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Blog: Children Fleeing Violence

“US interventionist foreign policy has created a climate of lawlessness and fear, forcing families and now children to flee for their lives.”

Eugene Stovall

Oakland, California July 22, 2014

In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup d'état in Guatemala to overthrow President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman at the behest of the United Fruit Company.

Rockets and tracer bullets aimed at General Noriega's nearby military headquarters set fire to some houses. The general's men, unhappy that the barrio did not back their ruler, set fire to others. Some 3,000 residents fled the El Chorrillo District as the American military obliterated Panama’s poorest neighborhood.

Obama’s administration sanctioned the coup d’etat against the democratically-elected president, Manuel Zelaya, in Honduras. Violence and anarchy wrack the two successive U.S-backed regimes.

The Atlacatl Battalion, organized at the US Army School of the Americas, occupies the village of El Mozote and massacres a thousand unarmed Salvadoran civilians. The Atlacatl field commander kills the children because he claims that they would just grow up to become guerrillas, if he let them live.

European Americans whine about the security of their borders, as children, victims of ongoing US-sponsored terrorism, violence and hunger, flee Central America. Possibly the neo-cons and their ‘liberal’ supporters would feel safer if they could see the corpses of ten and twelve year olds strewn on the shores of the Rio Grande as the Jews in Israel have done to the children in Gaza.

The migration of children from Central America did not begin last month. Generations of children and adults have been fleeing Latin America where ruthless greed and genocidal militarism that are the legacy of ‘yankee’ imperialism in ‘banana’ republics. The major media outlets and political spokesman begin their campaign of ‘whining’ about their ill-gotten gains whenever the graduates from the Goebbels school of broadcasting need to run out another propaganda campaign. In this case, the propaganda is how threatened European Americans feel by the victims of American fascism.

Pope Francis says, “This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.” But here in the United States, the emergency is widely described as a “border crisis.” The reality is that the US is experiencing a profound failure of its plans for economic globalization and a blowback on U.S. foreign policies of American exceptionalism, preemptive war and regime change. The tens of thousands of children crossing the border from Mexico into the United States, unaccompanied by adults, after making perilous journeys of thousands of miles, often riding atop freight trains that are controlled by gangs, seek asylum from the horrors of US-sanctioned terrorism. Some of these children hope to be reunited with parents in the U.S. Other children are sent away by their parents to save them from the epidemic violence of their hometowns, places like San Pedro Sula, the economic center of Honduras, which bears the distinction of being the murder capital of the world.

A historical understanding of US foreign policy in Central America helps explain why this wave of unaccompanied minors is pouring in from Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. No description of the US interventionist policies that decimated the economies of these countries and created a climate of lawlessness and fear could fail to explain what is forcing families and their children to flee for their lives. Above all, no description of the activities of the United Fruit Company could leave anyone guessing about the real objectives of US foreign policy.

United Fruit Company

In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup d'état to overthrow Jacobo Árbenz Guzman, only the second democratically elected president in Guatemala’s history. The United Fruit Company ordered the coup. President Guzman defeated his nearest challenger, by a margin of over 50% in the 1951 presidential elections. Upon taking office, President Guzman initiated a number of social reforms including the expansion of suffrage and educational opportunities. But his agrarian reform law granting arable land to poverty stricken peasants caused him to run afoul of the Unitied Fruit Company. With little more than a memo to its employees, the United Fruit Company ordered the Eisenhower administration to institute regime change in Guatemala and the CIA engineered a coup d’etat.

Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was a principal in the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. The United Fruit Company was a client of Sullivan & Cromwell. John Foster Dulles as well as his brother, Allen Dulles, sat on the board of the United Fruit Company. In the late 1930s, John Foster Dulles was fully occupied in internal affairs of Guatemala and Honduras negotiating land giveaways for the United Fruit Company. John Foster Dulles's brother, Allen Dulles, also did legal work for United Fruit while sitting on its board of directors. Allen Dulles was the Director of the CIA under Eisenhower. John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles orchestrated the overthrow of President Guzman to protect the United Fruit Company’s Guatemalan land interests. At the time of the coup, the Dulles brothers and the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell had been on the payroll and owned substantial shares of stock in the United Fruit Company for thirty-eight years.

