Fifteen months ago, I felt as much or more pain as I do now because the government of Guatemala, led by a criminal called President Jimmy Morales, caused 56 girls to set themselves on fire in a government-run shelter. 41 died. 15 barely survive, and they get no help from the state. Some of the girls had been taken from their homes to protect them from domestic violence, but most were taken to this shelter through the negligence of cops or judges who refused the pleas of their mothers or fathers who wanted them back after they ended up in the street.
Six in 10 Central American girls and boys who live in poverty or extreme poverty have a real possibility of getting trapped in government shelters after a single mother makes a mistake, or a father gets killed, or they get trafficked and the authorities recover them.
And if I were a mother or father of one of these Central American kids with dim futures and I made $250 per month, I would absolutely take on $7,000 of debt to take them far away, as far as I could, even if it meant risking the dangerous journey to the US. I would risk the challenge of surviving a Mexico cruel and violent to Central Americans to risk the challenge of surviving the yet crueler and more violent United States of Trump.
These parents and these kids are not at fault for being born in the most unequal and violent corner of the continent: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
We are countries where slavery was legal until 1944 and is still de facto permitted in many places today. The democracy that outlawed slavery in Guatemala in 1944 was overthrown ten years later by the US and replaced with corruption and dictatorship.
We are countries that rose up in protest and in arms against injustice in the 80s. The dictators and generals who slaughtered their opponents were armed and trained by the US.
We are countries that have bet since the 90s on the neoliberal brand of democracy and peace that is favored by the US and that has proven useless.
We are countries that fight today against impunity to take back our governments and to become viable states that don’t expel their citizens and their children toward the Nazism of Trump’s US.
It might seem that to call these policies of Trump’s US “Nazism” is an exaggeration. But just recently a Dutch Jewish survivor of the Nazi holocaust wrote in The Guardian about this torture of Central American children that in her 80s she and her siblings still suffer the effects of being separated from their parents when they were kids. Her name is Yoka Verdoner.
This is the testimony of her little brother, who now is 80 and whom the Nazis separated from his parents when he was three years old. He writes in the present.
“In the first home I scream for six weeks. Then I am moved to another family, and I stop screaming. I give up. Nothing around me is known to me. All those around me are strangers. I have no past. I have no future. I have no identity. I am nowhere. I am frozen in fear. It is the only emotion I possess now. As a three-year-old child, I believe that I must have made some terrible mistake to have caused my known world to disappear. I spend the rest of my life trying desperately not to make another mistake.”
Yoka, who now lives in California, writes:
“My brother’s second foster family cared deeply about him and has kept in touch with him all these years. Even so, he is almost 80 years old now and is still trying to understand what made him the anxious and dysfunctional person he turned into as a child and has remained for the rest of his life: a man with charm and intelligence, yet who could never keep a job because of his inability to complete tasks. After all, if he persisted he might make a mistake again, and that would bring his world to another end.”
The situation for Central Americans in 2018 is just as painful. Read this fragment from Óscar Martínez in El Faro:
“The prestigious US outlet ProPublica published audio it obtained last week. It’s a recording made in a detention center for child migrants. The person who recorded this audio did so without authorization, and asked ProPublica to remain anonymous. The person stated the voices are those of children between four and 10 years old who arrived in these cells for migrant kids 24 hours before the recording was made. The audio has since been published in several other outlets. The children cry. They scream, ‘Mami.’ They scream, ‘Papi.’ Again and again, ‘Mami’, ‘Papi’, ‘Mami’, ‘Papi’. They choke as they cry. The children choke on their own screams.”
It gets worse:
“In the audio one girl in particular is heard. She is six. She says, controlling her crying, that she knows a phone number, that someone call her aunt in the US. ‘I want my aunt to come get me, so she can take me home with her… So my mom can come as soon as she can,’ the girl says, without knowing that her mother, Cindy Madrid, 29, who went into $7,000 of debt to pay a coyote to lead them to a better life, is being processed as a criminal, and could be deported at any moment. If they were honest, they’d tell this girl that mom isn’t going come as soon as she can. This is what Trump’s policies have become: a girl who repeats a phone number, a girl who cries for help. A representative of the Salvadoran Embassy agreed to call the number the girl repeated. ProPublica did the same after listening to the audio. It called. The aunt answered. ‘It was the hardest time of my life,’ said the migrant. This woman, it seems, knows about hard times. She is there after fleeing from El Salvador with her daughter two years ago. She’s from Armenia, Sonsonate. She’s in the asylum process. She said gangs are everywhere. ‘They’re in the buses. They’re on the benches. They’re in the schools. They’re in the police. There’s nowhere for normal people to feel safe,’ she told ProPublica. And what she said is true. Those who know El Salvador know it’s true. According to data from the Salvadoran Ministry of Education collected by Cristosal, a human rights organization, 7,648 of its schools’ students left the country in 2017 alone. In part because of the gangs. The gangs, according to the police, have 64,000 members in a country of 6.5 million people. The girl’s aunt recalled that when the girl called her, she begged her to get her out of the cells, saying, ‘I promise I’ll be good, just please get me out of here. I’m totally alone.’ Her aunt decided not to get involved. She fears that if she does, her and her daughter’s asylum process might be jeopardized. She fears that if she helps her niece, the US government will force her to return to her country where she believes she will be killed.”
