Central America

central-america-map

From the arrival of the first Europeans – from Spain and Portugal – the indigenous populations of both the Mainland and Rimland have suffered marginalization, at best, and extermination, at worst. Besides exposing indigenous populations to smallpox, the Spanish slaughtered thousands who refused conversion to Christianity, the British and French acquired land from the local populations by hook and crook, and both European countries and the United States used the Caribbean as a transhipment point for slavery. The United States, via the Monroe Doctrine, also established considerable influence throughout the realm.

The Central America realm is divided into Mainland and Rimland based on the effects of colonization. When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived, the indigenous populations didn’t last long. Smallpox, mostly, and a few other diseases, wiped out most of the locals. In the islands, the “Rimland,” European colonizers, the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British, brought slaves from Africa to provide a labor force since the natives had mostly died out. The Caribbean Islands then evolved a culture based on a blend European and African traits. On the “Mainland,” the natives fared a little better than their island neighbors. While the European colonizers tended to be the same as those mentioned earlier, the natives tended to be sturdier. Thus, the Mainland cultures tend to be a blend (“blend” is a nice way of saying rape and sexual assault, by the way) of European and Indigenous traits.

Fruit plantations, particularly bananas, became an important source of revenue for Central American countries. These plantation were a double-edged sword; they brought in needed income but also exposed local populations and governments to the influence of inscrutable U.S. businessmen. Plantations brought some countries under complete U.S. domination. Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala, in particular, found themselves dominated by United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company. We know these companies today by the more familiar names of Chiquita and Dole, respectively. Local populations were driven from their farms to make room for huge banana and pineapple plantations. While these companies might have provided railroad service, mail service, and built roads, their strong-arm tactics, support of local governments through bribes, and support from the U.S. government, made them very unpopular with the common person. While not part of this realm, Colombian rebels were paid protection money by Chiquita International from 1997 to 2004 in order to safeguard Chiquita employees and farms. Chiquita was fined $25 million for their indiscretion.

As a result, the governments of Central American states and indigenous populations are not big fans of the United States.

Other factors have contributed towards the weak governments in Central America. The loss of land tenure by local farmers to foreign industries (Dole, Chiquita) was hugely despised. Add to this conflict the problems of climate. Central America is regularly struck by devastating hurricanes. Sometimes, it seems just as one clean-up completes, another hurricane wrecks havoc yet again. Or, perhaps, not a hurricane this time, but another natural disaster, an earthquake, strikes. Or, a volcano erupts. Governments are constantly struggling to manage clean-up, repair, and assistance. Without stability, governments remain weak and ineffective, therefore susceptible to “regime change.” As a result, the Rule of Law is hard to come by, as people find their situations desperate, and local or government officials unwilling or unable to cooperate.

I frequently shake my head when we cover these issues in class. Someone will always chirp-up, “Why don’t they just move?? Find a better place!”

“Well, they try to, actually,” I reply. “But, we’ve built a wall to keep out immigrants, and we have one political party who demonizes people in these regions, saying they bring disease, death, murder, and rape. They try to move, and some people do move; they move to Mexico, where they are abused. Or, they move to South America which is just as familiar to them as it is to you or me. So, now what?”

Desperation, for the most part, leads these people to illegally migrate to a South American country, or, if you can imagine, to Mexico or Costa Rica, or, the United States. The media unfairly and erroneously paints all immigrants as being Mexicans from Mexico when they are actually from Honduras, or El Salvador, for example. The problem is, we have a political party who thinks everyone who lives south of our southern border is Mexican, and they all speak Spanish. Mexico recognizes 68 indigenous languages, by the way. (Native Languages of Mexico)

To elucidate, yes, immigrants enter from Mexico, but they could be from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, or from any one of the South or Central America countries, or the Caribbean, for that matter. Immigrating because the Rule of Law has failed in their home country, their governments weak and/or corrupt, and they seek opportunity and safety elsewhere.

Aliens working abroad send home parts of their earnings, called remittances, to help their families in their home country survive. These remittances amount to nearly the entire GDP of a country like Honduras, $20-$30 billion dollars. In reality, these remittances keep those citizens home, making life bearable. Otherwise, those citizens, too, might be tempted to immigrant, further exacerbating the immigration issues throughout the Western Hemisphere. (“Remittances from abroad are major economic assets for some developing countries.” (Pew Research Center)

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