Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Central American Mess and Citations to the Statue of Liberty. Nobody is going to do anything, probably.

The Statue of Liberty from a distance view, the way its likely often seen by people who live in the neighborhood.

Somewhere on this blog I have some posts about arguments you shouldn't make. That is, things that when you hear them, you ought to just quit listening as the argument has become a cliche of a cliche ("think of the children" is one such example, although I still haven't posted that example, which remains in draft).

One of the things I should include in that list would be citations to the poem The New Colossus and references to the Statue of Liberty in general.  Indeed, I've made that argument here before.  But sure enough, any time a debate on immigration comes up, somebody will drag out The New Colossus as if its a foundational document for the country.  It isn't.  It's just bad poetry.

Frankly, I'm not all that super wild about the Statue of Liberty either, although I will credit it a great deal more.  Our copy of the statue is version 2.0, a prior smaller one having existed in France, where its designers lived.  It's a fairly typical French statue of the period, which tended to feature women with very muscular features (as in the French Railway Workers Memorial post the other day).  I'm not exactly sure what was up with that, but it was quite common at the time.  The Statue of Liberty is actually one of the better examples of such statues and it is attractive, which doesn't make it over all absolutely great art, save for its gigantic size.

Anyhow, any time the question of immigration comes up, if the suggestion is anything other than just open the borders up in a country that has the most open borders on the planet, somebody will drag out the Statue of Liberty and the poem and post it as an argument.  I just saw the first one regarding the refugees from Central America in the paper this morning in the form, predictably, of a political cartoon in which the statue wonders if she should go back to France (which is a totally absurd argument given that the annual immigration rate into Europe is minuscule as a rule compared to the United States.)

This symbolizes a lot of the American problem with fixing immigration in the country, and it desperately needs to be fixed.  The current system, a byproduct of the mushy thinking of Senator Edward Kennedy, amplified by the destruction of internal immigration law enforcement in the 1970s, assumes that the United States is physically growing like a cancer cell and that its impossible to reach the point where the population of the country, mostly growing due to immigration, is harming the country as a whole both economically and environmentally  It's likely that we achieved that point quite some time ago, perhaps in the 1970s itself.

Which makes most of the arguments about immigration complete and unadulterated baloney.  Large immigration rates like we have are not necessary to sustain the economy in any fashion whatsoever, which is the the prime intellectual argument on their behalf.  It only serves to depress wages in a country in which the lower middle class is already having a very hard time.  In an era in which computerization is wiping out jobs, and in which General Motors just announced its taking out 14,000 jobs in manufacturing, importing no skilled labor is really detrimental to the lower middle class laboring demographic, let alone American born urban minorities, whom it directly impacts.  Indeed, ironically, at one time the leadership of the largely Hispanic United Farm Workers was actually violently opposed to illegal immigration for that very reason, and it could hardly have been regarded as a right wing organization.

What importing no skill labor does do is to create a pool of very low wage labor at the bottom end which is great for the upper middle class and the wealthy and it makes for low class domestic servant labor.

It's also okay, but not really great, for the immigrants who come in, in that class, which is why their plight can't be ignored and they can't be disregarded.  But simply citing a poem as policy is, frankly, stupid.

Immigration at the current rate, we should note, is also fueling, although only in part, the ongoing mass urbanization that chews up American rural areas daily, which is arguably an environmental disaster (again, that's only part of the explanation and in fact probably not the primary one. . . most immigrants don't live in those places and could hardly ever afford to).  And then there's the argument that "we're a nation of immigrants", which is a sort of race based argument taking the position, more or less, that the original native population doesn't really county (they were here, they weren't immigrants) and which isn't an argument anyhow rather than a statement.  A better argument related to that is that our diversity gives us strength, which likely is true, up to a point, but which doesn't actually counter the problems which immigration at our current levels create.

Which takes us to the current flood of Central American refugees trying to get into the United States, the members of the recent caravan being only part of a movement that commenced some time last year.

Refugees are a different deal entirely, and perhaps citation to the "Give me your tired" and all makes sense there.  I've posted along those lines here as well.  All peoples and nations have a duty to refugees no matter where they are from.

But what if you can solve the root problem causing the refugee crisis?

I.e., what if the United States, or a combination of nations including the United States, can solve the problem?

Something is clearly going on in Central America causing people to flee there, but what?  What's motivating this?

What's going on in Central America is what is always going on in Central America, but at epic levels.  

