From Cen­tral Amer­ica to Syria there is a con­spir­acy against refugees

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL - By Ramzy Baroud

Watch­ing the on­go­ing de­bate be­tween lib­eral and right-wing pun­dits on U.S. main­stream me­dia, one rarely gets the im­pres­sion that Wash­ing­ton is re­spon­si­ble for the un­fold­ing chaotic sit­u­a­tion in Cen­tral Amer­ica. In fact, no other coun­try is as ac­count­able as the United States for the on­go­ing chaos and re­sult­ing refugee cri­sis. So why, de­spite the seem­ingly sub­stan­tial ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween right-wing Fox News and lib­eral CNN, are both me­dia out­lets work­ing hard to safe­guard their coun­try’s dirty lit­tle se­cret?

In re­cent years, state and gang vi­o­lence — cou­pled with ex­treme poverty — have forced hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple to flee El Sal­vador, Gu­atemala, Nicaragua and Hon­duras, among other coun­tries in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. The main­stream me­dia in the U.S., how­ever, is rarely in­ter­ested in the root cause of that re­al­ity.

Fox News, for ex­am­ple, is tire­lessly ped­dling the of­fen­sive lan­guage used by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, which por­trays the refugees as crim­i­nals and ter­ror­ists who pose a threat to U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity. At a press con­fer­ence in Oc­to­ber, Trump urged a re­porter to take his cam­era into “the mid­dle” of a car­a­van of mi­grants on the treach­er­ous jour­ney through Mex­ico, to lo­cate ”Mid­dle East­ern” peo­ple who have, he al­leged, in­fil­trated the crowd. In Trump’s think­ing, “Mid­dle East­ern peo­ple” is a syn­onym for ter­ror­ists.

CNN, on the other hand, has la­bored to counter the grow­ing of­fi­cial and me­dia an­ti­im­mi­grant sen­ti­ments that have plagued the U.S., a dis­course that is con­stantly prod­ded and ma­nip­u­lated by Trump and his sup­port­ers.

How­ever, few in the lib­eral me­dia have the courage to probe the story be­yond con­ve­nient po­lit­i­cal ri­valry. Most per­sist in their hyp­o­crit­i­cal and in­sin­cere hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism that is di­vorced from any mean­ing­ful po­lit­i­cal con­text.

The fact is that the Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugee cri­sis is sim­i­lar to the plethora of Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asian refugee crises of re­cent years. Mass mi­gra­tion is al­most al­ways the di­rect out­come of po­lit­i­cal med­dling and mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions by the West. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya and Syria, mil­lions of refugees have been forced, by cir­cum­stances be­yond their con­trol, to seek safety in some other coun­try. Mil­lions of Iraqis and Syr­i­ans have thus found them­selves in Le­banon, Jor­dan or Tur­key, while a far smaller num­ber trick­led across to Europe; all sought safety from the grind­ing wars in their own lands.

So-called “pop­ulist” po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunists in Europe are no dif­fer­ent from their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. While the for­mer have seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow the seeds of fear and hate, Amer­i­cans have blamed the refugees for their own mis­ery.

Blam­ing the vic­tim is noth­ing new. The Iraqis were once blamed for fail­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate Western democ­racy; Libyans for their failed state; Syr­i­ans for tak­ing the wrong side in a pro­tracted war; and so on. Yet the on­go­ing con­flicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, in vary­ing de­grees, out­comes of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions, a truth that does not seem to reg­is­ter in the self-ab­sorbed minds of both right-wing and lib­eral in­tel­lec­tu­als in Europe and the U.S.

The irony is that the hap­less refugees, whether those es­cap­ing to Europe or to the United States, are per­ceived to be the ag­gres­sors — the in­vaders, if you like — whereas the re­al­ity is that it was the U.S. and its al­lies which had, in fact, in­vaded these once stable and sov­er­eign coun­tries.