The Nazis and Hitler in 1942. Trump and the Republicans in 2018. Jews in 1942. Central Americans in 2018.
This separation of parents and children that Jews suffered in the 40s is something that Guatemalans have suffered since the worst of the civil war from 1978 to 1985, when dictators and a band of lawyers discovered that children were a good product that US families would pay well for to adopt. They stole so many children that Guatemala was until 2007 the country that exported the third most children to the US, after Russia and China. China’s population is one billion. Russia’s is 150 million. Guatemala’s is 15 million. The US adopted 4,000 children per year from Guatemala, many of whom came without proof that they hadn’t been robbed. The lawyers made $200 million annually.
Indigenous Maya communities were so desperate to end this epidemic of stolen children exported to the US that they lynched a Japanese tourist for taking pictures of kids in Huehuetenango in 2000, as reported in El País. It wasn’t until 2007 that, after much community work, human rights activists, prosecutors, and politicians managed to change the law so that it was no longer a lawyer who authorized adoption, but the National Adoption Council. International adoptions were suspended.
There is no pain greater than losing a child.
And that kind of pain makes people sick.
The Jews who survived the Holocaust founded Israel, which, as we see in its relationship with Palestinians 70 years later, has a majority that is sick, incapable of feeling empathy.
Guatemala and Central America, after forty years of violence and hatred, are also societies with majorities who are sick, who are incapable of feeling empathy for each other.
And since we’re not managing to build societies in which human beingscan live, there are hundreds, thousands, millions of Central Americans who prefer to flee to the US in search of a decent life.
I don’t have much to say to those in the US who voted for Trump just because he promised to be rid of us, we Central Americans and other foreigners.
This torture of children that outrages us today is on them. They are complicit.
They have taken the horror of our country to theirs.
I do have something to say to the president of my country, Jimmy Morales; to the timid ex-guerrilla who leads El Salvador; and to the dictators of Honduras and Nicaragua: Resign!
The government of Israeli President Netanyahu, insane to the marrow, justifies his hate as necessary to “protect his Jewish citizens and ensure that no one tortures them as the Nazis did.” It is incredible that to achieve this, Netanyahu has allied with a Nazi like Trump who tortures Central American children, and that his government supports a criminal like Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales.
But the Central American presidents, how do they justify their lack of action to protect the children of their countries who are being tortured by Trump’s US? They’ve done nothing!
Guatemala’s president is the worst of them all. He still hasn’t spoken out. He’s busy, and not because he’s rescuing those who might still be buried under the ash of the Fuego Volcano. He’s busy dodging accusations of illegal campaign financing, of stealing money from the military and, since last Monday, of public accusations of sexual abuse.Instead of speaking out, President Morales sent his spokesman to give a statement to the press. His spokesman said that the government “respected the migration policy of the United States.” It shouldn’t surprise that he represents a president who in 2016 told the New York Times that if Trump builds a wall, he would contribute “cheap Guatemalan labor.”
Central America’s feeble presidents could be making a scene. They could be going to the border, attempting to enter the detention centers, rescuing kids, or petitioning the UN Security Council to send an international military mission to rescue the 2,000 or more children being tortured. Something. Anything.
Trump won’t just stop himself. The outrage of half the US and of the rest of the world only encourages him. He recently tweeted, like a good Nazi, that he’ll continue to detain criminal Central Americans who “infest” the US because they’re all MS-13, which is a lie. As the journalist Óscar Martínez recalled, of 250,000 Central American minors detained at the border since 2012, US authorities identified 56 with possible gang ties. That’s 0.0002%.
Trump won’t just stop himself.
How much longer are we going to wait to stop him? Until he sends Central Americans to the gas chambers?
Translated by Richard Brown / EntreMundos / revista.entremundos.org