Anarchy is going on in Central America. . . or at least a lot of it.

Occasionally Naive Reddit Rubes will wax philosophic on Reddit's various economic forums about how anarchy would be nifty.  If you think so, just move to Honduras.  They have it.

Flag of the Federated Republic of Central America.  A Central American republic that existed in 1821, and then again from 1823 to 1840. There's been efforts to put it back together ever since.  From Wikipedia Commons, by grant of Huhsunqu.

To some degree, they always have, and all the things that flow from anarchy, including massive corruption, crime and violence.

The flag of Honduras.  Honduras became independent, in a sense, in 1821 when it became independent from Spain as part of the first federated Central American state.  Almost immediately after that, however, it became First Mexican Empire.  In 1823 it became independent of Mexico and part of the new United Provinces of Central America, a democratic federated Central American state.  That state repeatedly failed and Honduras carried on as an independent nation, but sadly it was one of the Central American countries that was most in favor of a single Central American nation, something that would have gone a long ways toward preventing the current crisis and much of the regions tragic history from occurring.  The United States intervened in Honduras militarily in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925.

Things are so bad in Honduras, which underwent a coup in 2009 and then reemerged as a democracy about a year later, that even Dunkin' Donuts have armed security guards.  The majority of the current emigrants are from Honduras, and have traveled through helpless Guatemala and into Mexico (which resisted it at its southern border, something that's been largely missed in the news).  Things are otherwise not perfect in the neighborhood either.  El Salvador has become enormously lawless.  Nicaragua has gone form being a major tourist destination from being in crisis in just a year, following the removal of economic supports from Venezuela, which is also a mess.  Honduras, Guatemala (which is doing much better) and Nicaragua together are in a titanic economic and social mess or have the potential to be.  Only Costa Rica and Belize seem to be doing well.

Guatemala's flag, noting its 1821 independence date from Spain.  Guatemala's Independence came within the United Provinces of Central America, not as an independent nation.  The United States overthrew a left leaning democratic governing in the late 1950s (an earlier plan to do that in the early 50s was aborted when details started to leak) and the country fought a bitter civil war that came to an end in 1996.  Since then the Catholic Church provided enormous assistance in providing a means by which the country could overcome its violent past, something that's generally not appreciated by Protestant missionary groups that oddly regard the region as missionary territory.  The country has been doing well and recovering overall but at the current time it cannot help but be stressed by the massive human influx from Honduras.

They do have governments, to be sure, but those governments are not wholly admirable and the entire region has become embroiled in what is essentially a series of gang wars as the economy collapses. That's why people are leaving.  Entire regions are now controlled by criminal gangs and the governments, which in many instances in the past have been pretty criminal in and of themselves (I'm not familiar with any of the current governments).

The blue and white flag of El Salvador. . .notice the theme here?  Like Mexico, El Salvador went into rebellion when a Catholic Priest made a cry for justice and the same, in its case in 1811.  A revolution ensued.  It too was a province of the original Central American state which could not stay together.  Very densely populated, the country fought a war with its former co-province Honduras in 1969.  The country itself went into a civil war in 1979 that lasted until 1992, with the United States backing the right wing side and the left wing forces, including the Soviet Union and Cuba, backing the left wing side in one of the Cold War's proxy wars.

And that makes their plight genuine.

Nicaragua's flag, which is nearly indistinguishable from El Salvador's.

But nobody seems to be taking the root problem into account.

Unless the United States and Mexico are willing to absorb the entire population of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, a solution needs to be found what is going on.  And the agonizing truth of the matter is that the solution isn't going to come from inside any of those countries, or at least it appears unlikely that it will.  It's going to have to be imposed on them, or at least that can be argued for Honduras.  And they'll resist it, most likely.  And not without justification.

Indeed, we've had similar examples from Africa in the past couple of decades, and there have been local solutions that have worked.  They all principally involved an armed invasion by an upset neighbor.

And there you have it. The problem, the solution, and whether the solution is a problem itself.

At one time, what is going on inside of these countries, would have been solved by now.   Theodore Roosevelt would have solved it.  William Howard Taft would have solved it. Woodrow Wilson would have solved it.  Do we dare solve it in that fashion, and should we?  Would it be moral to?

Indeed, we're getting an ironic lesson, for which we do not appreciate the irony, and for which we aren't paying much attention, on why an entire series of Presidents didn't think twice about interfering in the affairs of Central American states and toppling their government.

