The migrant caravan and the US mid-term elections

Crude jingoism deployed to boost President Trump’s Republican party at the expense of the desperate poor of Central America.

Lalkar writers

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Honduran migrants take part in a caravan toward the USA. Chiquimula, Guatemala, October 2018.

Lalkar writers

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Anyone who has access to a computer, a television, a radio or a newspaper has doubtless heard the news of the vast caravan of Central American peoples that was heading through Mexico, at the time leading up to the US mid-term elections.

The participants were attributed with having the expressed intention of invading the USA and taking all the jobs there. We were even told that middle-eastern terrorists could be travelling in the caravan – after all, Arabs and Central Americans all look and sound the same, don’t they?

Let us add a little touch of reality here at this early point: the only thing that made this migrant caravan any different from all the others that preceded it was the proximity of the US mid-term elections.

Imperialism, poverty and migration

Many US citizens would probably be surprised to learn that migrant caravans are not new and have actually been going on for at least 30 years.

Imperialist centres (the USA being the largest and strongest of these) suck the wealth from other countries and, in those countries that are hardest hit by this wealth vampirism, the most logical thing for the poorest workers there, who often struggle to put even one meal a day on the family table, is to follow their country’s stolen wealth in the hope of getting work and some small amount of security for themselves and their families, receiving just a little of that wealth back in wages.

These wages, low as they will undoubtedly be, will increase the quality of life not only for themselves but also for their extended families back home, to whom they are often able to send a little money back.

This is the reality of the imperialist stage of capitalism, when the greatest and most obscene concentrations of raw materials, means of production, unsold (although not unneeded by the masses) commodities, services, properties, land, etc, are held in the hands of fewer and fewer imperialist leeches. Having grabbed as much as they can, these bloodsuckers then demand war to try and get hold of the share of stolen goods that have ended up in the hands of their rivals.

Latest in a long line of caravans

The present migrant caravan began its weary exodus on 12 October in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with several hundred people and quickly grew by several thousand as it crossed the border into Guatemala and wound north into Mexico.

It was reckoned to have grown to around 7,000 going through Guatemala, but dropped to around just over half that size as it trekked across Mexico, some of its members settling for a life only slightly better in Mexico and so avoiding the dangers involved in trying to enter the US illegally or having to throw themselves on the mercy of an immigration system steeply stacked against them.

The idea of a walking caravan is not, as some will try to tell us, to intimidate or overwhelm guards at the border of the United States, but to offer its members some security along the road from bandits who would quickly fall on small groups to take whatever few possessions these poor people have.

The make-up of the caravan was mostly (about 60-65 percent) young men, travelling in ones and twos or smal groups, although there were also many young families with children, nearly all of them from the extended families of farm labourers who work for abysmally meagre wages on coffee plantations. All were looking only for the chance of a better life.

Back in the 1980s, many thousands of refugees fled the civil wars and mass slaughter of indigenous Indians and/or organised workers in Guatemala and El Salvador. These refugees settled in camps in southern Mexico or continued onwards towards the US border.

With the wars nominally over in the mid to late 1990s, although oppression of the masses was never far from the surface, migration continued as people looked for chances to earn a wage that might supply the basics of life in relative peace, or tried to find and join family members who had left before them. Many are still to this day seeking to escape criminal violence from either gangs or states deemed to be friends of the US.

During 2014, the age and sex make-up of refugees/immigrants underwent a change from mostly young men to consisting nowadays of tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Families and unaccompanied children now make up nearly half of all the new arrivals from Central America applying for asylum.

One small group of three young mothers travelling with their five children said when interviewed that they did not plan to apply for asylum. Instead, like some other families in the caravan, their plan was to cross over somewhere between the official border points and then hand themselves in to the US Border Patrol.

Their thinking was simple: as women travelling with children, they hoped that they would be released quickly from detention and might then be allowed to remain in the US while awaiting the outcome of their deportation cases. This is not much of a long-term plan, but they were willing to try to get the short-term fix and hope that something better would come up while they are waiting.

