La gran revolución

pater_hidalgo_mural_von_orozco

Mural de José Clemente Orozco

De Duncan Riley

9/19/2019

 

En la historia de México, desde la Independencia, se puede trazar una línea entre dos distintas tradiciones revolucionarias, la tradición popular y la tradición de élite. La primera siempre buscaba el mejoramiento de las condiciones sociales y autonomía para las masas de campesinos y trabajadores, mientras la segunda ha intentado a establecer un Estado fuerte y liberal para facilitar el desarrollo económico y defender los intereses de los propietarios. Más que una diferencia filosófica, el enfrentamiento entre estas dos corrientes es el conflicto entre dos tipos de revolución – la revolución social, que quiere la emancipación del pueblo trabajador y es el fruto propio de las aspiraciones populares, y la revolución política, que quiere reemplazar una forma de tiranía por otra. Hasta hoy, a través de los siglos, la última tradición siempre ha triunfado, pisoteando sobre la bandera de tierra y libertad que el pueblo llevó durante la Independencia, la Reforma, y la Revolución, entronando una nueva autoridad para oprimir y sangrar al mismo pueblo. Pero, todavía, la semilla de emancipación que plantaron las masas de campesinos en 1810 sigue viva, esperando el día que el pueblo la levante de la fosa, para que ella pueda florecer entre los vientos que lleven ese aliento de libertad al mundo.

La revolución de 1810 que empezó ese gran proceso fue, en su carácter, un levantamiento campesino. Después de tres siglos de opresión e injusticia bajo el yugo español, los campesinos se levantaron en armas para quitar el trono del virrey. Aunque al principio los campesinos mantenían que la revuelta fue en defensa de Fernando XII en contra de los invasores franceses, eso no significa que fue un movimiento conservador. Usualmente en la historia los campesinos han profesado su apoyo por un monarca distante porque ellos lo veían como un protector contra los opresores locales, como los terratenientes, los burócratas, y los “malos consejeros.” Eso es exactamente lo que pasó en 1810, cuando ese huracán de rabia popular caminaba sobre México. Las milicias de Hidalgo, Morelos, y Guerrero luchaban contra los “gachupínes” y los monopolios e impuestos que el Estado colonial impuso al pueblo. También, los insurgentes declararon la abolición de la esclavitud, las castas, y el tributo indígena. Entonces, los objetivos de los rebeldes eran no sólo liberar a México del dominio ibérico, pero también liberar a su pueblo de la explotación económica y la desigualdad social.

Además, como una respuesta al abuso del poder de las autoridades centrales durante la época colonial, los campesinos lucharon por la autodeterminación y la autonomía del poder municipal. Los campesinos tomaron por su modelo las cláusulas de la constitución liberal de Cádiz que establecieron municipalidades autónomas, principios que también conformaban con los antiguos ejidos de los pueblos indígenas. Por ello, los campesinos no sólo querían cambiar el Estado colonial por el Estado independiente, sino también crear su propia forma de poder revolucionario, en que el pueblo podía ejercitar control sobre sus propias comunidades y sus vidas cotidianas. Este espíritu ácrata que empujaba al pueblo hacia la autogestión y la abolición de las jerarquías sociales fue la fuerza motriz del movimiento popular por la independencia, un movimiento que conceptualizó de la independencia no sólo en el sentido nacional, sino en los niveles comunitarios e individuales también.

Pero ellos que últimamente dominaron el proceso de la Independencia fueron los revolucionarios políticos, encabezados inicialmente por Agustín de Iturbide. Estos revolucionarios, las monarquistas liberales y los republicanos, querían realizar la independencia y establecer un régimen constitucional, pero tocaron sólo superficialmente el problema social. Aunque debido a la fuerza del movimiento popular los gobiernos de Iturbide y más tarde de la república hubieron de conceder algunas reformas, como la abolición de las castas, el tributo, y algunos monopolios, en lo general, los hacendados y empresarios, incluso propietarios españoles en lugares como Morelos, seguían dominando la economía y el gobierno. Eventualmente, el golpe de Santa Anna en 1836 y las Siete Leyes Constitucionales, con su carácter centralista, revocaron la mayor parte de estas reformas, quitando las comunidades de su autonomía municipal y aumentando los impuestos a los campesinos. Como tal, a pesar de la victoria del movimiento independentista, las aspiraciones populares todavía se quedaron sin vindicación.

Pero esas aspiraciones no habían muerto, y los campesinos, jornaleros, y artesanos seguían luchando para alcanzarlas. Después de décadas de fuertes pugnas políticas e invasiones extranjeras en que el pueblo luchaba con bravura, la caída de Santa Anna en 1854 abrió el camino hacia la Reforma, la cual ofreció una nueva oportunidad para construir un poder popular. Aunque hoy muchos historiadores ven La Reforma como otro esfuerzo de restablecer el Estado mexicano siguiendo el modelo liberal de los Estados Unidos, de verdad el proceso fue más amplio y profundo que las leyes que promulgaron Juárez y Lerdo. La revolución de Ayutla que empezó la Reforma fue, como la Independencia, un levantamiento de los campesinos en contra de los abusos del gobierno, el centralismo, y las alucinaciones monarquistas de Santa Anna, y culminó con la entrada de campesinos descalzados a la ciudad de México. En Morelos, una coalición de menestrales y campesinos se alzaron en armas en contra de los hacendados españoles que habían usurpado los terrenos de las comunidades, y en todo el país los municipios reclamaron su libertad comunal. Por lo tanto, la Reforma, al principio, fue otro intento por parte de las fuerzas populares de conseguir su propia independencia.

También, con la Reforma se vio el comienzo del movimiento obrero en México, con la fundación de sociedades de ayuda mutua entre los artesanos. Estas sociedades, además de proveer socorro a los trabajadores durante los duros tiempos de los primeros pasos de la industrialización, se convirtieron rápidamente en un arma en contra de los opresores. Por ejemplo, en 1865 la primera huelga en la historia de México aconteció, cuando los trabajadores de dos fábricas textiles protestaron en contra de las malas condiciones y la ocupación francesa. Los campesinos no se tardaron en contribuir sus fuerzas a la causa de la revolución social, luchando tanto en contra de los hacendados como de los franceses. En 1869, un grupo de campesinos encabezado por Julio Chávez llevaron a cabo una campaña de expropiaciones, arrebatando la tierra de las manos de los aristócratas. Cuando el ejército federal aplastó el movimiento, Chávez murió gritando “¡Viva el socialismo!” (Por esta sección, he confiado en la obra escolástica excelente de Angel Cappelleti en Hechos y figuras del anarquismo hispanoamericano).

En el triste acontecimiento del ajusticiamiento de Chávez, volvemos a ver la influencia de los revolucionarios élites. Estos revolucionarios sí querían acabar con las dictaduras personales y establecer una democracia liberal, pero a ellos no les interesaba cambiar la base social y económica de la sociedad. Sordos a las reclamaciones del movimiento obrero-campesino cuando llegaron al poder, las élites creían que aquellas exigencias por tierra, libertad, e igualdad amenazaban el orden social, y buscaban fortalecer el estado para defenderlo. Inicialmente ellos no podían hacer mucho a causa de las grandes amenazas de reaccionarios domésticos e invasores extranjeros. Pero, después de la crisis, y especialmente con la toma del poder de Porfirio Díaz, poco a poco el Estado se expandía la autoridad, asfixiando las libertades conquistadas por el pueblo. Los municipios libres se reemplazaron con jefes políticos, se quitó la tierra de los campesinos para darla a los hacendados, y se dio formó a los rurales para reprimir cualquier expresión de disentimiento. El poder se quedó en las manos de los hacendados y empresarios.

Pero, un pueblo que había luchado tantos siglos por la libertad no podía soportar esta opresión por mucho tiempo. En 1906 en Cananea, los mineros se lanzaron a la huelga, y murieron resistiendo el imperialismo norteamericano y la dictadura. Cuatro años después, estalló la gran revolución de 1910, cuando los campesinos se apoderaron de las tierras y derrocaron a Díaz y Huerta. Los instintos creativos del pueblo trabajador destacaban en aquellos tiempos turbulentos, cuando los campesinos forjaban en sus comunidades una democracia revolucionaria más fuerte que cualquier parlamento, basada en los ejidos y ese inmortal principio, clavado en los corazones de campesinos y jornaleros en todo el mundo: “la tierra es de quien la trabaja.” Esa gran tormenta de libertad hizo a los poderosos temblar en sus palacios, y dio esperanza a las masas oprimidas.

