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President Donald Trump is absolutely right: We are confronting a national emergency, and we must act. But it’s not our national emergency.

It is the absolute life or death emergency of our neighboring families who are being terrorized by murderous gangs in the failed nations of Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Gangsters and the drug cartels that run them, having bought off and scared off top officials and local police, are extorting and murdering our southern neighbors. And they’re getting away with their terror.

We need to help ourselves by helping our neighbors. We cannot just wall ourselves off from reality.

In 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most violent country not at war, with 103 homicides per 100,000 people, edging past Honduras, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report.

In 2017, El Salvador’s murder rate declined a bit to 81, but homicides in all three Northern Triangle countries are significantly higher than in its Central American neighbors.

No wonder families are grabbing their children and fleeing for their lives.

On TV news, a woman who fled El Salvador with several small children recently told her terrifying story: She and her husband ran a small taco cafe – until her husband was murdered after refusing to pay gangsters the “protection” money they demanded.

When she tried to run the cafe alone, the gangsters threatened her: pay protection money or she’ll get what her husband got. She fled in terror with her children, joining one of those caravans our president keeps frightening us about. I began asking people I know, who came here from those Northern Triangle countries, about her story. Every person responded by sharing similar stories about folks they knew back home.

If those gangs now terrorizing El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were called al-Qaida or ISIS, you know what our president and his political minions would be saying and doing. They’d be denouncing the terrorists. Some would even be talking about sending troops to safeguard our homeland by dealing with the problem at its source.

But these murderous gangs are called MS-13 and Barrio 18. And ever since Trump first glided down his golden escalator and into our presidential campaign, he cleverly realized he could get elected by frightening us with tall tales about the horrible dangers posed by those invading immigrants (who of course look nothing like his ancestors who once fled here from Germany).

None of this has turned out the way our leaders envisioned a generation ago.

In 1961, America’s new young president, John F. Kennedy, inspired us with a bold plan that he called the Alliance for Progress.

He visualized a U.S. major effort of aid and expertise to help Latin America develop something we had and they didn’t: a robust middle class.

The Kremlin’s shiny new spearhead –– Fidel Castro’s Cuba –– was already fomenting communist revolution through Latin America, where populations were poor and ruling elites were rich. Kennedy hoped to foster Latin American middle classes that cherished democracy. While JFK’s program had its shortcomings, all U.S. presidents from both parties have pursued those goals since.

But 28 years ago, a much-celebrated event on the other side of the planet –– the collapse of the Soviet Union –– generated an unanticipated side effect that is still rippling through the Americas. And Bernard Aronson, the highly praised former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, recalled one of the most unforeseen of all the consequences of that stunning event.

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a lot of the urgency about Latin America seemed to disappear,” Aronson told me in an interview. “Our government could only do a certain amount of things at a time. And urgency and concern about Central America faded background.”

Aronson came back to play an important role as Barack Obama’s special envoy who brokered the peace deal that ended Colombia’s decades of drug-trade guerilla warfare with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). “My hope was that the era of coups would be long over,” he said. “I don’t think any of us foresaw the crisis we see today in Central America.”

One of the lessons we surely ought to have learned is that we cannot just wish away today’s problem – or wall ourselves off from it.

Homeowners surely get it: When a big leak starts flooding your basement, the solution isn’t to just build a wall at the foot of your basement stairs. You’ve got to fix the leak at its source. Nothing else will do.

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Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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(18) comments

martian2

Well it seems there are surprises everyday. The senate voted today to strike down Trumps declaration of a national emergency. With Republicans and democrats working together to denounce his abuse of constitutional powers. Wonders never cease! Trump obviously over stepped his authority, even his own party has had enough. The national emergency power is to be used sparingly and for obvious national security reasons, not to side step congress because they don't happen to agree.

oldhomey

Unfortunately, martian, he will veto this, and there are not enough Republicans standing up to Trump to override the veto. But the shame of all this will not be forgotten in the next congressional and senate elections. They're digging their own political graves by standing by this horrible human being in the White House.

martian2

amen homey, the next elections can't come fast enough.

PhysicsIsFun

Let's not forget the Iran Contra scandal of the second Reagan term. In which the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran and then used the proceeds to fund the right wing anti socialist military groups in Nicaragua. "The official justification for the arms shipments was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, a paramilitary group with Iranian ties connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, for the United States to resupply Israel, and for Israel to pay the United States. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of the hostages. However, as documented by a congressional investigation, the first Reagan-sponsored secret arms sales to Iran began in 1981 before any of the American hostages had been taken in Lebanon. This fact ruled out the "arms for hostages" explanation by which the Reagan administration sought to excuse its behavior." Oliver North was involved and destroyed pertinent documents. "Fourteen administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal. The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush, who had been Vice President at the time of the affair." The United States has been involved in this region, and it might be the humane thing to help this humanitarian crisis.