The Dulles Brothers were not the only members of the Eisenhower administration connected to the United Fruit Company. John Moors Cabot served both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations as the Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs. Cabot’s brother was president of the United Fruit Company. Ed Whitman, was the United Fruit Company’s principal lobbyist. Whitman’s wife was Ann C. Whitman, President Eisenhower's personal secretary. Henry Cabot Lodge, America's ambassador to the UN, was one of the principal owners of the United Fruit Company stock.

In 1901, some of the leading families in Boston known as the Boston Brahmins, who owned plantations, railroads and steamships throughout the Caribbean, formed the United Fruit Company. In 1913, the United Fruit Company branched out and created the Tropical Radio and Telegraph Company. The Boston-based company formed its fruit distribution monopoly by coercing tax breaks and other benefits from the host governments that the United Fruit Company controlled. The company built extensive railroads and ports throughout Central America, but these facilities were used solely for its own use. The company even created numerous private schools for the children of its employees. Its investments were meant to keep the populations in Central America poor, ignorant and dependent.

The United Fruit Company dominated its markets by controlling land distribution in the countries where its plantations were located. Claiming that hurricanes, blight and other natural threats required them to hold large reserves of land, the United Fruit Company prevented governments from distributing lands that it controlled by did not use. The United Fruit Company manipulated land use rights in Central American countries in a number of ways. The company prevented vast tracts of land from being cultivated or from being transferred to landless peasants. In Guatemala and elsewhere, the company prevented the government from building roads. The company was so determined to maintain its profitable transportation monopoly over its railroads and ships that it aggressively prevented them from being used either as public conveyances or for the transportation of goods in any of the Central American countries where they operated. At least once, when the company closed down one of its plantations, the United Fruit Company dug up the railroad tracks and destroyed the switching yards and other railroad facilities serving that location.

The United Fruit Company acquired its excessive Central American land holdings through bribes, blackmail and intimidation. With the power of the United States government behind it, the United Fruit Company ruthlessly plundered Central American resources and tyrannized its people. The legacy ‘yankee imperialism’ is the basis of US foreign policy towards Panama, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to the present day.


El Chorrillo is on the water's edge in Panama City, not far from the entrance to the Panama Canal. Many of the canal's builders -- immigrants from the Caribbean – and their families lived here. The neighborhood was poor and dangerous, home to teachers and clerks, as well as hustlers who sold contraband cigarettes or beer stolen from the American military bases. On Dec. 20, 1989, El Chorrillo was reduced to smoky rubble in the chaotic hours from midnight to dawn when invading American troops stormed through the district, supposedly searching for Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. Hundreds of civilians died in fires lit by American soldiers. Rockets and tracer bullets aimed at General Noriega's nearby military headquarters burned their houses to the ground. The general's men, unhappy that the barrio did not back Noriega, set fire to other homes. American troops incarcerated 3,000 refugees from El Chorrillo in a sports field. For months Panama’s poor and dispossessed were held in the sports field, incommunicado.

Some of the refugees petitioned the Organization of American States to persuade the Panamanian government and the United States to provide a $30,000 payment for each homeless family. The Panamanian police used tear gas to stop them from demonstrating. Many were arrested and imprisoned.

As U.S. troops were beginning their assault, the Bush administration swore in Panama’s new government. President Guillermo Endara had won a popular vote the previous May. However, Noriega’s electoral commission annulled their victory. It was revealed that the Bush administration had covertly poured $10 million into Endara’s campaign. It was also discovered that the wealthy Panamanian businessman arrested in Georgia on cocaine conspiracy and money laundering charges was a CIA bagman and a close friend of Endara, Panama’s presidential candidate. A Panamanian newspaper trumpeted the headline, “Cocaine Cash Pays for the Opposition Campaign.”

