gangs and sex traffickers. Their courage is inspiring. But they will be met at the US border by heavily armed troops, who outnumber the fleeing families by over two to one.

Polls suggest that record numbers of Americans now believe that immigration is good for the country and most oppose Trump’s border wall. Yet immediately after the mid-term elections, Trump issued an order - now subject to a legal challenge - banning asylum seekers from filing applications unless they arrived at a limited number of already clogged checkpoints. Many on this journey have no idea where these might be. These checkpoints are also in notoriously violent areas, with rejected asylum seekers often beaten, raped or kidnapped by gangs in the locality. Yet since June, US courts have been instructed to refuse asylum to victims of gang violence.

For all Trump’s talk of an ‘invasion’, the numbers involved are small. Illegal border crossings have declined significantly and more than an estimated million fewer people were processed at the US southern border this year than twenty years ago.

Trump’s claim that Middle Easterners are among the caravan and that America is facing a security threat is both a convenient smear, but also intended to get his crackdown upheld by the courts. Morally rotten though his policy undoubtedly is, there are nonetheless similarities with the way European countries, the UK included, treat migrants - who like the Central American caravan are often fleeing the consequences of western economic and foreign policies.