The Forgotten History of Central America: Revolution, Violence and the Roots of Migration
By LUIS BRAVO
Aviva Chomsky is presenting her book titled “Central America’s Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence and the Roots of Migration.” In this book, she analyzes and explains how the intervention of the United States in the political and economic affairs of the Central American countries influences and affects the destiny of these countries and leads them to be what we see today as “The poorest countries of the third world” without possibilities of getting ahead and having a more prosperous life.
Aviva Chomsky (born April 20, 1957) is an American teacher, historian, author, and activist. She is Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. She previously taught at Bates College in Maine and was a research associate at Harvard University, where she majored in Caribbean and Latin American history. She is the eldest daughter of linguists, Carol and Noam Chomsky.
Between 1976 and 1977, Aviva Chomsky worked for Cesar Chávez’s United Farm Workers union. She attributed this experience to awakening her “interest in the Spanish language, in migrant workers and immigration, in labor history, in social movements and labor organization, in multinationals and their workers, in how global economic forces affect people and how people organize collectively for social change”. At the University of California, Berkeley, she earned a B.A. in Spanish and Portuguese in 1982, an M.A. in history in 1985, and a Ph.D. in history in 1990. She began teaching at Bates College and became associate professor of history at Salem State College in 1997, Coordinator of Latin American Studies in 1999, and a full professor in 2002.
Chomsky’s book West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica 1870-1940 was awarded the Best Book Prize of 1997 by the New England Council of Latin American Studies. It describes the history of the United Fruit Company, formed in 1899 from the merger of several American companies that built railroads and grew bananas on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. It also shows how workers, including many Jamaicans originally of African descent, developed their own parallel socio-economic system.
Chomsky has been active in Latin American solidarity and immigrant rights issues since the 1980s. He is a member of the North Shore Colombia Solidarity Committee. Her articles on immigration rights have appeared in The Nation, HuffPost, and Tom Dispatch, a project of The Nation Institute, and she has lectured around the world on labor rights and immigration rights.
THE BOOK ON THE FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF CENTRAL AMERICA
Aviva Chomsky makes an analysis of the history of the Central American countries and divides her book into very interesting chapters:
CHAPTER I: A CRISIS WITH DEEP ROOTS: Invisibility and Forgetting
CHAPTER II: REVOLUTION IN THE 70s AND 80s
CHAPTER III: KILLING HOPE: Peace Treaties and Neoliberalism; Migration; Trump’s Border War
These chapters describe step by step the damage caused by the United States through its political, economic, and social intervention in these Central American countries.
“I feel that both immigrants and American society have erased history and everything that we lived between the 70s and 80s because the new generations do not know, they do not know the history of the Central American countries of their parents or grandparents. I see it among my students, both Anglo-Saxons and in the children of Central American immigrants who have no knowledge of history from the Second World War to the present day. They do not know anything about revolutionary movements, the hopes of creating a new society similar to the one that already existed before in those decades of the middle and end of the 20th century, the defeat of those dreams, of those movements,” explains Chomsky.
Aviva Chomsky compares the defeat of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) with the triumph of the revolution in Nicaragua and despite everything it did to destroy it, and what Nicaragua could achieve in those 10 years of government, in which it was able to establish a democracy and start a really deep process of social change.
Chomsky explains, how the peace treaties of the ’90s with Guatemala and El Salvador changed the path they were on in search of democracy and led them directly towards the neoliberalism of the United States, which is why, Chomsky explains that if America did not win the war with arms, they won it with the peace treaties that opened the doors to a profoundly neoliberal economic path and how the destruction of the revolutionary option really led them to the economic path that it is today, and in addition to the impunity of those who had committed the violations, the murders, it was like a legitimization of violence and criminality, which left these countries in the 90s in a situation where the majority of the poor population did not really have a way to improve their lives and to survive the dream of collective justice for all, forcing them to flee their countries in order to survive. All the violence seen in Central America is the product of those deep roots in its own past. It is not enough to say “Central American countries are poor and violent countries, that’s why people flee”, but rather, we have to understand how it came to be like this and what is the role of the United States in creating these situations.
With regard to Central American migration, Chomsky restores the region’s tense history of repression and resistance to popular consciousness and connects US interventions and influence with the influx of refugees seeking asylum today.
At the center of the current immigration debate are Central American migrants fleeing poverty, corruption, and violence in search of asylum in the United States. In The Forgotten History of Central America, she answers the pressing question “How did we get here?” Chomsky describes how we often do not remember the circumstances and continuing effects of Central America’s historical inequality and oppression, which are a direct result of the colonial and neocolonial development policies and the cultures of violence and forgetfulness necessary to implement them.
Chomsky expertly recounts the courageous struggles of Central Americans for social and economic justice to bring these vivid and exciting events back to popular consciousness. She traces the roots of displacement and migration in Central America to the Spanish conquest and brings us to the present day, where she concludes that the most immediate roots of migration from the three Northern Triangle countries lie in the wars and US interventions of the 80s and the peace accords of the 90s that set the stage for neo-liberalism in Central America.
