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Scholar Meleiza Figueroa says that by evoking the history of US interventions in Latin America, Sanders offered a “teachable moment” for the American people

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JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: I’m Jaisal Noor for the Real News Network. During the Univision Democratic Debate on Wednesday, candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred over a series of issues, including deportation and US policy towards Latin America. JORGE RAMOS: I want to be very specific. So, you’re telling us tonight that if you become president you won’t deport children who are already here? HILLARY CLINTON: I will not. RAMOS: And that you won’t deport immigrants who don’t have a criminal record? CLINTON: That’s what–That’s what I’m telling you. BERNIE SANDERS: Children fled that part of the world to try, try, try maybe to meet up with their family members in this country, taking a route that was horrific, trying to start a new life. Secretary Clinton did not support those children coming into this country. I did. CLINTON: And I think both Castros have to be considered authoritarian and dictatorial, because they are not freely chosen. SANDERS: I think we have got to end the embargo. I believe that we should move toward full and normalized political relations with Cuba. NOOR: The debate, which was broadcast in both English and Spanish, comes just days before the crucial March 15 primaries, with over 500 delegates up for grabs. Well, now joining us to discuss all of this from Brazil is Meleiza Figueroa. She’s a PhD candidate in geography at the University of California Berkley. She recently wrote the piece, “Hillary Clinton cries crocodile tears for Latin American immigrants.” Thanks so much for joining us. MELEIZA FIGUEROA: Thank you very much. NOOR: So, let’s get right into the debate. We just heard a clip of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton talking about the issue of deporting children. They were both asked about that specifically, and also Bernie Sanders brought up the issue of Hillary Clinton’s position on Honduran child refugees. This was just the topic of your recent article. Give us your thoughts on how they answered these questions. FIGUEROA: Okay. I think I’ll break it down in three different aspects that I noticed. Yesterday, first of all, it’s very interesting the way, you know, Hillary Clinton tends to pivot based on, again, who she’s targeting, what’s asked, et cetera. I think she has forgotten, A, that the internet exists and that people can look up her past statements rather easily, but that also, even in the last debate that took place on February, I think February 11, Hillary Clinton not only talked about her decision regarding immigrant children, not just in terms of their protection but also in, quote on quote, to send a message to the families of those children not to send them to the United States. She seems to have dropped that part of the message in her response in the debate last night, but I think that [remission] is important, because I think it delineates a pivot that she’s doing towards trying to seem more sympathetic to [unintelligible] especially the immigrant population, the immigrant vote. That her sending a message bit was, even existed in the first place, I think [is] indicative of an overall approach that she had as secretary of state to the region, and also, I think, in her foreign policy approach in general. NOOR: And so, switching over to the issue of foreign policy, Bernie Sanders is getting some flack for not bringing up the state department’s role in the Honduran coup, which helped destabilize the country and is a big part why so many refugees are fleeing Honduras. Do you think he should have brought that up in this debate? FIGUEROA: Yeah. I was disappointed that he did not bring that up, because it’s a very concrete example of the differences between Bernie Sanders’ approach to foreign policy and Hillary Clinton’s approach to foreign policy. He did frame it in terms of, generally in terms of her wanting to get Kissinger’s praise for her foreign policy approach, [to] when she had responded, you know, I don’t want Kissinger’s praise. But this is a very important thing to address, and Honduras being a very emblematic example of Hillary Clinton taking a sort of Kissinger-esque approach towards regime change in Latin America. The destabilizing of democratically elected Latin American governments. This is something that, you know, again, has existed since [1954] and the US involvement in the coup in Guatemala, and so this has been a consistent foreign policy of the United States, of which Hillary Clinton is completely unrepentant that she is intent on continuing. NOOR: And so Bernie Sanders, as you mentioned, he did raise the issue of Nicaragua and the Sandinistas, his support for Daniel Ortega, he was asked about that. And so, studio crew, just so you know, we’re going to the last [unintelligible], because this is really important history, US history, US involvement for the contras in Nicaragua, US support for basically terrorist attacks against the Cuban government which failed to materialize. Let’s take a listen to what Bernie Sanders’ response was. ELENA SALINAS: In South Florida there are still open wounds among some exiles regarding socialism and communism. So please explain, what is the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba and [crosstalk] Venezuela. BERNIE SANDERS [Interposing]: Well, let me just answer that. What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow, in 1954, the government, democratically elected government, of Guatemala. Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said that the United States had the right to do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So, I actually went to Nicaragua, and I very strongly opposed the Reagan administration’s effort to overthrow that government, and I strongly opposed, earlier, Henry Kissinger and the overthrow of the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not getting involved in regime [change]. NOOR: So that’s a really remarkable thing to hear. We know Sanders has brought it up, but I think he went further in this debate than he has before. Your final thoughts? FIGUEROA: Oh, this was an amazing exchange because, you know, for those who have known about the history of US imperialism and US interventionism in other countries around the world, you know, we never hear this on mainstream media. We never hear this on TV networks, and to hear, you know, names like Salvador Allende, names like Árbenz being mentioned on mainstream media, in terms of an entire history of US interventionism is, that’s just a remarkable feat in itself, and it’s an incredible teaching moment to the American people about, you know, what their government has done around the world, what, you know, our taxpayer resources has been spent on. I mean, another thing I wanted to maybe mention about Honduras in particular is that, you know, not only is [this] just a question of American resources, American policy, American time, but also, you know, the human cost of this, not just in terms of children, you know one week ago was the murder of Berta Cáceres. She was an environmental activist, indigenous person, in Honduras who was murdered by the regime that Hillary Clinton helped put in power and maintain in power. Now, this has incredible impact on, again, how [are we] going to think about, you know, what the US is and what role it plays in immigration? I mean, you know, the violence there, I’ve heard what’s happening in Honduras being described as the worst femicide of the century. Women are being killed in great numbers, and you know, no wonder people want to leave that country and migrate somewhere better. And those are, the conditions that the US government creates in other places affects not only affects incredibly, you know, people’s lives there. And, you know, in [unintelligible] Johnson’s words, the late [unintelligible] Johnson, it blows back onto the united states in many, many ways, and so, you know, that, Bernie Sanders is pointing out the long, long history of this type of foreign policy approach, this interventionism, and that he, frankly, was, stood up and was very principled in his insistence that the United States government has no right to interfere in the affairs of Latin American countries or [to] overthrow the governments of other countries. You know, [that is] an incredibly brave stance for a politician, for a US politician to take, and is something that, frankly, has needed to be heard by the American people for quite some time. NOOR: Thanks so much for joining us. FIGUEROA: Thank you. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.


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Meleiza Figueroa is a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of California at Berkeley and a producer at KPFK in Los Angeles. She recently wrote the piece "Hillary Clinton Cries Crocodile Tears for Latin American Immigrants." In addition to trade and migration, Figueroa also stresses U.S. backing of coups in Latin America, the recent assassination of an indigenous environmental activist in Honduras and how governmental policies lead to environmental degradation.