After his invasion, Bush gives Panama $200 million in aid. None of the money went to the stricken Panamanians; rather it paid for damages suffered by foreign companies during the American invasion.

Panama’s economic misery and the government’s severely limited resources stimulated a resurgence of drug trafficking. In 2010 the New York Times reported that illegal drug shipments through the rough Panamanian hinterlands and through the capital are, if anything, more open and abundant than before Noriega’s overthrow.

El Salvador

On January 16, 1991, President Bush gave $42.5 million to the Salvadoran armed forces despite the decade-long genocidal campaign that Salvadoran government was waging against its own people. Mostly killing peasants, El Salvador readily killed any political opponent — nuns, priests, a bishop, church lay workers, political activists, journalists, labor unionists, medical workers, students, teachers, human-rights monitors. El Salvador used its security forces, the Army, the National Guard, and the Treasury Police to carry out its merciless campaign of terrorism. But the Salvadoran government and its US advisors also created paramilitary death squads. Cynthia Arnson, a Latin American-affairs writer for Human Rights Watch, says that the objective of death-squad-terror was not just to eliminate political opposition, but also, to torture and disfigure the bodies of their victims so as to terrorize the population. In the mid-1980s, s the Salvadoran government began to use US arms to initiate a campaign of indiscriminate bombing, planting of anti-personnel mines in populated areas and the harassment of national and international medical personnel treating victims of the government’s terror campaign.

El Salvador began its campaign of genocide on 28 February 1977. A crowd of political demonstrators gathered in downtown San Salvador to protest the fraudulent election of Carlos Humberto Romero. Security forces arrived on the scene and opened fire, indiscriminately killing demonstrators and bystanders alike. Estimates of the number of civilians killed range between 200 and 1,500. Government repression continued even after the US-sponsored Romero was inaugurated president. Romero implemented state-of-siege declarations and suspended civil liberties. Acting on the advice of his US military advisors, Romero regularly abducts, tortures and kills his civilian opponents. By the end of 1978, Romero had killed 687 civilians. In 1979, he kills 1,796. In 1980, the Salvadoran Army and three Salvadoran security forces kill 11,895 peasants, trade unionists, teachers, students, journalists, human rights advocates, priests, and other anti-government activists.

Romero deployed the Atlacatl Battalion, organized at the US Army School of the Americas, in El Salvador as a ‘death squad.’ When the battalion occupies the village of El Mozote, the US trained ‘death squad’ massacres a thousand unarmed civilians. The field commander said he wsd under orders to kill everyone, including the children. He asserted that the children would just grow up to become guerrillas if he let them live.

In 1979, the outgoing Carter administration gave the Salvadoran armed forces $10 million including $5 million in rifles, ammunition, grenades and helicopters. In its effort to defeat the insurgency, the Salvadoran Armed Forces carried out a "scorched earth" strategy adopting tactics similar to those being employed by the counterinsurgency in neighboring Guatemala. These tactics where primarily derived and adapted from U.S. strategy during the Vietnam War, and taught by American military advisors attached to the Salvadoran military. Beginning in 1983, U.S. reconnaissance planes uncovered guerrilla strongholds and relayed the information to the Salvadoran military. American involvement in the use of terror tactics — bombings, strafings, shellings and, occasionally, massacres of civilians accounted for the killing of 8,000 civilians a year. American advisors assisted in conducting the overall campaign of targeted executions and indiscriminate killings described by Professor William Stanley of the University of New Mexico as a strategy of mass murder” designed to terrorize the civilian population as well as opponents of the government.

