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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: The Caravan and Nativism
Latin American genius Carlos Alberto Montaner writes about just who is in the caravan making its way toward the U.S. southern border and what the U.S. response means.

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Thousands of Central Americans are heading towards the Mexican-American border. They are around eight thousand. Trump has said that "they shall not pass". Vice President Mike Pence says that Honduras president Juan Orlando Hernández told him that Venezuela finances the caravan. He added that it is difficult to believe that there are no spies or terrorists from the Middle East among them.

It could be, but must of the people on the caravan are decent and hard working. Cuba has done it three times and amid the human flood it placed its pawns. Nicolás Maduro is just a ventriloquist doll in charge of the Venezuelan colony. He does what they order him to do. The Castros, who have always advocated the exile of their opponents, launched three wild mass exoduses: "Camarioca" in 1965, "Mariel" in 1980 and the "balserazo" of 1994. The purpose was to turn Cuban internal crises into domestic fights in the U.S. These episodes resulted in 350,000 new refugees.

Most of the crowd is Honduran. Hundreds of Salvadorans and Guatemalans have joined. They flee from the lack of opportunities and the violence that reigns in their countries. In general, they are desperate families that escape their particular small hells. Nobody likes to leave their country of origin. It is not even about suddenly improving the standard of living. It's a matter of hope.

In that sad caravan there are no Panamanians or Costa Ricans. The Nicaraguans who escape the repression of Daniel Ortega take refuge in Costa Rica, where there are already more than half a million. In Panama, which has hosted tens of thousands of Venezuelans, and in Costa Rica there is an independent judicial system and it is possible to go up the social ladder. Individuals can improve through work and intellectual improvement. There are no gangs dedicated to murder and extortion. Panama will soon be the Latin American nation with the highest per capita income. It will surpass even Chile, nowadays the leading country in the region.

The caravan does not hurt Trump at all. We are in election time and many voters support his intransigence against immigrants. It allows him to present himself as the apostle of nativism. Nativism is an American expression of demographic nationalism. It is the other side of economic protectionism. Nativism, as a current of thought, has been present in American public life since the creation of the Republic, although it gained momentum after the Civil War (1861-1865). Foreigners are never welcomed by the entire society that reluctantly receives them.

Today's Cuban exiles, victims of nativism, scattered all over the planet, ignore that one of the largest manifestations of nativism was the painful rally called by the Authentic Party against the arrival of Jews fleeing from Nazism. It was organized after the scandal of the Saint Louis vessel that arrived in Havana with 940 Jews endowed with a useless permit to stay. They were not allowed to disembark. The rally was led by Lucilo de la Peña and some 40,000 Havanans came. The pretext – there is always a pretext – was that foreigners took jobs from nationals.

Trump was sincere and declared himself a "nationalist". It happened in Houston, while campaigning for Senator Ted Cruz, who is trying to get reelected. The problem is that the wise founding fathers did not found a nation in 1776, but a republic, and there is a clear distinction between both concepts.

The republic is the rational design of a particular type of State in which the rulers need the consent of the citizens. It depends on the laws and institutions and assumes that the infinite majority will be placed under the authority of the Constitution and the current legislation. It promotes civic patriotism. Republics are inclusive by definition.

The nation depends on charismatic leaders. It is fudamentally an emotional thing. People group together by the religion they support and the geography they have, by the main tribe, or by the language, or by a special historical interpretation. By their very nature, nations are exclusive and hostile to other nations. Hence the nativism.

It's unfortunate, but this caravan will not pass as the Cuban did in the past. Today in the USA a nativist = nationalist governs, not a republican in the good sense of the word.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.


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