President Donald Trump is lashing out at the Central American migrant caravan of some 7,000 people making their way through Mexico and toward the U.S. border. On Monday, he claimed without evidence that terrorists and members of the MS-13 gang had infiltrated the group. Trump has doubled down on his threat to cut aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and called out Democrats over U.S. border policy, in an ongoing attempt to turn the caravan into a main issue in upcoming midterm elections. We speak to two Central American-born activists, Patricia Montes of Centro Presente and Oscar Chacón of Alianza Americas.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump continued to lash out at the Central American migrant caravan making its way toward the U.S. border on Monday, claiming without evidence that terrorists and members of the MS-13 gang had infiltrated the group.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras and search. OK? … You’re going to find MS-13. You’re going to find Middle Eastern. You’re going to find everything. And guess what. We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety. We want safety.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump also doubled down on his threat to cut aid to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and called out Democrats over the U.S. border policy, blaming them for the caravan, saying they’re behind it, in an ongoing attempt to turn the caravan into a main issue for the midterm elections. Meanwhile, locals who live on the caravan route have been providing volunteer assistance, basic necessities to the migrants heading north. This is Mexican resident Ana Gamboa.
ANA GAMBOA: [translated] The only thing I can say to people is that they should be more human, that we should look into our hearts and imagine ourselves in the migrants’ shoes, because it isn’t easy, what the migrants are doing. We Mexicans like to criticize Donald Trump for the way he treats Mexicans in the United States, and now we’re acting just like him. We don’t have any walls on our border, but sometimes we ourselves are the wall.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now by two guests. From El Salvador, Oscar Chacón is with us, executive director of Alianza Americas, an immigrant rights group based in Chicago. And in Boston, Honduran immigrant Patricia Montes, executive director of the Centro Presente in Boston, which has worked with members from Honduras and Central America since the ’80s.
I want to start there, in Boston, to talk to you about what is taking place, Patricia. And if you can respond to President Trump talking about the Middle Easterners and the MS-13 and the terrorists in the group that are heading north? The criminals, he said.
PATRICIA MONTES: Yes, Amy. What we’re definitely seeing right now is a humanitarian crisis as a result of the structural problems that Honduras has been facing for a very long time. It is an alarming crisis in Honduras and an alarming level of corruption, impunity, extreme poverty and extreme violence that Honduras has been facing for a very long time. And this crisis has been invisible within the conversation about forced migration in the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Oscar Chacón, I wanted to ask you—you’re there in El Salvador. Could you talk about how the countries of Central America are viewing this confrontation now, this caravan? Because as you’ve noted, these caravans have become a regular part of the migration process, as many people who are desperately leaving Central America feel safer in groups of people because of all the assaults and the attacks by criminal gangs through Mexico as they migrate to the U.S. border.
OSCAR CHACÓN: Well, I think that if you ask me what the governmental reaction has been, it has actually been mainly quiet. There hasn’t really been any official responses by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, precisely to the threats made by the president that he will cut off aid to these countries.
From the perspective of people just talking about what these caravans represent, I mean, most people in government that I’ve talked to, but also civil society actors, people are very surprised, because, in many ways, it is not that it is new that so many people are leaving Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. What is really new is that they gather together at the moment of departing Honduras, in this particular instance. But the reality is, all you need to look at is the data from the past several years. It is very clear that there has been an increasing number, especially of Hondurans, leaving the conditions that Patricia was describing.
And again, the only surprising factor here is the timing, because, clearly, in the U.S., the fact that this caravan is happening now is playing into the hands of President Trump’s very well-established campaign to essentially demonize foreign nationals as if they are the source of all the trouble that we have in the U.S., indeed on many fronts. But sadly, I mean, this is not something that is based on anything that Hondurans themselves planned. I mean, it’s not like people said, “Oh, let’s schedule this caravan for the time when the midterm elections are about to happen.” Frankly, most people in Central America are not even aware that there was a midterm election happening in the U.S. That is how distant the narrative from the president and the reality on the ground happen to be.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to one of the migrants responding to President Trump’s comments yesterday. This is Melanio Soto, a 44-year-old teacher from Honduras.
MELANIO SOTO: [translated] If Trump is human, he should think and reflect on what is happening, why Honduras or why people migrate from their country. As Trump said that if the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández did not stop this, then there would be no economic support for Honduras. So I say, “What support for Honduras?” Because you never see any kind of support. What does he do with this support? What does Trump do with the support he gives to Honduras? Because Hondurans don’t see anything. Therefore, we are frustrated and tired of so much repression from our country.
AMY GOODMAN: Oscar Chacón, if you could talk about the U.S. support, the Trump administration support for the president of Honduras, who they call “Joe,” the whole idea of the contested election, that people protested days on end, that international groups said there should be a new election, and how that contributes to this march northward?
OSCAR CHACÓN: Well, first of all, I think it’s important for the viewers of this program to understand that U.S. foreign aid is not what most Americans like to think it is. Very often, U.S. foreign aid is sort of like a boomerang. I mean, you put money nominally abroad, but what they have to do with the money is essentially purchase either merchandise or services from the U.S. And in the case of Central America, in specific, the last four or five years, which indeed show an increase in the nominal amount of U.S. foreign aid, has been primarily earmarked for essentially security and defense purposes. So, the person you were interviewing is absolutely correct. You know, the average Honduran, the average Guatemalan do not necessarily see, in a tangible manner, what those U.S. aid means.