Trump has of­ten re­ferred to the Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants’ car­a­van as an “in­va­sion”, a claim which has been par­roted by Fox News. The U.S. Pres­i­dent, in­cred­i­bly, in­jected the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing the refugees shot upon ar­rival. If Fox News lacked the de­cency to treat refugees as hu­man be­ings de­serv­ing of sym­pa­thy and re­spect, CNN lacked the courage to ex­pand the dis­cus­sion be­yond Trump’s aw­ful lan­guage and in­hu­mane poli­cies.

To ex­pand the pa­ram­e­ters of the con­ver­sa­tion would ex­pose a pol­icy that was not in­tro­duced by Trump, but by Bill Clin­ton, and ap­plied in earnest by Ge­orge W Bush and Barack Obama. Me­dia grand­stand­ing aside, Democrats as well as Re­pub­li­cans are re­spon­si­ble for the cur­rent refugee cri­sis.

In 1996, Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Clin­ton un­leashed a war on refugees when he passed two con­sec­u­tive pieces of leg­is­la­tion: the Il­le­gal Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form and Im­mi­grant Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act, and the Anti-Ter­ror­ism and Ef­fec­tive Death Penalty Act. Mil­lions of peo­ple who had es­caped U.S.-in­sti­gated wars and mil­i­tary coups were de­ported back to Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. Two mil­lion peo­ple were de­ported dur­ing the Bush terms, with 2.5 mil­lion be­ing de­ported un­der Obama. A ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion was ex­ac­er­bated; vi­o­lence and want flared even more.

To rally his an­gry and rad­i­cal­ized con­stituency, Trump waved the mi­grant card once more, threat­en­ing to build a “great wall” and to close “loop­holes” in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion law. Like his pre­de­ces­sors, he of­fered lit­tle by way of re­dress­ing an un­just re­al­ity that is fo­mented con­stantly by de­struc­tive U.S. for­eign pol­icy, stretch­ing back decades.

Nev­er­the­less, the refugees kept on com­ing, mostly from Cen­tral Amer­ica’s North­ern Tri­an­gle re­gion. With­out proper po­lit­i­cal con­text, they, too, were duly blamed for their own hard­ship. Con­sid­er­ing the lack of qual­ity cov­er­age by Fox News and CNN, this is hardly sur­pris­ing. Few Amer­i­cans know of the sor­did his­tory of their coun­try in that re­gion, start­ing with the CIA-en­gi­neered coup d’état in Gu­atemala in 1954, or the U.S. sup­port of the coup against the demo­crat­i­cally-elected Pres­i­dent of Hon­duras, Manuel Ze­laya, in 2009; or of ev­ery­thing else that hap­pened in be­tween.

In­deed, the un­healthy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the US and its south­ern neigh­bors goes back to as early as 1904, when Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt de­clared the “right” of his coun­try to hold “in­ter­na­tional po­lice power” in Latin Amer­ica. Since then, the en­tire re­gion has been re­garded as Wash­ing­ton’s busi­ness.

The free trade agree­ment (CAFTA-DR) signed be­tween Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries and the U.S. has done its own share of dam­age. The deal “re­struc­tured the re­gion’s econ­omy and guar­an­teed eco­nomic de­pen­dence on the United States through mas­sive trade im­bal­ances and the in­flux of Amer­i­can agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial goods that weak­ened do­mes­tic in­dus­tries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Put­ter­man in Medium.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing all of this is threat­en­ing. If U.S. main­stream pun­dits ac­cept their coun­try’s de­struc­tive role in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, they will be forced to aban­don the role of the vic­tim (as em­braced by the right) or the sav­ior (as em­braced by the left), which has served them well. The same sti­fling po­lit­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual rou­tine is also wit­nessed in Europe.

This de­nial of moral re­spon­si­bil­ity, though, will only ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem, not re­solve it. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or croc­o­dile tears from the lib­er­als, will ever rec­tify this skewed paradigm. This is as true in Cen­tral Amer­ica as it is in the Mid­dle East; there is a con­spir­acy against refugees.

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