En esta revolución es aún más clara la distinción entre los revolucionarios sociales y los revolucionarios políticos, Zapata y los campesinos luchando para repartir las tierras y defender la autonomía de los ejidos mientras que Carranza y Obregón luchaban para salvar el orden social y establecer una mera democracia liberal. Aunque claramente los Constitucionalistas concedieron algunas reformas sociales importantes con la constitución de 1917, como la reforma agraria, derechos laborales, y soberanía sobre los recursos naturales, un proceso muy similar a lo cual que ocurrió después de la Reforma sucedió, cuando, poco a poco, el gobierno del PRI se transformó en una nueva dictadura. El espíritu de la revolución sigue viviendo no en los pasillos de Chapultepec, sino en los corazones de los obreros, campesinos y estudiantes que seguían luchando, como en Tlatelolco, para hacer los sueños de tierra y libertad una realidad.

En los siglos que han pasado después de la independencia, el pueblo mexicano nunca ha cesado de luchar para hacer la libertad y la igualdad principios universales y amplios, y esa lucha ha empujado la historia más adelante. Esta es la gran revolución de que habló Ricardo Flores Magón, cuando escribió “Somos la plebe rebelde al yugo; somos la plebe de Espartaco, la plebe con que Munzer proclama la igualdad, la plebe que con Camilo Desmoulins aplasta la Bastilla, la plebe que con Hidalgo incendia Granaditas, somos la plebe que con Juárez sostiene la reforma.” En esta lucha, el pueblo, por su abnegación, coraje, y espíritu rebelde han hecho una gran contribución al progreso humano, rescatando la razón de las garras de la reacción y cultivando la semilla de la emancipación social. Aunque hasta hoy las intrigas de los poderosos han confinado esa semilla en el suelo, el volante de la historia sigue girando, y eventualmente se ha de acabar en la primavera.

 

Notes on the Immigrants’ Rights Movement and the Social Revolution

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El grito de Hidalgo, mural by Juan O’Gorman

By Duncan Riley

1/15/2019

 

Traditional socialist analyses, particularly in Europe and North America, categorize immigrants as just another kind of worker. Of course, it is widely accepted on the left that immigrants suffer a greater degree of marginalization and discrimination, and face distinct problems, such as deportation. However, ultimately, the left has traditionally seen immigrants as just one more sector of the working class, the same as native-born workers. While it is absolutely true that workers of all nations are fundamentally members of the same class, the distinct obstacles and challenges that immigrants face cause their communities to develop differently, and forge unique forms of social struggle. The radical developments in the immigrants’ rights movement, more than just another response to the ever-deepening crisis of capitalism, carry within them the beginnings of the social revolution. Immigrants of all nations are already leading the way in constructing the new society, and it is vital that the left learn from these vibrant movements.

Immigrants, upon arrival in the United States, face significant challenges. The new cultural environment is overwhelming, particularly if they do not speak English. The citizenship process is drawn-out and extremely difficult, immigrants are left with limited political and civil rights and the threat of deportation and state repression hovering over their heads. Further, due to their vulnerable position within society, immigrants face severe economic exploitation by capital, as they fear contesting labor rights violations could lead to deportation.[1] Under these hostile conditions, immigrant communities are naturally drawn closer together and organize themselves. These communal organizations are generally based on kinship or national ties, as immigrants from the same national, regional, and local backgrounds naturally gravitate towards one another. These communal ties become the basis for mutual aid, and a collectivist spirit takes root in the community.

Often times, communal ties are related to social structures in immigrants’ home countries. The case of Mexican immigrants demonstrates this most clearly. The first working-class organizations that arose in Mexico were the mutualistas, mutual-aid societies and proto-unions that formed among artisans and proletarians during the mid-19th century. The societies provided protection and support to workers amidst the instability of industrialization throughout the Porfiriato and provided an organizing base for strikes.[2] As Mexican workers migrated for work to the Southwest, they brought mutualista organization with them. They also took root among the pre-1848 Mexican populations suffering dispossession of their lands and livelihoods by the North American state and capital.[3] Equally, as capitalist logic was applied to the countryside after the enforcement of the Ley Lerdo, indigenous communal agricultural structures, the ejidos, were dismantled, their members forced off their lands. Many migrated to the north or joined the ranks of the growing working classes in the cities, infusing it with the collectivist spirit of the ejidatarios.[4] Thus, a communal ethos and ideal of mutual-aid lies at the foundation of the Mexican working class on both sides of the border.

Just as mutualistas began as mutual-aid societies but transformed into vehicles of class struggle, immigrant communal structures have transformed into platforms for social struggle. In the Twin Cities alone, campaigns bring together various immigrants’ rights groups to fight for the rights to municipal IDs and drivers’ licenses, while opposing deportations and other forms of state repression. In these actions, immigrants exercise the rights so often denied to them, and fight for inclusion as citizens. In short, the communal organization of immigrants prepared the basis for collective action against the state to conquer new rights from the hands of the powerful. The movement thus relies on democratic ambitions which refuse to accept government limits on citizenship, and the repression which enforces them, asserting the primacy of popular participation.[5] The immigrants’ rights movement thus constitutes a significant challenge to the nominally democratic bourgeois state, opposing its authoritarianism and at times forcing it to concede new rights, democratizing the national community.

What is unique about the immigrants’ rights movement, is that this democratizing struggle is not directed by any one political party but is rather the organic development of communal structures. The movement thus becomes a space for direct democracy, where members express their opinions freely, and vote on their leadership, platforms, and objectives. This free and open process contrasts sharply with bourgeois democracy, which relies on the authoritarian power of the state, and is driven by the influence of the wealthy and powerful, rather than the voice of the people. Thus, within the immigrants’ rights movement the masses can gather to participate in true democracy, exercising control over their own destinies and making their own decisions, in what Guérin calls “their apprenticeship in direct democracy from the bottom up.”[6] Within the immigrants’ rights movement the process of social revolution is already developing, as a communal and socialist alternative to authoritarianism is put into practice.

At the same time, immigrant organizations alone cannot make the social revolution. Alliances between different communities of immigrants, and between immigrants and native-born workers will be vital to any revolutionary action. It was an alliance of Mexican and Japanese workers that challenged both white supremacy and economic exploitation in Southern California during the early 20th century.[7] In the same period, it was the union of Italian and Mexican mine workers in Arizona that caused both state and capital to tremble in fear.[8] Today, immigrants’ rights movements cooperate with a wide variety of anti-imperialist and radical groups dedicated to the democratization of society. This alignment of social forces thus provides the embryo of a communal and direct democracy, which is capable of mobilizing the masses both in defense of their rights and for the conquest of power through social revolution.[9]

This social revolution, at its core, is the struggle for autonomy. It is the struggle for the right of the plebeian classes to live without being imposed upon by oligarchs and authoritarians. Immigrants, who have often seen the worst of capitalism and imperialism, and who face deep injustices in their new homes, understand the value of autonomy perhaps more than any other segment of the working classes. As such, immigrants play a leading role in constructing this autonomy in their own communities and spreading the ideal of social revolution throughout the masses. As this ideal, fiery in its cry for justice, grows ever in strength, it becomes clear that true liberty can only be realized once the arbitrary divisions that empires create among the workers are erased, and all join together in the struggle for emancipation from tyranny.

 

References

[1] Levin, Sam. “Immigration Crackdown Enables Worker Exploitation, Labor Department Staff Say.” The Guardian. March 30, 2017. Accessed January 15, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/30/undocumented-workers-deportation-fears-trump-administration-department-labor.

[2] Chacón, Justin Akers. Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican American Working Class, 36-8. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2018.

[3] Ibid., 104-5.

[4] Ibid., 30-31.

[5] Linera, Álvaro García. Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working-class and Popular Identities in Bolivia, 95.  Leiden: Brill, 2014.

[6] Guérin, Daniel. For a Libertarian Communism, 75. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2017.

[7] Justin Akers Chacón. Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican American Working Class, 76.

[8] Ibid., 93-5.

[9] Álvaro García Linera. Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working-class and Popular Identities in Bolivia, 255-6.

