Moral responsibility for refugee crisis should be acknowledged
Watching the ongoing debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits in the mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Central America. In fact, no other country is as accountable as the US for the Central American bedlam and resulting refugee crisis.
So why, despite the seemingly substantial ideological and political differences between right-wing Fox News and liberal CNN, are both media outlets working hard to safeguard their country’s dirty little secret?
In recent years, state and gang violence — coupled with extreme poverty — have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries in Central and South America. Much of the mainstream US media, however, is rarely interested in the root cause of that reality.
Fox News is tirelessly peddling the offensive language used by the US administration, which perceives the refugees as criminals and terrorists who pose a threat to US national security. CNN, on the other hand, has labored to counter the growing anti-immigrant sentiments that have plagued the US. However, few in the liberal media have the courage to probe the story beyond convenient political rivalry, persisting in their hypocritical and insincere humanitarianism that is divorced from any meaningful political context.
The fact is the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East and Central Asian refugee crises of recent years. Mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya and Syria, millions of refugees have been forced — by circumstances beyond their control — to seek safety in some other country. Millions of Iraqis and Syrians found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from the grinding wars.
Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former have seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans, too, have blamed the refugees for their own misery.
Blaming the victim is nothing new. Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate Western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side in a protracted war, and so on. Yet the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, to various degrees, outcomes of military interventions — a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of many right-wing and liberal intellectuals.
The irony is that the hapless refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the US, are perceived to be the aggressors, the invaders, as opposed to the US and its allies that had, in fact, invaded these once-stable and sovereign homelands.
Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis. In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis.
Millions of people — who had escaped US-instigated wars and military coups — were deported back to Central and South America. While 2 million people were deported during Bush’s presidency, 2.5 million were deported under Obama. A terrible situation was exacerbated; violence and want flared even more. To rally his angry and radicalized constituency, the new administration waved the migrant card once more, threatening to “build a wall” and to close “loopholes” in US immigration law. Like his predecessors, the US president offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by destructive US foreign policy stretching back decades. But the refugees kept on coming, mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle region. Without proper political context, they too were duly blamed for their hardship.
Considering Fox News and CNN’s lack of quality coverage, this is not surprising. Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region, such as the CIA-engineered coup d’etat in Guatemala in 1954, or the US support of the coup against the democratically elected Honduras President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, or of everything else that happened in between.
The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors goes back as far as 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the “right” of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.
The Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement signed between Central American countries and the US has done its own share of damage. It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman in Medium.
Acknowledging all of this is threatening. If mainstream US pundits accepted their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they would be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the savior (embraced by the left), which has served them so well. The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe, too. But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem, not to its resolution. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm. This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.
• Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud