This is a useful way for Americans like me to consider our troubles abroad. But when it comes to our democracy’s problems at home, the closer parallel is with 18th century Britain, the “mother country” from which the United States broke away in 1776.
Britons of that time enjoyed many liberties unknown to their favourite bogeymen, the French. These freedoms had many roots, including the Magna Carta of 1215, the Bill of Rights from 1689 and various parts of English common law. Most Britons saw their country as God’s favourite and thanked their “Constitution” — a general term for established forms of law and government — for their rising glory.
Yet for all the liberties it tolerated, that Constitution’s real goal was to shield wealth and privilege from popular demands.
In the House of Lords, the privileged group was the aristocracy that still owned about 80 per cent of all the arable land in England. In the House of Commons, the favoured ones were rising merchants, bankers and industrialists. Together these old and new elites ran the show.
For example, British law treated labour organizations as “conspiracies” while respecting the fortunes that stockholders made as untouchable. A brutal criminal code complemented a draconian view of poverty.
Strict suffrage laws and rotten boroughs insulated real power from the political circus, not to mention the angry crowds that rose up against everything from low wages to high bread prices to anti-poaching laws.
In 1780, a crowd of perhaps 60,000 rampaged through London, at first targeting Catholics but quickly moving on to the Bank of England and the notorious Newgate Prison, where they said their “honest comrades” were held. Once the storm passed, though, nothing changed.
By then, the American revolutionaries had given up on the British model. They dreamed of a republic —literally, “the public thing” — where the common good overruled selfish demands and private interests. After the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution of 1787 seemed to fulfil these hopes by rejecting aristocratic titles and naming “the People” as the basis of authority.
Yet this same Constitution protected both slave-holders and bond-owners. It prohibited all kinds of popular interventions into the economy. And it arranged the federal government so that the general will of the population was divided, filtered and ultimately restrained.
In this sense, it simply updated British constitutional forms for American conditions, in which land was plentiful, labour was scarce and white skin rather than high birth conferred status.
Creative transformations rolled back
During periods of democratic renewal, such as Reconstruction, the New Deal and the Civil Rights era, American politics pushed the Constitution beyond its original intentions. In these creative moments, active citizens shaped a more just society.
But over the last 50 years, another alliance of old and new has taken up arms (sometimes literally) behind constitutional bulwarks, rolling back much of that progress.
This alliance includes white voters who keep their traditional supremacy through gerrymandered districts, restrictive voting laws and mass incarceration of non-white people.
It also includes corporate interests that halt efforts to protect workers and the environment, to say nothing of sick, poor and elderly Americans. These plutocrats not only decide elections with their campaign contributions but also write legislation through their lobbyists.
In America now, just as in Britain then, most people object. They would rather have clean air and water, secure jobs and pensions and a fair distribution of wealth. They would rather not see most of their fellow citizens living one paycheque to the next, nor watch schoolchildren prepare for the next mass shooting. They would prefer to live in a good society rather than a great power.
But in America now, just as in Britain then, the political system won’t allow it. Even if non-white majorities pile up in some congressional districts, the Senate and Electoral College will neutralize them.
Even if dozens of Bernie Sanders acolytes get into office, their ideas will run aground in congressional committees awash in corporate influence.
And if progressive hopes ever make it onto the books, federal courts stocked with hard-right judges will strike them down —no matter what kind of “blue wave” arrives in 2020, 2024 or indeed 2040.
In short, there is no reason to assume that under the current Constitution, the demographic and cultural changes of the past generation will fundamentally challenge Donald Trump’s America.
After all, the British Constitution of the 1700s held firm through much of the 1800s, despite the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution. It gave ground in periodic “Reform Acts” but otherwise kept democracy at bay. The people had to settle for their pride in the empire, their disdain for other countries, and their sense that, as Britons, they were at least free to start over in Canada or Australia or even the United States.
The robot uprising is right on schedule as a new report by Inverse suggests that Boston Dynamics’ terrifying robot dogs will launch into series production by the second half of 2019, producing more than 1,000 of its compact SpotMini models annually.
SpotMini is Boston Dynamics’ quadrupedal robotic dog. If you have watched the dystopian sci-fi series Black Mirror episode “Metalhead,” where a knife-wielding robotic dog runs around killing people, then the company’s latest creation should be frightening for all of humanity.