A Brief History of Imperialism in Central America – Una breve historia del imperialismo en Centroamérica

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Mural by Diego Rivera – Un mural de Diego Rivera

By – De Duncan Riley

1/7/2019

 

English – Versión inglesa

The recent exodus of many Central Americans from their countries towards the United States has brought the regions problems with poverty, violence, and social injustice into sharp focus in the media. Unfortunately, the roots these conditions have in North American imperialism has thus far received far less attention in political and social discourse on the present crisis. Indeed, it is vital to recognize that the crisis which presently afflicts our sister republics in Central America is not foreign to us, but rather fundamentally intertwined with the long-standing policies of our government which treat the peoples of Central America not as equals, but as pawns.

The first North American intervention in Central America came not long after the regions independence from the Spanish empire. After the invasion of Mexico, North American industrialists had looked on Nicaragua as the perfect place to construct a trans-oceanic canal in order to facilitate faster transportation between the nations two coasts. Hoping to make this dream a reality, in 1856 Tennessean William Walker mounted a military expedition to Nicaragua at the behest of the Nicaraguan Liberal Party. Not long after arriving with an army of North Americans, Walker seized the presidency of Nicaragua. Over the protests of all the nations of Central America, the United States recognized Walker as the legitimate president. Despite this, within less than a year the combined armies of the other republics of Central America drove Walker from the country, though not before his followers burned to the ground one of the oldest cities in the hemisphere, Granada. While this first imperialist endeavor into Central America may seem too far removed from our times to possibly be relevant, it illustrates the early emergence of the factors that, to this day, drive US policy towards Central America. The economic interests of North American capital and the political desire of the US government to secure a highly strategic position combined to wage an unjust war on Nicaragua.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, with the rise of new and powerful multinational corporations, US intervention in Central America became more regular. Companies like United Fruit used their wealth and power to influence governments in Central America in order to win economic concessions weighted in the multinationals favor. When political conditions or instability threatened the companies’ economic fortunes, they often called on the US Government to intervene. The most famous of these interventions was that which occurred in Nicaragua from 1912-1933. The US and its multinationals at times also used their influence to menace Central American governments into repressing their own people. Though not in Central America, the events surrounding the Banana Strike of 1928 in Colombia provides a clear example of this sort of coercion. When United Fruit employees in northern Colombia went on strike for better working conditions in 1928, the United States, at the behest of United Fruit, threatened the Conservative Party government in Colombia with invasion unless they cracked down on the strike. Thousands of workers were killed in the repressions that followed. US intervention in Central America has, through its protection of unfair concessions and unjust treatment of Central American workers, contributed to the poverty of the peoples of Central America.

With the onset of the Cold War, North American interventions in Central America became less overt but no less frequent. In 1954, the democratically elected socialist and nationalist president of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, who had initiated a land reform project and challenged United Fruit’s economic domination of the country, was overthrown by a military coup logistically and materially supported by the United States. This coup inaugurated perhaps among the bloodiest periods in Central American history, as the US supported right wing death squads and dictatorships against leftist guerrillas in every country in the region except Costa Rica. During this period, the Guatemalan military government prosecuted a genocide against the indigenous Maya people, and governments across the region used torture and murder to repress resistance, often with the direct support and aid of the CIA.

Though in the 1990s democracy at long last returned to Central America, it has not prevented the US from continuing to intervene in the region. Indeed, the United States still maintains a garrison of troops at the Soto Cano air base in Honduras, despite the Honduran constitution’s strict prohibition on any permanent presence of foreign troops on Honduran soil. To get around this restriction, the US government classifies the Soto Cano mission as a “temporary deployment for an indefinite amount of time.” The base continues to be used for operations related to the “War on Drugs” throughout the region.

In recent years Honduras has suffered perhaps the most significant North American intervention into the politics of Central American country since the end of the Cold War, after the 2006 accession of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. Though elected as a liberal, Zelaya quickly took a left ward turn, raising the minimum wage, expanding public services for the poor, promising to mediate long running land disputes between peasants and international corporations, and even leading the country into the left-wing regional organization “The Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of our America.” As a culmination to his efforts to transform the country, Zelaya proposed a popular consultation on whether or not a referendum to call a constituent assembly, “the fourth ballot box,” should be held consecutively with the 2009 presidential election. While Zelaya argued the referendum was necessary to further democratize the country, the conservative National Party and some members of the liberal party claimed Zelaya only wanted to remove term limits from the constitution to allow himself to run again, despite the fact that the proposed referendum would be held alongside the election of Zelaya’s successor. The political dispute over the fourth box ultimately led, on the 28th of June 2009, to the Honduran military storming the presidential residence and forcing Zelaya from the country.

While publicly the Obama administration condemned the coup, it avoided officially classifying the military’s actions as a military coup, which allowed it to legally continue sending military and police aid to the new government. This aid proved invaluable, as the coup quickly met significant popular resistance. Ultimately, after questionable elections in 2009 and 2013, the pro-coup National Party managed to maintain power. Throughout this period, the Obama administration continued to send military aid to the Honduran government, despite its role in repressions of protesters, and assassinations of activists like Berta Cáceres in 2016. The year after, when Juan Orlando Hernández of the national party was fraudulently and unconstitutionally reelected as president, the Trump administration immediately validated his victory, even as the military and police killed and repressed protestors in the streets.

It is clear, then, that the government of the United States bears responsibility for the poverty and violence that today drives Hondurans and other Central Americans forth from their homes in exodus. For almost ten years now, brave and patriotic Hondurans have been arrested and murdered by US trained military and police, their only crime having been the defense of their nation and its democracy from the violent impositions of an illegitimate government. This being the case, the acceptance of the caravan with open arms is more than an act of charity or humanitarian grace, it is a necessary step towards the reconciliation of the nations of the Americas. However, it is only the first step, and what is further required of us is to oppose without exception every intervention, imposition, or interference, that the government of the United States may make upon our sister republics.

 

Español-Spanish

El éxodo reciente de muchos centroamericanos desde sus países a los Estados Unidos ha causado acá mucha discusión sobre los problemas de la región, como la pobreza, la violencia, y la injusticia social. Desafortunadamente, las raíces que estos problemáticos tienen en el imperialismo norteamericano no han recibido tanta atención en nuestro discurso político y social en esta crisis. Ciertamente, es esencial reconocer que la crisis que presentemente aflige nuestras repúblicas hermanas en Centroamérica no nos es ajena, sino está entrelazada con las políticas históricas y presentes de nuestro gobierno que han tratado los pueblos de Centroamérica no como iguales, sino como peones.

La primera intervención norteamericana en Centroamérica vino pronto después de la independencia de la región del impero español. Después de la invasión de México, industrialistas norteamericanos querían construir un canal interoceánico en Nicaragua para facilitar transportación más rápida entre las costas de la nación. Esperando hacer realidad este sueño, en el año 1856, William Walker, de Tennessee, empezó una expedición militar en Nicaragua, al pedido del partido liberal nicaragüense. Rápidamente, después de su llegada con un ejército de norteamericanos, Walker tomó la presidencia de Nicaragua. A pesar de las protestas de las naciones de Centroamérica, los Estados Unidos le reconocieron a Walker como el presidente verdadero de Nicaragua. En repuesta, todas las otras naciones de Centroamérica invadieron Nicaragua y lo forzaron a Walker a retirar se del país, aunque no antes que los norteamericanos destruyeran Granada, una de las ciudades mas viejas en el hemisferio. Mientras esta empresa imperialista primera en Centroamérica parece demasiada lejana de nuestros tiempos para ser relevante, ilustra el comienzo temprano de los factores que, todavía hoy, guían la política estadounidense hacia Centroamérica. Los intereses económicos del capital norteamericano y el deseo político del gobierno estadounidense de controlar una posición estratégica se combinaban para hacer la guerra injusta contra Nicaragua.

Más tarde en el siglo XIX, y en el siglo XX, con el auge de corporaciones nuevas y poderosas, la intervención norteamericana en Centroamérica se hizo regular. Las compañías, como United Fruit (fruta unida), utilizaban su riqueza y poder para influenciar a los gobiernos de Centroamérica para ganar concesiones económicas en favor de las compañías. Cuando las condiciones políticas o la inestabilidad las amenazaban, a menudo ellas llamaban al gobierno estadounidense para intervenir. La más famosa de estas intervenciones fue la intervención en Nicaragua desde 1912 hasta 1933. Los EE. UU. y sus empresas también a veces utilizaban su influencia para amenazar a los gobiernos de Centroamérica a reprimir sus propios pueblos. Aunque no en Centroamérica, los acontecimientos que rodearon la huelga de las bananas en Colombia en 1928 proveen un ejemplo claro de esta manera de coerción. Cuando los trabajadores de United Fruit en el norte de Colombia se pusieron en la huelga para mejores condiciones, los Estados Unidos, al pedido de Fruta Unida, amenazó al gobierno conservador de Colombia con invadido a menos que reprimiera a los trabajadores. Miles de trabajadores fueron matados en las represiones que siguieron. La intervención norteamericana en Centroamérica, a través de su protección de concesiones injustas y tratamiento injusto a los trabajadores, ha contribuido a la pobreza de los pueblos de Centroamérica.

