How very different are their countries than ours today? Time to take a look.


BY JEFF KOOPERSMITH, Editor Emeritus, American Politics Journal

WASHINGTON, DC – WEDNESDY 17th JULY 2019:  If one reads about El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Trump’s frustration with immigrant asylum might just be well-considered.

Aside from trouble in this region, those three nations can teach us what went wrong there, and what could go wrong in America for similar reasons.

I have spent a great deal of time in Central America, for business and providing surgery to Mayans in Guatemala.  However, since my travels to the region stopped in 20012 I decided to look at other views on these nations and what I knew would be a terrible discourse inasmuch as everyone I know, of privilege, who once lived in these countries now lives in the United States – and mostly in Florida where they might keep at least a “long eye” on their properties and businesses still in place in any of these nations.

I am hoping to attach documentation from trusted sources with permission, but I wanted to write about these places because there are multiple sides to the issues surrounding asylum for citizens of any of the three mentioned and possibly from other countries surround them.  Let’s leave those attachments for later although I recommend them if you are interested because the nature of these countries is difficult to believe including why they are in such disrepair.

Let me start by telling you that I once sat at my hotel in El Salvador while visiting friends and clients at the capitol. It may amuse you to know that even in the early 1990s I watched, with laconic interest as darkness fell, because I, and everyone else with similar vantage points was able to watch as hundreds – sometimes thousands of people with crime on their minds walk down the mountains torch-lit as the groups moved like centipedes into the urban sprawls there are in any country in the region.

Many are poor. Many are gangsters – some bands invented and deported from the United States by American aliens, legal or not, who organized groups of criminals into organizations like MS 18 or MS 13 which can and so create major problems wherever they are and especially by violence, sexual attacks, and ransom from the poorest to the wealthiest wherever they take up the cause.

The question to ask is why?  Why are there at least 100 thousand gangsters in these three countries alone?  Why have they exported their logos as far away as Spain and Italy?  And, what can be done about it.

Those on the brighter side of policy and politics suggest that American and other finance directed at the governments and business of the nations we are looking at result in a change of atmosphere which also reflects on gang membership – especially if they felt ravaged by poverty enough to turn to crime.  Certainly, we know from what goes on in American cities how many people are nudged and even forced to take the criminal way rather than the legal methods of earning a living.  You might recall the musical West Side Story, which examined this problem, not very seriously. With young Puerto Rican migrants who controlled much of the northeast in the 1950s and beyond.

What I can tell you is that El Salvador has become almost a wasteland from petty and major criminal activities that mostly emanate through gang cultures. Some gang members simply make money like organized crime in the United States and abroad by insisting on hush-money to protect small and medium sized business from themselves or other rival gangs in the area,  This and drug distribution and sales are the main avenues toward money, and survival, by most migrant gangs – yet there are plenty of such gangs made up of any number of Americans who share either “a buzz” from criminal activity – or feel forced into it because of the real difficulty of surviving in a relatively wealthy nation where they sit at the bottom of the pork barrel.  This is what happened in America when some Italians migrated to the United States and brought with them “mafia” like morals which did, in fact, make these gangsters wealthy compared to where they would be in the normal pecking order of advanced societies.  And yes, men like Ap Capone and others did take care of the poorest non-criminal families by providing means to at least have food and clothing – even if it was stolen for the purpose. 

There are many “Robinhood” qualities in criminal organizations and individuals that stem from knowing how difficult life can be for a variety of reasons with which we are all familiar though not excusable in most circumstances in America.  I don’t excuse the crime, but I do understand how easy it might be to choose a robbery or burglary instead of starvation for oneself or family. It may be easy to tell the local liquor store the trouble you could cause for the owner if money was not paid to gangsters in small and even large amounts. Even our culture in the United States, which was once the benchmark for all nations, for one reason or another, pushes some int crime that might not be there otherwise. However, the attraction of petty crime against the chances of being caught are also a great lure amongst people who are not well educated, lazy, or not.  That discussion is relative to the problems now faced South of our borders and within at far lower instances.