What is true is that the people in government, and in this case in Honduras with Juan Orlando Hernández, he has been able to build far more than anybody else before him his armed forces, his police, which are used as political tools to essentially shut up people who are criticizing him. So, clearly, what we are seeing here is the end result, if you want, of a series of missteps that have been taken by the U.S. government, not only the support to an illegitimate election last November, but also, remember, the coup d’état that was justified and supported by the U.S. government back in 2009. So, in many ways, what we are seeing is the logical consequence of all these missteps that U.S. foreign policy in the region have actually been taking for many, many, many years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Patricia Montes, I wanted to ask you about the pressure that President Trump is putting not only on the Central American governments, but now especially on Mexico, to disperse and stop this caravan. Obviously, the Mexican President Peña Nieto is in the last months or weeks of his presidency, before December 1, when López Obrador, Manuel López Obrador, takes over. Your sense of what Mexico is doing in reaction to President Trump’s pressure?
PATRICIA MONTES: Mexico has been repressing migrants for a very long time, and I think that the president obviously right now is putting more pressure on Mexico in order to stop forced migration, especially from Central America, coming to the United States. But I think that, unfortunately, the Mexican government has been implementing policies that are being designed in the United States in order to stop forced migration from Central America. And I think that they have been repressing people for a very long time, especially Central American migrants.
And I think it’s important to understand that Mexico—not just Mexico, but all governments in the migrant route have the opportunity right now to reflect and think about why people are coming to the United States—trying to come to the United States, and they should respect basic human rights of all people in the caravan. Unfortunately, they have been implementing programs like the Plan Frontera Sur that is more militarization, and that’s the answer to receive migrants. And, unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the good answer. More militarization and repression is not the answer to receive people that are coming and looking for international protection.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Luis Sabin, who is a 32-year-old unemployed salesman from Honduras. He’s one of the thousands of people making their way up from Honduras right now.
LUIS SABIN:: [translated] Trump’s tweet is very worrying, but he doesn’t know how we’ve suffered, as he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Well, we weren’t. If he put himself in our shoes, it would be very different if he walked what we walk. He never walks.
PATRICIA MONTES: Patricia Montes, talk about how this particular caravan was organized. And what are the numbers you’re seeing right now? Up to 7,000 people making their way north now in southern Mexico?
PATRICIA MONTES: Almost 7,000 people, and most of them are from Honduras. And I think it’s important to understand what is going on in Honduras, what has been happening in Honduras, and the role of the U.S. in the crisis that Honduras has been facing for a very long time. There are two particular moments in history in the past 10 years, like the
coup d’état that took place in 2009 and, of course, the unconstitutional re-election of Juan Orlando Hernández. These two moments in history increased the political and economic instability in Honduras, and now we’re seeing the results.
People are leaving because they don’t have alternatives. It’s not about looking for better opportunities; it’s about looking to survive. And Honduras has an endemic problem of corruption and impunity. The Honduran people have no trust in these public institutions. We need to see fundamental changes.
And the other problem is that the United States is now threatening the Honduran government and saying that they are going to cut aid. That’s very controversial, because most of the aid that is going to Honduras is to militarize the country, to militarize our society. And that’s not the answer. That’s not the solution.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Oscar Chacón, I wanted to ask you—the efforts of President Trump to raise this issue and stick on it are clearly having some impact. Your sense of how this may actually impact the elections that are coming up in just a couple of weeks here in the United States?
OSCAR CHACÓN: Well, I don’t doubt that there may be some impact, but let’s be clear about the following. The fact that this president has been so obsessed with immigrants and immigration as a key component of his message, from the day he announced his desire to become president of the U.S. in 2015, should not make any one of us surprised that he’s using the caravan, essentially, to further advance his well-established line against immigrants by demonizing them, by dehumanizing them.
And frankly, I believe that the fate of the 2006 [sic] election was shaped the moment that parties did their respective strategies. If there is indeed a negative impact in terms of who will come out and vote, I don’t believe that the caravan could in any way be blamed for defining that particular event. I think that, again, we should not be surprised—if I regret one thing, it’s that there is no strong counternarrative from the Democratic Party about an event like this caravan or migration altogether. And I believe that that’s a flaw that we need to deal with and find a way of fixing in the U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: Oscar, the vilification that Trump uses, whether he’s talking about the criminals from Central America or the Middle Easterners—Sarah Sanders was asked about this at the White House, the spokesperson, and she offered no backing up of saying there are Middle Easterners in the middle of this as they talked about terrorists. But what effect this has on the communities across this country?
OSCAR CHACÓN: Well, look, this is banking on almost three decades of systemic messaging to the effect of “Foreign nationals are a threat. They are terrorists. They are killers. They are rapists.” And this is what consistently has been said both about Latin American immigrants—
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
OSCAR CHACÓN: —oh, especially Mexicans. So, I just believe they are continuing pounding something they’ve been pounding forever.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us. We want to ask you to stay with us. We’d like to do another interview in Spanish for Democracy Now! en Español. Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas, an immigrant rights group based in Chicago, though he’s speaking to us from San Salvador, and Patricia Montes, immigrant from Honduras, executive director of Centro Presente in Boston.
I’ll be speaking in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, Wednesday night at Soka University. Check our website. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.