Fruits of American empire laid bare in Tijuana

Fruits of American empire laid bare in Tijuana

Gabriel Perez


Mexico’s northern border city of Tijuana was set ablaze by the recent arrival of the Central American exodus. Thousands of men, women, and children fled their volatile Northern Triangle homelands of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, determined to make the over 2,000-mile trek across dense Chiapan forests and vast Sonoran deserts to America’s doorstep — only to be met with the barbarism and state-sanctioned xenophobia, exemplified by barbed-wire barricades and tear gas canisters courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

In addition to the squalid conditions, migrants grew increasingly agitated with the painfully drawn-out process of applying for asylum. They are anxious to secure the stability, security, and basic resources that Tijuana — a city with a total population of about 2 million — is demonstrably incapable of providing them.

Since refugees first began arriving around Nov. 15, they’ve been lodged in dangerously overcrowded makeshift shelters, with more arriving every day. According to The Nation, upwards of 5,800 asylum seekers remain cramped in the Benito Juarez Sports Complex — three times the facility’s maximum capacity. Amnesty International, an independent international organization dedicated to human rights advocacy, reportedly received separate confirmation from “Mexican federal, state, and municipal officials . . . that the temporary shelter did not have sufficient food, water and health services, and that respiratory illnesses were spreading among those staying there.”

On Sunday, Nov. 25, rising tensions came to a head when around
500 frustrated asylum seekers marched on the border in peaceful protest and encountered a Mexican police blockade. In an attempt to avoid detention and likely deportation, demonstrators rushed toward a gaping border crossing leading to San Diego. CBP agents responded by shutting border transit down from both directions and firing tear gas at the demonstrators, many of whom were holding children in their arms.

Migrant conditions at the border.  COURTESY OF  VOA NEWS

Migrant conditions at the border. COURTESY OF VOA NEWS

Central American migration to the U.S. — which, according to Pew Research Center, has been on a steady rise for over two decades — must be understood first and foremost as a direct corollary of American imperialism and Cold War crusades. 

As early as 1954, political-heavy weights in Washington were eager to advance corporate interests at the expense of sovereign nations throughout Central and Latin America. The United Fruit Company (parent corporation of today’s Chiquita Brands International), for instance, which owned considerable amounts of land in Guatemala, didn’t see eye-to-eye with Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. His land reform policies threatened the company’s bottom line. This was enough to justify the execution of Operation PBSUCCESS, a CIA-led coup that resulted in the exile of Árbenz and installment of his reactionary successor, Carlos Castillo Armas, as reported by Jacobin Magazine. Given a choice between democracy and free enterprise, America’s loyalty to the latter is, and always has been, beyond question.

Following a failed attempt to prevent Nicaragua’s revolution in 1979, the U.S. took great lengths to undermine the Marxist Sandinista government and forestall any further emancipatory precedents in Central America. In her essay “El Salvador: Civil War and Uncivil Peace,” Christine J. Wade wrote that chief among these attempts was the Reagan administration’s arms dealing racket and financial backing of the Contras, counter revolutionaries whose sadistic proclivity toward violence and calculated terror have left the region irreparably scarred, and whom Reagan himself once deemed the “moral equal of the Founding Fathers,” according to the New York Times article titled “Reagan terms Nicaraguan rebels ‘moral equal of Founding Fathers.”

Fearing a repeat of Nicaragua, the U.S. also assumed a proactive role in El Salvador’s civil war by training Salvadoran armed forces in counterinsurgency and torture techniques, providing explicit recommendations for kidnappings. This terror-training continued in Honduras and at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (The School of the Americas), whose legacy is piercingly evident in the emergence of paramilitary death squads, as reported by the New York Times.

As desperate and defenseless families drown in clouds of chemical riot control agents, we need to reexamine the principal catalyst of the violent manicfestations of inequality currently strangling Central America. The devastating consequences of U.S. intervention throughout Latin America is being laid bare at the northern Mexican border. The fruits of American empire manifest themselves in the maelstrom of diasporic dreams bleeding across the border fence with a vengeance — its unfaltering steel columns and the gluttonous imperial appetite they embody forever standing between the Central American exodus and basic human dignity, between El Pueblo and deliverance.