Today, was once a local problem in certain nations around the world, the pool is moving because for whatever reasons the pickings, legal or illegal, in their own villages, states, or nations are insurmountable. Therefore moving to wealthier climes seems called for – along with the majority of legal and illegal immigrants who take great chances to find decent employment outside their own “neighborhoods”.

My own experience in Central America is what pushed me to write this essay.  If I did not, I would feel compromised by my own heartfelt worry about poverty in general – especially in countries with wealth and employment at least “seem” abundant. 

My closest friends, and clients, provide a good example of what could happen in any country – even the United States where examples of runaway crime of sorts are apparent in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Here that problem is a matter of history long passed but that which has impacted generations of “have=nots” in the midst of so many “haves” although that portion of society seems to be shrinking as the “rich get richer” – today from technology rather than oil, steel, copper and gold.

Donald Trump and his Administration came to power through the mismanagement of local and national governments over the decades.  There is no doubt that a nation as large and complex as is the United States has much trouble adjusting to unforeseen or ignored circumstances that push people toward small and then larger criminal activity.

Trumpeters however have taken advantage of the voters who suffer the most under their stewardship in many ways.

What doo is it to award business and millionaires with huge tax breaks when that money never flows adequately to take care of the great problems of poverty and homelessness, we now see gaining ground in America.

This does not mean, in any way, that the nation becomes socialist of Communist. This is a made up strategy from ignorance among the brightest. I call it “IAB” for short.

Republicans and Democrats alike both carry on by earning the trust, respect, or thankfulness of parts of society.

Republicans historically and today have served the top 50% of Americans while Democrats serve the bottom 50% to be general.

However, neither of those statements are true today.  Today while Democrats argue for the least able in society, they are still controlled by the most able.  The same is true from Republicans.  I can tell you, and you can look around you for the proof, but there are far more very wealthy Democrats than very wealthy Republicans who continue to be a slight voting minority even today.

But Republicans faced a future after the end of Ronald Reagan and the Bush family that some felt was crippling, even though it was not only politicians who discovered this – it was academics who are generally more well off than no-schooled individuals.  In the case of the Trump organization it was Steven Bannon, no genius, and others like Steve Miller who realized that the masses, from a political perspective, existed for the Right Wing and well as the Left, although the terms right and left are misnomers today.  There are little difference between any groups of Americans including political parties, independents, and just plain stupid people.

There is no Left or Right – there is caring and not caring as much – and those two types are present in all groups except that lengthy education or high intellect often results in lore caring and less greediness than most.

Steve Bannon or Steve Miller, or Donald Trum are not original in thought. They are however original in adopting the methods of propaganda so favored by tyrants – not the usual in the United States which causes far more disturbance among “sides” that we are used to.  The Trumpsters have become far more direct and loud spoken than any political action group we have seen for more than 100 years in the United States.  Yet Bannon, Miller, Trump et alia are not evil or even mean-spirited as politicians go. They are simply more afraid than the Democrats which is obvious from the chances they take to cement their base more fully which always throughout history becomes more difficult over time. It’s harder to be tough than to be “caring” – a simple fact of life.

So. The Re[publicans have become tough through belief but mostly via pretense.  Democrats are more caring in reality than Republicans who seem to believe that the Church or parents can teach morality, but some Democrats are also decent by pretense, but again, a caring pretense is more palatable to the human being that toughness.  In truth, this is why Democrats did so well in 2018 – they were perceived as caring about more than just the wealthy or big business – and that cost the Republicans and the President the House of Representatives.

After giving President Trump his do by titling this essay, in part that he may be truthful about a problem that he does not describe fully – And, that is – How can we tell who is fearful of poverty and crime for their families or themselves and who is, in fact, a gangster spreading to our America?

Sadly, I don’t have the answer, but I do know there are people on either extreme of our politics and policy that could become as dangerous and MS 18 and 13, and other gangsters and corruption in Central America.

Ask any socially conscious American if he is afraid of the constant attention to free-wheeling policing and build-up of our armed forces. Are you concerned about either, or both? 

Ask, any Trump supporter the same question about very little or almost no attention being paid to growing poverty in America or the lack of law enforcement protection in this fiery atmosphere, or both?

