Why Do Children from Central America Come Here?

July 14, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The media tell us that mothers from Central America are coming to the U.S. with their children because they think they can get legal status if they bring children into this country. We are also told that children are coming by themselves to escape the gang violence in their countries. There is truth to this. Children in countries like Honduras as forced to flee in order to escape gang violence. But there are other, underlying reasons these children are leaving their homes to make a dangerous trip to come to the U.S.

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has spoken in BAsics 1:14 to how we must understand why people are coming to the U.S.:

Now I can just hear these reactionary fools saying, “Well, Bob, answer me this. If this country is so terrible, why do people come here from all over the world? Why are so many people trying to get in, not get out?”...Why? I’ll tell you why. Because you have fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you have done in this country. You have made it impossible for many people to live in their own countries as part of gaining your riches and power.

This is a fundamental truth.

The hands of a Honduran farm worker during the sugar cane harvest in El Salvador. Workers travel to El Salvador from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua to make up for the shortfall of Salvadoran sugar and coffee workers. Nov. 2007. Photo: AP

Revolution has written extensively about the efforts of the U.S. to control the countries in Central America and it is important to understand all this in terms of the current situation in those countries. (See “Selected Crimes of a Global Terrorist,” Revolution, May 15, 2011, and “No, It’s NOT Fucking Complicated!,” Revolution, January 24, 2013.) The recent Revolution article “The Children Who Cross the Border and the Crimes of the U.S.“ spoke to the violence and repression that the masses in Central America are facing, and it made an important point that you can’t understand why children are coming here without understanding the violence, repression, economic situation, and their relationship in these Central American countries. Throughout Central America, people labor for sub-survival wages on plantations owned by U.S. agribusiness and in sweatshops making clothes for export to the U.S. For a century, and in an especially vicious way during the 1980s, the U.S. waged or orchestrated genocidal wars in Central American countries to suppress rebellions. In just one country, in three years, a U.S.-backed regime in Guatemala destroyed 626 villages, killed or “disappeared” more than 200,000 people—mostly indigenous Mayan people—and displaced an additional 1.5 million people, about a fifth of the entire population. This crime and many others have created a situation in Central America today of poverty and desperation.

How the U.S. Has Devastated Central American Economies

One reason that the overwhelming migration of people, mainly from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, is occurring is the economic control the U.S. has exercised over those countries. In 2005, CAFTA (the Central America Free Trade Agreement) became a legal agreement between the U.S. and the Central American countries. The Economist described this as “CAFTA is a modest agreement between a whale (the United States) and six minnows (five nations of Central America—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica—plus the Dominican Republic). The whale already admits about 80% of the minnows’ exports tariff-free, and the Central American countries have already cut their average tariffs from around 45% in 1985 to about 7%.”1 This may have been modest for the “whale” but it was huge for the “minnows.”

CAFTA immediately reduced, and in some areas of trade, ended the tariffs between the U.S. and these Central American countries. It was reported that CAFTA would immediately reduce the taxes paid to Honduras by U.S. corporations in the amount of $148 million. This meant an immediate loss of $148 million to the government of Honduras.2 For the “whale” that might not seem like a lot, but for the “minnow” it is. CAFTA also forced Honduras to buy textile goods (yarn and cloth) and machinery and oil to manufacture the clothing that would be made by cheap Honduran labor and then sold back to U.S. corporations, tax free.

Two years after CAFTA was enacted it was reported that “not only did [CAFTA’s] projected benefits [for Central American countries] fail to materialize, but many sectors of society in the countries which signed and implemented it are already feeling its negative impacts.” The report went on to point out that:

  • All countries that have ratified CAFTA have seen their national debt with the U.S. grow, and their national markets flooded with U.S. goods, services and raw materials.
  • Foreign investment decreased significantly during the first year of CAFTA. It fell by 42% (loss of US$180 million) in El Salvador, by US$182 million in Honduras, by 3.8% (loss of US$23.4 million) in the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua received only US$57.8 million in 2006.
  • The dismantling of the rural economy in the region has been consolidated. “In each country,” says one study, “the agricultural trade deficit has grown as imports of basic grains increased and prices for these have increased dramatically, as these imports are controlled by a few groups that concentrate the market and engaged in speculation.”3

Take rice as an example of how agriculture was affected. In 2005, the United States was the fifth largest rice producer in the world and produced rice at a cost of $9.04 per hundredweight of rice. In Nicaragua, a rice farmer produced rice at a rate of $8.45, cheaper than a U.S. producer. However, the U.S. producer was able to sell rice at a rate of $7.65 because the U.S. agricultural companies are subsidized by the U.S. government at a rate of $10.45 per hundredweight. Do the math. The U.S. corporations have already made a profit before sending the rice to Central America, so they can charge below what the Central American farmers can charge and reap an even greater profit. This devastated the rice industry in Central America, where farmers could not sell their rice, so they were run out of business. That scenario followed in the other staple agricultural industries in Central America—dairy and corn.

