The caravan that defies borders

APTOPIX Central America Migrant Caravan

Thousands of Honduran migrants rush across the border towards Mexico, in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Oct. 19, 2018.  (Oliver de Ros / AP)

By ELENA ZELEDON

— SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The 8000 poor people marching together through the states of Central America towards the United States are another sign that the pillars of imperialist domination, already weakened by the blows of the global recession in 2008, are now shaken by the exploding social contradictions of this organic crisis.

The caravan participants, marching together as a precaution against attacks from both human traffickers (coyotes) and the drug gangs linked to the forces of state repression, are primarily from Honduras, the geographic keystone in the military and intelligence networks of U.S. imperialism in Central America.

It was there that the mildly reformist liberal Mel Zelaya, the elected president, was expelled in a coup sponsored by the U.S. intelligence community, and carried out by its surrogates in the Honduran military and Congress under the direction of Hillary Clinton. But it is not the first caravan from Central America that has fought its way northward.

In March of this year, a smaller caravan of 4000 people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala made its way to the U.S.-Mexican border, despite threats from the racist and xenophobic regime of Donald Trump to send troops to the border to confront the refugees.

Why this caravan, why now

It is hard to comprehend the hardships that these poor people are enduring in their flight to what they believe will be a better life. What drives them forward? The overarching reason is to try to escape the life of grinding poverty that afflicts the whole region, a condition of existence directly linked to the domination of the economic life of these countries by foreign, primarily U.S.-based, multi-national corporations (MNCs).

Those firms, working in conjunction with the ruling capitalist oligarchies and their repressive state apparatuses, act as a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up massive amounts of surplus value created by the super-exploited working masses of the region. This leaves a portion for the oligarchs, who in general act as service and financial facilitators for this exploitation. The sums are not insignificant, given the population of these semi-colonial countries, which if Mexico is included, exceeds that of France and Germany combined.

It has also resulted in a permanent fiscal crisis of the state, both because of outright looting of the treasuries (the wife of the former president of Honduras has been charged with stealing $40,000,000 USD from the social security fund, for example). Indeed, the lack of a permanent tax regime upon which a robust social security program can be based has worsened conditions over the past 10 years in the countries of the region.

Despite the states of Central America receiving above average rates of Foreign Direct Investment flows in the years immediately preceding the 2008 Great Recession, that rate was cut by 30 per cent after 2008. Now, with the U.S. central bank raising interest rates, we witness direct capital outflows from the region (and likewise from many of the weaker developed capitalist economies, like Turkey and Argentina).

This has meant a rising unemployment and underemployment rate for the young people of Central America, and an attendant rise in the proliferation of gangs and illegal activities, especially working in the trans-national drug trade, where money is easy and life is short. These mass migration caravans are primarily made up of young people, many fleeing the threats of violence and death from gang members, and whose sole wish is to escape this poverty.

In addition, the increase in the present number of highly politicized migration incidents, despite a longer-term decrease in the trend of refugee applications, there is an increasingly tighter labour market in the United States itself. Tighter market conditions mean more jobs are available in the poorest paid sectors of the service industry, like migrant farm labour and household workers, not subject to minimum wage and working conditions laws. Undocumented immigrant workers make up almost 80% of these workers, a labour pool which is routinely doubly exploited.

Finally, in the specific instance of this caravan from Honduras, the increasing repression of the Honduran state against young people and the wide-open neo-liberal program of investments freed from any regulations and restraint is a result of the December 2017 election.

The election, which even the normally docile lap dog of U.S. imperialism, the Organization of American States (OAS), deemed to be fraudulent, was stolen by the oligarchy headed by Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) in broad daylight. The Popular Front candidate had a seemingly insurmountable lead when the Election Tribunal called a halt to the counting, claiming a computer glitch. When the counting resumed, the lead slowly disappeared and JOH was declared re-elected (itself a violation of the Honduran constitution).

The reaction of the Honduran working class was a massive show of force repudiating the election result. In many of the poorer barrios, and especially in the northern part of the country, the uprising took on a semi-insurrectional character. Barricades were erected and the National Police were chased from the neighborhoods. In several cases, los Tigres, a special anti-insurrectional police unit formed for that specific purpose, refused to repress the mass movement and publicly declared its neutrality, saying it was a political, not a police problem.

However, since the ebb of this wave of protest, largely due to the tailing position of much of the left to the electoralist orientation of the bourgeois leadership of the Popular Front known as LIBRE, the government has increased its repression, taking the form of assassination of social movement leaders, particularly indigenous and trade-union activists, beatings, threats and jailing of suspected neighborhood militants, and the firing of those with steady employment. This government is being advised by Alvaro Uribe, the death-squad former president of Colombia.

Trump and the politics of immigration

As across Europe, immigration has become a rallying point for the right and the neo-Nazis in the United States. Trump, who now declares he is a nationalist, not unlike Viktor Orban, Marie Le Pen, and Nigel Farage, has been busy pumping his political base with a series of rallies prior to the mid-term U.S. elections on Nov. 6.

Trump’s political repertoire portrays immigrants with the most vile, racist, and xenophobic images: Mexicans are rapists and criminals; Central Americans are all members of MS 13, the Mara Salvatruchas, heavily tattooed young gang members active in El Salvador and Honduras. Ironically, the name derives from a Salvadoran general whose exploits in 1858, as part of the United Army of Central America, helped in the defeat of William Walker and the Filibusters, a U.S. mercenary force that tried to conquer Central America.

According to Trump and the Republicans, members of the caravans are being funded by billionaire Democratic Party contributor George Soros and criminals, many from the Middle East. For Trump and his ilk, no epithet is too demeaning or too filthy. Soros, of course, is the primary initiator behind the university in Hungary that anti-Semite Viktor Orban is trying to close. This International of Scum knows no limits.

The Democrats, fearing anything that might upset their perceived best chances in the election, have remained mute in the face of this onslaught. They know that highlighting the plight of these poor people from Honduras will immediately raise the question of their complicity in creating the conditions causing this movement.

The racist, imperialist social culture of the United States is being used as a hammer against the poor working classes of its own “back yard.” Faced with this situation, what should the left do?

The first response from the militant left should be to raise the demands “Open the Borders” and “No One is Illegal.” These slogans cut across the entire ideological construct of “U.S. exceptionalism”—a constant smokescreen for the activities of North American imperialism.

The second is to find ways of mobilizing the populations of the border states of California, Texas, and Arizona. This area of the United States is heavily Latino. In fact, the majority of working-class Californians have Latino roots. (The GDP of California is the 6th largest in the world, which underlines its importance). Already, efforts are being made to organize actions to raise the need for cross-border solidarity in places like Los Angeles. How wonderful it would be if the North American left united in common actions to help mobilize those with the power to open the borders to desperate Mexican and Central American workers.

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Open the border! Tear down the walls!