United States

The Secret

There is a well-guarded secret at the heart of the immigration crisis. But first...

For months now we have heard the plight of unaccompanied minor children, some as young as eight years old, crossing the southern border of the United States in search not so much of work as safety. They come from Central America, primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Back home they face violence and almost certain death at the hands of gangs bolstered by illegal drug activity. Exaggeration? Consider…

In area, Honduras is slightly larger than the state of Virginia. With 7.6 million people, its population is smaller than Virginia’s 8.1 million. And yet, the murder rate in Honduras is the highest of any country in the world and the city of San Pedro Sula, in the Northwest corner of the country, has the highest murder rate of any city in the world.

Why the comparison? If 90 out of 100,000 people were being murdered in Virginia, something would be done. That reality would not be tolerated by either state or federal government, nor by the people of the United States. Ah! But Honduras is a foreign country. Not our problem. Except it really is.

To a great extent, the current situation in Honduras is a U.S.-made
problem. In the early part of the 20th century, U.S. fruit companies benefitted from massive land grants and tax exemptions, guaranteeing a permanent underclass of poverty. Later, America’s feigned obsession with communism fueled the crisis. I use the word “feigned” because the possibility of Communism in Central America was never a threat to the United States. It was not even Reagan’s concern. It was mere subterfuge. Consider Cuba.

When Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the revolution and subsequent government control were not at issue. Nor were they the cause of the embargo. The United States objected because the Castro government seized the land of U.S. tobacco farmers without compensation. Reagan was not about to let that be repeated in Central America. The U.S. concern throughout the region has always been about money—money for U.S. corporate interest.

Successive administrations, both Democrat and Republican, have continue the trade embargo against Cuba, to the point of telling companies in other countries that they cannot do business in Cuba without suffering U.S. retaliation.

Reagan used Honduras as the base of operations for his illegal war against the democratically elected governments in Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Obama administration could have been more forceful in denouncing the military coup d’état that removed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office. After all, The United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union all condemned the coup. Obama was pressured by the Republican minority to condition his opposition. Could this be because the Honduran Supreme Court issued a secret arrest warrant against President Zelaya? Sounds like the secret FISA court warrants in the United States.

Now the secret: What happened in Central America is occurring right here in the United States, and it has nothing to do with immigrants, legal or illegal.

The same forces that guaranteed poverty in Central America are doing it here. The labors of the poor and working class have allowed a tiny few to become obscenely rich. The gap between the rich and poor has reached historic proportions. Money is always power, and so the influence of the wealthy over government policies and social life is greater than ever and it is guaranteeing a permanent underclass here in the United States of America.

Forget the humanitarian, moral and religious reasons for not sending children back to Central America to face death. Forget the fact that U.S. law guarantees them the right to make a case for refugee status. Forget the fact that they are only children. I say let them pass. Welcome them with open arms. In a few years, the United States will be just like Honduras. In a few years they’ll be right at home.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is dead. Indeed he was an icon. An icon for everything that the modern world holds dear and yearns for—freedom, equality, justice, reconciliation and peace. He towered above other men. But as the testimonies and accolades pour into South Africa from around the world it is easy to miss the deeper realities.

Neither a god nor a saint, he was just a man. He was imperfect—as we all are. He was sometimes authoritarian—as some of us are. He was forgiving—as few of us are.

Twenty-seven years a political prisoner, he was cut off from the world, most of those years unable even to touch family. Only through coded messages could he communicate with others and learn of the continuing struggles for freedom in South Africa. But he persevered and emerged from prison not only a free man, but staunchly principled and resolute.

Like many prisoners, he was forced into hard labor—the useless task of breaking boulders with a hammer. Contrary to the desires of his captors, it did not break his spirit. He drew nourishment not from food, but from the truth. He grew strong through the power of justice and the inevitability of freedom.

In his solitude he managed to escape the lure of bitterness, discovering, instead, that the enemy was as weak and human as he was. He learned to love his oppressors. From that love he learned to forgive. From that forgiveness he was able to forge a path toward reconciliation, equality and justice. He rose to become the father of a new nation in an ancient land.

While it was encouraging to watch him walk through the gates of Victor Verster Prison and greet the welcoming crowds of Cape Town, it was stunning to hear him speak not of retribution, but of peace, never wavering in his quest. Giving no inch to either hatred or prejudice, he called on everyone to embrace the needs of the other, especially the disenfranchised. He was a man for all people, a man for all seasons.

Despite his greatness it is slightly less than cynical to suggest that we will not see his like again. That is a sentiment we have heard before, because he have seen men like him before. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just two. To suggest that no others await the world stage is to guarantee that what they stood for will never be fully realized. The truth is that left to our own devices, without the inspiration of men like these, we choose to close our eyes to the needs of others. We choose to create and recreate worlds that are defined as us v. them. We choose to imprison ourselves in a world of our own concerns and desires. We almost always choose violence over peace.

Today we must do more than pray for Madiba’s passage. We must do more than give thanks for his life. We must commit ourselves to his work. Look at India post Gandhi. Look at the United States post King. Nelson Mandela’s life and accomplishments must not dissolve into discord, inequality and injustice. We must continue the cry of the poor, the cry of people the who are oppressed and denied their rights and freedoms: Amandla! (Power!).

Thank you, Madiba for an inspiration. May we do more than treasure your memory. "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ("God Bless Africa")