Family members wait outside the Air Force Base for the arrival of their relatives, who were deported from the United States, in Guatemala City, June 20, 2018. Luis Soto | AP
Unmentioned in America’s immigration debate is the role that both Democratic and Republican administrations have played in creating the volatile situations that force Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and other Latino refugees to flee in the first place.
TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — Late on the evening of June 28, 2009, two days before voters were scheduled to go to the polls to vote on a referendum amending the Honduran Constitution, army officers forced President Manuel Zelaya — wearing only his pajamas and slippers — to board a military airplane for Costa Rica. Three months later, after the deposed president had returned surreptitiously to this capital city and holed up in the Brazilian embassy, police opened fire on thousands of his supporters who had assembled outside the mission to demand the cancellation of the November presidential elections.
A teacher and union activist, Agustina Flores had gone to fetch coffee when the shooting began. Just as she returned, she was cornered by police officers who punched and beat her with batons, then took her and hundreds of others to a nearby soccer field that had been converted into a makeshift jail. Flores told the Guardian newspaper in 2016:
The police and soldiers were firing rubber and live bullets into the crowd, beating women and the elderly. One [tear gas] grenade exploded near me; after that I blacked out.”
Continuing, she said:
They hit my face, neck and body. We were trying to defend the constitution and the democratic process.”
But the tens of thousands of Hondurans who poured into the streets in support of Zelaya quickly discovered that they had powerful political enemies both at home and abroad. Rather than condemn the coup, President Obama’s then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, refused to even use the term and instead pressured Honduras’ neighbors to recognize the new government and proceed with the scheduled elections. The ensuing legitimization of the coup government ushered in an era of state repression, violence, and pro-business policies that have delivered at the United States’ doorstep a flood of asylum-seekers from this impoverished Central American country, which was the murder capital of the world as recently as 2011.
In her autobiography Hard Choices, Clinton wrote:
We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future”
In a 2014 interview, the indigenous-rights and environmental activist Berta Caceres described Clinton’s diplomacy in Honduras as a kind of “counterinsurgency” intended to aid and abet “international capital” in its efforts to extract resources from an adversarial population. Said Caceres:
We warned that this would be very dangerous. The elections took place under intense militarism and enormous fraud.”
A man, flanked by police, holds a placard showing an image of slain activist Berta Caceres, during a protest demanding justice for her murder, outside the Prosector’s Office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 2, 2018. Fernando Antonio | AP
Describing the impact of the government’s crackdown on dissident, she said in another interview:
Every day, people are killed.”
Caceres was herself murdered only days later, gunned down by a team of assassins with ties to a hydroelectric dam opposed by the country’s indigenous community.
Alex Main, an expert on U.S. policy in Central America at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Nation magazine:
With the coup, Clinton had a real opportunity to do the right thing and shift U.S. policy to respect democratic processes. But she completely messed it up, and we’re seeing the consequences of it now.”
Fleeing to the country that ruined their countries
As of late, the Washington press corps and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have, understandably, expressed their unique loathing of the Trump White House’s mistreatment of undocumented Central American immigrants filing for political asylum in the U.S. But what typically goes unmentioned in the public debate is the role that both Democratic and Republican administrations have played in creating the volatile situations on the ground that force Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and other Latino refugees to flee in the first place.
It’s important to contextualize the Americas historically as a battle between the mostly European settlers who own the New World and the mostly indigenous and black workers who built it. Destabilizing Central America allows multinationals to continue to exploit labor and resources, and dates back to the CIA’s 1954 plot to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemala’s Socialist President Jacobo Arbenz, whose plan to redistribute land to the country’s landless peasant farmers threatened the massive holdings of the United Fruit Company, the predecessor of Chiquita Brands. The coup eventually triggered a civil war between leftist rebels and the U.S.-backed military, led by avid anti-Communist generals.
In an attempt to pressure Guatemala’s government to cease its human-rights abuses, President Jimmy Carter banned all Defense Department sales of military equipment to Guatemala in 1978, followed by a ban of commercial sales in 1980. Shipments previously approved continued, however, and so did the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, disproportionately members of the indigenous Mayan tribe. Ronald Reagan lifted the sanctions in 1981; the war escalated and, by the time it ended 15 years later, nearly 200,000 Guatemalans had been killed.
An Ixil Mayan woman cleans a coffin holding the remains of a civil war victim prior to a mass burial in Santa Avelina, Guatemala, Nov. 30, 2017. After seven years of work by forensic anthropologists, including DNA tests to locate relatives, the remains of 172 indigenous Ixil Mayans killed during the civil war between 1978 and 1982 were buried in the western mountains of Guatemala. Moises Castillo | AP
U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, told the Huffington Post:
It set a pattern. You look at the decades following [the coup], and the military strongmen, and the juntas, and the mass killings, and it’s no wonder Guatemala is in such terrible shape today.”
Fearing the spread of communism, Carter also supported the decades-long war against El Salvador’s leftists guerillas, known by the Spanish acronym FMLN, which cost an estimated 75,000 lives, ruined the country’s infrastructure, and displaced one-fifth of the population.