I think the answer would be the same on both sides of these issues – Yes and Yes.

So then, how do we choose? Or do you we have to choose?  I think the answer to that is no.

We needn’t choose. We can maintain whatever police protection is needed in our country and at the same time work to create an atmosphere and reality where there are no people living under the poverty line to be preyed upon, and plenty of careful and caring military and police forces to protect our families.

Harsh choices rarely need be made – especially by government and elected officials – honest or not. To them and for them issues are equal to the power they long for – to control things as they as individuals or a group think best.  If an issue is solved, they gain, if it is ignored, they lose – it does not matter what the party label is.  The most dishonest Republican will vote to provide a guaranteed income for every American if millions of people take to the streets before taking to arms.  The most dishonest Democrat will provide a stronger military and more police before other  millions take to the streets and then to arms.

Do not think this cannot happen – it can, and it has, more than once in the United States as everyone knows – or should. Remember, the the cities buying in the early 1960s?  Can you recall reading about labor rioting and killing during the roughest bouts between the wealthy and the laborers who were earning next to nothing in America as late as the 20th Century?

Honesty is important, but in policy it is fairness that is most important. We already know that less than half of Americans so any lasting changes in their federal and state income tax burdens because President Trump decided to give the wealthiest organizations and individuals unheard of tax chops. The first year a little more than 50% of the population could feel a change, but the size of that change in terms of lowering the Tax burden is far smaller to the norm or the poorest than to the rich.

More instructive, is to look at how these Central American nations, today in the worst condition, attempted to remedy the vast almost immeasurable difference in the lives of the wealthy as opposed to the small middle or lower classes financially?

One of the things done was to murder troublemakers  in all three of these countries.  Police were not enforcing the law on either side – they but they were executing the “troublemakers” for those who paid their salaries, which in fact became government and through it, the rich, not the poorest.  Of course ,this did not work. Instead the poor rose up in all three countries in way or another, and those in power and with necessary wealth took against them, but not in the number needed to defeat them.  The death tolls were fantastically high in all three cases here as they also are in landlocked middle-African nations and in South Africa itself.

South America is not far behind Central America and Mexico, in growing crime and corruption because of our untiring support of their businesses and exports survives as a lean democracy because of that.  However, some might say “just barely” as drug kingpins take over resorts in the South of Mexico like Acapulco.  The situation in Venezuela – and therefore in surrounding nations is desperate as accurately fearful people run from almost nothing to total collapse of any form of government there.  Millions now move over the borders to Brazil and other nations who welcome them – but now suffer under that stress as their host countries try to accommodate what are large and unmanageable populations living in tents on the borders.

These immigrants and asylum seekers  are living in tents on our border – just not as welcome as before – just not as welcome.

To my mind the answer about immigration to the United States is clear – it must be easier to accomplish – and those seeking asylum must have it – even if they are fibbing to escape a life with no future – because there is little of no way to find out the truth about those who live in unthinkable poverty and depression in the nations so close to us – but so far from us in other ways.

We must allow them in, and remain careful about how they react and perform as Americans.

As a closing example let me tell you about my close friends in El Salvador, who were first clients needing to improve their businesses and exports.  For purposes of this discussion I will not reveal their names, but I can tell you that this family was incredibly wealthy not only in Salvador but around the southern and Central parts of the both American continents. 

When we did business, it was like doing business anywhere from Hong Kong to Italy.  Yet as we became friends, I began to know them better and see the suffering they endured during the far less bad times than those that exist today in El Salvador.  In the past the routine between the rich and the bandits were a kind of game.  The bandits would frighten the wife or children of a wealthier family and that family would pay out money which was a lot to the gangsters but little to them. 

My best friend’s wife in El Salvador was trampled to the floor in her own kitchen by some gangsters before she could do anything to stop it – There she was, on the floor with knives and guns at the ready from the bad guys. Again, money played a key role and no more attacks came to that family then – but today they no longer live in their home country. Even as early as the 1980s this family was forced to travel in bullet proof SUVs and motorcades to avoid be hurt or killed – They cannot do just that now, because the gangsters have taken over and the government is said to be more than corrupt as well.  This is family that was always in the news and in the magazines of the past in El Salvador and other countries – but now lives in almost total hiding in their new home.