Con el comienzo de la guerra fría, las intervenciones norteamericanas en Centroamérica se hicieron menos obvias, pero no menos frecuentes. En 1954, el presidente socialista y nacionalista de Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, electo por el voto popular, fue derrocado por un golpe militar. Árbenz habría empezado un programa de reforma agraria, que amenazaba la dominación económica de United Fruit, y así la compañía y el gobierno estadounidense apoyaron al golpe con dinero e inteligencia. Este golpe inauguró tal vez el periodo más sangriento en la historia de Centroamérica, durante el cual el gobierno estadounidense apoyó dictaduras militares y escuadrones de la muerte contra guerrilleros izquierdistas en casi toda de Centroamérica. Durante este periodo, el gobierno de Guatemala intentó un genocidio contra el pueblo Maya, y los gobiernos de toda la región utilizaban la tortura y el asesinato para reprimir a la oposición, a menudo con el apoyo directo de la CIA.

Mientras que en los años noventas del siglo XX la democracia volvió a Centroamérica, no ha parado la interferencia de los EE. UU. en la región. Ciertamente, el gobierno estadounidense mantiene una base militar, “Soto Cano,” en Honduras, a pesar de la prohibición de la constitución hondureña contra la presencia de ejércitos extranjeros en la tierra nacional. Para evadir esta restricción, el gobierno estadounidense clasifica la misión en Honduras como “un despliegue temporario por un tiempo indefinido.” La base sigue siendo utilizada para operaciones en “la guerra contra las drogas” en toda la región.

En años recientes Honduras ha sufrido quizás la más significante intervención norteamericana en las políticas de una nación centroamericana después de la guerra fría, después de la elección de Manuel “Mel” Zelaya a la presidencia en 2006. Aunque elegido como un liberal, rápidamente Zelaya hizo un giro a la izquierda, aumentado el salario básico, expandiendo los servicios públicos para los pobres, prometiendo mediar en el conflicto entre campesinos y corporaciones internacionales en el Bajo Aguán y llevando el país a la Alianza Bolivariana para los pueblos de Nuestra América. Como una culminación de sus esfuerzos, Zelaya propuso una consulta popular sobre la pregunta de un referendo para reformar la constitución al mismo tiempo de las elecciones presidenciales de dos mil nueve, “la cuarta urna.” Mientras Zelaya discutía que la reforma era necesaria para hacer más profunda la democracia del país, el partido naciónal, un partido conservador, y algunos miembros del partido liberal reclamaban que Zelaya solo quería remover las restricciones de mandatos así él podía ser presidente otra vez, a pesar de que el referendo propuesto ocurriera al mismo tiempo que la elección del sucesor de Zelaya. La disputa política sobre la cuarta urna en último lugar causó, el 28 de junio de 2009, la toma de poder por parte del ejército hondureño que asaltó la residencia presidencial y forzó Zelaya a salir del país.

Mientras públicamente la administración de Obama condenó el golpe, al mismo tiempo no lo llamaba oficialmente un golpe militar, así la administración podía continuar enviando ayuda militar y policial al nuevo gobierno en Honduras. Esta ayuda era inestimable, porque el golpe encontraba una poderosa resistencia popular. En última instancia, después de las elecciones cuestionables en 2009 y 2013, el partido nacional, que apoyaba al golpe militar, mantenía su poder. Por todo este periodo, la administración de Obama seguía enviando ayuda militar al gobierno hondureño, a pesar de la represión de manifestantes y los asesinatos de activistas como Berta Cáceres en 2016. El año siguiente, cuando Juan Orlando Hernández del partido nacional fue reelecto fraudulenta e inconstitucionalmente como presidente, la administración de Trump validó inmediatamente su victoria, aun cuando la armada y la policía mataban y reprimían manifestantes en las calles.

Es claro que el gobierno estadounidense tiene una responsabilidad grande por la pobreza y violencia que hoy han forzado a muchos hondureños y centroamericanos a salir de sus países en éxodo. Por casi diez años, hondureños valientes y patrióticos han sido arrestados y asesinados por militares y policías entrenados por el gobierno estadounidense, y su único crimen fue la defensa de su patria y su democracia contra las imposiciones violentas de un gobierno sin legitimidad. Porque esta es la situación, aceptar a la caravana con brazos abiertos es más que una acción de caridad o de ayuda humanitaria, es un paso necesario hacia la reconciliación de las naciones de América. Sin embargo, solo es el primero paso, lo que debemos hacer es oponernos sin excepciones contra todas las intervenciones, imposiciones, e interferencias, que el gobierno estadounidense haga a nuestras repúblicas hermanas.

 

Institutional Repression

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Photo from the Department of Homeland Security

By Duncan Riley

1/4/2019

 

Yesterday, January 3rd, the much-anticipated 116th congress, product of the “blue wave” took office. It began this first day by passing measures to end the government shutdown, and initiating rule changes to facilitate a future austerity program. While Democrats retook the house by promising a more humane immigration policy, one of their first actions was to pass a spending bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.[1] The Border Patrol, ICE, and the detention facilities in whose custody two Guatemalan children died in December all fall within said department. Amidst the broader crisis of liberal institutionalism constituted by the shutdown, the Democratic Party proves itself once again to be a force of reaction. While much has been made of the emergence of a “progressive” wing in the party, it has clearly not prevented the party from championing repressive institutions and economic policies that will harm the working classes.

Indeed, all that has occurred since the Trump Administration achieved office has demonstrated clearly the bankruptcy of the present order. While many commentators have turned to decrying ignorant populism as the source of the present crisis, the problem lies far deeper, within the nature of the state itself. Ignorance and racism among the population is undeniably a significant problem which contributes to injustice in society. Yet, said ignorance and racism are most dangerous now as they are weaponized by the state. Repressive state institutions, from ICE and the Border Patrol down to local police, have enthusiastically enforced the Trump Administration’s various oppressive measures towards immigrants. These developments are by no means novel, but rather rely on the deportation apparatus the Obama Administration constructed.[2]

The same trend is found in foreign policy. In 2017, after a disputed election widely condemned as fraudulent, Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative national party was reelected in Honduras. Government forces repressed protesters, killing over 30 people. Despite this, the Trump Administration recognized the new government as legitimate. This built on the Obama Administration’s efforts to legitimize the conservative governments brought to power by the 2009 military coup. As part of its efforts to stabilize the succeeding conservative governments, the Obama administration sent millions of dollars of military aid to the Honduran military and police, even as they were implicated in human rights abuses and the murder of activists like Berta Cáceres. The violence this has spawned has contributed significantly to the present migration northwards, which the current congress continues to respond to with military measures.

US policy in regards to Honduras, and Central America generally, is based around “Plan Colombia,” a program initiated in the late 1990s and early 2000s to strengthen the Colombian state and military apparatus. By strengthening the Colombian state, successive US administrations hoped to combat cartels and cocaine production as part of the War on Drugs. For the same reason, a similar plan was applied to Mexico with the Mérida Initiative in 2008. After a migrant caravan of unaccompanied minors caused a major stir in US politics in 2014, the Obama Administration championed a new “Plan for Central America.” Outlining the policy in a 2015 editorial, Vice President Joe Biden connected the new plan to Plan Colombia, which he had championed during his time in the Senate.[3] Seldom, if ever, referenced in these schemes to expand Plan Colombia, has been its human costs. While the Colombian state and military were certainly strengthened, there were also wide reports of human rights abuses. In 2008, the “falsos positivos,” scandal broke, revealing that the Colombian army had lured civilians to remote locations with promises of work, then executed them and claimed they were guerrillas. These executions were driven by the policies of the Álvaro Uribe government, and the need to show progress in the war to justify continued US military aid. A recent study shows that possibly as many as 10,000 people were killed as “falsos positivos.”[4]

It has thus repeatedly been demonstrated that the very institutions that supposedly exist to protect our freedom and to promote justice are in reality pernicious to these aims. The unending slew of injustices committed by successive administrations in Washington is itself related to the fundamental corruption of bourgeois democracy. As Álvaro Garcia Linera argues, in modern democracy “the exercise of public rights is simply a ceremony of relinquishing political will, the will to govern, in order to deposit it in the hands of a new cast of private owners of politics…”[5]  Modern democracy thus rejects the right of the working class, of the poor, to seize the reigns of government themselves, and determine their own destiny. In the absence of true popular democracy, oligarchy reigns over the levers of power, using them to defend its narrow interests, at the expense of the rights of the oppressed masses. Within this context, the exploitation and tyrannical impositions that immigrants and other social groups face become a normalized function of state institutions and makes repression or the threat of repression a daily experience. Faced with this situation, to reform the state or to populate it with “progressives”, will not bring justice, as was shown by the actions of congress yesterday. State repression must rather be swept away through social revolution, and in its place must be constructed popular democracy, on the basis of equality and liberty for all.