Experts note that Nicaraguans are not among the hordes of Central Americans trying to enter the U.S. today — at least not in any significant numbers — and attribute their absence to the success of the leftist Sandinista movement in combating U.S. efforts to install a puppet regime. The country is beginning to experience some political unrest today but, for the most part, President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista movement — which took power in 1979 and managed to hold off the U.S.-backed Contras at the polls for a decade, before regaining power — remains alive and well.
President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista movement — which took power in 1979 and managed to hold off the U.S.-backed Contras at the polls for a decade, before regaining power — remains alive and well.
Greg Grandin, a professor of Latin American history at New York University, told the Huffington Post:
You see the direct effects of these Cold War policies. Nicaragua doesn’t really have a gang problem, and researchers have traced this back to the 1980s and U.S. Cold War policy.”
Just on basic humanitarian grounds we should do the right thing by these kids and accept them as refugees — or the legal term is ‘asylum seekers’ — but we also own this problem, we have culpability in it, whether it’s our involvement with thuggish governments there in the past, or whether it’s the fact we are the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs that are transited through these countries, or whether it’s the war on drugs that we’ve foisted upon these countries.
All of those things contribute to the destabilization, the insecurity, the failed governance, the lack of civil-society development. So, one, we should help now that we’ve done so much to create this situation and, two, we should work constructively with regional partners to rebuild these societies to the best that we can.”
Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”
When citizens began to ask questions about why Walmart stores were suddenly closing in in southern states in 2015, the mainstream media insisted that the closures were due to plumbing problems and that any suggestion of government involvement was a crazy conspiracy theory. Three years later, the MSM is finally admitting that several of those Walmart stores were converted into detention centers, which now house immigrant children who have been separated from their parents.
At least 1,500 boys are currently being detained in Brownsville, Texas, where NBC News reported that they “spend 22 hours per day during the week (21 hours on weekends) locked inside a converted former Walmart,” where at least five boys are packed into rooms built for four. Many of those in prisons across the United States get more yard time than these children.
The boys range in age from 10 to 17 years old, and the average stay at the center is around 52 days. If the idea of imprisoning young boys as if they are felons for two months straight sounds agonizing and cruel, that is because it is. A small group of reporters was allowed inside the facility, and the report from NBC claimed that guard asked them to “smile at the hundreds of detained migrant kids in line for a meal because ‘they feel like animals in a cage being looked at.’”
A report from ABC News also noted that the detention center in Brownsville “was once a Walmart,” and while it claimed that the facility was “clean and well-staffed, with activities to keep the kids busy and their minds off their unfortunate situation,” it also noted that this was “a media tour, and journalists weren’t allowed to interview any of the children.”
“Where there were once racks of clothes and aisles of appliances, there were now spotless dorm-style bedrooms with neatly made beds and Pokémon posters on the walls,” The New York Timesreport noted that the converted Walmart store is now the largest licensed migrant children’s shelter in the country, but failed to point out that it was one of many stores that mysteriously went out of business when President Obama was still in office.
At the time, citizens became concerned when a number of Walmart stores mysteriously went out of business in Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Florida starting in April 2015. The mainstream media and its “trustworthy fact-checker” Snopes.com were adamant that the closures were due to plumbing problems, as Walmart claimed, and that there was no government involvement.
However, the reality that the former stores are, in fact, being used by the government, and that they are being used to imprison migrant children who have been separated from their parents, made headlines recently when Senator Jeff Merkley attempted to enter the converted Walmart in Brownsville, and he was denied entry by police.
“When I was at the center at McAllen Border Station, this is the processing center, earlier and I was admitted there and I did see the people, hundreds of children locked up in cages there at that facility,” Merkley said in an interview with CNN. “They have big cages made out of fencing and then wire and nets stretched across the top of them so people can’t climb out of them.”
While it is not clear whether any of the children in the detention center in Brownsville are being kept in cages, it is clear that the government worked diligently to keep facts from the public.
The young children who are forcefully separated from their parents are treated like prisoners and taken to detention centers where they are forced to live among hundreds of other children they have never met. The lifelong consequences can be detrimental; and, in some cases, these children will never see their parents again.
The individual cases are horrific, and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal recently shed light on her experience visiting a facility near Seattle where she met with more than 170 women who were taken into custody near the southern U.S. border.
“Thirty to 40 percent of these women came with children who had been forcibly taken away from them. None got a chance to say goodbye to their children—they were forcibly taken away,” Jayapal toldThe Nation. “One said she was deceived because they were in detention together. Then the CBP officers told her she was going out to get her photograph taken. When she came back, she was put in a different room, and she never got to see the child again. Some of them said they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room.”
A father from Honduras, who came to the United States with his family to seek asylum, was so distraught after he was separated from his wife and child that he killed himself while he was left alone in a jail cell last month.
In another case, a mother from Honduras who came to the U.S. seeking asylum with her family said she was breastfeeding her infant at a detention center when her baby was suddenly taken from her with no warning and no explanation.
A former employee of one of the detention centers is now speaking out after he said he quit in protest after he saw how horrific the process was for the children. Antar Davidson said he watched young children being “ripped from their parents” and sent to a detention center, where in some cases, no one spoke the same language they did.