Chomsky also examines how and why stories and memories are suppressed, and the impact of losing historical memory. Only by erasing history can we affirm that Central American countries created their own poverty and violence, while the United States’ enjoyment and benefit of its bananas, coffee, vegetables, clothing, and arms exports are simply unrelated curiosities.
The Forgotten History of Central America shows that if we want to create a more just world, we must recognize the many layers of complicity and forgetfulness that underlie current inequalities.
Chomsky also comments on surveys of Central American immigrants, “When asked, why do they leave their countries? Why are they leaving? The most common answer is that there is no food, we don’t have anything to eat, we do not have enough to feed our children, people need work, people need land, people need security, people need quiet, people need peace. In other words, these high levels of violence (lack of food is also an act of violence) have made Central American countries the most violent countries in the world. Not only is there a reason, people can simply say that there is no food, but if we analyze and ask ourselves why there is no food, the answer is mixed with history. The reason why there is no food is the same reason why there is not enough land, it is the same reason why there is no decent work, it is the same reason why there is so much violence, the same reason why there is so much growth of gangs, that is, all these factors are related, and the reason for all that is due to the policies that the United States imposed on Central America in the last century,” said Chomsky.
When I asked Chomsky if these policies imposed by the United States in Central America could be reversed, she said: “To reverse these policies a change is needed, but that change has to start here in the United States and not just there in the Northern Triangle” Chomsky said. “In the 80’s I could see in Nicaragua that they were trying to make a change, I saw how people were mobilized, how they got excited, how they accepted that message that it really can be made a new country, it can be a country for the poor, it can be ours, but the biggest obstacle was the United States. In those years, thousands and thousands of Americans went to Nicaragua to see the revolutionary process, to try to support the revolution, and when we asked what we can do to help them, to support them, the answer was always the same: “Here we don’t need your help, here what we need is for you to return to your country and stop your government, this is how we are going to be able to make our revolution. That was a very important lesson for me because I always keep thinking that ‘Yes, we can’ since the 80s, but the change has to start here and not just there”. “Unfortunately, the United States is a very powerful country and there is no brake that can stop it. For example, in the 1980s Nicaragua turned to the International Court of Justice in an attempt to stop the policies imposed by the United States, and despite the fact that the court decided in favor of Nicaragua, the United States ignored the decision simply because it is the most powerful country in the world and it does not care about international laws” explained Aviva Chomsky.
Regarding “Trump’s Border War”, Chomsky explained to us: “That Trump’s policies have several aspects that must be understood as a whole and that it has its roots from the time of President Bush, which was also followed by President Barack Obama, and that now has to be followed by President Biden. Trump’s Border War is based on demanding that Mexico militarize its southern border and transfer this fight from the border between the United States and Mexico to the border between Mexico and Guatemala to transfer them from there to the borders between Guatemala and Honduras. We saw that with the last caravan that left Honduras for the United States hoping to take advantage of the new – supposedly – more liberal policies of the new president Biden, but unfortunately this caravan was stopped on the Guatemalan border, for which Biden and the spokesmen of the Management said they were very happy about Guatemala’s behavior. Clearly, these policies that have been imposed on Mexico and Guatemala make them responsible for imposing the immigration policy of the United States,” Aviva Chom-sky explains. “The United States is giving a lot of money and threatens Mexico with charging more taxes on its products at the border, and threatens the Central American countries with cutting off all the aid it provides. But it’s not just about stopping immigrants at the Guatemalan border. The three countries are also violating human rights, the violation of the right that every person in the world has to seek political asylum in another country. The United States is forcing Mexico and Guatemala to violate those rights. That is the most hidden part of the policies of this country that affects us tremendously, but we do not know or understand how they happen”, argued Chomsky.
Finally, Chomsky said “We are living in a world of fantasies, we are facing a very big crisis, as political as climate change and people are indifferent like they don’t care. People want to believe that we can live well without having to worry about environmental problems, diseases caused by these changes, deforestation, rising sea levels, increasing severity of hurricanes, because they believe that we cannot. They are going to be affected by the ravages that are already being felt here in the United States and also in Central America. We have to think in a revolutionary way to create a more just society and a world where the resources we have on our planet really become a common good for all and are used not only for the welfare of some, for the enrichment of only a few based on the suffering of all, but that there is a global redistribution for the collective good and the survival of all as a human race. I am very surprised that my Latin American students do not know the history of their own parents, or even why their parents have come here.
The first thing that should be done is that previous generations of immigrants become aware of what we are experiencing and inform their children of university age or younger, about what they had to live through in their countries of origin, what they suffered, what they saw, how it affected them and how it changed their lives in the face of these events. It is important that parents tell their children what it feels like to see their parents and friends die and not be able to do anything about it. It is also important that parents talk with their children and tell them that it is not good for people to leave their countries looking for new opportunities and that it is up to them – young people – to make these changes to have a better society, a better planet where we can better enjoy our lives,” concluded Aviva Chomsky.
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