Last Updated on January 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1291
Chapter 8: Central Americans: Intervention Comes Home to Roost
Gonzales notes that before the 1980s Central American immigrants seldom settled in the US. He argues that US-instigated conflicts in the region during that decade contributed to the influx of migrants who fled their home countries. Much like their special treatment of Cubans, US immigration policies gave favorable refugee status to Nicaraguans while denying the same to Guatemalans and Salvadorans.
Gonzalez explains that while devastating poverty permeates the region, the majority of immigrants hail from the three war-torn countries named above. The American public’s lack of information about its country’s goals for intervening in Central American politics coupled with a sharp divide between rich and poor allowed the violence to wreak havoc on the region’s people.
In Nicaragua, the US-backed Somoza dictatorship toppled after the regime confiscated international relief supplies, which were given in response to a devastating earthquake in 1972. The Sandinista National Liberation Front rose to power after Somoza’s ouster, and the Carter administration in the US tried to cooperate with the new government. However, the election of President Reagan brought a dramatic shift. Covertly led by General Oliver North, the US military supplied former Somoza supporters—now calling themselves the Contras—with weapons in order to topple the Sandinista regime, in turn causing many Nicaraguans to flee northward.
In El Salvador, civil war has an even longer history, dating back to the massacre of Pipil Indian peasants in the 1930s under the leadership of dictator Hernandez, another jefe propped up by the US government. Hernandez was allowed to reign until a popular uprising in 1944. But seizing control in his place was an oligarchy rife with internal conflict amongst the country’s wealthiest families. The ensuing governmental instability and economic inequality forced thousands of Salvadorans to neighboring Honduras for work. Mounting tensions between the two countries led to a week-long conflict at the border, after which many Salvadorans were deported back home.
This created more problems in the country, as massive demonstrations by disempowered and unemployed Salvadorans ended in government-sanctioned massacres via death squads. Gonzalez interrupts his narrative of the Salvadoran wars to discuss the transformation of the Catholic Church in Central America. He says that after the Second Vatican Council, Catholic leaders became more interested in social activism, providing a place for Salvadorans to organize themselves.
As a result of the Church’s support, Salvadoran citizens began participating in democratic elections at unprecedented rates, only for the ruling oligarchy to rig the elections or stage coups with the help of the US National Guard. After the oligarchy made a particularly egregious grab for power in 1979, Salvadoran citizens organized themselves into guerilla groups, igniting a civil war that would last decades. Despite its permitting death squads to kill a Catholic bishop, the oligarchy received billions in aid from the US, who argued that this corrupt government was the only force against communism.
In Guatemala, the US used its influence to secure the interests of the United Fruit Company (UFCO), a banana growing operation owned by Anglos. Under fascist President Ubico, Guatemala allowed the UFCO to monopolize the land and maximize profits, in exchange for American money. After Ubico was forced to resign, Guatemalans elected the democratic socialist Arevalo, whose programs helped the poor classes for six years. Arevalo’s successor, Arbenz wanted to further Arevalo’s liberal ideas.
Angering the UFCO and its investors in the US, Arbenz designed a redistribution...
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