Ancient Border Problems
When I was younger I used to read a lot of very heavy historical books. Some of these books were so thick they not only served as effective paperweights, but could also function as reentry tiles on the Space Shuttle because they could never burn all the way through. During my naval service I would spend hours poring through these ponderous tomes, reading away the hours as the warship rocked cradle-like around me and one international crisis after another passed me blissfully by.
One of the books I read was The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, an account of a conflict that took place in Greece between 431 and 404 BC. The opposing sides were mainly divided up into Pro Athens and Pro Sparta camps, and they battled back and forth indecisively for about three decades. In keeping with the theme of this article, you could say that Athens had some real border problems with its neighboring city states.
I don't remember much about this book except that one side would invade the other, burn the corn and march off. What they called corn was not what we call corn, but with all the cooking corn Greece must have smelled like living downwind from the Kellogg's factory, except that nobody put bananas on their corn flakes back then, like they do now.
The important lesson I did take away from Thucydides was how Athen's behavior preceding and during that war applies to us. Athens was the top dog among the Greek city states of that era, economically and intellectually, but somewhere along the line they lost their democratic values and decided that what was good for Athens was good for everyone. As a result, Greece increasingly fell in line behind oligarchical, authoritarian Sparta until Athens had her walls razed to the ground and was completely subjugated, never again to regain her position as a world power.
Very Modern Border Problems
Besides impressing you that I can muddle through a thousand page book with no pictures, what does my digression into the ancient Peloponnesian War have to do with the modern immigration problem we in the United States of America are having with Central American nations?
Depending on what source is consulted and what that source's particular political slant may be, an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 illegal immigrant children from Central America are estimated to enter the US this year. This unexpected inundation has overwhelmed the immigration and legal systems and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. While the 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program enacted by the Obama administration may be the immediate catalyst for the flood of desperate children braving the unforgiving deserts of the southern US border, in reality the roots of the problem extend far deeper into the past, and Americans need look no further than the nearest available mirror to find the true source of the blame.
For decades the relationship of the United States toward Central America has been one of exploitation. Central America is viewed by US Corporations as a source of cheap agricultural products, particularly bananas, and cheap sweatshop-manufactured underwear. Like mighty Athens of the past, the United States has used its economic, political, and military muscle to maintain the exploitation balance in its own favor. We the American public, interested mostly in maintaining the supply of cheap undergarments and cheap bananas, have cheerily ignored the abysmal economic situation that exists in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where the average textile worker's wages are 200 to 300 dollars a month and falling! But when the desperately disadvantaged come begging at our back door, we ignore cause and effect and cast all of the blame for a century and a half of heavy handed, corrupt, often criminal economic policy on President Obama.
The Era of the Filibusters - The Start of the Problem
Nowadays when we hear the word filibuster we attach it to long-winded Congressmen attempting to prevent legislation from being passed by talking it to death. But there was a time in US history when this particular term had a darker, more sinister meaning associated with the freewheeling businessmen who raised private armies to advance their own personal ambitions by fomenting unrest and revolution in Latin American countries.
The word comes from the Spanish filibustero, meaning pirate or robber. Long before cheap underwear tags were manufactured in Central American, the filibuster tag was instead affixed to adventurers like American William Walker, who actually ruled Nicaragua briefly with a private mercenary army and was eventually executed for trying to take power in Honduras.
Perhaps direct American participation in Central American filibustering operations may have ceased, but it certainly lives on in spirit through the financing of groups like the contras in Nicaragua and the 1980s death squads that committed murder and other atrocities in El Salvador. The following sections will take a look at some of these modern Central American "filbustering" campaigns undertaken by the United States.