Davidson claimed the facility was understaffed, the employees lacked the proper training, and as a result, the children were “extremely traumatized.” He also said the workers were underpaid, while “the CEO and his wife clear more than a million dollars a year in mostly federal tax money and undercut the services we need.”
“It’s a basic private prison deal in the guise of this shelter,” Davidson said. “So the people at the end of the day, when they have to put the kids to sleep have already worked an eight-hour shift and are often times asked to stay overtime. On top of that, these kids are running up and down the halls screaming, crying for their mom, throwing chairs. Everyone is tired. The under-trained staff is dealing with an increasingly traumatized population of minors.”
As The Free Thought Project has reported, while there have always been people seeking asylum in the U.S. from other countries, it should be noted that the “War on Drugs” in the United States has contributed both to violence in the countries immigrants are seeking asylum from, and an increase in drug trafficking over the border that has resulted in all migrants being treated like criminals.
Former Congressman Ron Paul noted last year that the War on Drugs has “produced no benefit to the American people at a great cost,” and “just as with the welfare magnet, there is an enormous incentive to smuggle drugs into the United States.”
There is also the troubling concern over what is happening to the immigrant children who are separated from their parents. While the idea of an innocent child being locked in a cage is troubling, it is not the worst fate many of the children are subjected to. The Health and Human Services Department recently admitted that nearly 1,500 immigrant children have gone missing, and many of them are suspected to have been kidnapped by human traffickers.
In 2015, Snopes attempted to fact-check “rumors” that “began to swirl in April 2015 when several Walmart stores around the U.S. were abruptly closed due what Walmart claimed were “plumbing problems.“ Walmarts in Pico Rivera, CA, Livingston, TX, Midland, TX, Brandon, FL, and Tulsa, OK, all suddenly closed their doors, with Walmart corporate announcing that some of those outlets would be shuttered for six months or more. We now know, even though Snopes has not updated its web page, that at least one of those Walmarts is a detention center to house children of immigrant families.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) attempted to enter the converted Walmart in Brownsville, TX to inspect the living conditions of immigrant children who had reportedly been separated from their parents and were rumored to be kept in cages and concrete floors of the converted Walmart. Merkley streamed live on social media his attempt to enter the facility but was denied entry by Homeland Security.
All the windows and doors to the facility—which is a shuttered Walmart—have been blacked out with window tinting. Merkley arrived and was immediately asked to leave by a female government worker.
One of the country’s most powerful lawmakers then demanded to speak with a supervisor. Instead of complying with his wishes in the name of transparency, the shadowy government workers called Brownsville police on the U.S. Senator. After 10 minutes of waiting and being confronted by local police, he was denied entry and forced to leave.
Later, in a Facebook live video, Merkley remarked:
When an organization has something to hide, not allowing members of congress to see it, in a democracy, is completely unacceptable…What’s going on is an effort to prevent the press from being able to report to the American people what is happening. And that’s simply unacceptable.
Later on in the video he added:
So far, as far as we know, no member of Congress has actually been allowed to see what’s going on with this program.
The detention facility is run by Southwest Key Programs, who promptly issued an apology to the Senator from Oregon on Wednesday for disallowing Merkley entry to its converted Walmart on Padre Island Highway in Brownsville. The statement reads:
We regret having to turn away Senator Merkley at our Casa Padre shelter. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) prohibits any facility from allowing visits that have not been approved by them, even if it is a U.S. Senator. With ORR approval, Southwest Key shelters have welcomed elected and other public officials at our facilities in the past, and will continue to do so, because we are proud of the caring environment we provide these children. We have reached out to the Senator and connected with his staff because we would like to see this happen.
After the video began gaining traction, the White House lashed out at the senator, claiming that he is “spreading blatant lies” about the reality of the situation.
“Senator Merkley is irresponsibly spreading blatant lies about routine immigration enforcement while smearing hardworking, dedicated law enforcement officials at ICE and CBP,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News.
“He voted against closing the ‘catch-and-release’ loopholes used by child smugglers, and his reckless open borders policies are responsible for the permanent separation of thousands of American families who have been forced to bury their loved ones,” Gidley added. “No one is taking a public safety lecture from Sen. Merkley, whose own policies endanger children, empower human smugglers and drug cartels, and allow violent criminal aliens to flood into American communities.”
What’s more, DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton said Merkley was actually able to visit the facility—in spite of the video showing otherwise.
“At 2pm on a Friday, the Senator asked to visit a secure DHS facility over the weekend where children are present and we worked with him to provide him access,” Houlton said. “This presented obvious and serious privacy concerns – not to mention disrupting operations. He was able to visit the facility on Sunday.”
That never happened.
According to Merkley, however, he says that he’s actually been inside another one of these facilities in which he witnessed hundreds of children being kept inside cages.
“When I was at the center at McAllen Border Station, this is the processing center, earlier and I was admitted there and I did see the people, hundreds of children locked up in cages there at that facility,” Merkley said in an interview with CNN. “They have big cages made out of fencing and then wire and nets stretched across the top of them so people can’t climb out of them.”
