At a town hall meeting in Windham, New Hampshire on Monday, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton boasted about how, as a senator from New York, she “voted numerous times … to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in.”
Despite how Republican her comment may sound, it’s more or less in line with Clinton’s stated position on immigration, going back to 2003 when she declared herself “adamantly against illegal immigrants.”
“La Hillary” not only echoes the rhetoric about securing the border (like her pseudo-socialist opponent, Bernie Sanders), she even supports sending back unaccompanied child refugees, as she painstakingly tried to avoid saying outright in a televised town hall last year.
To her credit, yesterday she made a point to say “it is just never going to happen that we’re going to round-up and deport 11 or 12 million,” and even suggested the United States needs “to do more to try to put some resources into those countries to try to deal with some of the conditions — particularly the violence, the drug dealers and the like — that create that.”
So far I agree with the former secretary of State. If we want to stem the flow of immigrants desperate to cross the Rio Grande, the United States must do what it can to better the conditions in their countries of origin. After all, were it not for the widespread violence, poverty and government repression, most of those who make the journey would much rather stay in their home countries.
But then Clinton said something that reminded me why, out of the three people running for the Democratic nomination, she’s the worse for Latinos and Latin America alike:
We have an example of how effective the United States can be. When my husband was president, as you remember, there was a war going on in Colombia by drug traffickers and insurgent rebels. It was such a violent war that elected officials, business leaders, academics were being kidnapped, many of them murdered, others held for ransom. And we did something called Plan Colombia. Where we helped the government figure out how to secure their country from drug traffickers and rebels. And it took a number of years but now it’s a success story.
“It took a number of years” is how Hillary describes a period of unbridled violence and human rights abuses committed by the U.S.-sponsored Colombian government and right-wing paramilitary groups. The drastic increase of U.S. funding for Colombia’s security forces beginning in 2000 allowed an already repressive government to carry out even more atrocities.
In his 2000 book Rogue States, Noam Chomsky explained why Plan Colombia was a bad idea from the start:
Colombia receives more US military aid than the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean combined. The total for 1999 reached about $300 million, along with $60 million in arms sales, approximately a threefold increase from 1998. The figure is scheduled to increase still more sharply with the anticipated passage of some version of Clinton’s Colombia Plan, submitted to Congress in April 2000, which called for a $1.6 billion ’emergency aid’ package for two years. Through the 1990s, Colombia has been by far the leading recipient of US military aid in Latin America, and has also compiled by far the worst human rights record, in conformity with a well-established and long-standing correlation. …
The military armed and trained by the United States has not crushed domestic resistance, though it continues to produce its regular annual toll of atrocities. Each year, some 300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes, with a death toll of about 3,000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority of atrocities are attributed to paramilitary forces. These are closely linked to the military, as documented in considerable and shocking detail once again in February 2000 by Human Rights Watch, and in April 2000 by a UN study which reported that the Colombian security forces that are to be greatly strengthened by the Colombia Plan maintain an intimate relationship with death squads, organize paramilitary forces, and either participate in their massacres directly or, by failing to take action, have ‘undoubtedly enabled the paramilitary groups to achieve their exterminating objectives.’ In more muted terms, the State Department confirms the general picture in its annual human rights reports, again in the report covering 1999, which concludes that ‘security forces actively collaborated with members of paramilitary groups’ while ‘government forces continued to commit numerous, serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, at a level that was roughly similar to that of 1998,’ when the report attributed about 80 percent of attributable atrocities to the military and paramilitaries. The picture is confirmed as well by the Colombian Office of UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. Its director, a respected Swedish diplomat, assigns the responsibility for ‘the magnitude and complexity of the paramilitary phenomenon’ to the Colombian government, hence indirectly to its US sponsor.
If Colombia is quieter these days, it’s because, during nearly 60 years of civil war, over 218,000 Colombians have been killed, more than 25,000 have been disappeared, and close to six million have been displaced. As the former foreign affairs chief of the United States, Hillary Clinton almost certainly knows this to be true.
Yet, despite what she knows, Hillary thinks “Plan Central America” sounds like a grand idea.
Yes, let’s give more support to Guatemala’s security forces. It’s not like the Guatemalan government is so corrupt that an international body was needed to come in and clean house. This isn’t the same country that just saw its president and vice president forced to resign and then jailed in connection to a massive corruption scandal. Guatemala didn’t just elect a right-wing celebrity tied to a cabal of the same military officers responsible for war crimes of the recent past.
And what can go wrong raising the already increased funding afforded Honduras’s security forces? It’s not like the current right-wing regime seized power through a military coup. This isn’t the same government that’s seemingly at war with every citizen who isn’t white, rich and male — even advocates of homeless children. President Juan Orlando Hernández isn’t the same man who in 2012, as president of the Honduran congress, replaced judges on the Supreme Court who had ruled a crime bill he favored unconstitutional. And that isn’t the same Supreme Court that earlier this year removed presidential term limits, allowing JOH to run for a second term. (By the way, that isn’t the exact same move former President Manuel Zelaya was accused of attempting when he was removed from office back in 2009.)
Clinton’s politics or lack of knowledge on the subjects make her a dangerous presidential candidate in terms of immigration and U.S.-Latin America relations. Still she’s immensely popular among Latinos — primarily because most Latino voters don’t know much about the other people running for president.
Attending a Bernie Sanders rally in Las Vegas yesterday, the Guardian‘s Rory Carroll ventured out onto the street to get a sense of what Nevada’s Latinos think of Hillary’s competition:
At a strip mall a mile from the rally, the Guardian interviewed 14 Latinos at random. Thirteen had never heard of Sanders.
‘No idea,’ said Jesus Arnao, 21, a landscaper watching the Eagles thrash the Cowboys in the Blue Mule bar.
‘Who?’ said Maria Jimenez, 51, folding clothes in a launderette. Her husband, Guadaloupe Terrazas, 51, knew one thing about Sanders. ‘He’s from Vermont.’ Jimenez looked blank. ‘It’s a city,’ said Terrazas.
It scarcely mattered: both supported Clinton. ‘I’m voting for her. She’s not racist,’ said Jimenez.
Veronica Nunez, 30, leading two sons into Roberto’s Taco Shop for supper, echoed the sentiment. ‘Hillary is good. A friend of immigrants.’
Hillary’s strategy for earning enough Latino votes to win next year’s general election seems to be working like a charm. Most Latinos hear the name “Clinton” and remember the progressive nineties, forgetting that husband Bill signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (which crippled Mexico), the Defense of Marriage Act (which denied rights to same-sex couples) and the 1994 crime bill (which increased the already soaring incarceration rates of Blacks and Latinos).
The Democratic Party’s future queen hopes Latino voters will never find out about her opposition to undocumented immigrants or her behind-the-scenes support for Honduras’s coup. Most of all, Hillary hopes Latinos won’t learn about the other people competing for the Democratic nomination.
Because for Hillary, ignorance is bliss, especially if helps her become the next president.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.