While Donald Trump deploys troops to the Mexico border and orders them to shoot immigrants who throw rocks, many people in this migrant caravan in fact already fled US government-fueled violence in Central America. Eduardo García discusses impunity for Border Patrol killings and US-backed instability in Honduras and Guatemala
BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Ben Norton.
As migrants and refugees in Central America flee violence, instability, and poverty, some of which has been fueled by the U.S. government itself, President Donald Trump has responded with threats of violence. Trump is sending up to 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. That is roughly as many as the U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan. Trump has fearmongered about a caravan of migrants from Central America who are fleeing violence. The US president has repeatedly lied about this migrant caravan, spewing falsehoods to stoke racism and xenophobia before the soon-approaching midterm elections. And on November 1, Trump escalated his threats even further, telling U.S. soldiers that they should shoot any migrants in the caravan who throw stones.
DONALD TRUMP: Anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexican place, where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.
BEN NORTON: Well, while Trump is making these threats, a U.S. Border Patrol agent is, in fact, currently being tried in court for shooting and killing a Mexican teenager he accused of supposedly throwing stones. On October 10, 2012, a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Lonnie Swartz, who was on the Arizona side of the U.S.-Mexico border, fired 16 bullets at Mexican 16-year-old Jose Rodriguez, killing him. Rodriguez had been standing on the Mexican side of the border when he was shot. He was hit with 10 bullets from behind, facing away from the border.
The U.S. Border Patrol Officer Schwartz claimed the killing was justified because the teenager was supposedly throwing rocks, although eyewitnesses say this is false, that he actually wasn’t throwing rocks.
To explore this issue further we are joined by Eduardo Garcia. Eduardo is an activist and photojournalist born in Mexico City. He works with the Alliance for Global Justice, and is a co-founder of the Militarization in the Americas Research Collective. Thanks for joining us, Eduardo.
EDUARDO GARCIA: Thank you for having me.
BEN NORTON: So let’s begin just talking about Trump’s threats here before we move to this particular case. Trump’s threats have a dangerous precedent. Border Patrol agents have killed more than 100 people since 2003, according to the watchdog group the Border Patrol Victims Network. And then, of course, the ongoing trial is actually the first time a Border Patrol agent has been criminally indicted since 2007, and in that case it ended in a hung jury. So can you talk about the dangerous precedent that Trump is alluding to here by telling U.S. forces they can shoot any migrants who supposedly throw rocks?
EDUARDO GARCIA: Right. When we’re talking about violence in the borderlands, we cannot separate the idea that almost all this violence is committed by Border Patrol agents. Unfortunately, we have seen how more than 100 people have been killed directly by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the last 15 years. The most recent case, or one of the most public cases, was the killing of Claudia Patricia, a migrant, a refugee from Guatemala who was killed last summer. This was a 20-year-old ingenious person coming to the United States when she was shot by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, as well.
So what we have seen is a pattern of impunity that has allowed Border Patrol officers to kill migrants and refugees, people of color, indigenous communities, in the borderlands. So when we listen to Donald Trump saying that all these security agents coming to the border are allowed to kill, we are not only talking about the members of the migrant caravan who are going to be in danger, but we’re going to see how the population in the borderlands are going to be in danger. So this is a threat that should be taken seriously, and really should spark national attention and national national outrage. We cannot stand more militarization of the borderlands.
It’s really important, also, to acknowledge that the U.S.-Mexican border is one of the most militarized borderlands in the entire world. The discussion centered in the last three years around the construction of a border wall. However, we have seen how a border wall is almost unnecessary when you have all these agents in the borderlands and when you have all the equipment that is aimed to stop migrants and refugees. So the rhetoric that Donald Trump is using is almost to support more violence in the borderlands.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and let’s talk about how the media has helped stoke this. Specifically, let’s look at corporate media networks. Recently on Fox News, in fact, Sean Hannity was asked- he was supporting Trump’s policy of cracking down on this migrant caravan full of refugees and migrants fleeing violence, much of which has been fueled by the U.S. government. We’ll get to that in a moment. And Sean Hannity was asked, what do you want to do? Do you want to shoot them? Here’s the clip.
SEAN HANNITY: No, I mean, we really [crosstalk]. We have we have a sovereignty and border issue here. We have laws.
SPEAKER: What- are you going to shoot them, Sean? What, are you going to shoot them? What are you going to do with the Army there? Bayonet them? What are you going to do?
SEAN HANNITY: No, I’m not- no. They need to be stopped in Mexico. What are you going to do, just let them in and say come on in?
SPEAKER: To write an article and then to come on Sean’s show and show and say, what are you going to do, and shoot them? That’s un-American. We don’t say stuff like that, because this is not a dictatorship. You cannot make statements vouching for 7,000 people. [crosstalk]
BEN NORTON: That was Fox News, and they were arguing about whether or not to shoot immigrants, and whether or not it’s American to have the discussion that Donald Trump himself is actually proposing now. So Eduardo, I mean, that’s a lot to respond to. What is your take on that, specifically? They say, oh, well, it’s un-American to even suggest that the U.S. government would consider such a thing. But as you just pointed out, Border Patrol agents have killed more than 100 people in the past 15 years. This is actually a very American phenomenon that’s been going on for many years.
EDUARDO GARCIA: Yeah. I think that a really good, something I would like to say to start responding to this question, is that the United States is a country that was built on slavery, that was built on genocide, that has been built on the exploitation of people of color, black folks, ingenious people. So historically, the most American thing to do is to kill people; is to kill people who’s trying to save their lives.
