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Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former has seized on the global tragedy of refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans have blamed the refugees for their own misery.

A few months ago, US President Donald Trump, referred to refugees from Central America as ‘animals,’ echoing a hateful and racist sentiment that defined the language of the chauvinistic far-right in Europe for years.

Leader of France’s National Front, Marine Le Pen had once referred to refugees as “slaves” and described their arduous journeys to Europe as a “barbarian invasion.”

Such hate speech does not only dehumanise the refugees, but also blames them for their own hardship.

Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side of a protracted war, and so on.

Yet, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are, in varying degrees, outcomes of military interventions — a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of both right-wing and liberal intellectuals.

The irony is that the refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the United States, are perceived to be the aggressors and the invaders, as opposed to the US and allies that had, in fact, invariably invaded these once-sovereign homelands.

More recently, Trump, like Le Pen in the past, referred to the Central American migrants’ caravan consisting of hundreds of desperate refugees seeking asylum in the US as an ‘invasion’.

But fear mongering of the right is only countered by superficial humanitarianism of the liberals. Neither discourse has done much to expose the real reasons behind the current refugee crisis.

- Ramzy Baroud

But fear mongering of the right is only countered by superficial humanitarianism of the liberals. Neither discourse has done much to expose the real reasons behind the current refugee crisis.

The ongoing Central American refugee drama which unfolded in recent weeks at the Mexico-US border is a case in point.

While following the debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits on US mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is directly responsible for that tragic situation.

State and gang violence coupled with extreme poverty have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries in Central America.

Unsurprisingly, the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East refugee crises, as mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions.

Forced by circumstances

From Iraq to Libya and Syria, millions of refugees were forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to seek safety in some other country. Millions found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from various grinding wars.

Despite its leading role in much for the upheaval in the Middle East, the US did little to shoulder any of the responsibility for the refugee exodus.

This is hardly surprising considering its lack of empathy for refugees from its own neighbouring countries in Central America. US media companies, each with unambiguous allegiance to major political parties are purposely ignoring the root causes of the refugee problem.

To expand the parameters of the conversation would expose a policy that was not introduced by Trump, but rather by Bill Clinton, and applied in earnest by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations. As a result, millions of people were deported back to Central and South America. Two million people were expelled during the Bush terms and 2.5 million more were deported under Obama.

Since his advent to the White House, to rally his radicalised constituency, Trump waved the migrant card once more, threatening to erect a “great wall” and to close “loopholes” in the immigration law.

Sordid history

Like his predecessors, he offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by detrimental US foreign policy, stretching over decades.

Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region — they are starkly unaware of the CIA-engineered coup d’etat in Guatemala in 1954, support of the coup against the democratically-elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, or of everything else that happened between these dates.

The free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) signed between Central American countries and the US, has done its own share of damage.

It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances (which) weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman.

Acknowledging all of this is dangerous.

If US mainstream pundits accept their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they will be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the saviour (embraced by the left), which has served them well.

The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe. But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or the crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm. This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018).