“Metalhead” is the fifth episode of the fourth series of anthology series Black Mirror. (Source: YouTube)
It measures two feet, nine inches tall and weighs “66 pounds,” with approximately 1.5 hours of battery life. Boston Dynamics recently released videos showing the robotic dog performing all kinds of functionalities like opening doors and increasingly complicated navigational capabilities.
While the company previously announced plans to mass produce SpotMini in 2019 with a limited run already in pre-production, Inverse’s report reveals new details about the production and how the robotic dog is intended to become a multi-use platform:
“Boston Dynamics has plans to take its robotic helpers mainstream next year: By July 2019, it will be on pace to produce 1,000 SpotMini robots annually.”
“The overarching goal for the 26-year-old company is to become the what Android operating system is for phones: a versatile foundation for limitless applications. That’s the plan, anyway.”
…”Speaking last month at the CeBIT computer expo in Hannover, Germany, Marc Raibert [founder], said Boston Dynamics is already testing SpotMini with potential clients in four categories: construction, delivery, security, and home assistance.”
“We’ve built ten by hand, we’re building 100 with manufacturers at the end of this year, and at the end of 2019, we’re going to begin production at the rate of about 1,000 a year,” Raibert said of SpotMini, a prototype of which sat on the CeBIT stage near his feet.
Marc Raibert reveals new information about SpotMini’s production schedule at CeBIT computer expo Hannover, Germany, last month. (Source: YouTube)
The broader goal, as reported by Inverse, is to produce a flexible platform for a variety of applications. According to Raibert, SpotMini is currently being tested for use in construction, delivery, security, and home assistance applications.
SpotMini delivers a package to the home of a Boston Dynamics employee in a demonstration of what it might soon happen all the time. (Source: Inverse)
“Of the four areas where SpotMini could become a player, delivery seems to be the one where it has the most competition. Drone delivery efforts — Amazon’s Prime Air Service among them — would use large quad-copters to deliver packages, but they still faces regulatory hurdles (though some are hopeful they’ll be delivering soon. A walking delivery drone wouldn’t have to deal with no-fly zones or line-of-sight stipulations like quadcopters,” said Inverse.
Videos like this one received a lot of attention, but critics of Boston Dynamics said when it was put up for sale by Google that the bots were more style that substance. (Source: Inverse)
Although Boston Dynamics would preferably deliver these robots to the military, it seems as the company could become a household name by the mid-2020s. Why? Well, the company is expecting to explore various rollout options for the senior care industry, as the demographic time bomb of baby boomers is set to explode across the United States in the next decade.
At a Softbank expo in Tokyo in 2017, Raibert showed off a model equipped with a camera.
Inverse also theorized that the SpotMini could find use in senior care, which tends to be so expensive that robots could be cost-effective:
“In Japan, the elderly are preparing for robots to care for them, and face a predicted “shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025,” reports The Guardian.
Because Spot Mini is just under three feet tall, it’s objectively less-scary and might even appear cute if it were to take care of your aging grandmother — fetching drinks and medicine and opening doors for her.”
With mass production of SpotMini just around the corner, it seems as the company could provide a cost-effective option in dealing with the demographic timebomb in developed countries. The company can also disrupt other industries such as construction, delivery, and security. Nevertheless, the Black Mirror episode titled “Metalhead” provides a dystopian prediction of how these robots could eventually start killing humans.
The state of New York is using facial recognition cameras to identify drivers and passengers at toll booths.A recent article in the New York Post revealed that toll booths use facial recognition to identify everyone.
The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations has called for an end to the US unlawful support for terrorists Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), saying Washington is responsible for the crimes perpetrated by the notorious anti-Iran group.
In a letter addressed to the UN Security Council, Gholamali Khoshroo denounced the participation of some American political figures and government officials, including President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in an MKO gathering in Paris, France, on June 30.
He enumerated the terror outfit’s many atrocities ranging from the massacre of thousands of Iranians to collaboration with the enemies’ spy agencies in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists in 2010-2015 and assistance to the former Iraqi regime in its war on Iran and carnage of its own citizens in 1980s.
The notorious anti-Iran group, he wrote, had bribed American political lobbies in 2012 to facilitate its removal from the US State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations, adding that this shows Washington’s “dual and selective” approach to fighting terrorism.