Mid-term election vitriol

As mentioned above, the reason that this particular migrant caravan made world news was that it took place at the time of the US mid-term elections, which were being fought to the accompaniment of visual effects and words far stronger and more violent than ever before.

Threats and personal abuse was bandied about among candidates (where they accused each other of being terrorists, criminals, and in the case of one of them of deserving of a golf spike to the face), most of which was probably deserved, but the rabid hysteria was also extended towards almost everyone else in the world.

The Republicans, under the stewardship of President Donald Trump, jumped on the caravan as an election issue almost immediately it took to the road, and the airtime that the caravan received as a result probably helped its numbers to swell. The vitriol poured on the poor of Central America in order to garner the support of the poor in North America would almost be humorous if it were not deadly serious.

The 2,000 troops that the Republican government had already installed on the Mexican border were joined by 5,500 more, while the president was talking of another 15,000 being made available if need be. At the same time, fences of barbed wire were being thrown up by these troops.

The destitute of Central America who were walking towards the USA were given food, water, somewhere to sleep at rest stops, fresh clothing and even buggies for the children by the people in the countries they passed through, even though many of those donors were probably nearly as poor themselves. But in the US there were people talking of greeting the walkers and their children with guns and beatings.

When the first few poor and hungry walkers neared the US border, while they were still on Mexican soil, at least two dozen tear gas canisters were fired at them, and there are many pictures of families running in terror from that assault. When asked about the attack, President Trump simply dismissed the facts, saying: “We don’t use it on children.”

In fact, there are thousands of very well-documented cases both inside and outside the USA where this is precisely what has happened. Trump defended the firing of gas at the groups of unarmed civilians in a neighbouring country by saying: “They’re not coming into the United States. They will not be coming into our country.”

The Republican Party released a video for the mid-term elections that showed clips of the caravan cut with clips of a criminal of Latin-American origin, Luis Bracamontes, boasting about killing two US policemen. Bracamontes is from Mexico and was accepted into the US before being deported twice for criminal activity during both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The election video concluded: “Dangerous illegal criminals like cop-killer Luis Bracamontes don’t care about our laws … Stop the caravan. Vote Republican.”

US news outlet CNN objected to this video as racist and refused to air it from the start. NBC and Facebook both ran the ad over the weekend of its release but then reversed that decision on the following Monday, announcing that the commercial would be removed as it fell short of their in-house advertising standards.

Even Fox News, which had been just as vociferous regarding the caravan as the Republican party, said in a statement that the network had stopped airing the advert on Sunday, with their president of ad sales, Marianne Gambelli, adding: “It will not appear on either Fox News channel or Fox Business Network.”

This all led Brad Parscale, Mr Trump’s campaign manager, to claim on his Twitter account: “The #FakeNewsMedia and #PaloAltoMafia are trying to control what you see and how you think.”

Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who has advised several presidential candidates, including a group supporting Trump, gave the game away when he said: “The day before the election, there’s not enough time to air the ad and have it make a difference … But if it becomes controversial, a lot of people will see it who otherwise would not.”

This, taken with the Facebook statement below, naturally leads anyone with a brain to think that not only were the Republicans appealing to the basest instincts of North America but, by getting the media to ban the ad, they managed to make it so popular that it ended up reaching much further than it otherwise would have done, and for free.

“This ad violates Facebook’s advertising policy against sensational content so we are rejecting it,” a spokesman for the company said, adding that users were still free to post the video on their personal pages.

Our assessment of the strategy that was used to extend the reach of this political election ad is shared by one Jason Kint, the chief executive of news and advertising trade group Digital Content Next, who said that the “reaction from the networks and Facebook could end up amplifying Mr Trump’s closing argument, rather than smothering it”.

In the end, nothing the imperialists can do will stop the poor trying to reach the centres of imperialism to try to improve their lives and those of their families. All over the world, the marches of the desperate and hungry, the scared and the scarred will only stop when imperialism is a nasty memory and capitalism nothing more than a strange oddity in children’s history books – much like the way that ‘doctors’ in former times tried to cure every malady with leeches.