 

References

[1] The New York Times. “New Congress Live Updates: The 116th House Votes on New Speaker.” The New York Times. January 03, 2019. Accessed January 03, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/us/politics/new-congress.html.

[2] Franco, Marisa, and Carlos Garcia. “The Deportation Machine Obama Built for President Trump.” The Nation. June 28, 2016. Accessed January 04, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-deportation-machine-obama-built-for-president-trump/.

[3] Biden, Joseph R. “A Plan for Central America.” The New York Times. January 29, 2015. Accessed January 04, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/opinion/joe-biden-a-plan-for-central-america.html.

[4] Daniels, Joe Parkin. “Colombian Army Killed Thousands More Civilians than Reported, Study Claims.” The Guardian. May 08, 2018. Accessed January 04, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/08/colombia-false-positives-scandal-casualties-higher-thought-study.

[5] Linera, Álvaro García. Plebeian Power: Collective Action and Indigenous, Working-class and Popular Identities in Bolivia, 101.  Leiden: Brill, 2014.

A Policy of Brutality

A picture for policy of brutality Patrolling a fortified border, photo from the Associated Press

By Duncan Riley

12/21/2018

 

The recent death of 7-year old Guatemalan migrant Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin in Border Patrol custody has ignited further public outcry over the conduct of the Border Patrol and the Trump administration’s immigration policies. After eight hours in custody, Caal and her father were not provided with water, and provided only with cookies for food. Further, after the death of his daughter, Jakelin’s father, who does not speak English, was asked to sign English-language only voluntary departure forms.[1] All of this has brought to the public’s attention what former Border Patrol agent Francisco Cantú calls an “institutional culture of the Border Patrol” that “regularly dismisses even the most basic needs of detained migrants.” Detained migrants, after walking through the desert heat for days, are often denied water, as agents are taught to see migrants as “aliens” and “illegals,” rather than as humans. As Cantú says, what happened to Caal “is not an aberration.”[2]

However, what has received less attention is how the culture of cruelty that pervades the Border Patrol is only one aspect of a larger culture of cruelty that pervades US immigration and border policy, and the institutions that enforce it. It is no accident, nor a freely made choice, that causes thousands of migrants each year to make the dangerous crossing of the Sonoran, Arizonan, and New Mexican deserts. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration initiated a new “Prevention through Deterrence” policy on the southern border, modeled on the Pentagon’s doctrines for suppressing guerilla war. Urban and natural crossing points were heavily fortified and guarded, while desert regions were left more sparsely protected, under the assumption that the environment would provide a natural deterrent. In reality, this policy has not served to deter migration, but has made it far more dangerous, by forcing migrants to make desert crossings.[3]

Making the long journey across the desert, under threat of detention by the Border Patrol, forces migrants to make difficult choices. Migrants are generally unable to carry enough water to sustain them over the long journey. After they run out of water, they are faced with the prospect of dehydration, or drinking bacteria-contaminated water that ranchers keep for livestock.[4] Migrants also generally wear dark clothing, and paint their possessions black, in the hope it will camouflage them from the Border Patrol. However, since black clothing absorbs more heat, it exponentially raises the risk of hyperthermia and dehydration.[5] All of these dangerous health impacts are ultimately the result of the sustained policy of militarization at the US-Mexico border, that successive presidential administrations have maintained.

It is no surprise then, that over the preceding years, the death toll has continued to rise. After the first ten years of the “Prevention through Deterrence” policy, border-crossing deaths doubled.[6] To this day, the situation has not improved significantly. In the first seven months of the last year, 232 people died while crossing the desert, a 17% increase from 2016. The situation has been aggravated by border officials increasing refusal to even hear asylum claims from migrants, forcing them to make desert crossings. The UN agency that produced the findings said it was likely an underestimate.[7]

Faced with a mounting death toll and the failure of their policies, the responses of the Department of Homeland Security and the border patrol have often smacked of the tragically absurd. For some years now, the Department of Homeland Security has funded the creation and distribution of corridos, Mexican folk ballads, that tell the story of the dangers and violence of the journey to the United States. Originally, these corridos were distributed in Mexico, but the recent increase in immigration from Central America has caused the government to expand the program.[8] Only four years ago, the Border Patrol, in a creative collaboration with a US advertising agency, created and distributed “La Bestia,” a hit song across Central America, describing the deadly journey north. Those listening to the song, of course, were not informed that it was produced by the US government.[9] This program, collectively referred to as “migras corridos,” does nothing to alleviate the plight of migrants, but serves to make plain the violence inherent in US policy.

Yet, in the face of the danger, migrants continue to risk everything to travel to the United States. Many migrants making desert crossings are deported long-time residents of the US, determined to return to their families and homes north of the Río Bravo.[10] Others are Guatemalans and Salvadorans, fleeing the violence and economic instability that have plagued the region as a result of the civil wars between leftist rebels and US-backed dictatorships in the 20th century. Hondurans in particular have been fleeing in large numbers to the United States. Since the US backed coups in 2009 and 2017, political opponents of the right-wing government have faced persecution and violence, and the economic and social situations have deteriorated rapidly. US border policy thus layers cruelty upon cruelty, as migrants and refugees fleeing violence and persecution that US foreign policy helped create are subjected to further violence and persecution at the border.

Despite the manifest humanitarian and practical failure of its border policy, the present US government, and the leadership of both major political parties, seems committed to continuing it. Minnesota Democratic Party Senator and presidential hopeful, Amy Klobuchar, recently expressed she would be willing to fund Trump’s wall in exchange for a promise of immigration reform.[11] As of today, a bill passed by the House yesterday that would provide funding for the wall in order to prevent a government shutdown seems slated to pass or fail by a slim margin in the Senate.[12] Such a compromise, whether pushed by Democrats or Republicans, continues to endanger the lives of the thousands of migrants that cross each year, in return for a vague promise of a moderate reform that will not balance the scales of justice. It equally, by supporting the construction of a physical barrier between the United States and its Latin American sister republics, serves to further weaken the bonds of sorority wherein lie the best hope for a better, and more equal hemisphere. Whether North American, Mexican, Honduran, or Argentinian, we are all Americans – the physical or political obstructions constructed between us are not organic, but artificial and imperial in nature. The only reform that will bring true justice is the reversal of the United States government’s sanguinary policies at the border, and the end of the present political situation in the United States. For, if the present forces that dominate the US government persist in power, we can be assured that there will be more Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquins.

 

References

[1] Moore, Robert, and Nick Miroff. “Attorneys for Father of Deceased Migrant Girl Say Border Agents Did Not Provide Water.” Washington Post, December 19, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/border-officials-issue-new-prompt-notification-policy-after-migrant-childs-death-went-undisclosed/2018/12/19/70ff43ba-0399-11e9-8186-4ec26a485713_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ad5e188b2f18.

[2] Cantú, Francisco. “7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin Died at the Border. What Happened to Her Is Not an Aberration.” Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-cantu-border-patrol-cruelty-20181218-story.html.

[3] León, Jason De. ““Better to Be Hot than Caught”: Excavating the Conflicting Roles of Migrant Material Culture.” American Anthropologist114, no. 3 (2012): 479-480. Accessed December 21, 2018. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2012.01447.x.

[4] Ibid., 486.

[5] Ibid., 489.

[6] USA. Government Accountability Office. Border-Crossing Deaths Have Doubled Since 1995; Border Patrol’s Efforts to Prevent Deaths Have Not Been Fully Evaluated. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2006. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06770.pdf.