After the White House issued the statement on Merkley allegedly spreading lies, Merkley Communications Director Ray Zaccaro fired back and insisted the White House be more transparent on what’s going on with these children.
“The White House is smearing Senator Merkley because they can’t defend their indefensible policy of snatching children from their parents,” Zaccaro said. “Senator Merkley and his staff saw children in cages yesterday at the DHS processing center. We still have no idea what’s happening in the detention center where reportedly up to a thousand children are being held, since they refused the Senator’s request to go inside.”
Even if Merkley is doing all this as a means to smear Trump or garner political support, the reality of the situation is that children have been documented by politicians and local news crews during the Obama administration being kept in cages.
Photo: McAllen, TX, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) tour of processing center.
Sadly, these children are being used as pawns in a political game as rivals bicker over how to handle them while ignoring real factors that would curb criminal immigration.
As the Free Thought Projectreported, Ron Paul provides penetrating wisdom on truly effective ways to deal with the situation, while providing a financial benefit and removing a giant injustice being perpetrated by the U.S. government.
Likewise, the 40 year war on drugs has produced no benefit to the American people at a great cost. It is estimated that since President Nixon declared a war on drugs, the US has spent more than a trillion dollars to fight what is a losing battle. That is because just as with the welfare magnet, there is an enormous incentive to smuggle drugs into the United States.
We already know the effect that ending the war on drugs has on illegal smuggling: as more and more US states decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses, marijuana smuggling from Mexico to the US has dropped by 50 percent from 2010.
This view is backed by data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. In fiscal year 2015, illegal immigrants were responsible for 75 percent of federal drug possession charges.
Amusingly, both Sean Hannity and PolitiFact confirmed this. Data show that the ‘illegal alien” category accounted for “1,640 of 2,181 total convictions (75 percent) in which the primary charge was simple drug possession.”
It is important to note that a rise in gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala has caused a massive influx of immigrants seeking refuge lately. They are coming in by the thousands in an attempt to escape this violence. Instead of looking at the cause of this violence, however, US policy is to separate immigrant children from their parents while prosecuting the adults—and this is supposed to somehow be a solution.
Paul also points out the burden of free medical benefits, food assistance, and education given to illegal immigrants which amounts to about $100 billion a year. Granted, many of them are part of the workforce in sectors such as agriculture, but not paying taxes and sending money back to Mexico creates a significant imbalance.
Instead of wearing the badge of the “largest prison population in the world” and continuing to convert Walmarts into detention centers, the United States could begin eliminating the national debt, reduce crime, foster personal liberty, and drastically decrease criminal gangs that flourish from prohibition—and all it would have to do would be end the war on drugs.
Sadly, at least for now, it appears that these dinosaurs in DC think that caging children, ripping them out of their parents arms, and repeatedly deporting them at the expense of the taxpayer, is the only solution. Thanks government.
The United States has been quietly funding and equipping elite paramilitary police units in El Salvador accused of extrajudicially murdering suspected gang members, according to a forthcoming United Nations report reviewed in advance by CNN.
Beginning with George W. Bush in 2003, successive US administrations have provided tens of millions of dollars in aid for Salvadoran military and police in support of the government’s “Mano Dura” (“Firm Hand”) security program, an aggressive campaign to combat out-of-control gang violence in a country with one of the world’s highest homicide rates.
“Mano Dura” aid increased significantly during the Obama administration, which compared the effort to Plan Colombia, the decades-long anti-drug campaign in which billions of US aid dollars funded mafia-like army units that, along with allied paramilitary death squads, kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent civilians with impunity. As was the case with Plan Colombia, the new UN report will accuse Salvadoran security forces, in this case some of its elite police units, of “a pattern of behavior by security personnel amounting to extrajudicial executions” and a “cycle of impunity” in which such killings go unpunished.
One police unit, the Special Reaction Forces (FES), killed 43 suspected gang members during the first half of 2017, according to the UN report. While FES officers were executing suspects in the streets, the US government continued to fund and equip the unit. Washington’s total assistance increased from $67.9 million in 2016 to $72.7 million last year. The deportation of members of MS-13 – formed in Los Angeles by young Salvadoran refugees fleeing civil war in a homeland ruled by a US-backed military dictatorship – and other gangs has further exacerbated the crisis.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in San Salvador assured CNN that “the US government takes allegations of extrajudicial killings extremely seriously,” that it has “consistently expressed concerns” regarding human rights abuses and that it heavily vets units receiving aid. These assurances ring hollow to many Salvadorans who recall how the Ronald Reagan administration covered up horrific human rights violations in order to keep military aid flowing to the anti-communist military regime during the 1980s civil war.
MS 13 member
That aid, which included forming, training, funding and arming military death squads, began during the Carter administration and dramatically increased under Reagan. Officers, troops and police were trained in kidnapping, torture, assassination and democracy suppression at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), also known as the School of Coups and School of Assassins because it produced so many of both.
