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Juan González: U.S. “Economic Warfare” Targeting Venezuela, Cuba & Nicaragua Fuels Migrant Crisis


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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show with a new report on how U.S. policy toward Latin America has fueled historic numbers of asylum seekers. This past weekend, Mexican President AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, hosted a summit on how to address the steep rise in migration from Latin America to the United States. Participants included Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Honduran President Xiomara Castro, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Colombian President Gustavo Petro. After the meeting, AMLO said he would ask President Biden to open a dialogue with Cuba and called for an end to the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

Juan, you have this new report out, “The Current Migrant Crisis: How U.S. Policy Toward Latin America Has Fueled Historic Numbers of Asylum Seekers,” the report published by the Great Cities Institute, where you are, in Chicago, where you’re also a fellow. Can you lay out what you found?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, Amy. I think the key aspect of the report is that we’ve had a lot of attention in the past couple of years to the historic surge in migration across the border, but there have been few media accounts that have examined the direct responsibility of our federal government in fueling this current crisis through its foreign policy. And also those narratives in the media have largely failed to acknowledge the long history of U.S. intervention and wealth extraction in the region and the decades of neglect of Latin America by all administrations, Democratic and Republican, of the last 60 years.

And so, one of the most interesting things is that the report outlines the evidence that it’s U.S. economic warfare against three specific countries — Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua — that is a significant cause of the latest migration surge. And, for instance, the migrant flow to the United States has changed dramatically. A few years ago, during the Obama administration and the Trump administrations, we were talking largely about migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. That has changed almost completely. Venezuelans, for instance, back in 2020, there were only 4,500 Venezuelans that were apprehended at the southern border. That’s less than three years ago. Now we’re up to 265,000 in the first 11 months of this past fiscal year, FY2023. The same thing for Nicaraguans: A couple of years ago, it was 3,100 that were encountered at the border; this last 11 months of this past fiscal year, 131,000. And, of course, Cubans: 14,000 Cubans were found — were apprehended at the border in 2020; 184,000 in 2023. And we’re seeing this enormous increase from these three countries.

What do all these three countries have in common? They are all being subjected to United States sanctions, economic warfare that has reduced and really crippled the economies of these countries. Venezuela, for instance, between 2017 and 2020, lost about between $17 billion and $31 billion in oil revenues because as a result of U.S. sanctions. Now, we’re just hearing this past weekend, after our report came out, that the United States is beginning to temporarily limit the sanctions. It’s allowing Venezuela for the first time now in several years to sell oil back into the United States. But these sanctions have inflicted enormous harm on the Venezuelans.

And the other interesting thing to note is all the media attention has been focused on the Venezuelan migrants. Almost as many Cubans have entered the United States in the last two years as the number of Venezuelans who have entered the United States. And in fact, the flow of people from Cuba in the past two years has been greater than any time in history. More Cubans have come to the United States in the past two years than did after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, than did during the Mariel boatlift of 1980, than did during the Balsero crisis of 1994. This has been the largest flight of Cubans into the United States in history. The difference is that most of the Cubans are settling in Florida, where there is already a large Cuban American community that is helping them to integrate into U.S. society, so it’s not gotten as much national attention. But there is an enormous problem in the Cuba migration, as well, that the United States is confronting. So, I think that’s one of the interesting things.

All of this surge is a direct result of our government’s economic warfare against particular countries. So I think one of the things that the report urges is that the Cuba embargo has to end, the Venezuela sanctions have to end, and the Nicaragua sanctions have to end, if the flow of migrants from these countries is going to be reduced.

The other thing that the report shows is the historic neglect of the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean. This past year, the United States gave total foreign aid to all of Latin America and the Caribbean of $3 billion. Three billion. Compare that to the $113 billion that went to Ukraine, or as much money went to — in foreign aid to Latin America, which has 650 million people, as went to Israel. Israel had about $3.8 billion in aid, and of course it’s about to get a lot more. So, the inequities in the U.S. foreign aid are not helping to lift Latin America, creating — the sanctions are reducing the ability of people to survive in the region, and then we’re surprised by all these people appearing at the border. And so, I think that’s the main lesson that we have to learn.

And also, of course, President Biden now is urging about $14 billion in his new package that he’s proposed to Congress for border security. Here’s one interesting fact that most people are not aware of. The Migration Policy Institute reported this some time back. The United States spent $333 billion between 2003, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, and 2021 for agencies that carry out immigration enforcement. I want to repeat that: $333 billion for immigration enforcement and for ICE and Border Patrol and fences. And what do we have? The highest level of migrant crossings in history are occurring right now. All that money did nothing to slow the migrant flow. So, obviously, it’s sort of like money for prisons. It’s wasted money.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we want to thank you so much for the report, and we’re going to link to it, “The Current Migrant Crisis: How U.S. Policy Toward Latin America Has Fueled Historic Numbers of Asylum Seekers,” at I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, for Democracy Now!

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