The US Role in Turning Countries into Shitholes and provoking Immigration

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump just can’t help letting the cat out of the bag. And boy does his administration have a lot of cats in bags. The line of the Republican Party right wing has been that voter suppression laws are necessary for the integrity of elections. In fact, they are crafted to prevent racial minorities from voting, by making it hard and/or expensive to register. Race drives the policy, not a search for fair elections. Likewise, Trump’s policies on immigration have been portrayed as a matter of law and order. But they aren’t about lawlessness. They are about racial hierarchy.

That is, in some key areas–corporate power, racial hierarchy, militarism– the Trump wing of the Republican Party are Franco or Mussolini fascists in ideology.

Trump could go along with the polite fiction that he is worried about criminality when he addresses immigration. But yesterday according to the Washington Post he launched a tirade at Dick Durbin asking why we have to have people here from shithole countries and why we can’t have more Norwegians. Trump always used to say on the campaign trail that countries are not sending us their best citizens (as if countries are sending anyone at all intentionally). But now he is admitting that the real problem in his view is that it isn’t the best countries that immigrants are coming from.

Trump was badmouthing a whole range of countries including Haiti, El Salvador and some African states, but for the sake of clarity let me hone home in on El Salvador here.

Since Trump is a racist, he thinks that countries get to have poor economic and security situations because of the race of the people that inhabit them. That is silly (and dangerous) as history and social science. Central Americans were among the more civilized people in the world when German tribesmen were raiding the Roman Empire.

The United States has about 1.5 million Salvadorans, some of the people at issue in Trump’s conversations with Durbin and other lawmakers. Most of them came to the United States because of a right wing dirty war against liberals and leftists backed in the 1980s and early 1990s by the US Republican presidency (Reagan and Bush senior) and the US military. The right wing government and military and death squads of El Salvador, with American help, murdered 70,000 civilians in the 1980s, in the course of crushing a leftist insurgency. They included Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero (who will likely end up being made a saint), four American nuns, 800 villagers (children, women, noncombatant men) in El Mozote and environs, and tens of thousands of others. US politicians such as Ronald Reagan, Elliott Abrams, and the joint chiefs of staff and the CIA station chief actively collaborated in this mass killing. The stated purpose was to roll back the Soviet Union (which I doubt was much involved).

The actual purpose was to make the country safe for US corporations, which had virtually run the place. United Fruit owned 80% of the banana crop in the early 20th century along with much of the prime land. Then came the rise of the coffee oligarchy. The International Land Coalition notes,

“In El Salvador, the history of land ownership has been marked by coffee cultivation. After production of that crop peaked at the end of the 19th century, the Salvadoran oligarchy of the period concentrated land ownership and dispossessed campesino and indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands. During the first half of the 20th century, the alliance between the military government and the United States went hand-in-hand with landed power linked to coffee cultivation. In 1971, the Agricultural Census identified the persis-tence of an unequal distribution of productive land in the country, with 0.3% of owners owning real estate of more than 200 hectares, which represented 28.2% of the total land area, while 92.5% of owners had real estate of less than 10 hectares, representing 27.1% of the country’s total surface area.”

Thus, the US corporate shaping of the country’s political economy had left it with a small landlord class that owned most of the good land (a common colonial outcome) and millions of impoverished sharecroppers, and as even right of center analysts recognize this class conflict fueled much of the civil war. But it was also fueled by the sheer viciousness of the government death squads, which weakened the otherwise positive effect of the land reform instituted in the 1980s.

The Reagan civil war in El Salvador provoked massive out migration, to Honduras and to the United States. Many Salvadorans got citizenship in the 1980s via the 1986 congressional amnesty.

In the 1990s, very large numbers of Salvadoran refugees were deported from the United States. The war-racked economy could not absorb them, and some of them founded Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street Gang which became major criminal cartels that Trump now complains about endlessly. (They are a big problem, especially in El Salvador where they have a support base of 8% of the country, but very few of the 16,000 murders a year in the US are committed by them).

In the early 2000s about 200,000 Salvadoran refugees from an earthquake were given Temporary Protected Status. They have high rates of employment and are raising 275,000 U.S.-born children.

So now, having messed up their country, in part for the sake of US corporate greed and American hegemony, the US president is declaring them to be from a “shithole” and is set to deport all 200,000 of the adults, raising the question of what will happen to a quarter of a million American children that they are raising.

The Crisis Group is deathly afraid that the Salvadoran-American children, on being sent forcibly from their country of birth to a foreign land and left without resources are jobs, will be recruited by … MS 13.

By the way, the current government of El Salvador, which runs a country the size of Massachusetts with a population of about 6 million, has some achievements despite the severe challenges of pervasive gang violence. Poverty has been significantly reduced in the past decade, leading to a lower gini coefficient and one of the more equal societies in Latin America. The environmentally conscious government has banned predatory metals mining, against which villagers had been protesting. But one of the country’s big assets economically has been remittances from workers abroad, into which Trump is about to take a big bite by deporting 200,000 of them from the US. And economic growth, at 2% a year, was already among the lowest in the region and is one of the reasons for the ongoing violence.

