I recently saw an article on abcnews.com that investigates whether Arizona law SB1070 has sparked or intensified anti-immigrant sentiments and violence. As I read about the growing number of these hate crimes, I immediately thought about those people I have met here in Nicaragua who have told me why they decided to venture to the U.S. illegally. With these stories in mind, the facts the article reported no longer made sense to me.
Maybe it was my awareness of the fairly recent history between the United States and Nicaragua that made the internet article seem illogical. Here’s the basic story: In 1979, a revolution occurred against a family of U.S.-backed dictators that had held power in Nicaragua for nearly 40 years. The government that was born out of the revolution was socialist, led by the Sandinistas. The United States was fearful that Nicaragua would be drawn into the Soviet-led bloc of leftist countries, becoming another Cuba. This led Ronald Reagan’s administration to financially and militarily support an insurgency against the Sandinista government in the mid-1980s. Essentially, he started a civil war in Nicaragua, fought between the Sandinista government and the rebel “contras.”
What happens when a government has to fight a war against its own people, on its own land? Here are a few consequences:
- Families broken up by violence. Imagine the deterioration of the Nicaraguan family structure when fathers (and even sons) would go off to fight, many never to return.
- War over development. The Nicaraguan government had to use what little money it had to finance the war instead of using that money for the country’s development.
- Little or no economic growth. Why would businesses want to invest in a country ravaged by war? Unemployment is an obvious consequence of little economic progress.
Clearly the effects of these problems are still felt in Nicaragua, where the poverty rate is greater than 45% and where 65% of the population does not have a formal job. The war that we started in this Central American nation isn’t fully responsible for its status as the 2nd poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere of course, but we can’t deny that it was a contributor. Now that we’re clear on the facts, hopefully you understand my bewilderment. After nearly destroying a country from the inside only 2 or 3 decades ago, now some are infuriated because the victims of our destruction want to find a way to survive in our country? This is not to say that undocumented migration is right, or that all those without papers in the U.S. come from countries with this kind of history. To practice such abject discrimination against those who have so been negatively affected by U.S. foreign policy, however, is simply senseless.
Mark is an intern with Witness for Peace studying the causes of migration in Nicaragua.