Which may be both a theoretical solution today, as much as we hate to admit it, but which is also part of the root of the problem on what's going on today.

Today's crisis is partially a byproduct of our own actions, dating back to the 1950s, when we started heavily interfering in these nations in a Cold War context.  No, that's only partially true. . .their governments at the time and the forces inside those countries also reflected reaction and counteraction to actions we'd taken dating back to about 1900 or so. Well even that isn't right, as the entire region had an odd and chaotic 19th Century history.  But the Cold War interference was major and has cast a very long shadow.  We propped up a military government in El Salvador that prompted a left wing insurrection.  We did the same in Nicaragua with worse results which resulted in that country falling to a left wing government which turned out to be less left wing than we supposed but which is still in power and not completely democratic. That conflict helped spread another one into southern Mexico.  We overthrew the government of Guatemala. Our gunboat diplomacy evolved into CIA diplomacy, and now neglect is letting the boils that developed at that time really fester.  The whole region, save for Costa Rica, Belize and Panama, is a mess.

And its a mess that those countries probably can't fix themselves.

Of course, not only can they not fix them, those countries really shouldn't exist.  Frankly, they're too plagued with internal problems and too small to be able to address them. A federated state comprised of all of them, and probably Panama, would make more sense and be more stable but that's not going to happen.  Indeed, in a different context, it would have been easy to imagine the enter Central American region outside of Panama (which the U.S. created by backing a regional uprising against Columbia) being part of Mexico, given that it differs little culturally from southern Mexico.  Mexico, no doubt, is highly relieved that this never came about, but it shows the degree to which Mexico lacked territorial ambition as the United States, had it been in Mexico's geographic position, would undoubtedly have adsorbed the entire region.

But all of that could have occurred, and indeed darned near did.  In fact, it briefly did. . . more than once.

Emperer Augustin I, formerly Gen. Augustin Itubide, the first Emperor of Mexico.  When Mexico became an independent state those who brought that about weren't necessarily looking for a liberal democracy by any means.  In fact, while the revolution was initiated by a liberal Catholic Priest, it was taken up by Mexican Spanish aristocracy who didn't have a problem with aristocracy. . . just aristocracy in Spain.  Iturbe was from a Basque aristocratic family and have lived an aristocratic life.  He initially fought for the crown and against the Mexican rebels until switching sides.  He was actually a fairly popular emperor but the country was divided from the start and he served only briefly before going into exile, first in Italy and then in England.  He'd return later to Mexico where he was executed under dubious circumstances.  His last words were "Mexicans! In the very act of my death, I recommend to you the love to the fatherland, and the observance to our religion, for it shall lead you to glory. I die having come here to help you, and I die merrily, for I die amongst you. I die with honor, not as a traitor; I do not leave this stain on my children and my legacy. I am not a traitor, no."  He's interned in a cathedral in Mexico City.

Most of Central America became independent of Spain in 1821.  Interestingly, most of it became independent by default when Mexico obtained its independence.  With the exception of El Salvador, Central American countries did not rise up against the Spanish Empire. El Salvador did in 1811, however, the year after Mexico did, and by way of the same initiating source, the cry to rebellion by a Catholic Priest. The rest of the region found itself independent, however, in 1821 when Mexico was released by Spain.

The flat of the Mexican Empire, the nation that obtained independence from Spain, and which collapsed in 1823.

When that occurred, interestingly enough, two of the forces noted above in fact occurred.  There was a movement to form an independent confederation, but at first the region became a province of the Mexican Empire. The Mexican Empire, however, was itself short lived and collapsed under widespread opposition in 1823, at which time the Central American provinces formed their own country, the Federal Republic of Central America.  The country even expanded up into what today is the Mexican state of Chiapas.  Only Panama, which was part of Columbia, was not part of it.

Had the Central American Republic persisted, much would be different about the region today.  It only held together, however, until 1840 when it fell apart in civil war. All of the modern nations of Central America that were in it use a flag that's based on the one the Central American Republic had, and some of them use a national crest that's based upon it.  Even though the state fell apart, in some ways it was never forgotten and there were real efforts to recreate it, sometimes by force.  In 1907 all of its former regions, except for Belize, joined together in a political agreement to integrate their economies in a manner that all but contemplated future union. The agreement remains in force, but union has not been achieved.  In 1921 all of the old participants except for Nicaragua and Belize signed a treaty of union but did not follow up on it, making the 1921 agreement moribund.

