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Mutual Aid as Reparations: How we can all practice justice with the undocumented immigrant community in West Michigan

February 24, 2020

While people may not be familiar with the term Mutual Aid, humans have been practicing it for a long time. Anarchist thinker/writer Peter Kropotikin, began to develop a more robust sense of what Mutual Aid is in the later part of the 19th century, producing numerous essays and a book on Mutual Aid.

According to the Big Door Brigade, which has a great Mutual Aid Toolbox, provides this definition: 

Mutual aid is a term to describe people giving each other needed material support, trying to resist the control dynamics, hierarchies and system-affirming, oppressive arrangements of charity and social services. Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable. 

GR Rapid Response to ICE practices Mutual Aid, specifically with the undocumented immigrant community that experiences ICE violence. This group raises money to provide financial solidarity, offers transportation, legal aid, courtroom solidarity and sanctuary.

Those who are the recipients of the Mutual Aid that GR Rapid Response to ICE offers are primarily from Mexico and Central America. Some of the people who have fled those countries have been here for several decades and some have recently arrived. Regardless of how long people have been in the US, there is a clear connection to why they have fled their country of origin and US policy.

The United States government has a long history of intervention in Mexico and Central America. If fact, the US took by force roughly a third of Mexico, during the middle of the 19th Century, in what is generally called the US/Mexican War.

Since that time, US policy has impacted Mexico and Central America through direct military intervention, indirect military intervention and economy policies. Lets look at each of these three types of intervention and how they have contributed to the displacement of millions of people directly south of the US.

Direct Military Intervention

The US government has sent US soldiers to Mexico and Central America on a regular basis since the mid-19th Century. Here is a list of those direct military interventions: 

  • 1984 – Nicaragua: Month-long occupation of US troops in the area of Bluefields.
  • 1895 – Panama: Marines land in Colombian province.
  • 1896 – Nicaragua: Marines land in port of Corinto.
  • 1899 – Nicaragua: Marines land at port of Bluefields.
  • 1901 – 1914 – Panama: Broke off from Colombia 1903, annexed Canal Zone; opened canal in 1914.
  • 1903 – Honduras: Marines intervene in the revolution.
  • 1907 – Nicaragua: Dollar Diplomacy protectorate set up.
  • 1907 – Honduras: Marines land during war with Nicaragua.
  • 1908 – Panama: Marines intervene in election contest.
  • 1910 – Nicaragua: Marines land in Bluefields and Corinto.
  • 1911 – Honduras: US interests protected in civil war.
  • 1912 – Panama: Marines land during heated election.
  • 1912 – Honduras: Marines protect US economic interests.
  • 1912 – Nicaragua: 10-year US military occupation, fought guerillas
  • 1913 – Mexico: Americans evacuated during revolution.
  • 1914 – 1918 – Mexico: Series of interventions against nationalists.
  • 1918 – Honduras: Police Duty during unrest after elections.
  • 1919 – Honduras: Marines land during election campaign.
  • 1920 – Guatemala: 2-week intervention against unionists.
  • 1923 – Mexico: US bombs rebellion to defend Calles
  • 1924 – Honduras: Marines landed during election strife.
  • 1925 – Panama: Marines suppress general strike
  • 1932 – El Salvador: Warships sent during Marti revolt.
  • 1954 – Guatemala: CIA directs exile invasion after new government nationalized US company lands.
  • 1958 – Panama: Flag protest erupts into confrontation.
  • 1964 – Panama: US military shoots Panamanians for urging canal’s return.
  • 1966 – Guatemala: US Green Berets intervene against rebels.
  • 1981 – 1992 – El Salvador: Advisors, overflights aid anti-rebel war, soldiers briefly involved in hostage clash.
  • 1981 – 1990 – Nicaragua: CIA directs exile (Contra) invasions, plants harbor mines against revolution.
  • 1983 – 89 – Honduras: US military maneuvers leads to base building near borders.
  • 1989 – Panama: US sends 27,000 soldiers to arrest Noriega and bombs civilian targets.

Indirect US Military Intervention

Indirect US military interventions has taken on numerous forms in relationship to Mexico and Central America. Some of those forms include US military aid, like when the US provide El Salvador $1 million a day during the entire decade of the 1980s. Other forms of indirect military intervention happens when the US provides training to soldiers or the police force. The School of the Americas Watch has been documenting the number of military personnel from countries in Latin America that have received training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Go to this link to see the list.

Other indirect forms of US military intervention involve weapons sales and US military involvement in the Drug War, which has not done much to reduce the amount of drugs being brought into the US, but it has resulted in the increase of violence, particularly in Mexico. (see Drug War Capitalism, by Dawn Paley)

US Economic Policy’s impact on creating immigrants

US corporations have had their hands in Mexico and Central America for the past 150 years, so US government policy around economics has always been a reality, even if we only think of trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA.

Once the US ended the bracero program in the 1960s, US companies started setting up factories in the northern part of Mexico, known as Maquiladoras. The claim was always made that these factories would raise the standard of living for Mexicans, but that never really happened. In the 1980s, the IIMF imposed massive austerity measures in Mexico, which radically devalued the peso and opened the door for privatization of public services.

The 1980s financial crisis in Mexico set the stage for the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, a trade agreement that was signed between Canada, Mexico and the US. NAFTA went into effect on January 1st, 1994, which is exactly why the Zapatistas began their rebellion against what the called Neo-liberal global capitalism.

NAFTA has been devastating for most Mexicans, particularly for farmers and small business owners. Cheap US corn subsidies to Mexico has directly contributed to forcing at least 2 million Mexican farmers off their land, because they could not compete with US corn that flooded the market after NAFTA began. NAFTA, along with Plan Merida (a policy signed under George W. Bush, but continued with Obama and Trump), have resulted in massive displacement of Mexicans and in many ways is the root causes of why so many Mexicans are fleeing north to the US. For further documentation see this Fact Sheet

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was adopted in 2005-2006 and has had very similar results in those countries as NAFTA had with Mexico. Thus CAFTA has also been an important component in displacing millions, many of which have also fled to the US. 

These US trade policies in Mexico and Central America have also been devastating for the environments of those countries and have contributed significantly to Climate Change. Climate Change is now identified as another reason why people are fleeing those countries and coming to the US

Mutual Aid for immigrants as Reparations

Considering the fact that US military and economic policy are the root causes for the millions of displaced immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America, we ought to consider that providing Mutual Aid to these individuals and families as a form of reparations.

Reparations is fundamentally a recognition that whole groups of people have been affected by policies and therefore are deserving of some form of economic or material compensation for the harm they and their ancestors have endured. Reparations are usually associated with African Americans, who have been demanding reparations for decades as a result of the legal policy of slavery. However, reparations have been paid by the US government to Japanese Americans, specifically to those families that were impacted by the US internment camps during WWII.

Thus, it seems that paying reparations to people from Central America and Mexico seems rather appropriate, especially considering that US military and economic policies have impacted the lives of millions of people from those countries and that the primary reason they have taken the risk to come to the US as undocumented immigrants is precisely because of these US policies. Now, the US government has not and will not anytime soon, own this history and pay reparations to the millions affected. However, we can take action by acknowledging this history and to contributes money, resources and time as both a form of Mutual Aid and Reparations, since the US military and economic policies have been done in our name.

If you are interested in practicing Mutual Aid as Reparations for undocumented immigrants living in West Michigan, then you are encouraged to be part of the work of GR Rapid Response to ICE and the Kent County I-Bond Fund.

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