[7] Holpuch, Amanda. “Migrant Deaths at US-Mexico Border Increase 17% This Year, UN Figures Show.” The Guardian, August 5, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/05/migrants-us-mexico-border-deaths-figures.

[8] Herrera-Sobek, María. “The Border Patrol and Their Migra Corridos: Propaganda, Genre Adaptation, and Mexican Immigration.” American Studies Journal, May 11, 2012. Accessed December 21, 2018. http://www.asjournal.org/57-2012/the-border-patrol-and-their-migra-corridos/.

[9] Barkham, Patrick. “La Bestia: The Hit Song the US Border Agency Made to Scare off Immigrants.” The Guardian, July 16, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/jul/16/la-bestia-song-commissioned-us-border-control-stop-immigration.

[10] Jason De León. ““Better to Be Hot than Caught”: Excavating the Conflicting Roles of Migrant Material Culture,” 482.

[11] Scanlan, Quinn. “Dem Senator Expresses Willingness to Negotiate Funding for Border Wall.” ABC News. November 25, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/dem-senator-expresses-willingness-negotiate-funding-border-wall/story?id=59394042.

[12] Shabad, Rebecca. “Bill to Fund Border Wall Teeters on Edge in Senate.” NBCNews.com. December 21, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/bill-fund-border-wall-teeters-edge-senate-n950831.

Honduras, Immigration, and Intervention

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A Honduran protester waves a banner depicting the face of Francisco Morazán (Photo Credit to Getty Images)

August 1st, 2018

By Duncan Riley

 

With the recent spike in deportations, the Trump administration’s increasingly hostile rhetoric towards immigrants, particularly those from Central America, and the recent crisis over separations of families, the Democratic Party and its adherents have generally adopted a uniform line: “refugees welcome.” While this is, of course, a far more humane policy than that advocated by the Trump administration, it has a fundamental flaw. It fails to address in any meaningful way how the policies of preceding US administrations (both Republican and Democratic) have forced people to flee their homes to the United States. The most obvious case of this is in Honduras.

Honduras is, in the words of Father Ismael Moreno, an “etcetera country,” one of those Central American countries considered so unimportant by US media and politics that it is often lumped with its neighbors as just another country sending immigrants northwards.[1] Indeed, Hondurans made up the majority of the recent migrant train that caused a serious controversy in our politics. Most media coverage and public debate on this issue has focused on how gang violence, crime, and poverty have forced Hondurans to flee their country. Occasionally the role the Trump administration has played in deepening the nation’s present political crisis is mentioned.[2] Unfortunately, political discourse in the US has largely ignored that Honduras has been the victim of the most significant US intervention into the politics of a Central American nation since the Cold War.

In the early hours of June 28th, 2009, members of the Honduran military broke into the home of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and forced him on a plane to Costa Rica. This military coup, ostensibly about a dispute over potential constitutional reform, had deeper roots in Honduran society. Honduras suffers from some of the highest poverty and inequality levels in Latin America. Further, its northern Bajo Aguán region has seen a long running and often violent conflict between large agribusinesses and farmers who argue that the companies have defrauded them of their land. During his presidency, Zelaya had sought to increase the minimum wage, and to mediate the land disputes in the Bajo Aguán, among other efforts to improve the status of the nation’s working class. He also led the country into the left-wing regional integrationist organization, The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.[3] Despite the moderate nature of these reforms, Zelaya’s leftward turn awoke the significant ire of Honduras’s traditional elite, ultimately resulting in the 2009 coup d’état.

While the Obama administration condemned the coup verbally, it maintained policies that benefited the coup’s leaders. Obama was careful to avoid using the word military coup, allowing his administration to legally continue military and police aid to Honduras – aid that was promptly used to repress protesters and Zelaya’s supporters.[4] Military aid to Honduras continued throughout the rest of the Obama administration, even as the Honduran government and military were accused of conspiring to kill indigenous and land rights activists such as Berta Caceres.[5] Hillary Clinton’s state department’s response to the coup was even more questionable, as it equivocated over whether or not a coup had actually occurred, and seemingly prioritized ensuring order and continued US military presence in the country above all else.[6] It should be noted that the latter is entirely illegal, as the Honduran constitution prohibits permanent foreign military presence within the country, and thus the mission has only been allowed to remain due to the agreement of the coup government, and US classification of the mission as a “temporary deployment for an indefinite period.”[7] Ultimately, Zelaya, just like Jacobo Árbenz a half-century before, was just another Central American leftist getting in the way of the US’s larger strategic plan for the Americas.

Though the coup initially met strong resistance, in the end the government was able to retain power through repression and brute force. Yet, a cloud of illegitimacy has hung over the government, amid continuing violence against activists and the opposition, and concerns over the legitimacy of the three elections held since the coup. The November 2017 election was so controversial that it caused the Honduran people’s indignation to boil over, precipitating the present crisis.

The 2017 Honduran presidential election pitted the incumbent Juan Hernández of the right-wing National Party, against opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla, candidate of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, a coalition of several parties including Zelaya’s socialist Libre party. From the start the election was questionable. The Honduran constitution explicitly prohibits reelection, however the Supreme Court unilaterally declared it legal in 2015. However, as initial reports of the election results came in, it looked like the opposition was poised to triumph. Suddenly, the computer system for results tabulation purportedly crashed, and when it came back online two days later, Hernández was in the lead. Hondurans flooded the streets and built barricades, and some segments of the police even attempted a revolt. However, Hernández was declared the winner, and the Trump administration recognized him, registering no complaints about the process, and keeping the military aid money flowing.[8] More than thirty Hondurans were killed, and government repression, often carried out by US trained forces, continues to this day.[9]

It is entirely understandable then that so many Hondurans have had to flee their nation to the United States. These refugees should be welcomed. At the same time, it is also important to combat the policies our government has maintained that have helped turn Honduras into a violent dictatorship. At present, the “Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act,” which would end military and police aid to Honduras, is being considered by Congress. As a show of solidarity to our sister republic, we, as the American people, must support this bill.

Honduras is more than an “etcetera country.” It’s national hero, Francisco Morazán tirelessly fought to preserve the 1830s union of Central American States, and to build a more democratic and egalitarian society. He also was a staunch opponent of foreign intervention in the fledgling Central American republics’ affairs. Today, his face is a common sight among the protest signs of Hondurans, and his name is often invoked in the continued struggle for a new Honduras. The people of the United States could do well to learn from the democratic examples of Morazán and the Honduran people, and fight against the policies of our government that have helped bring so much misery to Honduras.

 

References

[1] Silber, Judy. “Bay Area Coalition Rallies for Priest Facing Danger in Honduras.” KALW Local Public Radio, May 24, 2018, http://kalw.org/post/bay-area-coalition-rallies-priest-facing-danger-honduras#stream/0.

[2] Semple, Kirk. “Inside an Immigrant Caravan: Women and Children, Fleeing Violence.” The New York Times, April 4, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/world/americas/mexico-trump-caravan.html.

[3] Lakhani, Nina. “Two More Honduran Land Rights Activists Killed in Ongoing Violence.” The Guardian, October 19, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/19/honduras-land-rights-activists-killed-unified-peasant-movement.

[4] Valle, Alvaro. “Dancing with Monsters: The U.S. Response to the 2009 Honduran Coup.” Harvard Political Review, April 13, 2015, http://harvardpolitics.com/united-states/us-honduran-coup/.

[5] Blitzer, Jonathan. “Should the U.S. Still Be Sending Military Aid to Honduras?” The New Yorker, August 17, 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/should-the-u-s-still-be-sending-military-aid-to-honduras.

[6] ibid

[7] Baer, Jim. “U.S. Military Presence in Latin America Increasing.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. July 1, 2015, http://www.coha.org/u-s-military-presence-in-latin-america-increasing/.

[8] Malkin, Elizabeth. “U.S. Backs Honduran President’s Victory in Disputed Election.” The New York Times, December 22, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/world/americas/us-honduras-president-hernandez.html.

[9] Cuffe, Sandra. “U.S.-TRAINED POLICE ARE HUNTING DOWN AND ARRESTING PROTESTERS AMID POST-ELECTION CRISIS IN HONDURAS.” The Intercept, February 20, 2018, https://theintercept.com/2018/02/20/honduras-election-protest-tigres/.