Since 1983, the living standards of all Salvadorans, other than the privileged, declined to subsistence level. Most people don't have access to clean water or healthcare. The armed forces are feared, inflation is at 40%, capital flight is in the billions, and the economic elites pay no taxes. The US gives El Salvador billions in economic assistance. The aid is distributed to urban businesses; the impoverished majority receive nothing. The concentration of wealth is even higher than before the U.S.-administered land reform program. Agrarian laws generate windfall profits for the economic elites and buries cooperatives in debts leaving them incapable of competing in the capital markets.

Of those who fled or were displaced by El Salvador’s state-sponsored, US financed genocide, thousands reside in makeshift refugee centers on the Honduran border in conditions of poverty, starvation and disease.


In 1954, the democratically elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was toppled by a CIA initiated coup d’etat. Claiming a communist insurgency, the Eisenhower administration armed, trained and organized the Guatemalan coup. The directors of the United Fruit Company had convinced the Eisenhower administration that President Arbenz Guzman intended to align Guatemala with the Soviet Bloc. In reality the Arbenz government’s agrarian reform legislation and new Labor Code threatened the United Fruit Company ability to grab land and utilize forced labor. President Guzman’s land reform included the expropriation of 40% of the United Fruit Company’s land. U.S. foreign policy involving murder and corruption was implemented to further the United Fruit Company’s goal of profit and greed.


Elected as a liberal, Manuel Zelaya shifted to the political left during his presidency by forging an alliance with ALBA, an intergovernmental organization promoting the social, political and economic integration of Latin American and Caribbean countries. On 28 June 2009, during a constitutional crisis, the military staged a coup d’etat, seizing President Zelaya and deporting him to Costa Rica. All efforts to return President Zelya to office by the Organization of American States were blocked by the Obama administration. De facto President Roberto Micheletti ordered a curfew that initially lasted for the 48 hours, but he arbitrarily extends the curfew against his political opponents for months. During the extended “curfew” civil liberties are abolished.

In the aftermath of the coup, Honduras becomes a major stop for drug traffickers. Though many experts have said that Honduras has gotten markedly worse since the ouster democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, the Obama administration praises the coup government for its ‘war on drugs’. However, corruption in Honduras is rampant. The fallout of that coup continues today.

After ousting President Zelaya, the Micheletti government sent the army and police into the streets to arrest, beat and kill protesters. According to an official truth commission, Micheletti’s thugs were responsible for at least 20 deaths in the coup’s immediate aftermath. Edgardo Valeriano, a medical doctor and researcher, had never been political. But after the coup, he joined protests demanding democracy and Zelaya's return. Like many protesters, he was beaten. His skull was split open by batons and police lashed him with chains. Valeriano says he feels like Honduras went back to the 1980s.

For more than a century, the U.S. government has had significant influence in Honduras, from the era of U.S.-owned banana plantations, to military and economic ties that endure today. Because of that history, the U.S. response to the 2009 coup carried a lot of weight.

Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA analyst who worked as a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the coup. He said that "… when you look at what was actually happening in Honduras, [Zelaya continuing] a halting but definitely forward-moving consolidation of democracy." The coup pushed Honduras to where it is today: the world's most violent nation, according to the U.N.

“The coup’s legacy of murders and repression of coup opponents, campesinos, and journalists is partly a legacy of the U.S. government’s response to the coup, which it consistently supported,” says Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC.. “If the U.S. had demanded the reinstatement of Honduras’ democratic government, instead of undermining this goal at the OAS and other forums, the outcome would have been very different.” Instead, the U.S. continues to increase funding to Honduras’ notoriously corrupt security forces, despite the protests of many members of the U.S. Congress.

“The escalating ‘war on drugs’ in Honduras is another legacy of the coup,” Weisbrot noted. “It is questionable whether we would see the kind of incidents under Zelaya or his party as occurred on May 11, when pregnant women and children were shot dead from U.S. State Department-owned helicopters, with U.S. DEA agents on board. The coup has led to the breakdown of many of Honduras’ key institutions, including its police forces and judiciary, where corruption and abuses are increasingly rampant."