The head of that family and his brother ran things in great portions of the country. But every so often they would be kidnapped and held for ransom – without much fear –“You paid the price – you went free”, sometimes with a handshake and smile.  The rich in El Salvador could handle gangsters who rose from the poverty – but they never quite understood what poverty meant to the poor.

I recall once being on one of their large ranches to ride horses and have wonderful food and a small vacation in the near jungle.  I saw people working hard on that farm and happy they seemed, but the next day I was taken to a large, ominous factory where some of the farm products were packaged or otherwise processed and my mouth fell open as the doors opened and I saw what looked close to Hades looks like in the cheap films. It was entirely black, almost jet black in this bundling – with 30-40 foot high ceilings to accommodate the machines of factories.  The building must have been 15 – 20 thousand square feet and much was going on which I was not familiar.  The temperature was unbearably hot – You can imagine the rest.  However, my friend and his family smiled and welcomed me in to serve me some El Salvadoran Soul Food – which was delicious and served up with a smile by a few women who looked tired but smiled nonetheless. 

Of course, I was aghast, but I realized that I shouldn’t be – I knew this family, and I saw the wide good they did for their nation, the employment they created, and the gentleness with which they served their church and anyone who was in need. This was simply a way of life, with neither side knowing what could come of it.  I thought I could see that then, and that it wasn’t good for anyone rich or poor. I thought they would continue to open their hearts and their wallets – and they in fact did, but it, by then, was too late.

One day not long thereafter another friend from Honduras, who owned several retail stores in the region was stopped in a park near the building I lived at in Georgetown. He was robbed, but really of just a little cash and his wristwatch.  However, in the midst of his night fright he was told, in no uncertain terms, that he would be paying protection because of his wealth in Honduras – which he did for years after until he moved away.  Whoever stopped him that night knew who he was friends with, in Honduras and therefore he became and easy and cooperative mark. He was warned to never divulge this to anyone.  Later I heard the man who was holding my friend for this pittance of ransom – is dead – killed in El Salvador – for his wallet and an ankle chain he had purchased for his daughter before his flew home to Honduras.

I relate this story to magnify what can happen when government and governors become out of control to protect their power – which in America is the voter, at least for now.  Everything that occurred in Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala can happen here.  It’s only a test of time and how we handle that which we can anticipate with just some thought and education.

Perhaps President Trump should tell his tale about immigrants more fully and without the calling of names to people who are not criminals and rapists with their small children trying just to give them a leg up before it’s too late, or before those children join a gang themselves.  At least then, we would be more compassionate – or would we be?

Today, he backed away from the terrible shouting “send them back” referring to the four women in Congress who often remind the Administration and the President  of course – that things are not great in many parts of this nation.

It was a mistake for President Trump to get into with four women who have seen desperation up close because of their family’s abroad or the history they’ve been told – much as most of us and our forebearers fled similar hardship in tyrannical situations.

I am glad we walked back the “send ‘me back” message he put out only a day or two back.  I hope he remembers the lesson, and I hope that his party – which is no longer the Republican of Lincoln, but a maturing hybrid of some of the worst history to occur in any nation, at any time.  Be careful for us Mr. President – for we elected you to keep us great – and make us greater. Thus far you have failed the majority of us – but you have to time to help the middle and lower castes in America before Election Day 2020.

Don’t allow anyone close to you to suggest taking false courses are words of meanness to call up a base of people you normally would have little to do with.  Now you know more about the brittle and most radical sides of both political parties in the United States – but please pay attention the rest of us, who are the true majority and are playing close attention to you and you’re your actions. I am not a Democrat nor a Republican, but I served both parties all throughout my professional life. I saw little or no real difference between them – but today there are people in Congress and Governor’s mansions, and legislatures, and City Halls that have no use for anything that obstruct their way – or the highway.

A dangerous place to be.


Financial Times, Thank you

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