Looking at dairy products and particularly milk gives us a further understanding of how the Central American population has been affected by CAFTA. Currently the U.S. is one of the world’s major exporters of dairy products, while Central America is one of the major importers of dairy products. Certainly, CAFTA played a huge role in forcing Central America to import dairy products. As dairy cattle feed cost has risen, the price of milk has risen. In the beginning of 2014, milk (and all dairy products) prices reached an all-time high.4 We are hearing stories from mothers migrating from Central America that they are unable to afford milk for their children in their countries so they are going to places like Mexico and the U.S. where they think they can afford to provide their children with milk.

Further, such environmental factors as global warming and hurricanes wreaked havoc on whatever agriculture remained in those Central American countries. For instance, Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005 destroyed the banana industry in northern Honduras and this “once-thriving banana industry never fully recovered from hurricane devastation.”5 On the other hand, the U.S. was able to weather (excuse the pun) global warming and the ensuing increase in production costs by raising prices, as it did with milk and dairy products.

A huge percentage of those arriving at the U.S. borders in the past several months are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—Central America’s poorest nations. CAFTA has played the major role in devastating the economies of Central American countries. Gangs have filled the economic void caused by CAFTA, creating a country with vast areas run by gangs and police under their influence. Many of these Central American gang members were spawned and trained in U.S. gangs and then were deported by the U.S. back to Central American countries.6

Honduras, the poorest of all Central American countries, has become the largest hub for shipping cocaine from South America into the U.S. San Pedro Sula, which lies on the Atlantic/Caribbean coast of Honduras, has a population of over a million people, and it is where most of the cocaine is shipped from. The city is almost completely controlled by the gangs and it has become known as the murder capital of the world with a murder rate of 173 per 100,000 people. This is the violence that the children in Honduras are fleeing from and why they are coming to the U.S. all by themselves.

It is important to understand that the current violence these children face did not come from nowhere. With a populace that has been under the thumb of ruthless dictators and death squads all supported by the U.S. and with CAFTA creating an economic crisis in these countries, the gang violence and hellish living conditions have become the order of the day for the masses in Central America.

Bob Avakian put it this way:

... the capitalist system, and especially in this era of the last century and more, when capitalism has developed into a full-blown international capitalist, worldwide imperialist system, that literally—and, once again, without any exaggeration—grinds into the earth hundreds of millions, actually billions of individuals: the masses of people whom it oppresses, uproots, hurls from one place to another—exploits when it can, and then casts off, literally again, into the garbage dumps when it has no use for them. Those individuals, and their aspirations, are in reality given absolutely no consideration, count for nothing, under the rule of capitalism-imperialism. And that’s also true for tens of millions of people—and ultimately for the great majority of people—even in the imperialist citadels, the heartlands of imperialism, like the U.S. itself. There are literally millions and millions of people, tens of millions, who are ground under, right within the borders of this country, including the immigrants who are forced, or drawn, to come to this country, and then ruthlessly exploited and oppressed and repressed. (From What Humanity Needs: Revolution and the New Synthesis of Communism, an interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks).


1. “A small victory for free trade as CAFTA passes,” The Economist, July 28, 2005. [back]

2. See “Two years of CAFTA: deep impacts in Central America and the Dominican Republic,” bilaterals.org, November 2007. [back]

3. Ibid. [back]

4. “January all-milk price surges to all-time record highs,” by Ray Mueller, Wisconsin State Farmer, February 5, 2014. [back]

5. “In Honduras, rival gangs keep a death grip on San Pedro Sula,” Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2013. [back]

6. See “Gang Uses Deportation to Its Advantage to Flourish in the U.S.” by Robert Flores, Rich Connell, and Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2005. [back]


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