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Aviva Chomsky is a professor of history and the coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State University. The author of several books, Chomsky has been active in the Latin American solidarity and immigrants' rights movements for more than thirty years. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts.

Includes the name: Aviva ed. Chomsky

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Aclosely argued overview of a region long torn by war and exploitation.

Historian Chomsky, coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University, writes that in Central America, “forgetting is layered upon forgetting.” Against a backdrop of jungles, volcanoes, and agricultural fields, the people there proved victims to generation after generation of foreign resource extractors: first the Spanish, who brutally subjugated Native populations and imposed a castelike system of governance; then European companies that kept the elites in their pockets, building an export economy of coffee and fruit that expropriated land; then U.S. military intervention. The latter is scarcely known to most Americans (and indeed, in its details, to many Central Americans), but it set in motion forces that finally led to the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador—the latter two propped up by the Reagan administration, which averred that the governments were committed to human rights along with anti-communism. The latter was surely true, but, as Chomsky notes, the flood of refugees to El Norte “gave the lie to Reagan’s claims of the governments’ legitimacy and right to US support.” Even Jimmy Carter pledged that after the fall of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, “he would not allow another social revolution to occur in Central America.” The failed policies of the Trump administration were in line with a system that imposed and promulgated neoliberal policies on what were de facto colonies, but even the wall-builders could do nothing about the resulting exodus. As Chomsky notes, in 1970 the U.S. census counted 114,000 Central American immigrants; as of 2017, there were nearly 3.5 million. Of course, “the real figures are likely higher…because immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, are notoriously undercounted”—and in keeping with her provocative thesis, forgotten as well by “almost all our political leaders, mainstream media, and educational system.”

A convincing case that much of Central America’s violent unrest can be laid at the feet of U.S. leaders.

-Kirkus Review
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CDJLibrary | 1 muu arvostelu | Apr 3, 2024 |
The history of Central America is the history of outside interference and destruction. It began with the Spanish invaders, the reason Columbus Day is a day of mourning throughout the region. In the first 150 years, the Spanish oversaw a reduction in population from 5-6 million to just 600,000 by 1800. In Aviva Chomsky’s Central America’s Forgotten History, the mistreatment of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua are all different, a cornucopia of tactics that have kept them all violent, vile and oppressive – just the way America wanted it. It’s a horrifying, if comprehensive run through the descent of a once balanced society into violence, poverty and constant fear. It is a story of murder, slaughter, torture and dispossession. The “discovery” of Central America was not an improvement for any of the natives.

With the implementation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, Americans began ousting the Spanish and proceeded to grind the countries of Central America into hellholes of poverty, violence, and chaos. For immense profit, of course.

Both colonizers had a policy of eliminating the natives. They both considered Mayans subhuman, just as Americans viewed their own native populations. They had no rights, were pushed out of their lands and homes for the benefit of rich whites and mixed race Ladinos, and were slaughtered at will, all with total impunity. And all the while, they were heavily taxed for the privilege.

By 1829, Simon Bolivar was already able to claim: “The United States seems destined by Providence to plague (Central) America with miseries in the name of Freedom.”

All over Central America, small rebel movements took shape, all fighting the same fight, but usually alone. The movements and their members never coalesced. Chomsky points out right off the top that to be a Central American today means to suppress both memory and the effects of the oppression. The only way they can go on is to pretend none of it ever happened. History for Central American is largely blank.

While America might have claimed everything it did was for the good of Central Americans, it was in fact simply in favor of the dollar. Villages were destroyed, ways of life were destroyed. Death squads wreaked havoc at will. Men had to sleep outdoors in the mountains because of constant attacks by the Contras or other death squads. Horrific killers roamed the countryside unmolested, and then moved to the USA and became citizens, sometimes bringing their violent ways with them. US aid, such as it was, went towards training and equipping the death squads and to lining the pockets of the elite leaders and soldiers.

After 200 years , there is nothing the USA can point to in terms of nation-building in Central America. By 1933, US Marine Major General Smedley Butler was able to testify: “I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”

The countries were so chaotic that they all suffered from huge influxes of refugees from their neighbors, fleeing similar horrors on their side of the border. This, of course, simply caused additional problems for the countries as well as further misery for the refugees. It was a treadmill to oblivion. The short leash the Americans kept the nations on meant the only logical goal for asylum seekers was the United States. That’s where peace was, along with jobs and all the material goods they saw in their own countries, but could not get for themselves without going into crippling debt. There was absolutely nothing of any value on offer in any neighboring country, thanks to the depradations of the USA. Even today, so-called caravans of Central Americans walk from their countries to the American border in the hope of joining millions of the their countrymen in starting over far from the American-made hell of home.