 

Collaboration and Confrontation: State-Labor relations in Mexico, 1910-1938

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Photo credit ondacultural

By Duncan Riley

12/07/2016

“National policy is no longer today, as it was only a few years ago, the policy of one man, but the policy of a program, and this program is contained in the following purposes: to liquidate feudalism, to win complete independence for Mexico, and to organize the principal sectors of the people and give them the control of the country. This is democracy as it was born of the Revolution and has been defined in the last five years; and it is creating a new social order in Mexico. It is not a mere democracy of formulas and laws, but a vital democracy, whose purpose is to improve the condition of the people in every aspect of life” – Vicente Toledano, 1940

 

 

 

In the history of organized labor, Mexico’s labor movement is unique. In many powerful countries, like the United States, Russia, and Germany, organized labor often met fierce resistance from the governments of these countries, and thus developed largely without state backing. In Mexico, however, the circumstances of the Mexican Revolution made it advantageous for the leaders of Mexico’s labor movement to ally with the new revolutionary elites. This alliance had great ramifications on the future development of Mexico’s labor movement, as it allowed labor leaders and unions to gain rights and political influence that labor movements in many countries had not been able to attain. Simultaneously, the agreement gave the Mexican government a great deal of influence and power over labor leaders and the unions they led, curtailing their independence. This dynamic, of labor leaders using alliances with political leaders to gain political influence, and political leaders using the same alliances to exercise control over labor leaders, set the stage for the collaboration and confrontation that would define relations between Mexican labor and state over the first decades after the Mexican revolution.

The Mexican labor movement had its roots in the horrible economic conditions of the Porfiriato. The influx of people into urban areas, a result of industrialization, created horrible living conditions. Further, working days were long, and on the job conditions were poor, while frequent recessions and economic instability meant many workers were often put out of work (Hart, 1974). While these conditions certainly gave workers the will to organize, the Diaz regime repressed any attempts to form unions, defining strikes and organization as criminal activities. However, with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, workers finally had the opportunity to organize, especially after the foundation of the Casa de Obrero Mundia, the house of the workers of the world, in 1910 (Toledano, 1940). The Casa program, which espoused a radical anarcho-syndicalist ideology[1], was the first group to attempt large scale organization of Mexican workers, attempting to create “societies of resistance” against the capitalist class and prepare the workers for a general strike (Hart, 1974). Indeed, Vicente Toledano, a leading figure in the later Mexican Labor Movement, called the Casa program “…a kind of seminary that sent forth the first propagandists of the class conflict” (Toledano, 1940).

However, this stage of relative freedom from government interference in the Mexican labor movement quickly faded after Victoriano Huerta was overthrown. The leaders of the Casa decided to renounce anarcho-syndicalism and ally with the Carrancista faction, in return for the promise that the Venustiano Carranza government would institute reforms that would benefit workers. In fulfillment of the bargain, the Casa used their organizations to create “Red Battalions” of urban workers to fight in the civil war that followed the overthrow of Huerta. The Casa organization, which had up until that point espoused an anti-capitalist, anti-government ideology, was suddenly fighting for the bourgeois Mexican government against its class brothers in the Villista and Zapatista movements (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). The Mexican government, in turn, would fulfill its promises to the Casa in the constitution of 1917. Article 123 of the constitution guaranteed workers the right to freely organize, a minimum wage, overtime pay, maternity leave, a six-day work week, and an eight-hour work day (Constitution of the United Mexican States, 1917). Vicente Toledano described these guarantees: “…Mexican Labor obtained at a single stroke… the legal benefits for which labor had been struggling desperately in many more advanced countries” (Ashby, 1967). It should be noted, however, that as Toledano would later become one of the primary movers behind collaboration with the state, it was in his interest to extol the benefits while minimizing the negatives. Indeed, while workers and their leaders had gained many rights and privileges, the choice of the Casa to ally itself with the Carrancistas was, in the view of one historian, Meyer, “a fatal step which would place the Mexican labor movement under the tutelage of the government…” (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976).

With the Mexican Revolution coming to its finish, the government began to focus on national reconstruction. The new revolutionary ideology that dominated the Mexican government took a paternalistic stance towards workers, recognizing the existence of a class struggle between worker and boss, and advocating that the government should intervene to protect the less powerful working class from capitalist exploitation. However, the purpose of state intervention was not simply to better the conditions of workers, but also to ensure the preservation of the capitalist mode of production and the authority of the government (Hamilton, 1975). This ideological commitment to both the preservation of the economic and political system alongside the betterment of workers is similar to the bargain made between the Casa and the Carrancistas during the Mexican Revolution – the government would support organized labor and workers, as long as labor leaders and their unions supported the government.

This philosophical development informed the process of incorporating workers and labor leaders into the new revolutionary order. In 1918, Carranza called a conference of labor organizations to ensure that the Carrancistas remained in control of the labor movement. The result of the conference was the formation of the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (CROM). The CROM, with close ties to the state, limited itself to nonviolent economic struggle against bosses, avoiding challenging the government. It also opposed unions that tried to act independently (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). The CROM was effectively a government-controlled union, and it supported institutional candidates like Álvaro Obregón and limited its subdivision’s ability to strike and act against the government. In return, the CROM obtained government positions and influence (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976; Middlebrook, 1995). The granting of political positions to the CROM further solidified labor leaders’ stake in defending the new order. Furthermore, besides simply desiring to exercise control over the labor movement, the revolutionary elites saw organized labor as a source of mass support, and felt that the CROM was a civilian organization that could counterbalance the power of the army in the revolutionary coalition (Middlebrook, 1995). Labor was effectively recognized as its own corporate group within Mexican society, and the Mexican government supported the development of the CROM both so it could exercise influence over this new corporate group, and use it to balance out the influence of other corporate groups.

Of course, the government did not merely dictate the development of Mexican organized labor; rather, it was an interactive process. State intervention often empowered labor, and thus in some cases was actively sought out. Furthermore, the CROM could gain positions in key administrative bodies, such as minimum wage and arbitration boards, allowing the CROM to actively create and enforce labor law, and to intervene in favor of workers during labor disputes (Middlebrook, 1995).  Furthermore, labor leaders were also able to obtain extremely important government positions which they could use for their own and their organization’s gain. For example, Middlebrook writes that “Luis N. Morenes, the CROM’s secretary-general, served as minister of industry, commerce, and labor between 1924 and 1928, a position he exploited to increase the CROM’s membership and expand its influence in national labor affairs” (1995). Compounding this, CROM leaders controlled governorships in four states and the Federal District, and often pledged to support local political elites in gubernatorial campaigns in exchange for favorable treatment of the CROM if they obtained office (Middlebrook, 1995). By effectively becoming the national union and acceding to political constraints on their actions, the CROM became an extremely powerful political force in its own right.

While the CROM was the most powerful of Mexico’s unions, there were certainly other unions that opposed it and its close relationship with the Mexican government. The Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT), founded in 1921, was a radical anarcho-syndicalist union that advocated class struggle, direct action, and the emancipation of laborers (Andrews, 1990). The CGT’s political radicalism naturally made it an enemy of the Mexican government. The CROM, ever the government’s loyal union, began to compete with the CGT, launching organizing drives directly in conflict with it. The CROM also used its political influence to ensure its dominance, convincing the Plutarco Eliás Calles administration to recognize the principle that if multiple unions were present in a work place, the contract negotiated by the largest union would apply to all employees (Middlebrook, 1995).  This regulation naturally ensured that other unions, like the CGT, would have difficulties competing with the CROM, as they would not be able to represent their members if they did not have at least a plurality. The CROM’s favored position in the government’s eye made it very hard for other, more independent unions, too develop.

As the 1920’s ended, the relationship between the CROM and the government began to fray, giving other organizations the opportunity to form. Despite this, the CROM, and the methods and practices it had developed, would cast a shadow over the future of the Mexican labor movement. The CROM opposed Obregón’s reelection bid[2], resulting in Obregón pledging that if he was elected he would remove labor leaders from positions of power. After Obregón was assassinated, suspicion fell on the CROM and its leader Morones, and CROM leaders were forced to resign from public office. The CROM fell even further out of favor when they refused to cooperate with Calles in the formation of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR). The election of the avowedly anti-CROM Portes Gil as president in 1928 was the final blow to the CROM’s influence (Middlebrook, 1995). The CROM had broken its compact with the revolutionary elite that it would support the government, and as a result lost its political power. It was amidst this context of decline that Vicente Toledano, after an argument with Morones, broke from the CROM and founded the Confederacion General de Obreros y Campesinos Mexicanos (CGOCM). Its members referred to it as the “purified CROM[3]” (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). The fact that the members of the CGOCM viewed their new organization as simply a purer iteration of the CROM is emblematic of the CROM’s influence on the future Mexican labor movement. Though the CROM had gained a reputation as corrupt and undemocratic because of its collaboration with the government, it had also shown how allying with the ruling party could give labor leaders the power and resources they needed to effect change. Furthermore, the CROM’s demise had shown what could happen if labor leaders tried to fight the government and the PNR (Middlebrook, 1995). In effect, the CGOCM was created in an attempt to preserve some of the beneficial aspects of the CROM, such as collaborating with the government for the benefit of workers. However, the CGOCM would be more pure than the CROM, as it would maintain independence and hopefully avoid becoming a corrupt stooge of the PNR, dependent on it for support.