The World Bank notes,

“Immunization rates have also increased from 76 percent in the 1990s to 93 percent in 2016. Similarly, the share of the population with access to improved water sources increased from 79 percent to 89 percent, and the share with access to improved sanitation expanded from 56 percent to over 95 percent during the same period. In education, both access (particularly at the primary level) and literacy rates have increased…”

Crime and violence are still an enormous problem. If Trump wanted less immigration from El Salvador he could get it by directing some productive investment to that country much more efficiently than throwing people out of their homes of 20 years.

One short answer to Trump’s question about Norwegians (and could you get more American Nazi Party than that preference?) is that Norwegians are wealthy and have a much better run country than the US and they mostly have no particular reason to leave home. It isn’t the nineteenth century any more, Donald. The US takes in about a million legal immigrants every year. In the past two decades roughly 61,000 a year have come from Europe. And Norway ain’t in the picture.

The alternative to taking in immigrants is to shrink demographically, as Japan is doing and as Germany was doing before the recent change in immigration policy. Urban educated people don’t want a house full of children usually, and so the Japanese are not replacing themselves, and nor would Americans without immigration. A big shrinkage of the population of the sort in which Japan is engaged is an unprecedented social experiment. Who will support the growing ranks of the elderly and retired? Who will build new buildings? What will happen to property prices as houses and schools empty out? Who will serve in the military? Who will invent new technology? Wouldn’t the country become weak economically and militarily and perhaps prey for a younger, more dynamic neighbor? And, no, Trump, Norway is not going to save you from all that. Salvadoran Americans might, if you let them.


Related video:

Jimmy Kimmel: “Trump ACTUALLY Called These Countries S**tholes”

25 Responses

  1. And just a few minutes ago he denied using that profane description. But we know from watching this man the last few years that he’s a congenital liar. Yes, he surely called those countries “shit holes.” It’s just – I simply can’t deal with this nonsense each and every day. We’re talking about the President of the United States. This is just extraordinary. And his other doozy of a tweet this morning explaining his decision not to visit the US embassy in London is equally revolting.

    Please, people, don’t screw it up again. Get off your asses, organize and – above all – VOTE! And don’t waste that precious vote on 3rd party fringe candidates who don’t have a shot at being elected dog catcher. We need a progressive alternative and even if that candidate doesn’t meet all the requirements on your checklist, do the right thing.

    • “doing the right thing” is not consistent with voting for “the lesser of two evils.”

      We coulda had Mark Johnson in the White House if people had voted their conscience,
      rather than voting for their tribe.

      • If no one knows who Mark Johnson is, what the Hell would lead my conscience to vote for him? I wonder how many Germans threw away their votes in 1933 waging their interminable leftist purity pissing rivalries against each other?

  2. Yes, all these things are true about El Salvador. MS13 and 18 are stronger than the “government” in many places. Most Salvadorans in who came to el Norte did so to live their lives.

    One more thing. As of a few years ago, about 48% of household income in El Salvador came from remittances. Mass deportation will cut into remittances and make life harder.

    But it has to be said, DJT is a troll. He says things, both with his voice and his social media account to rile people up and get attention. The usual advice is “don’t feed the trolls.” Let’s stop hyperventilating when DJT utters some scurrilous nonsense. A story like this could say,

    “The US Administration has plans to revoke status for 200,000 Salvadoran refugees. In other news, DJT used the word ‘shithole’ to describe the sovereign nation of Haiti.”

    And by the way everybody in the world knows what DJT looks like by now. Photos of him in news articles should show newsworthy events–refusing to shake hands with Chancellor Merkel is one–not just used as eye candy.

    We can report the news without feeding the monster. Let’s do it.

  3. Trump’s gutter mouthed geographic description sounds like something of what my knuckle dragging racist neighbor would have said, and in my opinion that’s a crying shame that that kind of mentality now sits in the highest office of the land reigning as Leader of the Free World. That is most certainly putting the Fox in charge of the hen house.

    At our condo in Florida we have 3 very hardworking Salvadorans. I’ve listened to each of their stories, and by the sounds of it Professor Cole gets their situation right. It pains many of us, that these Salvadorans are now living on the edge of being deported. These good people bring so much more to the U.S. than they take away, and quite honestly America needs them.

    The U.S. now has a leader who displays his ignorance to the world as though being ignorant and stupid were something to be proud of. With this all of America’s ugly policies now have a suitable face to represent them.

  4. “…for the sake of clarity let me hone in on El Salvador here.”

    No, but I’ll let you ‘home’ in on whatever you wish.

  5. Your comments about the problem of house prices going down and the military being short of recruits, sounds to me like a bonus. The current military is bloated and out of control and the same can be said for the property market. The saying, “its an ill wind that blows no good” seems rather apt in this regard.

    • You didn’t live through the catastrophe that befell people’s mortgage equity in the Detroit area, I see. As for staffing the Self Defense Forces in Japan, given N. Korea’s threats I think that is important.