The letter added that Washington bears the responsibility for the international crimes committed by the MKO.
Iran strongly condemns the US government’s illegal measures against the Iranian people such as supporting and funding the MKO as a terrorist group, the letter read. This illegal move violates international law, the principles of the UN Charter and international rules on fighting terror, it added
The US government should abandon these policies and end such illegal measures, the letter emphasized.
Flipping through the cable news stations last Saturday morning, I came across an amusing sight at Russia- frenzied MSNBC. There was the stern host Joy Reid (“#AM Joy”) giving a concerned and sympathetic interview to William Browder, a worried multimillionaire financier who said that Vladimir Putin wants to murder him.
“Are you afraid, Bill?” Joy Reid asked, “are you taking precautions for your safety?”
“Am I at risk of being killed by Vladimir Putin’s regime? …Yes,” Browder said, adding that there’s not much he can do “if they’re going to use chemical weapons to put poison on my door knob.”
The grandson (hilariously enough) of former US Communist Party General Secretary Earl Browder (a dutiful servant of the Soviet Union during the Great Depression and World War II), Browder is one of at least two “Americans” (including former US Russian ambassador Michael McFaul) Putin told Donald Trump he wants sent to Moscow for questioning by Russian investigators. Trump nodded approvingly as Putin discussed Browder’s theft of Russian assets during the Russian president’s joint press conference with Trump in Helsinki last Monday. Trump initially said he was willing to consider Putin’s request.
Two days before his appearance on “AMJoy,” Browder wasgiven time on CNN.”To hand me over to Putin,” Browder told CNN host Kate Boldua, “is basically to hand me over to my death…. The Russians…they’d like to get me back to Russia … and once I’m back in Russia, they would like to kill me. Anything that begins that process is effectively a death sentence for me.”
Will masses of U.S-Americans rise to the great patriotic cause of protecting William Browder from death in Putin’s Russia? Not likely. Communist patrilineage aside (we don’t choose our grandparents), the Chicago-born William Browder isn’t actually a U.S.-American. He hasn’t been since 1998, when he became an American expatriate by re-“domiciling” to Britain in order to avoid paying US taxes on foreign investments.
Something tells me that Sam Adams and his Boston Tea Party compatriots would think twice before rallying to the defense of William Browder
Making Browder an even less likely American hero, Browder was for many years a top Russian kleptocrat, albeit one of a very curious kind.
Why does the former KGB official Vladimir Putin hate William Browder? Is it all because of Earl Browder’s misleadership of the American proletariat during the 1930s and 1940s? (That was a joke.) No, it’s about how Browder conducted his affairs when he swept into Russia and became a ruthless, spectacularly wealthy Russian financial oligarch in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Backed by the mobbed-up global investors and money launderers Edmond Safra and Beny Steinmetz, Browder’s firm Hermitage Capital became the leading foreign investment portfolio in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia. Browder made a fortune off the collapse of Russian socialism, filling his coffers while the collapse of social protections and the advance of the so-called free market drastically increased Russian mortality. Browder profited from the great sell-off of Russian public and natural resources while ordinary Russian struggled with U.S-led capitalist “shock therapy.”
There was a brief specter haunting Browder’s success by the mid-1990s. Yeltsin’s opponent in the 1996 Russian election was the communist Gennady Zyuganov, who threatened to re-expropriate privatized Russian companies. That would have called off the great plutocratic dispossession and enclosure that was fueling the rise of a new state-capitalist oligarchy in Russia. Browder’s his wealth. “I can stomach strikes, food shortages, and street crime,” Browder (still technically a U.S. citizen) said, “but not government expropriation.”
A great statement of Western capitalist humanism: Browder could have dealt with people starving and mugging each other in the streets, but the Russian government taking back public resources he and other capitalist oligarchs had stolen was too much.
Faced with the specter of Zyuganov, Browder, Safra, Steinmetz and more native Russian oligarchs joined their normally contentious deep pockets hands long enough ensure the drunken Yeltsin’s re-election. The United States helped Yeltsin win with a little “election meddling” of the right kind –election meddling conducted by the United States.
How did Browder make it on to the poison-door-knob shit list of “the world’s most powerful man” (according to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria), the Russian president? Putin didn’t and doesn’t mind cold-blooded and hard-nosed wealth acquisition. He’s all in with gangster state capitalism.
