Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Peter, Paul, and Mary are still relevant today

The history of El Salvador is long and complicated, and dates back to pre-Columbian times, when the population existed on the eastern edges of the Mayan Empire. The first Europeans landed in the country in 1522, and the country remained under Spanish control until 1821, when it received independence from Spain.

Life in El Salvador in the 20th Century was marked by a series of coups and much political instability. A few years prior to the start of the (highly illegal) Iran-Contra scandal, the United States decided to get involved in the politics of El Salvador, and threw its support to one of the military juntas vying for power. Notes from the Wikipedia article about El Salvador under “the October 1979 coup d’etat” provide more details, but the reality is that our “assistance” led to the start of the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.

The human rights violations that we caused during that civil war stirred outrage in a singing trio that we’re all familiar with, and they released a song titled “El Salvador” in 1982. It turned out to be one of the most controversial songs that they had ever recorded, and caused them to be booed at some of their concerts in the mid to late 1980’s. Group member Mary Travers traveled to El Salvador in 1983, and was appalled at “the terrorism, rapes, and murders” that our country was paying for.

The song itself is a nice tune, and can be heard by clicking on the link below:

El Salvador song

If you're comfortable with working with multiple Windows at the same time, and would like to follow along with the song, the lyrics are posted below:

There's a sunny little country south of Mexico

Where the winds are gentle and the waters flow

But breezes aren't the only things that blow

in El Salvador

If you took the little lady for a moonlight drive

Odds are still good you'd come back alive

But everyone is innocent until they arrive

in El Salvador

If the rebels take a bus on the grand highway

The government destroys a village miles away

The man on the radio says 'now we'll play South of the Border'

And in the morning the natives say,

We're happy you have lived another day

Last night a thousand more passed away

in El Salvador

There's a television crew here from ABC

Filming Rio Lempa and the refugees

Calling murdered children the 'tragedy'

of El Salvador

Before the government cameras 20 feet away

Another man is asking for continued aid

Food and medicine and hand grenades

for El Salvador

There's a thump, a rumble, and the buildings sway

A soldier fires the acid spray

The public address system starts to play South of the Border

You run for cover and hide your eyes

You hear the screams from paradise

They've fallen further than you realize

in El Salvador

Just like Poland is 'protected' by her Russian friends

The junta is 'assisted' by Americans

And if 60 million dollars seems too much to spend

in El Salvador

They say for half a billion they could do it right

Bomb all day, burn all night

Until there's not a living thing upright

in El Salvador

They'll continue training troops in the USA

And watch the nuns that got away

And teach the military bands to play South of the Border

And kill the people to set them free

Who put this price on their liberty?

Don't you think it's time to leave El Salvador?

Since the civil war in El Salvador ended more than 20 years ago, most of us have forgotten all about our neighbor in Central America, but recent events have brought the country very much back in focus in recent months, and have reignited yet another “culture war” between the liberals and the conservatives in our country. In the past 8 months, 47,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed into the United States, and the vast majority of them have come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Their arrival has swamped immigration centers in Texas, which has caused a fairly large number of them to be diverted to Arizona.

Their reasons for coming here are clear, since all three countries are plagued with gang and drug violence. Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the entire world, at 90.4 homicides per 100,000 or population. El Salvador is #4, at 41.2 per 100,000, and Guatemala is #5, with 39.9 murders per 100,000.

What's less clear is the fact that the massive influx of refuges is, in large part, OUR FAULT. The Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials was ratified by 31 of the 34 nations in the Organization of American States in 1997. Although Canada, Jamaica, and the United States signed the treaty, none of them have ratified the treaty as of today's date. President Obama has asked the Senate, once again, to ratify the treaty, but no action has been taken as of yet. Since 70% of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities were made in America, and a similar percentage of the weapons in Central America come from the same source, it's fairly obvious that our ratification of the treaty would have resulted in lower crime rates in the three countries involved, which would result in far fewer refugees being forced to flee their home country.

The United States has maintained an aggressive deportation program since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and we deported 409, 849 in 2012. Although 59% of the undocumented migrants are from Mexico, the Pew Hispanic center announced in April of 2012 that net migration from Mexico to the United States is now actually negative. From 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States. In the same time period, slightly MORE than that number went the other day, due to REDUCED job opportunities in the United States, and INCREASED opportunities in Mexico.

The ultra conservative faction of our society (the group that keeps trying to impeach Barack Obama for a variety of imagined offenses) feels that the flood of children from Central America to the United States is “an invasion”.

In full recognition of the fact that simply sending the children back to their country of origin would likely be a death sentence, the Border Patrol is providing basic shelter to the children until they can be sent to juvenile detention centers around the country. Once there, efforts are made to release them to relatives in the United States, on the condition that they cooperate with deportation proceedings.

Due to the fact that the flood of children from Central America is a REGIONAL problem, and not just a United States problem, President Obama spoke with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday of this week, and Vice President Joe Biden met with Central American leaders in Guatemala on Friday to discuss ways to handle the situation. On Tuesday of this week, Congress increased funding so that the Department of Health and Human Services would be able to provide temporary food and shelter for the estimated 130,000 minors that are expected to arrive here in the next year.

As always, the issue of how to deal with illegal immigrants to our country is a thorny issue, one we’ve been plagued with for a long time. For now, immigration reform of any kind is unlikely until after the mid-term elections, but COULD happen during the last two years of Obama’s Presidency IF the right combination of people get elected in November. In the interim, Paul Stookey traveled to Dallas just last week to address that very issue.

For many years, Peter, Paul, and Mary were concerned with social issues, and essentially became a milder version of the protest songs of Pete Seeger. Although Mary Travers passed away in 2009, both Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow (both 76 years old) continue to perform today. Neither of them could possibly have imagined that the humanitarian crisis that they sang about in 1982 would still exist today. The closing line of their song was “don’t you think it’s time we leave El Salvador?“. Ultimately, we did, but now we have a new problem.

El Salvador has come to us.

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