Tag Archives: El Salvador

InCity Documentary Review

But first …


“HARVEST OF EMPIRE: A History of Latinos in America”

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

For Direct TV viewers: “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America” can be watched or recorded on the LINK Channel 375 Tuesday, February 28, at 6 a.m. There are also several websites where the movie can be seen.

The hottest button issue on the American political agenda today is immigration from Mexico and Central America. Donald J. Trump was elected President in part by harping on this issue. It was with that in mind I recently watched an obscure Direct TV Channel (LINK, Channel 375) documentary – “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America.”

This documentary is based on a book by Juan Gonzalez, from Puerto Rico. This writer was very surprised when the film opened with Harry Truman saying Puerto Ricans were being starved on slave labor wages in the land of their birth. Truman’s narration of corporate exploitation was accompanied by films of farm laborers in Puerto Rico looking like emaciated concentration camp survivors.

This was surprising because in November 1950 a Puerto Rican independence group attempted to assassinate Truman and because Republicans today often cite Truman as a “good Democrat.” Gonzalez places Latino immigration to America in a historical context. Gonzalez makes a persuasive argument that past American military intervention has created an environment that periodically stimulates the very immigration Trump wants to build a wall to stop.

Started with Mexico

In 1845 – 1848 the United States invaded Mexico and annexed the northern half of the country, where southern California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of other states now exist. Some in the U.S. wanted to annex Mexico in its entirety, but others believed a shotgun marriage between White Anglo Saxon Protestant America and Catholic Mexico would not be a happy union. A compromise was reached where it was agreed the U.S. would take Mexico’s relatively unpopulated northern provinces. While the film didn’t give any statistics, there was a Mexican populace in these provinces “who didn’t come to the border, the border came to us.”

Throughout American history, Mexican immigrants were welcomed in the United States when we experienced labor shortages, such as during World War I and World War II. Then, after the wars ended and native Americans came home looking for work, the Mexicans were expelled as illegal immigrants, says Gonzalez.

In 1898, the United States, after a war with Spain, expanded American territories to include Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. While the first two countries eventually became independent, Puerto Rico was retained as essentially a U.S. protectorate. The U.S. imposed on Puerto Rico a justice system where English was the only language used and an educational system where Spanish could not be spoken. While many Puerto Ricans over time benefitted financially from their status as quasi-Americans, Gonzalez says they “paid a heavy price.”

Five Nations Spur Immigration

Gonzalez argues that U.S. interventions in five Central American nations led to an explosion of the U.S. Latino population:

• Early in the 20th century the U.S. occupied the Dominican Republic, brought to power dictator Rafael Trujillo, and reoccupied the country in 1965 to stop an alleged pro-Castro takeover. This is the least persuasive example cited by Gonzalez. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Dominicans seem drawn here more for economic reasons than because of a civil war more than half a century ago.

• Cuba is identified as a country where U.S. military intervention also spurred immigration. A better argument could be made that Fidel Castro’s repressive regime and catastrophic economic mismanagement led to mass flight to the U.S.

• In 1954 the CIA overthrew a Guatemalan government that had expropriated land owned by the United Fruit Company, with which the U.S. Secretary of State and the Director of the CIA, the brothers Dulles, had strong commercial ties. This was a very disturbing scene to view. One could not help but think of members of the Trump cabinet, with their business interests around the Developing World, while watching the Dulles brothers plunge Guatemala into a 40-year civil war that killed 200,000 Guatemalans.

• During the waning years of the Cold War, Gonzalez claims the United States funded death squads in El Salvador that assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero and four Maryknoll nuns. (Some of these death squads were organized by Roberto D’Aubuisson, known as “Major Blowtorch” for his preferred torture method.)

• During the Cold War, the United States in the 1980s funded the Nicaraguan Contras to overthrow the pro-Communist Sandinista government. Gonzalez says the Contras were comprised primarily of former members of the deposed Somoza dictatorship. However, there were many former Sandinistas in the ranks of the Contras, along with many Nicaraguan freedom fighters, who had nothing to do with the Somozas.