Still, callous fortune accumulation in Russia must proceed according to Putin’s dictates and on Putin’s terms. Browder broke two of Putin’s rules. First, he violated Russian national sovereignty concerns by using Russian front-men to circumvent restrictions means to prevent foreigners from gaining control over Russian oil and gas.
Second, Browder got too greedy for his own good. He hired the Russian auditor Sergei Magnitsky to exploit Russian loopholes (including the establishment of dummy companies in underdeveloped tax-free Russian zones) to take over Russian companies and to avoid paying Russian taxes. Magnitsky and Browder were ingenious, deploying numerous elaborate schemes to attack Russian firms and escape government levies.
When the ruses were discovered, Browder was abroad, having taken millions of dollars with him. Magnitsky was jailed for financial chicanery and tax evasion. Browder’s Russian assets were seized. When Magnitsky died in jail from natural causes in 2009, Browder constructed an Orwellian narrative that was swallowed whole by Western media. In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, he told childishly and/or cynically believing establishment US politicos and media operatives that his “lawyer” Magnitsky had heroically exposed financial misdeeds and thievery on the part of Russian government officials. Because of this marvelous and idealist muckraking, Browder claimed, Magnitsky had been imprisoned and tortured to death at Putin’s command. Using Magnitsky as his moral cover, Browder demanded the recovery of his lost Russian assets. He managed along the way to charge that anti-Semitism was part of why he was being oppressed by Putin.
Browder’s deceptive public relations campaign against Putin became a critical development in the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations and the crystallization of the full-on New Cold War. In 2012, the US Congress passed, and president Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which said that any Russian found responsible for Magnitsky’s death and/or the “misappropriation” of Browder’s assets could have their U.S. assets seized and their U.S. banks accounts frozen automatically, without any due process. Adding insult to injury, these dastardly Russians could no longer travel to the U.S. It was an opening act on the path to bigger and more significant sanctions to come in subsequent years.
In the wacky aftermath of the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit debacle last week, Browder is back on the guest roster of a U.S. cable news establishment that has gone Russia wild. Last Wednesday night for just one example, MSNBC’s Russia-crazed ratings star Rachel Maddow leaped from (a) reporting a Sarah Huckabee-Sanders comment on how the Trump White House was discussing whether or not to honor Putin’s request to hand over McFaul and Browder to Russia (which would be a bizarre and astonishing development and was obviously never going to happen) to (b) telling ordinary Americans they could soon be at risk of being picked up by the White House and handed over to Russia to be killed by Putin (or “other foreign dictators”).
Who was more crazy – White House Press Secretary Huckabee-Sanders, for saying that the White House was considering handing over a former US ambassador to Russian authorities (something that was never going to occur), or Maddow, for telling everyday folks that Trump or some other US president may one day mark them for rendition to Russia at the behest of the Kremlin (also never going to occur)?
FOX News may function as Trumpian state screwball television, but CNN and MSNBC have become Trump-mad dumpster fires in their own right. Their daily, hour-by-hour obsession with the latest breaking Trump-Russia story angle has gone full-on Crazy Train. The climate catastrophe proceeds at an ever-escalating pace with barely a trace of serious media attention. Anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) environmental ruin, the biggest issue of our or any time, is a non-story in the dominant Russia-Trumped media. So is just about everything else that ought to matter to citizens concerned with democracy, social justice, and the common good: the coming economic collapse, hastened by runaway deregulation of the financial sector; mass poverty and inequality at home and abroad; racially disparate mass incarceration; endemic violence, drug addiction, and suicide; under-funded and segregated schools; the already marginalized migrant family separation crisis; the U.S.-backed humanitarian calamity in Yemen; the ongoing and invisible humanitarian crisis in the Congo and other Black African states…the list goes on. It’s Trump-Russia, Trump-Russia, 24/7, the bizarre beat of a mass media gone mad – a media that wants you to care more about the fears and wealth of an absurdly opulent and dodgy expat financial mogul (William Browder) than about the fate of livable ecology or of the tens of thousands of children maimed, sickened, and murdered by the U.S and Saudi war on Yemen.