Rick Czeczok

Talk about living by the word of the past. Catch up those things were wrong then and to compare to make a point of misguidance of your party is pretty sick. I now know why you hated Walker so bad, he weeded out the inept teachers who could not perform up to what students deserve and rode the coat tails of the WEA (union protectionism). You were weeded out and rightfully so. I can only imagine the one sided opinions you drilled into these developing minds. You didn't think they were smart enough to start to think for themselves. Why, because your ego is so big that you believe that only your thoughts count. That is self evident by the things you say and write on this board every day. Thank goodness, Walker got rid of the weeds....

oldhomey

Gosh, Physics, I can only imagine how accurate Ricky's biography of you could be, having already been the frequent subject of his biographical exertions on my life. What do you say? Should we declare him our personal Boswell?

PhysicsIsFun

Rickster I retired in 2006. Walker took office in 2011. Even a dimwit like you should be able to do that math. There was no politics in anything I ever taught. I did not "drill my opinions" into any student's mind. Your incessant comments about my career and others' lives in pretty illuminating with regard to your stupidity. Try to occasionally make a reasonable point. I do not understand why this paper has not banned you from commenting. You continually break the rules and never add anything to the discussion.

new2Lax

The government in these countries are at fault by not being able to control the gangs, crime etc. what should happen is for the government of these countries to ask for our help and we certainly would send what ever help is needed to rid their country of these bad actors. Until they do, they will continue to fail their people. Letting the problem come to the US and making it our problem is not the way to go. You can see if this migration to the US is the answer then expect millions from other countries to do the same and that what would happen on an even larger scale. Wake up and deal with the real issues.

oldhomey

Ahem. If I am reading this correctly, new2, which generally is impossible to do, you in your own strange way are agreeing with everything this columnist is saying. Congratulations. I agree with him 100 percent, too.

martian2

those countries aren't going to ask for help in many cases, the public officials are either being bribed into corruption or being extorted by the drug cartels. Much like our country, with public officials being bought off by lobbyists and special interests, the same is being done there with drug cartels. Who said let the problem come to the US? Yes the government of these countries are to blame, but many are puppet governments, and with little military authority to back them. If you want to deal with the real issues, stop the drug trade business. The best way to stop that is cut the demand here on the US for illegal street drugs. Without our demand for these drugs, those drug cartels would be out of business.

Rick Czeczok

So the supplier of drugs isn't the cause it's the people who become addicted after just one use, it's their fault. You are an idiot Kingman. Why don't you give your real name vs. changing your fake name every time you get kicked off this board? Let me answer that for you because your a chicken poo, coward, with a big mouth. Shut up and go away, you are a socialist who was planted on this board to obstruct and destroy democracy, and the democratic party. It is happening all over the United States in local opinion pages where they "New Socialist Party"plant these people, don't believe it next time you go out of town read the local paper and you will see the exact and identical messages. Now there is where the truth lies.

oldhomey

Oh my! Ricky, if you hear anything rustling under your bed tonight, ignore it. It will either be me or martian down there, taking notes on your deteriorating medical condition. We have rigged up all the electrical outlets in your house to emit special electronic pulses designed to make you crazy. I see it is working. Don't go paranoid on us. We're just trying to make the world safe for communistic Islamic fascism, a noble crusade being led by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Pelosi, designed to emasculate all true men like yourself and open up all rest rooms as formal hunting grounds for pedophiles and transgender athletes taking unfair advantage of desexed males such as myself. You and you alone are all that stands between our success and defeat.

martian2

I fear there is no hope for ricky. His phobias have gotten the best of him. No amount of intervention will help. He is all that is left of those true blue Americans that can't stand the thought of a world without Donald at the helm. Too bad for him.

oldhomey

Right, martian. I feel bad for Ricky, too. At our next cell meeting at John's next week, let's lift a glass -- er, prayer! -- in his name. By the way. I found a photo copy I had made of my enemies list that I tore up when crank found it and vilified me for it. Thank goodness I had copied it! I made enough new copies to distribute it to each of us at the cell meeting, making it easier for us to know who to disagree with on these discussion boards. Nixon was no dummy. We shouldn't talk publicly about this, though, because I don't want crank to know I still have an enemies list.

I feel foolish, but my mind is always so preoccupied with our glorious communist, socialist, climate hoax, transgenders-given-free-rein on the nation's children agenda, I never noticed if John's has a jukebox. If it does, we should try to get the bar to let us put "Worker's Marseillaise" on it, so we can play it at the start of the meetings, instead of our usual prayer for Marxist-Leninism.

martian2

ok homey, at John's bar next week the usual time. My turn to buy!

oldhomey

Well - ahem - if you're buying, perhaps we could move the starting time of the meeting up a couple of hours? I'll do a phone tree check to see how others feel about that. Not that beer is our main agenda, but gosh, there IS something that I liked about Judge Kavanaugh! I can't quite put my finger on what it is about him that I found reasonable, but just thinking about him makes me thirsty.

martian2

thank you Mr Schrams for personalizing what is going on in those countries, and revealing it in human terms. If we don't get at the root of the problem it will never go away. Some just want a big wall and want to shut their eyes and ears to what is really going on. Just fix it they yell. This column points out plainly how difficult it will be to solve the migrant crisis. We can't ignore the under lying problems and think it is solvable. Our neighbors to the south need our help, the longer we ignore that fact, the worse the situation will get.

Rick Czeczok

This is the face of "The New Socialist Party". They can't even take care of their own party, much less the rest of the world.

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