    • Ms. Rose – note that being short of recruits will in no way stop the military from spending more money. Compare the Army budget from the ’50 and ’60s when the Army was several times larger than currently with today. The cost per man of the military skyrockets regardless. In fact, the fundamental argument the military-industrial complex uses to con the American public is that the more killer robots it buys, the fewer of “our heroes” who will be needed to occupy foreign countries.

  6. For me the process began in Vietnam where US corporations are now supported by the US Navy port and use the equivalent of slave labor to sell products in what is left of the West. The US was made by being the only nation after WWII that was not blown up. So it became predatory too.

  7. A shrinking population as long as it does not shrink to fast is positive. It is positive for global warming, and there will be less pressure to go to war to rob another country of its natural resource.

    Keep up the good work on your Middle Eastern reporting.

  8. We are sick and tired of hearing what Trump does or say !!!
    He is an insult to our intelligence .
    I am shocked that he is still allowed to be our President . We have become the laughing stock of the entire world except for the abnoctious cruel occupier Israel who is equally guilty of existance .

  9. Donald Trump is merely mirroring the ‘white-person only U.S.’ attitude held by his 1% and about 30% of defective citizens in our country.

    The fact that good people are suddenly advocating on behalf of someone like Donald Trump CLEARLY demonstrates there is now some form of a tacit THREAT in play?

    • I think it was always more than 30%. What was driving support for imperialism before was not what was necessary for our nation’s survival, but simply what we could get away with. What’s especially horrifying about the 30% you reference is that they don’t care if they get away with it or not, meaning that they don’t fear a global cold or hot war against the US. I suspect they see it as an opportunity for Trump to declare martial law so that they can rule over us as things go to Hell. They would rather die in a nuclear holocaust than co-exist in a world where they’re not the supreme race; the so-called “Samson Option” from their Holy Bible.

  10. Good essay by Dr. Cole – proud to donate to his website. (Check is in mail!)

    I’d only add that the Salvadoran gangs learned their trade in greater LA during the 1990’s, mostly. Prior to that, Salvador had not had a gang problem – so it was the US that actually created much of the violence about which Trump now whines.

    Some have gone further, arguing that the gang violence was the “continuation of the civil war by other means” – a deliberate US strategy against the left in Salvador.

  11. Interesting that trump was standing in his republican cesspool when spuing his / their filth. Those who voted for him are going to wake up from that nightmare in about another year with fear at what they did. Yes, they were duped and will pay for it!

    • They won’t wake up. They’ll double down. They’ll blame scapegoats and either pledge to pick up arms and kill Trump’s opponents, or call Trump a sellout and look for a purer racist to lead a war of secession from the United States. They will never give up the only idea that keeps them going; that their kind are meant by God to be the only ones fit to control life in America, meaning beating the rest of us degenerates and traitors into producing the wealth that was stolen from them by Jews and Negros.

    • Pence is the man responsible for setting up the whole Trump Regime. Like him or not, you already have him.

  12. Norweigans most likely think the U.S.A. is a shit hole with it’s racism, class war fare, poverty, and lack of health care, and oh, all the guns they carry around. of course Trump isn’t aware that there are Norweigens of colour and of the Muslim faith. some one ought to ask him if those Norweigns are welcome.

    Shrinking populations in countries such as Japan is serious for the country. Japan has never been keen on immigration, but given its current decline in numbers is actually changing its immigration rules and accepts immigrants. It is interesting because when Vietnam fell Japan would not take any refugees. they were willing to give other countries money to take them, but they didn’t want to disrupt their country. Now I’m sure they wish they had of taken refugees.

    what Trump also doesn’t understand is the children who were born in the U.S.A. will be able to turn when they are older. When they are 21 they will be able to sponsor their parents. In the meantime Trump is going to disrupt lives, economies, businesses, etc. He might also get a lot of gangsters back when they turn 21. They are American citizens.

    Its entertaining that Trump is not complaining about Russian anchor babies though. But then that may be because their mommies are staying at Trump hotels until the birth of junior.

    In my opinion Trump is a racist and an embarrassment to his country. Most of the Republicans in the room when Trump made the comments are either racists also or gutless. Lindsay Graham was the one who stood up and did the right thing.

  13. I am an American of Norwegian descent. My family came from Nordfjordeid on the western coast; I also have relatives in Kjirkenes on the Russian border, and on my grand-father’s side lots of family all over Denmark. I have visited them a number of times, and as per some comments here, yes, the USA is a s******e country by comparison to Scandinavia.

    Do they have problems? You bet – including with bigotry as concerns immigration from Islamic countries. But the system of healthcare, the robust social safety net, and their generally liberal and humane outlook on life make them wonderful countries to live in and to visit.

    The real s******e here is the GOP and their racism. I have always been proud of my Scandinavian descent because of how socially progressive their societies are; but for the first time I am embarrassed.

    Note to White Supremacists: If you need to boast that you are the master race, you probably really are not.

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