In a piece for the Atlantic (6/20/18), former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum countered statements by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, in which Hayes described a harrowing first-person account of a mother forcibly separated from her child at the US/Mexico border as reading like “the literature of a totalitarian government”:
“As Hayes elaborates his horror at the separation of mother from child, he seems to arrive at a conclusion that there is something inherently oppressive about any kind of immigration rule at all….The border crosser goes to them. She is not just ‘living her life … and then all of a sudden, the state can come in and wrench your life apart.’ She, of her own volition, traveled hundreds of miles to challenge the authority of a foreign state to police its frontiers. When her challenge failed—when she was apprehended and detained—what happened next must have felt harsh and frightening. But dictatorial? Totalitarian? In democracies, too, the wrong side of the law is an inescapably uncomfortable place to find yourself.”
Frum’s argument presents the US as unimplicated in the surge in Central American migration except as its victim, a “sovereign state” that must “police its frontiers.” His concluding worry about “the surges that will soon follow from the rest of the planet if the present surge is not checked” suggests he’s given little thought to the particular forces driving people from that region, much less how those relate to US foreign and economic policy.
Why those countries?
The immigrants that Frum is speaking of come largely from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, an area known as the Northern Triangle. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 3 million total immigrants from these countries in the US, and about half of those immigrants are undocumented. While Mexican immigration has been falling in recent years, Central American immigration has increased: from 2007 through 2015, the total number of Northern Triangle immigrants rose by 25 percent.
Yet much media coverage of immigration misses out on why large numbers of people from the Northern Triangle are migrating to the US in the first place.
Over the past three generations, the Northern Triangle countries, long marked by profound levels of inequality, have each experienced horribly destructive civil wars and military coups. Unsurprisingly, the United States has been intimately involved in each of these, supporting anti-Communist regimes during the Cold War and protecting US business interests with truly disastrous results.
In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup to remove President Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, at the behest of United Fruit Company (now Chiquita), the country’s largest landowner. During the subsequent civil war that lasted until 1996, the US gave military and financial support to a succession of right-wing governments that committed large-scale human rights abuses that killed hundreds of thousands.
In Honduras in the 1980s, the CIA trained right-wing death squads like Battalion 316 that tortured and assassinated the government’s left-wing political opponents. In 2009, the US State Department under Hillary Clinton supported the overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by graduates of the School of the Americas, a notorious US military training academy. The coup created waves of protests and escalated murders of hundreds of activists, including indigenous leader Berta Cáceres.
In El Salvador, when a military coup in 1979 sparked the formation of a leftist guerilla movement known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), first the Carter and then the Reagan administration backed the anti-Communist junta in the ensuing civil war by supplying training, military equipment, arms and financial support totalling $6 billion. Much of the aid and arms ended up supporting the junta’s paramilitary death squads. In 1980, these death squads assassinated Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero during a sermon, and later that year raped and murdered four American nuns. In 1981, junta forces massacred over a thousand people, mostly women, children and the elderly, in the village of El Mozote. The perpetrators, the Atlacatl Battalion, had recently completed training with the U.S. military at Fort Bragg prior to the massacre.
The CIA also funded presidential candidate and junta leader Napoleon Duarte prior to his election in 1984 in order to throw a wrench in peace talks, a move that dragged the war on for another eight years.
The Salvadoran civil war, which ultimately ended along with the Cold War in 1992, is estimated to have claimed the lives of up to 75,000 Salvadorans, including over 50,000 civilians, with 85 percent of deaths at the hands of the Salvadoran government and its paramilitary allies. Top US officials like Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams and UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick each denied or obscured the human rights abuses and massacres in El Salvador order to maintain congressional funding for the Salvadoran military junta and other anti-Communist authoritarian regimes throughout Central America. Abrams later called the Reagan administration’s record in El Salvador “one of fabulous achievement.”
MS-13 a Policy Backfire
El Salvador provides perhaps the most striking case of how US responsibility is obscured in the current immigration debate, based on the notoriety of Mara Salvatrucha, a predominantly Salvadoran street gang better known as MS-13.
MS-13 has become a majorscapegoat for Donald Trump and right-wing media in rationalizing harsh immigration policies. The Trump administration has referred to MS-13 gang members as “animals” who “infest” the United States—rhetoric that, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent (5/25/18) noted, “slaps the dehumanizing slur on the least sympathetic subgroup and then conflates that subgroup with the larger group that is the real target.”
This scapegoating seems to have worked: According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey, over 85 percent of Trump voters believe that MS-13 is a major threat to the United States as a whole. This level of anxiety seems misplaced, considering that even the Justice Department claims MS-13 has only about 10,000 members in the US.