SOA graduates and other US-backed Salvadoran security forces planned, ordered and committed the most heinous atrocities of the 12-year civil war, including the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of four American nuns and church volunteers in 1980, the assassination of the country’s beloved Catholic archbishop, Oscar Romero, that same year and the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. After the four churchwomen were slain, the Reagan administration undertook a shameful effort to place blame on the victims.
The most notorious Salvadoran army unit, the Atlacatl Battalion, was created in 1980 at the SOA and hailed as “the pride of the United States military team in El Salvador.” As a rite of passage its new troops collected roadkill carcasses – “dogs, vultures, anything,” according to one former member – and boiled them into a soup they all drank. Atlacatl Battalion’s human victims fared even worse than the dead animals its recruits consumed. The unit committed countless massacres, including the slaughter of 117 men, women and children at Lake Suchitlan in 1983 and the mass murder of 68 civilians, many of them children, at Los Llanitos the following year.
But even these massacres paled in comparison to Atlacatl’s deadliest crime, the wholesale slaughter of more than 900 villagers, mostly women, children and the elderly, at El Mozote on December 11, 1981. There, soldiers shot, stabbed, hacked, smashed, and hung helpless villagers to death. They gang-raped women and girls before killing them. They skewered babies on bayonets. They dropped large rocks on the bellies of pregnant women. When the raping and murdering finished, they burned El Mozote to the ground, reducing the village to what one witness called “a moving black carpet” of scavenging vultures, flies and dogs feasting on the victims.
The day after El Mozote made front page headlines in the US, President Reagan officially certified that El Salvador was “making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights,” and was working to “bring an end to the indiscriminate torture and murder of Salvadoran citizens.” Meanwhile, Elliott Abrams, then a State Department human rights official who was later convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal before serving as a special assistant to President George W. Bush, helped lead an effort to deny the El Mozote massacre ever happened.
US aid to El Salvador was doubled, and heinous atrocities continued through the end of the civil war.
It wasn’t just El Salvador. The United States also supported or covered up death squad activity throughout Central and South America in the 1970s and ‘80s. In Guatemala, it backed right-wing military dictators including Efraín Ríos Montt, who recently died facing genocide charges, as well as brutal death squads like the army’s elite Kaibiles unit, which tortured, raped and murdered more than 200 villagers at Dos Erres in December, 1982.
In Honduras, Reagan’s ambassador, John Negroponte, supervised the creation of the notorious Battalion 316, which was tasked with eliminating students, academics, labor unionists, clergy, journalists, indigenous rights activists and others deemed a threat to the dictatorship. Negroponte also played a key role in supporting the US-backed Contra army as it waged a terrorist war against the people of Nicaragua.
It also wasn’t just in the past. After a 2009 military coup deposed the progressive Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya, Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton backed the repressive right-wing regime even as reports of its brutality, which included forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions of opponents, were revealed. Despite the assassination of high-profile critics including the environmental activist Berta Cáceres, the Obama administration lavished the Honduran coup regime and its murderous security forces with tens of millions of dollars in military and other assistance.
The United States has long operated or supported death squads, from the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam (40,000 killed) through the implementation of the “Salvador option” during the recent invasion and occupation of Iraq. The latter effort was run by Col. James Steele, a decorated veteran of Central America’s dirty wars, including a stint training Salvadoran death squad units during the civil war. Unsurprisingly, secret prisons, torture and extrajudicial killings became commonplace throughout occupied Iraq.
It now appears that the “Salvador option” has made its way back home from halfway around the world, further terrorizing guilty and innocent alike in what was already one of the most frightful corners of the planet.
Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CounterPunch.
The number of migrant children held without their parents by the US government has surged 21% since last month to 10,773 children, the Washington Post reported.
The uptick comes after the Trump administration imposed a new “zero tolerance” policy to prosecute migrants who cross the US border illegally.
The policy means that migrant parents who cross the border with their children are forcibly separated while they await criminal prosecution.
The Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy toward migrants who cross the US border illegally has driven up the number of migrant children held in government custody without their parents, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The US Health and Human Services Department said it was holding 10,773 migrant children in custody as of Tuesday — up 21% from the 8,886 it was holding a month earlier.
The surge comes in the wake of the Trump administration’s new tactic to criminally prosecute every person who crosses into the US illegally, which requires them to be separated from any children they brought with them while they’re detained.
But it’s unclear exactly how many of the 10,773 children being held in government custody were actually forcibly separated from their parents — a Customs and Border Protection official told lawmakers at a hearing last week that 658 children had been separated from 638 adults between May 6 and May 19 under the new zero tolerance policy.
Bloody protests against Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega’s government have the United State’s fingerprints all over it. Over 100 people have been killed since the civil unrest broke out in mid-April and it doesn’t take much to realize the US government is fueling the bloodbath.
These are all coalescing as other democratic and not-so-democratic removals of leftist governments from power continue. NATO has nabbed itself a foothold in the Latin American region, now that Colombia has joined the obsolete yet aggressively expanding Cold War alliance, in a thinly veiled threat to neighboring authoritarian Venezuela.
