All eyes are glued to the Mid-East; to the Iranian deal, to the ominous rumblings in Turkey and sitting here in NYC, I learn that the threat index from ISIS is high in the United States. My eyes are glued for the occasional bombings in France as I plan a trip to Paris, and the arrest of some young persons in the US running off to marry an ISIS member. The focus is almost hypnotic.
On my daily trips to view the hot spots of the world, I have just begun to be aware of red lights faintly flashing in South and Central America with a new short-hand term slowly coming into common use: “South American Spring. ” For those of you who have short memories, let me remind you of the Arab Spring that began with a revolution popular uprising in Egypt that was greeted with roars of approval and the end of tyranny, but which has morphed steadily into deadly and horrific violence and unfathomed levels of despair in the entire Middle East. A three year old child lying dead in the sand along a beach that was to bring him to safety from the violence of his home conveys horror to us in vivid detail.
In South and Central America, fed-up with corruption and harsh dictators and after decades of brutal oppression, those countries had their moment to achieve modern democracy through elections. But something has gone terribly wrong in the process. If we in the United States, we and our government, solely focus our attention to the Middle East, we will find ourselves on the boarder of very troublesome places in our own hemisphere.
The people there are more than merely unhappy notwithstanding their democratic elections. In place of venting their anger in the voting polls, they are moving into the streets. Enough is enough is the focused chant.
Guatemala and Honduras: Frustration over widespread corruption in Guatemala and Honduras may have finally triggered the protests and ire in countries long accustomed to political corruption and dishonor. Guatemala and Honduras have long been linked by their corrupt and bloody past, some of the world’s highest homicide rates, unescapable poverty, gang violence, and organized crime.
Years of living under the thumb of a dictatorial military rule has also left their middle classes fearful of political involvement. Honduras’s attorney general revealed that a network led by the former social security board director defrauded the government of some $120 million from 2010 to 2014. What was rumored became fact.
The Guatemalans have been taking to the streets to demand dramatic change – an unusual sight in Central America, where corruption for years has been the norm. As Sibylla Brodzinsky wrote from Honduras:” It is a scene (seeing hundreds of protesters in the street) that has been repeated every Friday evening for nearly three months, since the government party was linked to a fraud and graft scheme that nearly bled the national health service dry. . at the same time, crushing poverty and rampant violence have driven tens of thousands to attempt to migrate to the United States.” In weekly marches, held on Saturdays in the Guatemalan capital’s Constitution Square, protesters have called for the impeachment or resignation of their President.” Enough is enough” is the constant cry of the population of both countries.
Brazil: In the case of Brazil, whose influence over the region is apparent, what is in issue is the ability of any new government to reinvent itself. The economy in Brazil has dropped precipitously as multibillion dollar corruption scandals have become public knowledge. This information has caused the outcry that erupted in many Brazilian cities during June 2013 and it continues.
Argentina: The Argentinians are calling for change amid their frustration and anger with one of the world’s highest inflation rates, government currency and trade controls and wide-spread corruption allegations that have pierced deep into the Government’s inner political circle.
Mexico: The recourse to massacre, which Mexico seems to either to condone or set an example, sets in motion the extent to which terror has returned to the continent as a means to manage social conflict and political control. Parading fear prevents any collective attempt to practice a new form of political structure.
Venezuela: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who sounds very much like our Donald Trump, has over the past two weeks forcefully deported 1,000 Colombian migrants back to their homeland, producing a flood of harrowing visual images. Their personal belongings seized along with indiscriminate physical violence. Venezuelan National Guardsmen have even taken to spray painting the homes of the soon-to be-banished, marking their dwellings with an “R” for reviewed, or a “D” for demolition.
Nearly 5,000 other Colombians in Venezuela, hoping to rescue some of their dignity and property and avoid the same brutal treatment as their countrymen, have fled preemptively, wading across the shallow river marking the porous border between the two countries with whatever possessions they can carry. To top off the oppression, the Venezuelan opposition leader was sentenced to nearly 14 years of prison. The opposition leader had already been in a military prison for the past 18 months. He was convicted of inciting violence in last year’s antigovernment protests.
We must be as attentive to the ills in the Americas as we are to those in Middle East before they become mirror images. Our media must take a more active role in focusing on the Americas as that part of the world forms our national security network and the Government provides little information. Without the media our unbiased channel of information is at risk.
I have an acquaintance in Guatemala. He wrote to me last week when I enquired of his wellbeing, and he responded: “Everything is fine here, now that we were listened as a nation, we are waiting for justice to do their part.”
I hope his optimism becomes his reality. I have grave doubts.