For Salvadorans, though, the fear is very real: In 2017, El Salvador had the most murders per capita on the entire planet (109 per 100,000), followed by Honduras (64 per 100,000), with Guatemala coming in at number nine (31 per 100,000). And with stories like “In El Salvador, the Murder Capital of the World, Gang Violence Becomes a Way of Life” (ABC News, 5/17/16) and “Organised Violence Is Ravaging Central America and Displacing Thousands” (Guardian,6/29/17), media have used that violence to fan fears of MS-13 making inroads into US cities and suburbs.
But what Trump’s racist rhetoric and fear mongering media alike ignore is that MS-13 is partially a product of US policy. The gang was actually founded in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles in the early 1980s, by Salvadoran immigrants and refugees from its civil war. Its subsequent growth from a small street gang in the US to a transnational criminal organization based out of the Northern Triangle provides an illuminating case study of how US foreign policy choices can backfire spectacularly.
Deportation’s Boomerang Effect
The violence of the Salvadoran civil war sparked a mass exodus of Salvadorans to the United States. In 1970, there were only 15,717 Salvadoran born immigrants living in the US. By 1980, there were 94,447 Salvadoran-born immigrants in the US, shooting up to 465,433 by 1990. Undocumented Salvadorans were granted Temporary Protected Status from 1990 through 1994; TPS was extended following a catastrophic earthquake in 2001, and has been periodically renewed since. However, the Trump administration recently revoked TPS for El Salvador, effective September 2019.
During and after the civil war, a majority of Salvadoran-born immigrants ended up in Southern California, particularly in ethnically segregated neighborhoods in Los Angeles, which was at the time in the midst of violence gang turf wars stemming from the crack cocaine epidemic—itself partially the product of plummeting cocaine prices as the result of drug-smuggling by the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels. In this atmosphere, young, impoverished Salvadoran immigrants formed small street gangs like MS-13 and the Eighteenth Street Gang (also known as Barrio 18) for protection from local African-American and Mexican gangs.
Following the end of the civil war in the ’90s and continued gang violence in Southern California and the Washington, DC, metro area—the other major destination for Salvadoran immigrants—the Clinton administration engaged in a policy of mass deportation of immigrants with criminal records, beginning with the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This was a continuation of policies of the Reagan administration, who deported thousands of Salvadorans seeking asylum from the civil war. An estimate by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime counted almost 46,000 deportations of immigrants with criminal records (undocumented or not) to El Salvador from the US between 1998 and 2005.
El Salvador, just off its decade-plus-long civil war, was hardly equipped with the institutions necessary to deal with a massive influx of gang members from the United States. Gangs like MS-13 quickly integrated with already established street gangs within the country, bringing back elements of US gang culture such as symbols, identities and norms like tattoos or graffiti that helped bring local gang sets under the MS-13 umbrella.
The response of the Salvadoran government (and other Northern Triangle countries) was to crack down and lock up large numbers of suspected gang members in the early 2000s, a policy known as mano dura, or “firm hand.” Over 30,000 arrests were made under the policy in El Salvador, although many cases were thrown out due to illegal arrests and lack of evidence. Despite this, the arrests concentrated large numbers of gang members in one place: Jails and prisons served as effective locations for centralizing the organization of gangs that were previously only loosely affiliated.
While these newly integrated gangs in El Salvador are still less centralized than Mexican drug cartels, the mano dura policies nonetheless allowed gangs to better coordinate across varied gang sets, and expand extortion rackets to tax neighbors and businesses on their turf, using threats of violence. These extortion rackets, along with continued violence between gangs over turf, have created an atmosphere of fear that Salvadoran families quite reasonably want to get away from.
Pouring Fuel on the Fire
Increased deportations of Salvadoran gang members during the Trump administration will likely have the effect of further swelling gang membership numbers in El Salvador, which will in turn lead to more migration as Salvadorans flee gang extortion rackets and violence. Even police have reservations about the harsh immigration policies, and MS-13 gang members have acknowledged that deportation policies help expand their numbers.