Now it’s Nicaragua’s turn for the US to interfere in the government’s efforts to “police the entire world,” paid with by our stolen tax money, of course. Student demonstrations began in the capital Managua as a reaction to the country’s failure to handle forest fires in one of the most protected areas of the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve. The situation was then exacerbated when, two days later, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front announced it was slashing pensions and social security payments, sparking further anti-government protests. Targeted opposition violence along with police repressions have led to a mounting body count on both sides. Violence persists in the country, despite the fact that President Ortega has now ditched the proposed welfare reforms and has been engaging in talks with the opposition.
The government has adamantly denied it was responsible for snipers killing at least 15 people at a recent demonstration. And, while we may never know what really happened, it’s fair to say an embattled national leadership in the midst of peace talks has little to gain from people being gunned down in front of the world’s media at an opposition march on Mother’s Day. All I’ll say on the matter is it’s not like we didn’t have mysterious sharpshooters picking off protesters during US-supported coups in Venezuela and Ukraine. –RT
It is unsurprising then that the US is apparently attempting to capitalize on the growing discontent, stoking dissent among the youth in a deliberate attempt to destabilize the Sandinista government. Infamously nefarious US soft power organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, also known as the CIA’s ‘legal window’, have set up extensive networks in Nicaragua. Among the leading Nicaraguan student activists currently touring Europe to garner support for the anti-government movement is Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros is a member of the Movimiento Civico de Juventudes, which is funded by Madeline Albright’s National Democratic Institute (NDI). Albright is the former US Secretary of State that said that 500,000 Iraqi Children dying as a result of US sanctions against Saddam Hussein was “worth it”.
If the idea of Washington supporting progressive anti-government forces in Latin America confuses you, then you’re failing to grasp the nature of US interference. During the Cold War, for example, the US supported both the Mujahideen inAfghanistan as well as eastern European trade unionists against the Soviet Union. Indeed, throughout the Syrian conflict, Washington has been arming leftist groups alongside jihadist organizations. It goes without saying that, despite US politicians getting all dewy-eyed over “freedom fighters,” the likes of Jihadists or even trade unionists are not welcome in US society. –RT
Operation Car Wash began in March 2014 at a petrol and car wash complex in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, and it was initially thought to be routine.
The Federal Police team had the location under surveillance believing that it was the centre of a money -laundering operation run by Alberto Youseff, a former convicted criminal known as the “doleiro de doleiros” – the money launderer of money launderers.
When it was discovered in one of Youssef’s intercepted emails that he was paying for a Land Rover for an executive of Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company, it immediately raised suspicions.
The executive turned out to be Paulo Roberto Costa, the man in charge of refining and supply. Costa became the main target in the first phase of the Car Wash investigation and was arrested.
Deltan Dallagnol, the lead Federal Prosecutor for the case, says that investigators uncovered “evidence of money laundering” totalling some 26 million Brazilian reals ($8m). Criminal charges were brought against Costa, who negotiated a plea bargain with authorities.
“That allowed for an exponential expansion of the investigation,” Dallagnol says. “It was the big bang of the Car Wash Operation.”
Never before did Brazil export corruption like it did in the Car Wash case.
Costa admitted that the Land Rover was just one of many bribes he received to issue contracts to construction companies, and told law enforcement officials participating in a task force set up to pursue the case that the bribing scheme was much larger than anything they imagined.
Corruption in the supply division he oversaw, Costa said, “was the tip of the iceberg”.
Bruno Brandao, the head of Transparency International in Brazil, says, “Never before did Brazil export corruption like it did in the Car Wash case.”
He adds that the problem of corruption in Brazil is systemic, and that in the Car Wash scandal, “the mechanism of corruption was traditional – overcharging of contracts and the setup of company cartels. What is new is the scale, the amounts of money and number of people involved – officials and companies. The dimensions of this case are what makes it extraordinary.”
Federal police inspector Felipe Hayashi, who heads the Financial Crimes Unit of the Car Wash taskforce, says the investigation “reached people of the highest rank and level of responsibility. That’s something that has never happened before.”
Investigators learned that there was a cartel of companies that dealt with Petrobras. According to a secret agreement that existed for more than 10 years, the cartel would nominate one of its members to be awarded each Petrobras contract – for refineries, oil rigs, and other multimillion-dollar projects.
“We secured documents that laid out the operation of the cartel in terms of championship rules for different sports,” says Dallagnol. “There were 16 championship players and their objective was to ‘maximise’ prizes in national and international markets alike. Obviously, these companies would never openly admit cartel arrangements in a clear way, so they tried to disguise them as championship rules for different sports.”
The cartel rules resulted in steep overpayments for the work done. Petrobras executives were bribed to go along, and the cost of the bribe built into the contract. In fact, the scheme stretched far beyond Petrobras to contracts for stadiums for the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Rio Olympics and other major infrastructure projects throughout the country.
Brazil’s Car Wash scandal turned into the largest corruption case in Latin America’s history, involving some of the region’s most prominent public figures. [Getty Images]
The Odebrecht bribery machine
On June 19, 2015, the taskforce moved against the cartel players.
“It was time to take a step which had never been taken before in history; when big businessmen were finally reached, people who had been considered princes of enterprises in Brazil,” says Dallagnol.