Toledano himself described the formation of the CGOCM as “the revival of the proletariat” (1940). Of course, Toledano, as the founder of the CGOCM, was somewhat biased in this assertion. However, there was some truth to Toledano’s claim, as the CGOCM would advocate intra-union democracy and independence from the state, opting to put the empowerment of its members ahead of alliance with the PNR (Middlebrook, 1995). Furthermore, CGOCM would grow to encompass most of the unions that had formerly been part of the CROM, and some unions that had remained independent of it (Toledano, 1940). However, the CGOCM did not have nearly the same level of political influence as the CROM, especially after its opposition to the labor policies of President Abelardo Rodriguez caused the President to begin a wave of persecutions against the union (Middlebrook, 1995; Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). Though the CGOCM did oppose some government policies, its goals were always reformist in nature. The CGOCM sought to strengthen labor protections, increase land redistribution, and reform the PRN – not overthrow the system entirely (Toledano, 1940). Thus, with the election of the reformist President Lázaro Cárdenas, the CGOCM’s leaders began to give up some of their union’s independence to forge an alliance with the new president which it could then use to further its political and economic goals (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). The CGOCM gave a much-needed breath of independence to the Mexican labor movement, giving it time to develop policy goals and incorporate their rank and file members more fully into the union structure, without the direction of the state. However, the most important contribution the CGOCM made to the larger labor movement was that through its efforts to coordinate union activities and expand membership the CGOCM took a large step towards a general unification of the Mexican labor movement (Middlebrook, 1995).

Ultimately, however, the complete unification of the labor movement would require government support. President Cárdenas realized that if he was to achieve his reformist goals, he would require the mass support of workers, and organized labor would have to become a partner of the state. However, the labor movement was at this point split between the remnants of the CROM and the CGOCM, and could not form the united base of support that Cárdenas desired (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). Facing challenges from the callista factions of the PNR, and in desperate need of strong support from labor, in 1936 Cárdenas delivered his “Fourteen Points” address, declaring that it was “…in the national interest to provide the support necessary to create a single organization of industrial workers that would end the inter-union strife that [was] equally pernicious to the interests of workers, employers, and the government” (Middlebrook, 1995). Thus, it was with government backing, that in early 1936, a “national unification congress” was called, which resulted in the formation of the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), headed by Toledano. This new mass organization incorporated the CGOCM and several other major federations, along with major national industrial unions representing petroleum, railway, and other workers (Middlebrook, 1995). Though the CROM and some other unions remained independent, they were all superseded by the new CTM, which had effectively unified the Mexican labor movement (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). To bolster his support in the working classes, Cárdenas had successfully sponsored the unification of the entire Mexican labor movement into the CTM.

In the CTM’s founding document, it is declared that “The working class of Mexico must never forget that the final aim of its struggles is the abolition of the capitalist regime. Nevertheless, since Mexico is subject to imperialist domination, before arriving at that final aim it is first necessary to achieve the political and economic freedom of the country” (Ashby, 1967). These statements reveal the ideological contradiction that lay at the heart of the CTM. The organization, and its leader Toledano, was avowedly Marxist, and believed in the destruction of the capitalist mode of production, a revolutionary goal that would seemingly put it at odds with the reformist Cárdenas. However, both the CTM and Cárdenas shared a desire to see Mexico gain economic independence, and it would be on this basis that collaboration could occur. Indeed, the CTM officially renounced all collaboration with the state, believing that it would lead to their union being subjugated by the state. However, the CTM explicitly advocated working with any social group that shared its goals – thus the CTM could not work with Cárdenas, the President, but it could collaborate with cárdenismo, the social movement he represented (Ashby, 1967). This quote is encapsulated in Toledano’s remark at the unification congress that the CTM would “…assure aid to the government of Cárdenas in all its revolutionary actions and in all its endeavors to favor the exploited masses of Mexico” (Ashby, 1967). Cárdenas himself was certain that the CTM supported him, and was confident it would not challenge him or the government, despite its revolutionary principles (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976).  Thusly, the CTM had allied itself with the cárdenismo movement and Cárdenas in the hope of achieving Mexican economic independence and securing better lives for the working class.

Regardless of these ideological nuances, since the cárdenismo movement was so inextricably related to the Mexican state, the CTM often did collaborate with the Mexican government. The government gave monetary donations to the CTM, protected its activities, and persecuted its political enemies. Further, many CTM leaders gained seats in the legislature, and CTM support was a decisive factor in many gubernatorial and local elections (Ashby, 1967). This collaboration between the CTM and the state, and the incorporation of CTM leaders into the Mexican government, is reminiscent of the CROM’s operating model. However, unlike the CROM, the CTM did not merely use its political influence to obtain new rights for organized labor. With the support of Cárdenas, the CTM and its members could participate in the operation and management of several industries (Toledano, 1940). Indeed, Vicente Toledano states that syndicates of the CTM managed “… the national railways, they [had] a share in the management of the nationalized petroleum industry, they manage[d[ street railways, busses, and other municipal services…” among many other industries (1940). The CTM, like the CROM, obtained a great deal of political influence, however it used that influence not only to gain political power, but also to allow its leaders to have a role in directing the economy of Mexico.

The CTM also played a vital role in Cárdenas’s struggle for economic independence for Mexico from foreign capital. The initial strike that would eventually lead to the expropriation of foreign oil companies was led by a petroleum worker’s union within the CTM (Ashby, 1967). As Cárdenas was preparing to nationalize the industry, the CTM called a general congress in Mexico City, at which Toledano declared “Comrades, it seems inevitable that the moment will come when the petroleum companies will have to be replaced by representatives of the State and the Mexican workers in order to maintain petroleum production. We are ready and willing to assume the… responsibility that befits a nation of free men” (Ashby, 1967). This nationalist call to arms offered Cárdenas the resounding support he needed to carry through with nationalization. After the expropriation was completed, Cárdenas needed to consolidate national popular support to counterbalance the foreign powers he had just angered. To do this, Cárdenas, with the support of the CTM, reorganized the PNR into the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana (PRM). This move consolidated Mexican workers into a corporate group represented by the CTM, and the CTM leaders were fully incorporated into the ruling structure of the party (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976). The CTM, through its support of Mexican economic independence, had become, like the CROM before it, a national union.

In conclusion, the Mexican labor movement is exceptional in the history of organized labor, as it has featured extensive collaboration with the Mexican state alongside confrontation. The deal made between the Casa and Carranza later developed into the CROM’s deep and inextricable relationship with the new revolutionary Mexican state. However, the loss of government support and the increasing corruption of the CROM led to the foundation of the CGOCM, which, at least initially, had a more confrontational relationship with the Mexican government. However, with the beginning of cárdenismo, the CTM was founded, and the labor movement was effectively unified behind Cárdenas’s reform program. Finally, with the foundation of the PRM, the CTM became the representative of the working classes to the PRM, and its leaders were fully incorporated into Mexico’s elite. This unique path of development and state-labor relations exemplifies how collaboration with the state can offer organized labor a great deal of power, but also how it can sap the ability to act independently, and sometimes lead to contradictions to the very principles of solidarity and justice that labor stands for.

[1] Anarcho-syndicalism is an ideology that generally advocates the overthrow of capitalism and the state through general strike, and an economy organized around syndicates, or union confederations, which control industry.

[2] The CROM’s opposition of Obregón’s reelection was due to its leader Morones own political aspirations, and the general feeling in Mexico stemming from the Porfiriato that reelections were undemocratic (Middlebrook, 1995).

[3] Pure in this context meant that the CGOCM would be more attentive to the needs and desires of its members and less attentive to those of the state (Delarbe and Yanez, 1976).