Migrant Caravan leaving Honduras, October 2018. Photo: Public Domain Migrant Caravan leaving Honduras, October 2018. Photo: Public Domain

Thousands of US troops have been sent to the border as Trump vows to stop the Migrant Caravan, reports John Clarke

The Migrant Caravan moving through Mexico towards the US border represents, in the most powerful way, an elemental act of survival by those who face intolerable conditions. However, it must also be understood that this movement of people has been produced by the very same forces of US domination that now greet its approach with such fear and racist loathing. 

The roots of the present situation can be found in US imperialism’s longstanding oppression and exploitation of Central America. At the present time, this portion of Latin America experiences the greatest levels of poverty, according to no less an authority than the World Bank. Specifically in Honduras, the starting point of the Caravan, the conditions of violence and despair that set it in motion can be linked to the throttling of democracy and the preservation of an exploitative oligarchy by way of the 2009 coup that was carried out with full US and Canadian support. It is this strategy of domination and oppression that has turned Central America into a region where people are forced to flee poverty, state repression and a rampant crime problem that is the product of social dislocation.

The Caravan is formed

As the Washington Post makes clear, in an October 23 article, the Migrant Caravan that has formed and taken the road is only a more organised and large-scale form of ongoing individual and small group efforts to escape unendurable conditions. The article includes interviews with people who had been looking for the opportunity to leave and who jumped at the chance to be part of the Caravan. A flier was distributed and posted on Facebook calling for people to assemble at the bus station, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on October 12:

“We aren’t going because we want to, violence and poverty is driving us out.” 

The initial small group of people who assembled rapidly swelled and, as the Caravan began its journey north, its size increased massively, as it offered people a sense of protection and common purpose.

Inevitably, the Trump Administration has responded to the ‘threat’ posed by this movement of people. Trump, with his usual racist bluster, has vowed to stop the Caravan. Having unsuccessfully sought to have the Mexican authorities block its progress, he has now announced that over 5,000 troops will be deployed to assist US border enforcers in keeping out those seeking safety and that those who apply to enter the US will be incarcerated in tents for the long, and often futile, process of asylum application. 

These harsh measures, of course, create a huge challenge for those who have joined the Caravan. Yet Trump has problems of his own. He has by no means been as successful as he would have hoped in using this issue to fan the flames of racism and increase Republican support for the impending midterm elections. His ugly message is not resonating beyond the core racist base he can always count on.

Tellingly, in the wake of the horrible act of terror in the Pittsburgh Synagogue, Trump’s role in fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry has rightly been called out and the racist venom he has directed at the Migrant Caravan has been raised as a factor in shaping the thinking of the man who has been arrested for the killings.

Movements of people

With all the challenges it faces, it is not clear if the Caravan will maintain its present strength as it moves north through Mexico, nor can the final result at the US border be predicted with any certainty. It is enormously encouraging, though, to learn that, as more than 7,000 Caravan participants rest up in Tapantepec, Mexico, a fresh mobilisation has taken to the roads in El Salvador. The dire situation that has led to this mobilisation remains in force, and a solidarity movement in the US with the people in the Caravan will certainly gather momentum as it approaches the US border. For all the power he wields, Trump can’t eliminate the necessity that drives this movement or avoid serious domestic opposition to his racist brutality.

What is obvious, however, is that this powerful and inspiring struggle is very much an expression of the present crisis-ridden times. In Central America, as in Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East, the conditions for mass migration are being renewed and intensified. Endless war, exploitation, poverty, repression, social breakdown and climate change are all creating massive and unprecedented movements of people with a burning desire to leave and little to lose. The factors that are driving this are not going to diminish in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, we are only in the relatively early stages of the process.

Whether this movement of people is challenged by racist monsters like Donald Trump and Viktor Orban or faced with more circumspect but equally vicious representatives of the neoliberal mainstream, the response of the power structures within the historically privileged countries will be guarded borders and efforts to create ‘buffer zone’ – internment facilities in countries like Mexico or Libya. In the countries that refugees and migrants seek to enter in order to survive, it will be ever more vital to place active solidarity with them at the centre of our political struggles. 

The Central American Migrant Caravan is a manifestation of a global injustice and an international crisis. We must do more than deplore efforts to exclude such movements of people. We must take to the streets, challenge the racist agenda directed against those forced to seek refuge across international borders, and break down all efforts to exclude them.

John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.