A Review of Chapter 3, “Capitalism and Crisis in Central America” by Dawn Paley
The crisis in Central America, particularly in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, has created an international outcry as journalists and civil rights activists have gradually uncovered one of the worst kinds of human suffering. Presumably at peace, the people from these countries are faced with overwhelming injustices, human rights abuses, extreme levels of poverty, and an undignified quality of life. It’s no wonder that thousands have decided to leave their homes and risk everything, even their lives, to make a new home in the United States. Dawn Paley’s book chapter, “Capitalism and Crisis in Central America,” advances the thesis that at the heart of the problem is the historical basis for nation-building, that wars and armed conflicts have resulted in the powerful subjugating of the indigenous, native populations and transforming an entire political, economic, social landscape to their advantage. The Spaniards’ conquest in the form of colonialism grew at such a fast pace, and as Paley writes, “From the first moments of independence, newly empowered criollo elites implemented political systems based on exclusionary racism and despotism.” (27)
But, the powerful elites from the three countries would not have advanced their racist and violent politics without the assistance of the United States. The strong arm of the military might of the United States was the perfect fit for the powerful, established ruling parties of the countries: they both embraced the common enemy, which was communism, particularly, in regard to the treatment of the indigenous population that were perceived as “communist,” when in fact, all they wanted was to preserve their way of life. In previous articles of this blog, I described the various armed conflicts in each of the three Northern Triangle countries, some of which exercised the worst kind of human rights abuses as thousand were tortured and killed, including civilians. But, many of the efforts to seek justice against those responsible have been ignored, or weakened. The United States government has promoted a “hands-off” relationship with those seeking to reveal the truth and to hold the guilty accountable for their crimes against humanity. Paley describes the aftermath of the violent conflicts and the efforts to restructure in this way: “Under the close eye of Washington and the United Nations, war criminals were given amnesty, military officials lived large off of the profits of pillage, and to the day those responsible for enabling terror remain active in politics, public life, and economic affairs.” (31) According to Paley, as neoliberal governance became a dominant force that protected and enabled the powerful elite, and globalized capitalism became the preferred mode of investment, the state shifted toward further denigrating and even, abolishing the freedom and rights of the people, especially the most vulnerable such as the poor and the indigenous population. The gap between the rich and the poor is so great that the two worlds are total strangers to each other.
Although the threat of a communist take-over is no longer valid, the new threat caused by the criminal element in narco-trafficking, is used to justify the U.S. backed militarization and the triggered violence and suppression. The U.S. funding, formerly known as the Merida Initiative and now titled, Central America Regional Security Initiative, or CARSI, has a 50% earmark for use in “policing, military, and counter narcotics.”(34). Paley asserts that although the U.S. government’s program (Alliance for Prosperity) and funding (CARSI) intend to stem the flow of illegal migration from Central America, the reality is that the efforts actually promote the same kinds of policies inherent in neoliberal economies that impose their rules on militarized security tactics, which “have pushed the region to experience the crisis like the unaccompanied minors in 2014.” (34) The Alliance for Prosperity, which proposes economic expansion and integration, is based on the premises of the Central American-Dominican Republic-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. With a budget of 22 billion for a five-year period, the Alliance for Prosperity proposal is clearly directed as an investment plan for the United States and its investors.
Paley elaborates on how neoliberal policies for purposes of capital gain can affect Central American migrants that desperately travel to the U.S. through Mexico. While the government’s border-free rules may apply for the exchanging of goods and services across the Northern Triangle countries, the opposite awaits the fleeing migrants. The border area between Mexico and Guatemala is destined to be a highly-militarized area, especially under the Plan Frontera Sur program. Already, there’s a high degree of involvement by the Mexican paramilitary organizations, such as Los Zetas, contracted by the Mexican government to control the northerly migrant flow. With the added militarization and policing, migrants face an even dangerous risk: if captured by the formal authorities they may be incarcerated and eventually, deported; but if captured by the paramilitary, migrants may be terrorized, extorted, kidnapped, and/or massacred. (35)