Ghosts of Latin America: Will It Happen Here?

As a student of Latin America, I feel a strange sense of déjà vu lately when I follow the news.

A corrupt, shadily “elected” president putting his cronies in charge—check. An ineffective, corrupt congress with their fingers to the wind, more interested in their own political fortunes than in representing their constituents—check. Wealthy, corrupt businessmen put in charge of all the key government agencies—check. Environmental regulation be damned—check. The press muzzled and threatened for any whiff of dissent—check. And the people, oh yeah, them—they should shut their mouths, tighten their belts and work harder.

There have been many comparisons of the Drumpf era to the German Nazi era. What is less well known is how many of the Nazis fled to Latin America when the Third Reich came to an end. There they took advantage of the prevailing racism and whatever wealth and education they possessed to quickly rise into positions of power in industry and government. They lurked there, nursing their totalitarian fantasies and grooming their puppet politicos, until they were strong enough to start the process of taking over the levers of power and crushing dissent.

Latin America was also a field for the proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the United States, with lines being drawn being pro-business capitalists and pro-worker communists. Often the local people, native and mestizo, were caught in the crossfire between these mighty opposing ideologies, which laid waste to entire economies and communities.

If you want to look for the origins of the big migrations of Latinos northward, this is a good place to start.

As with the current situation in Syria and North Africa, people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to. What would it take to get you to abandon your home and set off on the road with your little children and whatever you could carry? My ancestors did it in the late 19th century, fleeing the pogroms and conscriptions of the Jewish ghettos in Poland and Russia. During the 1930s the Dust Bowl refugees packed up their troubles and left the parched Midwest, heading for California.

We don’t know yet how far the Drumpf people and their Republican henchmen in Congress will go in pushing the American populace towards that level of desperation.

When they take away our health care and make the pharmaceuticals unaffordable, release the loan sharks on us and start taking our homes again; when they turn our public schools into boot camps for dumbed down docility and drug the kids who won’t obey; when they frack our neighborhoods and run oil pipelines through our waterways; when they turn our national parks into mines and hunting grounds—are we going to simply bow our heads and take it?

When they take away funding for the arts and public media, turn the scientists into their private industrial brain trust, alienate our closest international allies and ramp up the drilling, fracking, mining, logging, burning and chemical poisoning that is destroying our planet at an unprecedented pace—are we going to shrug and turn away?

When they bribe and coerce the judges, intimidate the press, militarize the police and start killing our sons and daughters if they dare to take to the streets in protest, are we going to stay quiet?

In Latin America, the repression of those who dared to speak out and organize against the dictators and capitalist bosses was brutal: I’m talking disappearances, torture, decapitations, burnings, destruction of homes…the old Spanish colonial playbook laced with a good dose of Nazi righteousness and American capitalist arrogance.

Will it come to that here? Will the plague of the Drumpf era bring us into another civil war?

Right now the Dow Jones is flying high and things are functioning smoothly enough at the local level. The majority of Americans—who, let us remember, did not support Drumpf–are anxious and unnerved but going about our day-to-day business while stepping up efforts to stay informed and figure out how best to resist.

We know we’re in one of those moments that will be discussed in detail by historians, assuming our civilization comes safely through to the other side of this crisis.

So many questions cannot yet be answered. Will Bannon, Drumpf and the Republicans start a new war, repeating the 9/11 playbook that worked so well to keep the population quiet while providing rich new markets for the military industrial complex?

Will the Supreme Court rubber stamp the new regime’s savage efforts to roll back civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, voters’ rights, environmental protection, consumer protection, financial regulation etc. etc.?

Will freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to peaceful assembly and protest be trampled on and curtailed?

Will Americans sit by passively and let this happen?

And what about climate change? We’re already seeing the effects more dramatically every month. The acceleration is almost unbelievable. Will Mother Nature intervene, throwing some icy water on the fossil fuel industry’s wet dreams of limitless riches?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to rise.

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Peace Day Travesties

Last night my son reminded me that it was Peace Day yesterday, and my heart sank even lower.  How could it be that on the day dedicated to world peace, the U.S. allowed an improperly tried man to be put to death by lethal injection?

Perhaps even worse, how could it be that our President chose this day to appear before the United Nations opposing the Palestinian government’s efforts to negotiate a two-state resolution with Israel?

Obama’s speech was laden with bitter irony for those who could hear between the lines.  How could he laud the people of other Middle Eastern states like Egypt, Libya and Yemen for taking matters in their own hands and violently overthrowing oppressive rulers, while at the same time telling the Palestinians that they should wait, be patient and let others decide their fate?

What difference is there, really, between an oppressive dictator like Qaddafi and an oppressive state dictatorship like the one Israel exercises over Palestine?  In both cases it’s a matter of people’s basic human rights being violated.  In neither case do the people have the “democracy” that Obama praised in his speech yesterday.  Why is it OK for the Libyans to rise up and throw out the oppressors, but not for the Palestinians?

Of course, we know the answer.  Because American Jews have too much invested in the success of the state of Israel, and are too afraid of the Palestinians to see them as anything other than potential terrorists.  Because American Jews wield considerable power in the U.S. government, and their support can make or break a political candidate here at home.

Under these circumstances, I am not proud to be an American of Jewish descent (I can’t call myself a Jew because I have never practiced the religion and am largely unfamiliar with it).

I’m not happy to be a white American either, given the clear racialization of the American criminal justice system, with people of color receiving much harsher treatment, from the police on the streets to the courts and the prisons, than people of European descent.

What do I do with my guilt over the way “my people” are treating others?  I can “pass” as a non-Jew and distance myself from that community, but I can’t exactly “pass” as a person of color.

What I have to do, and what all of us who deplore the oppression that was blazoned across the headlines on World Peace Day should do, is to ally myself firmly with those who stand for freedom.  In many cases, sad to say, this would mean opposing the policies of the U.S. government and many of its cronies, like the state of Israel.

Dissent from majority opinion has a long and proud history in our country and we should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe, even if we appear to be opposing the powers that be.

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States declined to step in and save the life of Troy Davis even though it was plain to hundreds of thousands of onlookers that he did not deserve execution.  Yesterday President Obama went on record as opposing the efforts of President Abbas of Palestine to finally take his rightful place among the league of nations at the U.N.

Justices and President, I respectfully disagree with you.  A lot of us disagree with you, a lot of the time.  You need to start listening to us ordinary folks again, and give us a government we can be proud of.

Otherwise, you might just wake up one morning and find the Arab Spring has come to America–with you, or at least the oppressive establishment you represent–as the targets this time.

 

 

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