All of which shows that what I've noted here is not simply wild speculation.  The region was united as a province by Colonial Spain, achieved independence as a nation briefly, was absorbed by Mexico as a province, and then achieved statehood again before division drove the nations apart. Ever since then there's been efforts on their part to reunite, but they have not succeeded.

 The flag of Belize, a self governing English possession.  Belize was, early on, part of the Central American Republic but it quickly became a British possession in the wake of the republic's collapse.  The English have made efforts to make it an independent country but its' resisted.  Like much of Central America, Belize's economy has been dominated by foreign interests in its agriculture sector, in this case oddly enough in moder times by Coca Cola, but its developed a successful tourists sector and British political influence has lead to a stable political culture.

Had the Central American republic been able to hold together, it would still be a small nation, but it would be a bi-coastal nation with a somewhat diverse modern economy.  Indeed, if we somewhat assume that the rest of history played out as it did (not a safe assumption at all), it would be a nation today that would be surprisingly diverse in some ways.  Belize, which was part of it, fell into British rule almost as soon as the republic fell apart but today, in spite of having an economic monoculture like much of the various Central American states, has a stable economy and and a booming tourist trade, is surprisingly multicultural even including an Amish farming population.  Costa Rica is likewise booming due to the tourist trade and, for good or ill, has an increasingly large American ex-patriot population as well as a surprising number of citizens who immigrated from South America and Europe.

Costa Rica's flag.  Costa Rica's history in Central America has become unique as during the 20th Century, following upon the fall of a military dictatorship, it abolished its standing army. Thsi made the democratic regime highly stable and seemingly immune from American intervention in spite of its early democratic government being very left leaning.  Costa Rica's modern economy is dominated by the tourist industry.

Additionally, if the Central American Republic had managed to hold things together, it would have helped prevent the region from being sort of the "anti United States" in the Star Trek bizarro world way.  That is, almost everything that seemingly happened to make the US successful didn't happen in Central America.

 U.S. Marines in Nicaragua in 1926, displaying a captured Sandinista flag.  Nicaragua was occupied by the United States from 1913 to 1933.

Indeed, right from the outset, while the advantages  of union were obvious, as the region had been granted Independence due to the Mexican rebellion, rather than its own, there was no real unity in political views.  Now, that's the case with the early U.S. to a degree as well, but this was very much so for the small political class in Central America. As with Mexico, some of this class remained monarchist in view and had no real problem with their former Spanish rulers.  Others were radically republican in an era in which radical republicanism was spreading in Europe. . . after all, this was the era of Napoleon Bonaparte.  That basically doomed the republic and it frankly also made a mess of early Mexican history.  Liberals couldn't bet along with monarchists on anything, and the country simply fell apart. 

That early history carried on for decades and made political cohesion difficult in any of the individual states.  Moreover, it mean that the small states were always economically weak due to their economic monocultures and they were constant prey to foreign, i.e., European and American, economic and military intervention, the only often following the other.  That fact in turn further weakened them, and that all carried through well into the 20th Century.

All of which takes us back to the problem.  A person could argue that a regional or perhaps international mandate should be issued requiring states that aren't flying apart in the region to intervene and impose order.  That would amount to a type of invasion.  The type of invasion that the OAS has occasionally sanctioned in the past, and to which everyone has turned a blind eye, but nobody in the world would turn a blind eye to this.

 Panama's flat.  Panama was never part of the Central American Republic, it was part of Columbia until a U.S. sponsored rebellion separated it in 1903, although in fairness a long running war of rebellion had been trying to do the same for quite some time, and there had been prior efforts to do that as well.  While it doesn't share the history of the other Central American nations in once having been part of a unified nation, it would make sense that it would be, if one ever came together.

Nor perhaps should they.  These are all sovereign nations and while things seem to be flying apart now, they all made huge strides towards functioning democracy after the 1960s.  Even El Salvador, which fell in revolution to a government we thought was going to be a Communist one, didn't really take that turn and the Communists turned into liberal democrats, for the most part.

And would that type of intervention be even moral?  It's very doubtful.  Can in an international body suspend sovereignty in that fashion?  It could declare that it could, but that's problematic.  Of course, at some point governments can descend into such anarchy that they don't exist at all for a country in question, such as in the example of pre 9/11 Afghanistan.

Well, it's all academic. Nobody is going to do anything.  Instead we'll get trite arguments about the Statute of Liberty. 

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