Twelve top-level executives were arrested, among them Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of the company that bears his name. Odebrecht is the largest construction company in Latin America. Its bribing operation typified that of cartel members and was the most extensive in the region.
Marcel Odebrecht was held without bail, and less than a year after his detention he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for corruption, money laundering and criminal association.
For decades and decades, in Brazil, you had to apply grease for everything. If a citizen wanted to obtain an ID, he certainly would have to pay something to a public agent to expedite the process.
Sergio Foguel, member of the Odebrecht Board of Directors
We headed to Salvador in northeast Brazil to get the Odebrecht Company’s response to the scandal.
The business was founded in 1944 by Marcelo Odebrecht’s grandfather, and the city is still its headquarters. Sergio Foguel, a long-time member of the Odebrecht Board of Directors, agreed to talk to us.
Despite the conviction of its CEO, the company still operates in more than 20 countries around the world and had revenues of about $26bn last year.
“There is no excuse to justify those acts of misconduct,” Foguel says. “But for decades and decades, in Brazil, you had to apply grease for everything. If a citizen wanted to obtain an ID, he certainly would have to pay something to a public agent to expedite the process”.
Our reporter, Gustavo Gorriti, wanted to know why the company had consistently denied any wrongdoing for months and months during the investigation.
“Despite all our strength as a company, we carried out acts within our organisation that today would be completely inadmissible,” Foguel says. “There was a collective blindness. Initially, corruption was tolerated and later, it expanded in an incredible way.”
A plea bargain by Odebrecht employees in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption scandal led to testimony ensnaring nine ministers in President Michel Temer’s cabinet under investigation [Mario Tama/Getty]
‘Plug and play. It was serial corruption’
According to authorities, Odebrecht had a division of “Structured Operations” that ran an intricate off-the-books accounting system and a bank to bribe not only company executives, but also politicians.
This started to become clear when Marcelo Odebrecht began talking in hopes of reducing his 19-year sentence.
In testimony to prosecutors captured on audiotape, Odebrecht admitted that his company bribed politicians from all the major Brazilian parties in exchange for appointing Petrobras executives at the public company. Dozens of congressmen, senators and ministers have so far been implicated in the scandal.
Odebrecht’s testimony dealt a body blow to the Workers’ Party of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and his successor Dilma Rousseff.
Amid a deep political crisis, Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August 2016. Two weeks later, Lula was formally charged with corruption in connection with the Car Wash scandal.
While Brazil’s elites were being held to account, investigators were also making steady progress on the international front with the help of the US Department of Justice. The country is one of the world’s main destinies for financial transactions.
“This provides the United States jurisdiction over a good deal of money laundering crimes that happen around the world,” Dallagnol says. “The US acted in a very efficient way, identifying accounts kept in their country to launder money and delivering documents very quickly.
In December 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty to American charges that it provided almost $800m in bribes for more than 100 projects in 12 countries. It agreed to pay a $3.5bn fine and disclose details of its corrupt activities in Latin America and Africa.
According to Brandao, “Odebrecht, at least in the 12 countries it operated, had the same system, the same mechanism – plug and play. It was serial corruption.”
From Brazil to Panama: Fake companies and big deals
Odebrecht’s guilty plea in the US set off investigations throughout Latin America. Key to those efforts was deciphering how the money flowed from the company to corrupt officials through countries like Panama that specialise in offshore banking.
Rolando Rodriguez, who heads the investigative unit of the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa, says that “From Panama, money went out to officials from Brazil, officials from Peru and other parts of the world.”
Panama’s police investigators uncovered a Panamanian company tied to Odebrecht called Contructora Internacional del Sur.
“It was a fake company that received money from Odebrecht and sent it out to accounts in different countries, especially Switzerland,” Rodriquez says. “So, the laundering structure was set up using companies, most of them from Panama, as well as bank accounts, most of them from abroad.”
Many of the shell companies used by members of the Brazilian construction cartel to dispense bribes were set up by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers leak, which exposed the financial dealings of some of the most powerful and wealthy people in the world.
“Mossack Fonseca is one of the oldest firms that work on setting up shell corporations,” Rodriguez says. “So, by arriving here in Panama you resolve the problem of having to travel to 10 different countries to get 100 corporations.”
Panama was not only a good transit point for corrupt payments. It was also a place to land large construction projects at inflated prices. With projects of some $9bn, Odebrecht is the most important construction company in Panama. Between 2010 and 2014, according to the US Department of Justice, Odebrecht paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to secure public works contracts. One of the most profitable was building the Coast Highway.
I do harm to a country for $2 or $3bn. I agree to pay $300m, $500m or a billion and, after some time, I walk away free. What a business.
Jose Antonio Dominguez, legislator
“Panama ended up paying a great deal for a project that should have cost much less,” says Jose Antonio Dominguez, a legislator with the country’s governing Panamenista party who has been questioning the pricing of the project for years. “That project, without any change, suddenly was awarded for $189.5m instead of $133.5m. Why that $60m difference? For what?”
In July 2017, Odebrecht reached an agreement with the Panama authorities to pay $220m in fines and provide information about public corruption to settle bribery charges in the country.
