Republished with permission from Tennessee Lockout, by Ren Brabenec
“Hi, this is Senator Marsha Blackburn. Tonight, I’m hosting a live telephone town hall to discuss the issues most important to you and your family, including product shortages [and] chaos on the southern border.”—U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn in a September voicemail.
Most politicians are quick to criticize the failing U.S. immigration and asylum system, but few are willing to acknowledge that the largest migration surges from Latin America have come from the countries with which the U.S. has intervened the most. In recent years, the greatest surges in migration came from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, all of which have been on the receiving end of often bipartisan U.S. military intervention, CIA-backed covert operations, and disastrous financial sanctions.
In 2020, 4,500 Venezuelans were apprehended at the U.S. border. That number skyrocketed to more than 265,000 in the first 11 months of 2023. In that same period, apprehensions of Nicaraguans jumped from 3,164 to 131,831. The number of Cubans apprehended soared from 14,000 in 2020 to more than 184,000 in 2023.
Attempts at regime change through financial warfare have devastated these nations
VENEZUELA. A country with the largest petroleum reserves on the planet, Venezuela had the highest standard of living in Latin America during most of the 20th century and into the 21st. Recently, it has undergone the greatest economic collapse of any country in the region’s history. The Bush Administration failed in its 2002 coup attempt against democratically elected socialist President Hugo Chavez. But a more covert approach taken by Bush and the following U.S. administrations to implement economic sanctions, fund civic opposition groups in the country, bar Venezuela from accessing Western debt financing, force U.S. and foreign companies to leave the country, and freeze the nation’s assets has caused the Venezuelan government to lose between $17 and $31 billion in oil revenues between 2017 and 2020. And since the country normally imports 90% of its pharmaceuticals and 70% of its food, increased sanctions led to approximately 40,000 preventable Venezuelan deaths between 2017 and 2018.
NICARAGUA. Nicaragua prospered through much of the first 20 years of this century, sharply reducing poverty and increasing economic output. But, following the contested 2016 re-election of President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista movement, the U.S. Congress in 2018 passed a raft of sanctions that barred Nicaragua from new loans from the World Bank and other international agencies. The legislation also threatened punishment for countries that assisted the Nicaraguan government. In 2021, the Biden Administration threatened to expel Nicaragua from the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a critical economic deal that allows preferential access to the U.S. for exports from Central America.
Proposed “solutions” to migration surges are not solutions at all, so what should politicians do?
Believe it or not, extrajudicial killings of suspected drug smugglers will not be an effective solution to the migration crisis, nor will shooting migrants in the legs, as former President Trump has suggested. Neither will fantasies of ending Birthright Citizenship, as Candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has opined, nor building a border wall, as many Republicans and some Democrats have suggested.
A comprehensive immigration bill passed by Congress is crucial, but three actions could provide some immediate relief:
- End all economic warfare against Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
- Provide expedited work permits to asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. Doing so will help fill the nearly 10 million unfilled jobs in the U.S.
- Increase foreign aid to Latin America. The U.S. currently provides just $3 billion in annual aid to Latin America, a region of 650 million people, 32% of whom live below the poverty line. For context, the U.S. provides about the same amount in aid to Israel, a nation of 9 million.
Out with intervention, in with cooperation
“The root cause of sixty years of constant migration by millions of people from Latin America to the U.S. has been the historic refusal of our political leaders in Washington to reduce the enormous gap in standard of living that exists between the region’s countries and our own.”—Juan Gonzalez, author of The Current Crisis: How U.S. Policy Toward Latin America Has Fueled Historic Numbers of Asylum Seekers
This December is the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, an 1823 presidential proclamation that claimed Latin America as “A U.S. sphere of influence.” The doctrine gave the U.S. the “right” to intervene in Latin American nations and to keep other foreign interests out.
If we were to confine the Monroe Doctrine to the dustbin of history today, we’d be 200 years late, but better late than never. The U.S. must do away with its doctrine of intervention and instead adopt a doctrine of cooperation. Only cooperation and multilateral efforts to improve economic conditions in Latin America will reduce the ongoing surge of migrants from the region.
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