In Guatemala, for example, 83% of those killed were indigenous Mayans. And 93% of the killings and other atrocities were by the military and paramilitary. El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala still rank in the top ten most violent countries in the world, Chomsky says. And none of them are even at war. Normally, one needs an insurgency in order to just justify counter-insurgency forces. Not here. Counter-insurgency forces of the governments are the main source of death and violence.

The United States moved into those countries with force, rewriting local laws to suit American corporations, such as enabling part time employment to avoid providing any benefits, just like back home. Special emphasis in the book goes to Ambassador John Negroponte, who basically ran Honduras himself, instructing politicians and military officers in what they needed to do at all times. Honduras itself was derisively called the USS Honduras for all the military bases and totally US-controlled areas of the country. Land was continually taken from the locals who couldn’t pay the taxes, and given in ever larger tracts to US corporations to exploit, starting with horrible conditions for the local laborers, now forced to seek livelihoods at the pleasure of the Americans in their own countries.

In Nicaragua, alcoholism and domestic violence ranked the highest in Central America (which is saying a lot), along with a patriarchy and associated issues, social and criminal. The rise of the Sandinistas to fight these conditions actually began a hundred years ago. The Americans fought them off, creating the Contras, training and supplying them. And despite Congress’ efforts to stop the Contras, President Reagan found more and devious ways to divert cash and arms to them to continue their terrorism of the public. What Reagan feared most was the possibility of a good example for the rest of the region to emulate. It could never be allowed to happen. The result is 80s is called The Lost Decade there.

Today, the shambles of national economies in the region mean they are largely dependent on remittances from emigrants to the USA. Salvadorans emigrate to the USA in the tens of thousands a year. There are now 2.3 million of them. Their remittances of $1 billion represent 10% of the gross national income of El Salvador, twice as much as coffee, the biggest export. It is so important that President Duarte lobbied President Reagan not to increase deportations (as he planned to) because it would cripple the country’s economy and stability. So Central American nations remain totally beholden to the USA, even today.

The utter chaos the US engendered in Central America immediately reminded me of the strategy currently deployed by Saudi Arabia. The kingdom seeks to keep any country in its region off balance if it shows even the slightest inclination to go its own way. So from Syria to Azerbaijan to Chechnya to Qatar to Iran to Yemen to Somalia to Sudan, the Saudis are in there, fomenting disruption, distrust, instability, bombing and war as necessary to keep any of them from possibly setting a good example for others. It is a ring of chaos surrounding the haven of Saudi Arabia. So with Central America.

Chomsky’s text is enormously fast-moving. There is a ton of facts to transmit, and no room for padding. There are no flowery descriptions, no scene-setters, and no coloring. Very few adjectives. She does not profile suffering locals or tell their life stories and family histories. Instead, the book is packed with loaded statements. It often seems that every sentence in a paragraph could be its own book. There is so much to tell, and so little of it well known (and even less of it understood) that Central America’s Forgotten History will be a revelation to most readers.

David Wineberg
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DavidWineberg | 1 muu arvostelu | Dec 9, 2020 |
This book was written in the style of a college textbook. It is packed with facts, so you need to slow down so that you will not skip over somethingimportant. The author takes twenty one myths about immigration and through careful research provides the truth. I must admit that I was expecting quick replies that could be used whenever we heard the myths. It is not that simple.

There is quite a lot about the history of immigration, this the third book that I have read that included that so that is mostly old ground for me. The most intriguing myth to me is "The Rules Apply to Everyone, So New Immigrants Need to Follow Them, Just As Immigrants in the Past Did". My earliest ancestor was actually convicted of starting a mutiny and the only thing that saved him from being executed was begging the government officials for his life so that he could take care of his wife and children. I wonder how many on the Mayflower knew of his and would they have been uncomfortable of having a convicted criminal aboard the ship.

Towards the end of the book, the author lays all suggestions of how immigration should really be handled. I agree with her on all of them, I just it may be difficult to get those changes made. The general public may need a lot of convincing.

I received a finished copy of this book from the Publisher as a win from FirstReads but that in no way made a difference in my thoughts or feelings in my review.
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Carolee888 | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Aug 20, 2018 |
homsky manages to accomplish a truly remarkable feat, a balanced historical account of the Cuban Revolution through 2010. She explains events from the U.S.-centric view that I am familiar with and then addressed how Cuban historians present the subject. The historiography is vastly different depending on which country's historians you are reading.
 
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CarolineMCarrico | Aug 30, 2014 |

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14
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664
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3.9
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48
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2

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