Foreign corporations, hungry for profit, have looked to the fertile lands and mineral rich deposits of Central America for generations. Many of the healthy fruits you feed your family come from Central America. And of course, much of your coffee. Metals from the region inhabit everything from the innards of your electronics and automobiles, to the nickels floating around in the bottom of your change purse, to the plastics that you try to remember to recycle.
Do you drink free trade coffee?
The land that spawns these resources is in high demand by foreign corporations, including, of course, many US corporations. When possible, these corporations make deals with (often corrupt) Central American governments to acquire access to resources, with complete disregard to the local populations. However, there have been points in history in which Central American leaders did not welcome foreign corporations who wanted to come in and strip away their resources. The US government went as far as to overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala in 1954, in order to ensure continued access to Guatemalan land by United Fruits. In the 1980’s, under President Regan, the White House orchestrated the infamous Iran/Contra deal, in which armed forces friendly to US corporate interests were funded by the profits accrued by illegally selling weapons to the government of Iran. And even in 2009, when the entire world was condemning the Honduran Coup, the US stayed relatively quiet, waiting to see if the interim government was more corporate friendly.
By far the best book on the 1954 Guatemalan coup is Bitter Fruit. It is a page-turner. Like a Cold War espionage novel. But it is all true.
When you hear about the massive influx of Central American refugees pouring into the US from our southern border, you probably don’t think about the fact that many of the things that you touch and consume on a given day have contributed to the circumstances that forced these people from their homes. You probably don’t think about the fact that the stuff inside of your cell phone contributed to the poisoning of local water sources. Or that people’s homes were burned down, on ancestral lands, inhabited for thousands of years before Europeans arrived in the hemisphere, in order to bring you the coins that sit in the bottom of your pocket. And you probably don’t know the names of the local heroes who have often given their lives to protect their land.
One such hero was murdered recently. Her name was Berta Caceres. She was the co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, and the 2015 awardee of the Goldman Environmental Prize. As an advocate for environmental justice, she fought against the mining industries, and sought to protect the rights of the indigenous people of Honduras.
More than 100 environmental activists in Honduras have been killed since the 2009 coup.
In other parts of Central America, violence against those who resist foreign corporate interests are also common. In Guatemala, in addition to numerous murders and rapes of land rights activists, there is the massive dislocation of indigenous people from their ancestral lands.
The footage in this video is now almost a decade old. But it is so rare and valuable, because these types of human rights violations are rarely caught on camera. This entire community was decimated. On the first day, modest homes in one neighborhood are disassembled after a government official reads an eviction notice granting a Canadian mining company rights to the land. The following day, the time consuming efforts to disassemble homes were abandoned, and the next neighborhood is simply burned to the ground.
In this much longer video, families are displaced in 2011 to make room for the sugar industry.
Some of the victims of this inconceivable violence have struggled to reclaim their land. Others have settled in other parts of Guatemala. And still others have abandoned all hope, and made the dangerous journey north to start over.
There are certainly other factors contributing to the influx of desperate human beings who are risking their lives, and even the lives of their beloved children, to cross the border into the US.
Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigobert Menchu, documents her life as an indigenous woman growing up in post-coup Guatemala. Her brilliant autobiography is a portrait of a reality most of us cannot imagine.
But as you spoon a little sugar into your morning coffee, as you prepare a birthday cake for your own beloved child, and as you click the mouse on your computer, or tap your finger on your cell phone to read this article, please remember that your life is intertwined with the lives of those who are crossing our borders. You and I enjoy the products produced and imported by the companies that displaced them. Companies and corporations that do not hesitate to make a profit at the expense of human life.
For more information on Central America, please check out these important books:
Have you seen the brilliant movie El Norte? It is a perhaps the greatest portrayal of the immigrant experience ever portrayed on film.