While the U.S. military involvement in Cuba and the Dominican Republic did not send fleeing masses of Cubans and Dominicans to our shores, Gonzalez is on safer grounds in stating the ramifications of the Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan civil wars spurred immigration to the U.S. It should be noted that the Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan conflicts were resolved in the early 1990s, a quarter of a century ago.

Viewing Time

Direct TV users who want to record “Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America” on the LINK Channel 375 can do so Tuesday, February 28, at 6 a.m. There are also several websites where the movie can be seen.

Go, Jim, go!!!

Romero PaintingArchbishop Oscar Romero

From Congressman Jim McGovern:

I will be in El Salvador this weekend as a witness to the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, on the eve of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. This is the last step before what many of us hope will be sainthood.

As a Catholic, I am proud of my Church for finally recognizing this man of God who lived his faith. As a politician, I continue to be inspired by Romero’s example – his total commitment to the poor and his unwavering commitment to the dignity of every human being.

Romero’s calls to end the violence afflicting his nation and his solidarity with El Salvador’s poor appealed to me as a college student in the late 1970s. I still remember learning about his murder and believing that this terrible crime would result in the termination of U.S. aid to a government and military that persecuted social justice activists and had no respect for human rights. Sadly, it did not.

The U.S. continued to finance the Salvadoran armed forces for the next decade. While Congress expressed concern about human rights issues, it wasn’t until Congressman Joe Moakley courageously offered and Congress passed an amendment in 1990 to cut aid that the blank check stopped. And that was after the deaths of nearly 80,000 civilians, the murder of human rights defenders, labor leaders, nuns and then six Jesuit priests and two women in 1989. I traveled to El Salvador many times during the 1980s and saw firsthand the brutality of the Salvadoran government and military supported by my government. I felt ashamed.

Reagan and Bush Administration officials routinely turned a blind eye to torture, disappearances and murder. They characterized anyone who questioned the human rights record of the Salvadoran government as an ally of the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Army (FMLN) – the armed opposition. They belittled and tried to discredit those – like Romero and the Jesuits – who dared to speak the truth.

For Romero, the truth about El Salvador came later in his life, as he rose in the Church hierarchy. In the mid-1970s, he served as bishop of the rural diocese of Santiago de Maria, where the gap between coffee plantation and other landowners and campesinos was obvious. He saw for himself the suffering and cruel repression of the poor, which affected him deeply and triggered a process of reflection and change. This process culminated with the 1977 assassination of his close friend, Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, who embraced liberation theology, which puts the poor and the oppressed first and prioritizes the concrete defense of their rights. After Grande’s murder, Romero said, “When I look at Rutilio lying dead I thought, `If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I, too, have to walk the same path.'” Indeed, Romero believed “those committed to the poor must share the same fate as the poor.”

Romero became a voice for those who had no voice; he preached that everyone was important. He embodied hope for the millions of people in El Salvador who were forgotten and the targets of repression.

The ceremony this weekend in El Salvador gives all of us an opportunity not only to reflect on Romero’s life, but also to commit ourselves to policies aimed at alleviating poverty and promoting non-violence in El Salvador and around the world.

The sad fact is that El Salvador and the international community have largely failed in transforming Romero’s words into action. We continue to witness thousands of young children and families fleeing Central American countries as a result of extreme poverty and violence. Even in the United States, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow and justice on too many occasions fails to work for those stuck in poverty. Hundreds of millions around the world are hungry – even though hunger is a solvable problem; and war and violence seem to be the first choice to deal with conflicts.

I am hopeful that the power of Romero’s message can inspire new activism on behalf of the poor and a better understanding of their plight and struggles – in El Salvador, the United States and around the world. Romero reminded us, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” With the beatification of Romero, we have an opportunity to renew our commitment and honor his legacy by giving a voice to the poor and neglected in every nation. Now is the time to stand on the right side of history and help those who need it most.