And with this in mind, I would like to say that all these people coming from Honduras, all these people coming from Central America to the United States is not because they want to live the American dream. People know that there is no dream in the United States, but there are lots of nightmares. But also there is lots of assistance. People coming in this refugee caravan are coming from one of the most dangerous places in the entire world. Almost all the members of these caravans are from Honduras. However, we can find also people from Guatemala, El Salvador, among other countries.
But what’s really important to talk about Honduras is the United States has been really involved in creating the conditions that are forcing all these people to leave. We cannot forget that just in 2009 there was a U.S.-backed coup in Honduras that basically destroyed the democracy that was built in the country for so many years. We cannot forget that last year, just in the elections last year, the United States support an imposed regime. They supported Juan Orlando Hernandez’s regime. Between the coup, last year’s fraudulent elections in Honduras, we have seen how because of the United States intervention in the country violence has increased in an unbelievable way. We have seen, now that Honduras is the most dangerous country in the Western hemisphere, for example, we have seen almost a thousand people leave Honduras every day, this is to say the least, because they’re escaping violence. But all this violence, all this poverty has been created by the United States political, economical, and military intervention in the continent, and particularly in Honduras.
Honduras is also one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist or to be an activist. And with this in mind, it’s also important to remember Berta Caceres, the human rights activist who was killed two years ago in Honduras because she was defending her land; she was defending hte river of the Lenca community. And something that we have to be really clear about is that the people who killed Berta Caceres were trained by the United States government. Two of the people who killed Berta Caceres were trained at the School of the Americas, this institution that was, that is based in Fort Benning, Georgia. And it has been accused of training more than 80,000 Latin American agents in counterinsurgency techniques, and that they have participated in different coups.
So with all this background it’s really important to say that the United States had set the conditions for all these people to leave their country. This is not a caravan made of migrants. This is a caravan of refugees. This is an exodus. And people are not going to stop fleeing, because the conditions have not changed. And it seems like the United States has no intention to stop intervening in Honduras, or intervening in Central America in general. So we can expect that people is going to keep coming to the United States trying to save their lives.
I would like to ask the audience, for example, how desperate these people need to be that they prefer to risk their lives coming to the United States, knowing that they’re going to face not only U.S. Border Patrol agents, but they’re also going to face federal Mexican agents, and that they may face militias, for example. So we’re talking that this is a really, this is a crisis situation. This is a refugee crisis. And also something that’s really important to say, that one of the people mentioned previously, is that actually Mexico has been doing the work of the United States. Mexico has been trying to stop migrants and refugees coming to the United States. And we have seen how violence against migrants and refugees in Mexico has increased since the United States and Mexico signed the Merida Initiative back in 2007, and after Mexico agreed with the United States in work with the Southern border plan. Basically what we have seen in Mexico is an increase of human rights abuses against migrants and refugees, but also we have seen the criminalization of people who are trying to defend them.
So people coming- at the end of the day, people coming to the United States earn the right to ask for asylum. People coming to the United States, people crossing Mexico, are not willing to take things for granted. They feel that coming to this country is the only way they have to survive.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, that’s a crucial point. We saw under the Obama administration in 2009 backed a military coup against Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected president of Honduras. And then as you mentioned, last year the Trump administration supported the Honduran regime as it stole another election. And there’s also an important legacy- many of the other immigrants and refugees are from Guatemala, where the U.S. backed a murderous right-wing military dictatorship during the civil war that committed genocide. So these are really important historical contexts that we really have to keep in mind.
But before we before we conclude, really quickly here, Eduardo, I’m wondering if we can just bring it back in the last minute, can you talk about this case with Lonnie Swartz, the U.S. Border Patrol agent who killed 16-year-old Jose Rodriguez on the Mexican side of the border? This is the second trial, now. The first one was in April, and theU.S. Border Patrol agent was acquitted. What do you think we’ll see in this upcoming case, and are you hopeful for justice?
EDUARDO GARCIA: We’re really hopeful for justice. So as you mentioned, Lonnie Swartz killed Jose Antonio on October 10 in 2012. And unfortunately, a jury acquitted a charge of second degree murder. And now we’re fighting for Lonnie Swartz to be accused of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges. So we’re really expecting this to have justice at this moment. And providing justice for Jose Antonio, to his family, is to provide justice to all the families who have been affected by Border Patrol violence, to all the communities that have been affected by Border Patrol violence. And we really expect the prosecution to do a better job so they are able to deliver justice to the family.
And we also believe that if this trial is successful this could set an accountability history so we can avoid more abuses, more human rights abuses by Border Patrol agents. As we have mentioned before, as we have talked in the past, we have seen that in the last 15 years the Border Patrol agents have enjoyed impunity. Total impunity, total corruption. It’s really important to acknowledge that. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and U.S. Border Patrol agents are penalizing migrants and refugees; at the same time, Border Patrol agents are the ones that are killing people. But also, we cannot forget all these scandals, like this U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas who was accused to be a serial killer.
So in this case I think it’s really important to acknowledge, it’s really important to call to attention that this is not about the sovereignty of the country. This is about human rights, and this is about United States’ responsibility in all this violence.
BEN NORTON: All right. We’ll have to end our discussion there. I was joined by Eduardo Garcia, who is an activist and photojournalist. He works with the Alliance for Global Justice, and is a co-founder of the Militarization in the Americas Research Collective. Thanks a lot, Eduardo.
EDUARDO GARCIA: Thank you so much.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News Network, I’m Ben Norton.