“I do harm to a country for $2 or $3bn. I agree to pay $300m, $500m or a billion and, after some time, I walk away free. What a business,” says Dominguez.
A vast web of political and corporate corruption in Peru
Tensions over the way Odebrecht conducted its business are growing throughout Latin America. The latest flashpoint is Peru, where the country’s ruling establishment is reeling from its connections to the company.
Attorney Walter Alban served as the public ombudsman in Peru from 2000 to 2005 during the presidency of Alejandro Toledo, now accused of receiving bribes from Odebrecht.
“It’s been demonstrated that there were transfers through offshore companies and close friends of the former president,” he says.
Odebrecht wanted the lion’s share of a multibillion-dollar highway project connecting the Peruvian coast to Brazil and they got it. Toledo has been charged with accepting a $20m bribe to steer them the business.
Jorge Barata, the head of Odebrecht in Peru, confessed in 2016 that he struck the deal in a meeting at a Copa Cabana hotel in Brazil that Toledo attended. Peruvian prosecutors are trying to extradite Toledo from the US to face bribery charges, which he denies.
Alban says Odebrecht didn’t just pay off individual politicians. The company promoted its interests by gaining influence over the political system itself.
“The scheme Odebrecht had was not only related to bribes to get contracts,” Alban says. “There was also this practice of promoting candidates and financing political parties, and not just one but all that might have a chance of winning.”
In a videotaped confession to prosecutors obtained by Peruvian investigative journalism organisation IDL-Reporteros, Barata admitted to giving $3m to the Nationalist Party to help finance the 2011 presidential campaign of Ollanta Humala. Humala won and served as president from 2011 to 2016.
Corruption is not an issue of right or left, or ideology. But of a confluence of interests.
Walter Alban, lawyer
Barata also claimed his company supported the left-wing Humala not only to promote Odebrecht´s interests in Peru, but to curry favour with Lula’s Workers’ Party in Brazil. “The Workers Party had an interest that all South American presidents share the same political and economic line as the Workers Party. Humala had those characteristics,” Barata says.
According to Alban, Odebrecht had strong links with ex-president Lula’s party in Brazil. It is described as a “geopolitical strategy” he says, indicating that “corruption is not an issue of right or left, or ideology. But of a confluence of interests.”
Both Humala and his wife, Nadine Heredia who was general secretary of the Nationalist Party, are now in prison awaiting trial.
Keiko Fujimori and her Popular Force party are also under investigation for taking money from Odebrecht to fund her 2011 presidential bid. Fujimori says the accusation is false but Marcelo Odebrecht has testified that his company helped finance her campaign.
On February 28, Barata met Peruvian prosecutors and confirmed that the company gave money to support Fujimori in the presidential race – $1.2m.
“There aren’t political parties any more” says Alban, “There are groups that define themselves as political, but strictly speaking, they are supported in all cases by illegal funds”.
Demonstrators protest for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and also against corruption being investigated involving resource diversion and money laundering in Petrobras scandal of corruption on March 16, 2016, in Sao Paulo, Brazil [Victor Moriyama/Getty]
A new attitude towards corruption in Latin America
Last December, the Car Wash scandal arrived at the doorstep of Peru’s current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Peru’s congress launched impeachment proceedings against him, alleging his companies received almost $800,000 from Odebrecht while he was serving as a public official.
Kuzcinsky vehemently denies all wrongdoing and narrowly avoided impeachment but prosecutors continue their investigations. In his February meeting with prosecutors, Barata said Odebrecht also contributed to Kuzcinsky’s 2011 presidential campaign.
Peru’s Attorney General Pablo Sanchez is overseeing the investigation of Peru’s high-level officials for dealings with Odebrecht. “We are talking about corruption and a series of very complex crimes that involve several different governments, not just one but at least three,” he says.
When asked why the corruption connected to the Car Wash case went so far in Peru, he says: “Our country is not prepared to face cases of this nature or prevent crime,” Sanchez says. “Our country has trusted too much in the behaviour of state officials and the politicians in our country. So in that way, we haven’t advanced at all, or just very little. What we do now, proper investigations, proper convictions, will help prevent this from happening again in the future.”
Car Wash in Brazil today is no longer just an investigation, nor a process. Lavo Jato today in Brazil is an attitude, an expectation that impunity will start to fade away.
Bruno Brandao, head of Transparency International
Every week seems to bring new developments around the world in connection with the Car Wash scandal.
Governments from Ecuador to Angola are dealing with the repercussions of the case. Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the Supreme Court is considering former President Lula’s appeal of a 12-year sentence he received for corruption. His plans to run for president this October are in danger of being derailed.
“Car Wash in Brazil today is no longer just an investigation, nor a process. Lava Jato today in Brazil is an attitude, an expectation that impunity will start to fade away,” Brandao says.
Alban agrees that a new attitude towards corruption is arising in Latin America. “Democratic societies in which we can say that the problem of corruption is at least controlled,” are those in which the public watches over how public resources are spent and demands “that public authorities be held to account. Because of the Car Wash case that is something that I believe is beginning to happen.”
“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