¡Ke Gacho! Trump Disses Salvadoreños
In 1537, Pope Paul III issued a papal bull declaring that the Indians of the newly-colonized Americas were indeed human beings, complete with a soul. As the Spanish Empire eagerly doubled down on its conquest of the Americas, the Pope figured it was good manners to recognize Europe’s new subjects as people. In 2018, the blonde imperator of the west has decided to take a different tack and declare that 200,000 Salvadoran inhabitants of the U.S. imperium are not worthy of living and working here.
In early January, President Trump announced that he was ending the protections bestowed by the Temporary Protected Status program for Salvadorans allowed into the country following an earthquake in 2001. In the style of those old Roman edicts, Salvadorans still in the country under TPS must leave by September 9, 2019.The Donald has some sort of obsession with El Salvador as of late.
The tiny Central American country had the distinct honor of being included in the president’s “shithole countries” comments alongside Haiti. During his State of the Union snoozer address, Trump placed heavy emphasis on the MS-13 gang as a scourge on those blissful, postcard-friendly American neighborhoods everyone wishes they could afford to live in. What Trump conveniently leaves out of his narrative is the long history of U.S. involvement in El Salvador and Central America.
It is a classic symptom of what novelist Gore Vidal termed, “The United States of Amnesia.” In this case, it is a convenient form of amnesia in which imperial crimes just happen to be forgotten. They dissolve into the haze of nationalist sloganeering. Like the waves of refugees flooding Europe from the shores of the Middle East and Africa, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans, along with their Mexican brothers and sisters, are escaping the ruins of a history in which the great northern hegemon has been quite complicit.
Trump’s abrupt demand that Salvadorans leave their stateside homes and communities is the equivalent of you randomly torching someone’s home then denying the victim shelter. It is easy, today, to forget the Salvadoran Civil War, one of the key moments of that period between 1979 and 1992 when Central America was aflame in bloody revolutionary upheaval.
Because the region is now mired in contemporary heartbreak and newer generations are allergic to history, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua and its profound aftershocks are receding in public consciousness. Few today are aware that El Salvador in the 1980s was as important a geopolitical hotspot as Syria is today. This tiny country of 6 million pulled in the major players of the Cold War as the U.S. saw fit to fund a brutal military regime while the rebel coalition of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) received support from Cuba and the Nicaraguans.
Even more forgotten are the roots of the conflict going back to El Salvador’s profound inequality and social conflicts traced back to the early 20th century. Farabundo Marti was the name of a peasant rebel leader from a 1932 uprising during which thousands of peasants were slaughtered by the U.S.-backed regime of Maximiliano Martínez. Even further back in time, El Salvador was the first Latin American country in which radicals attempted to form “soviets” in the model of the Russian Revolution, as recounted by Salvadoran poet and militant revolutionary Roque Dalton in his biography of Salvadoran radical Miguel Marmol.
This is history unknown to Trump, not quite the reader anyway. But to be honest, it probably has never been too known to any recent U.S. president, even the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, who turned the region into a torture chamber. But history has a way of casting an uncomfortable, restless shadow. When Trump and the media issue hysterical commentary on the violence of MS-13, they are essentially condemning a terror of their own making. The Mara Salvatrucha is a direct outgrowth of the civil war. It was formed in Los Angeles by those first waves of migrants escaping the inferno back home.
They then continued the urban, tribal habit of forming entities to protect themselves from the Mexican and African American gangs also composed of the republic’s other unwantables. When local media report with gaping jaws about the gangs’ brutal style of killing, they look over the fact that the way the MS-13 will remove a head or cut out a tongue is in the style—irrefutably out of the CIA psychological warfare playbook—required of the aptly named “death squads” in El Salvador by their CIA handlers. By the mid-1980s, U.S.-trained death squads were killing 700 to 1,000 people a month, all in the name of keeping the Communists from winning.
Before the MS-13 carried out targeted killings, the U.S. was aiding its ancestors in the assassination of human rights advocates such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, the patron saint of the poor who became a martyr during the war. His murder was ordered by the most notorious of the Reagan regime’s clients at the time, Roberto D’Aubuisson. A proto-fascist maniac, D’Aubuisson was trained at the infamous School of the Americas where the U.S. specializes in churning out regional killers.
Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto has shared her memories of a Salvadoran general who gleefully collected the ears of rebels in jars as war trophies. The U.S. State Department looked the other way when its clients raped and murdered four Maryknoll Sisters. How easy it is to forget the Atlacatl Battalion, trained by the United States, going on to kill 800 civilians in El Mozote with the same ferocity of an MS-13 slaying.
In a recent article concerning Trump’s targeting of poor nations, Chris Hedges makes it clear that, “Without outside intervention, the rebels would have seized control of El Salvador within months and ousted the oligarchs.” The U.S. actively supported fascist butchers to keep the downtrodden from winning, therefore aborting the revolution and allowing the ruins to devour their children.
Trump and his minions, awake at night with the fear of brown immigrants hiding under their beds, refuse to see that they are haunted by the specter of history. Like Lady Macbeth, they desperately want to wash the blood away from their hands, but the bloodstains of history have a way of reappearing, in darker shades. No one is innocent. Remember that Obama too has a coup to his name in Honduras, where the blood still flows and the night stick crushes bones in the streets of Tegucigalpa.
Waves of survivors now make their way from that tragedy to our streets. We should welcome them; it is a moral duty. If the lords of the land will not answer for their terrors, then we as citizens can at least tell our arriving brothers and sisters that we are not represented by our kings. “Peace to the huts, war to the palaces,” as that German radical Georg Büchner proclaimed during a period of scarring injustice.
We cannot allow ignorant men like Trump to define our communities and our histories, because it is our legacy that defines where we come from and why we are here. As the immortal poet Dalton, eventually a victim of a CIA smear campaign, wrote in a poem titled “In a Fit of Anger,” “O country of mine you do not exist except as my deformed shadow, a word coined by my enemy.”