No one who sees this image will ever forget it. The shouting of the Democratic debates falls away, even the looming catastrophe of climate disruption. What remains is the image of the baby girl’s arm around her father’s neck as they drowned together while trying to cross the Rio Grande at our southern border.
The desperate father had made it across the first time with his twenty-three-month old daughter in his arms. Then, perching her on the bank, he turned back to fetch her mother. But the baby, frightened at being left alone, threw herself into the river and he went back, clasping her in his arms, attempting to cross again. He pulled his shirt over her to hold her tight against the swirling current, she clasped her little arm around his neck. And then they went down into the swollen river together.
I spent a nearly sleepless night with this image.
Who is responsible?
Who is NOT responsible?
The history of our shared responsibility, as U.S. citizens, for the deaths at our border is also our responsibility for our government’s decades-long covert attacks on the democratically-elected leaders in those countries. Some of them are leftists. Many are openly critical of their powerful neighbor, the richest country in the world. We have governed their destiny.
In 1954, OUR CIA completed its undercover operation to overthrow Guatemala’s president. Chaos followed.
The CIA also interfered in El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980’s—a meddling marked by the rise of a murderous National Guard, responsible for the rape and murder of four missionary Roman Catholic sisters involved in humanitarian work (see the film, “Roses in Winter”)—as well as the murder at his altar of El Salvador bishop Oscar Romero. The women and the bishop were outspoken about the abuses going on in that country, which our administration now blames on the operation of drug gangs (we are the largest consumer of Central American cocaine) and the collapse of coffee prices. A five-pound bag of coffee beans from these countries sold here earns the providers two cents. AND WE ALL LOVE GOOD COFFEE.
Administration apologists, too many of them women, blame the gangs that have come to power during the chaos our interventions produced, especially LA’s notorious MS-13. Gangs rape and murder and their intended victims must flee. But no one mentions the breeding grounds our prisons provide where gangs recruit new members, easily done in the despicable conditions they are enduring and the bias evident in their convictions. Released, these men go back down south.
Ten years ago, Mexico’s president tried to persuade the U.S. administration to co-partner a Marshall-Plan modeled program of aid; he probably knew quite well that no U.S. administration, Republican or Democrat, feels the same empathy for dark-skinned Latin Americans as was felt for light-skinned Europeans after World War Two.
Instead, the current administration’s response to the tragedies on OUR border is to threaten to end the Temporary Protected Status Programs for refugees fleeing violence in their home countries. If and when TPS is suspended or ended, two hundred thousand Salvadorans, fifty-seven thousand Hondurans, and twenty-five hundred Nicaraguans will be chased back to endure, or not, the murderous conditions we have helped to create. Here in New Mexico, the threatened sweep will uproot families who have lived and worked here for years and on whom our economy rests.
How do I keep any faith in OUR country or OUR government?
Hard to say.
I do my little bit, contribute money to relief efforts on the border, write, think, and mourn the untimely deaths of children.
And I have the enduring consolation of poetry—which solves nothing.
Friday during my morning meditation I was blessed to read the esteemed poet Jane Kenyon’s poem after she went to a church supper in rural New England:
“The wonderful smell of coffee in the air
And I found myself among people trying to live ordered lives…
And again I was struck with love for the Republic.”
Coffee at two cents out of five dollars for the growers.