Continued gang crackdowns by the Salvadoran government over the past few years are also an issue that the US has a hand in: Salvadoran security forces accused by the UN of extrajudicial killings of gang members have received millions in US aid and training from the FBI and DEA. Ongoing violent confrontations between Salvadoran law enforcement and gangs also contribute to a climate of fear and resentment among Salvadorans as well. Just as tough-on-crime policies have generally failed to reduce crime in the US, in El Salvador and the other Northern Triangle countries they have just as bad a track record, as shown by the failure of the mano dura policies.
The end of Temporary Protected Status for over 200,000 Salvadorans, and their likely subsequent deportation, will also have a major effect on the Salvadoran economy by decreasing remittances from the United States, which account for over about a sixth of the country’s GDP. The end of TPS, combined with high levels of unemployment and underemployment that are partially attributable to US neoliberal economic policies like the 2006 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), will likely increase the poverty that feeds youth gang membership and immigration. As Mark Tseng-Putterman noted in Medium (6/20/18),“There are few connections being drawn between the weakening of Central American rural agricultural economies at the hands of CAFTA and the rise in migration from the region in the years since.” Indeed, the destructive impact of US trade policy in Latin America over the years has been actively obscured by the devotion of corporate media to “free trade” nostrums. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained when he endorsed CAFTA in a 2006 CNBC interview: “I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.”
While the United States does not necessarily deserve 100 percent of the blame for the conflicts and economic policies that have led to increases in Northern Triangle violence or immigration, it is certainly a major culprit, and has poured fuel on the fire every time it has had the opportunity to do otherwise.
Ignoring the Context
Yet media ignore this crucial context when discussing current American immigration policies. The Washington Post’s pieces on immigration or MS-13 have seldom mentioned the Salvadoran civil war when discussing immigration, let alone the outsized US involvement in the conflict. Out of hundreds of Post articles on Latin American immigration in the past six months, only a few even mention the Salvadoran civil war (1/11/18, 1/31/18, 2/12/18, 3/12/18, 5/30/18, 6/29/18, 7/2/18). One article in the DC Metro Weekend section (6/14/18) did mention immigration in relation to the civil war, but only in the context of where to get some tasty Salvadoran food in Maryland, while another article (3/2/18) on Venezuelan immigration mentioned the Salvadoran civil war in passing. Only Jose Miguel Cruz’s January 31 article and Micaela Sviatschi’s February 12 article mentioned any US involvement in the Salvadoran civil war. While the Post has explored the connection in greater detail in the past, one would think that the current child migrant separation policy and continuing high levels of Northern Triangle immigration would warrant nuanced and detailed coverage now.
The New York Times fared little better, only mentioning the Salvadoran civil war in the context of immigration or MS-13 a handful times in the past six months (1/13/18, 1/18/18, 1/31/18, 2/8/18, 2/17/18, 3/1/18, 4/30/18, 5/23/18, 5/26/18, 6/12/18), including a book review roundup (1/27/18) and a factchecking article on Trump’s claims about MS-13 (7/1/18). Yet of these articles, only three contained any mention of US involvement in the civil war: the January 13 op-ed by Lauren Markham, the January 18 op-ed by Linda Greenhouse and the May 26 article by Elizabeth Malkin. (Malkin’s piece was less focused on current immigration issues, centering on the El Mozote Massacre.) The rest of the articles only briefly mentioned the Salvadoran civil war.
The corporate press has done a generally good job of covering the staggeringnumber of humanrightsabuses of ICE, including the presence of immigrant detainment camps and the separation of over 2,000 child migrants and asylum seekers from their parents at the US/Mexico border. Other outlets have been better on connecting the imperialist history of US foreign policy with the current immigration issues, like Current Affairs (8/1/16), Vox (5/21/18), The Conversation (5/8/17), Vice (6/28/18) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (6/21/18). Even the Atlantic has published pieces (1/20/18, 3/4/18) that explore the web of US policies that have contributed to the current immigration crisis in Central America.
The fact that neoconservatives like David Frum continually obscure the blowback of imperialist US foreign policy is unsurprising. Perhaps more outrageous is the failure of the establishment press, especially the Washington Post and the New York Times, to grapple with how current immigration issues are connected to US intervention in Central America, and the subsequent gang violence it helped trigger. As Mark Tseng-Putterman (Medium, 6/20/18) aptly put it, the US empire thrives on amnesia. It is the job of the media to inform the public with the nuance and context necessary to understand America’s role in the current Central American immigration crisis.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone