Sunday, April 23, 2017

Colectivos, MS-13 & Trump's War On Fact

Members of the Tupamaro colectivo in Venezuela 
An article in yesterdays New York Times written by Patricia Torres and Nicholas Casey offered chilling insight into groups of armed civilians in Venezuela who roam the troubled country acting as enforcers on behalf of embattled president Nicholas Maduro.

The article quotes a researcher named Dr. Oscar Noya who studies infectious tropical diseases, he noted that his laboratory has been vandalized more than 30 times.

The perpetrators are armed paramilitaries, leftist pro-government groups originally started by the former socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez known as "colectivos" (or collectives).

So why would colectivos trash the laboratory of a man researching tropical diseases?

Because he publishes information about epidemics of dangerous tropical diseases like malaria that President Maduro's government does not want made public.

Which is interesting considering that (according to Wikipedia) colectivos claim to be "dedicated to the promotion of democracy, political groups and cultural activities."

As the New York Times article notes, colectivos have also gunned down some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who've recently taken to the streets of Venezuelan cities to protest the lack of food and medicine and demand new elections.

Colectivos on motorcycles shot 17 year-old protester Carlos Moreno in the head last Wednesday.

In 2016 a group of colectivos shot hospital union leader Eladio Mata in the back when negotiations with officials from University Hospital in Caracas ground to a halt.

One of more than 600 Marches for Science on Earth Day
These actions are reflective of a disturbing trend around the globe; government authorities who try to suppress information, journalistic freedom and political opposition.

As the first hundred days of the Trump administration have have demonstrated, it's a growing problem here in America as well.

Tens of thousands of people around the globe marched against the suppression of facts yesterday.

One of the good things about tens of thousands of people showing up to march in major cities and small towns around the world in support of scientific facts is that partisan Republican politicians can't simply dismiss it as some kind of "publicity stunt" cooked up by liberal interests who paid supporters to spend their Saturday marching in the streets.

Yesterday the thousands of protesters (including my sister and mother in Princeton!) who marched in support of science demonstrated that people are fed up with political organizations like the Republican Party that elevate rigid ideology and loyalty to corporate interests over facts and research.

Knowledge that's squarely in the best interest of humans, animals, plants and the environment in which we all live.

There's no question that the March For Science was a message aimed straight at the Trump administration and the scores of Republican lawmakers on the local, state and national level who pretend that human activity and the extraction and burning of fossils isn't damaging the atmosphere, land and water.

Adviser Kellyane Conway may have been relegated to the proverbial basement of the White House (notice her absence from the media for weeks?), but Trump and his administration continue to peddle "alternative facts" as truth.

Idiocracy? Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump
Last Tuesday the White House desperately tried to deflect focus from the embarrassing revelation that the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson was actually over 3,500 miles away from the coast of Korea operating in the Indian Ocean for joint naval exercises with the Australian Navy at the same time that Donald Trump was on Fox News boasting about "sending an armada" to North Korea.

AG Jeff Sessions tried to help his flailing boss out by using an all-too-common Trump administration tactic:

Blaming stuff on Obama and whipping up fears about immigrants.

It was insightful listening to Trump and the alarming right-wing extremist perjurer from Alabama he nominated as the nation's attorney general try to blame the Obama administration's immigration policies for the nationwide expansion of the violent street gang MS-13.

Clearly MS-13 is responsible for some pretty nasty stuff both here in the U.S., in places stretching from Long Island to Los Angeles, and in Central American nations like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; including violent murders, rape and assault.

But unlike the factually-shaky claims made by Sessions in front of the Organized Crime Council last Tuesday, MS-13's expansion both here and abroad was a direct result of marginalized, traumatized and disenfranchised refugees fleeing the horrific violence of the civil war that raged in El Salvador for over twelve years between 1979 and 1993.

More disturbing than Sessions' and Trump's simplistic attempts to cast blame for the recent brutal slayings of four Hispanic teenage boys by MS-13 in Central Islip, Long Island on the Obama administration, are their efforts to try and harness the justifiable outrage over the killings to try and sway national opinion about Trump's draconian immigration policies and desire to construct his wall.

