Central America’s Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration

Beacon. Apr. 2021. 296p. ISBN 9780807056486. $26.95. HIST
Chomsky (history, Salem State Univ.; Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal) has crafted a fiery, revelatory survey of Central America under U.S. domination. In Chomsky’s telling, the region’s chronicles form a grim catalogue of extractive economies, anti-Communist dirty wars, and neoliberal austerity and privatization, often at the behest or with the support of the United States. Centuries of Spanish colonialism and decades of U.S.-backed oppression and exploitation kept the region fractured and impoverished. Blowback took the form of mass migration to the United States, as mostly Indigenous peasants fled poverty and narco-violence for better lives in el Norte. Chomsky focuses on Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; she touches also on Costa Rica and Panama, which escaped the brunt of the suffering that afflicted neighboring countries. She explores how Catholic liberation theology galvanized left-wing opposition and how Mestizo people in power sought to erase Indigenous cultures. Above all, she issues a corrective to hollow critiques of hardline U.S. immigration policies. Chomsky challenges readers to acknowledge that Donald Trump’s policies were “only the most recent iteration of over a century of U.S. domination and exploitation of Central Americans.”
VERDICT A compelling historical synthesis, told with style and moral clarity.
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