Heavily tattooed members of MS-13
If Trump and Sessions really cared about the violence unleashed by MS-13, they'd do something about the massive socioeconomic inequality that divided the people of El Salvador that lies at the root of the civil war and the eventual rise of MS-13.

A war fueled in no small part by the Carter, Reagan and Bush administration's support of El Salvador's government as it systematically tortured and murdered tens of thousands of innocent people.

MS-13 is the birth-child of the twelve-year reign of terror known as the Salvadoran Civil War.

Some of the more than 550,000 people who fled El Salvador in the 1980's to escape the killing eventually found their way to Los Angeles, where like many new immigrant groups arriving in new countries, they sometimes found themselves the targets of harassment and intimidation.

Young El Salvadorans in particular began to band together to protect themselves from the dense network of mostly Hispanic, Mexican and African-American street gangs in East Los Angeles and South Central LA - some of whom had existed since the 1940's.

Refugees from El Salvador who arrived in LA in the 1980's found themselves at the height of the city's gang epidemic when as many as 200,000 gang members in hundreds of different gangs fought for territory and control over the lucrative drug trade - particularly crack cocaine.

In contrast to Trump and Session's baseless assertion last week that the Obama administration's immigration policy is to blame for MS-13's rise in the U.S., ironically it was the deportation of members of MS-13 (or Mara Salvatrucha) by U.S. customs agents in the 1980's and 1990's that led to the expansion of MS-13.

Two MS-13 members charged with murdering a
15-year-old girl in Houston in March, 2017 
As experienced MS-13 gang members returned to El Salvador, they began recruiting heavily from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

As the gang has expanded their power and influence, they've migrated to San Francisco, Newark and Plainfield, New Jersey, parts of Queens, New York, Houston, Texas, Charlotte, North Carolina and into the suburbs outside Washington, D.C. including Prince George's County, Virginia and parts of Montgomery County, Maryland including Takoma Park.

Despite Trump's empty hot-air rhetoric last week, a wall isn't going to keep MS-13 out of America, the reality is that they are already here and have been for years.

While MS-13 represents a danger to communities both here in the U.S. and abroad, Trump and Sessions are wrong to blame President Obama's immigration policy for it; organized crime experts like InSight co-director Steven Dudley and investigator Hector Silva Avalos have already categorically dismissed such claims as false and without merit.

MS-13 is a violent organization with a history of engaging in terror and bloodshed, but they are not the result of the Obama administration's immigration policy - they are a byproduct of a violent and bloody civil war conducted with the cooperation and assistance of the United States government.

The attempts by Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions to exploit fears of MS-13's violence to goad Congress into authorizing the spending of billions of dollars on a wall and morph America's immigration policy into a reflection of the Trump administration's racism, xenophobia and bigotry is reprehensible, opportunistic and petty - hallmarks of his first 100 days in office.

Archbishop Oscar Romero
According to various estimates, over 70,000 civilians were killed in El Salvador between 1979 and 1993 during the civil war; trauma that in turn spawned MS-13.

Heinous acts like the Sumpul River Massacre carried out by forces of the government of El Salvador on May 14, 1980 in which over 600 civilians including children, elderly and pregnant women were killed, triggered international outrage and helped draw attention to the conflict.

But few deaths were more high profile than the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

He was shot on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in a hospital just a day after he had publicly implored members of El Salvador's military and police forces not to obey orders to kill innocent civilians.

Just a month before his death he published an open letter to President Jimmy Carter asking him to stop supporting the government of El Salvador.

A passionate Jesuit advocate for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, Archbishop Romero once observed,

"There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried." 

Obtuse self-serving narcissists like Donald Trump look at the violence committed by MS-13 and see only the opportunity to use it to justify bigotry, xenophobia and his own shallow political objectives.

He is unable and unwilling to look at the deeper socioeconomic factors including massive inequities in wealth and marginalization of the poor that spawned the U.S.-supported Salvadoran Civil War from which MS-13 was born.

Like too many Republican politicians in America today, Trump and Sessions close their eyes to the truths that do not serve their own personal agendas.

They willingly blind themselves to see only what they want to see.

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