April 23, 2004

SHARP BACKLASH AMONG LATINOS OVER IRAQ WAR

By Elena Shore
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

A cascade of doubts over the Iraq war has been resurfacing in U.S. Latino media, coinciding with the recent announcement that Honduras will join Spain in withdrawing troops from Iraq amid escalating violence.

On March 19, Spanish-language daily La Opinión ran an editorial criticizing the U.S. presence in Iraq, reminding readers that President Bush started the war by calling Iraq an “imminent threat” due to its weapons of mass destruction and ties to Islamic terrorism. “Twelve months later none of these charges has been proven and, on the contrary, our country has been bogged down in the reconstruction of a society where it is not even welcome.”

Recent surveys indicate that a majority of U.S. Latinos would agree with this evaluation. A poll released April 4 by the Miami Herald found that more than half of Latino voters oppose the Iraq war, according to an article in New York City Spanish-language daily Hoy.

In fact, the disapproval of the war in Iraq has consistently been higher among Latinos compared to the general U.S. population, as indicated by a series of polls conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. In its survey released this week, 59 percent of native-born and 44 percent of foreign-born Latinos said they thought the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about the threat in Iraq before the war.

An editorial in the April 16 issue of the bilingual weekly La Prensa San Diego responds to the President’s reaffirmation that he intended to keep U.S. troops in Iraq: “Señor Presidente, perhaps you would have been more correct to have said: ‘The war in Iraq will continue no matter how many poor and middle class servicemen are killed.’”

More than 600 Americans have been killed in Iraq since the war began. This month, more than 80 Americans have been killed.

“The war that was intended to secure Americans has done the opposite, and has instead caused more violence and attacks against Americans in Iraq,” writes Eva Munoz in the L.A.-area bilingual weekly chain Eastern Group Publications (EGP). In interviews with Latinos ranging from age 18 to 55, she finds that they have “more questions than answers” about the war.

Latinos in the United States may be more critical of the U.S. war in Iraq because they face a more precarious economic situation in the United States. Salaries are down for Latino workers, reports La Opinión, and unemployment is higher than in the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With economic uncertainty at home, many Latinos are likely skeptical of funds and resources expended in a foreign war.

The history of U.S. interventions in Latin America also informs the skepticism. The U.S. military invaded Mexico three times, and the CIA’s involvement in Central and South America in the 1980s makes Latin American leaders dubious of U.S. intentions in Iraq.

“[Latinos] have the image of the United States as the super-powerful country that is always abusing its power to dominate other nations,” said Miguel Angel Báez, editor of Noticiero Semanal. “Many Latin American nations are victims of the U.S. interventionist policy that has provoked economic, social and political crises in those nations, forcing immigrants to come to this country. I believe that this in part is a reason why we tend to identify more with (the) less powerful nations.”

Connections between the United States’ mission in Iraq and its role in Latin America may not be so far off. President Bush’s recent appointment as U.S. ambassador to Iraq happens to be John Negroponte, former U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. Negroponte has been criticized for assisting the Contras, U.S.-funded insurgents fighting to oust the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, according to an Associated Press report published in the April 19 edition of Fresno, Calif., bilingual weekly Vida en el Valle.

The article reports: “When questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on whether he had acquiesced to human rights abuses by a Honduran death squad funded and partly trained by the CIA, [Negroponte] said: ‘To this day, I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras.’”

Negroponte’s denial that the death squads ever existed has led him to be described by Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times Nicaraguan bureau chief from 1983 to 1989, as “a great fabulist” who “professed to see a Honduras almost Scandinavian in its tranquility, a place where there were no murderous generals, no death squads, no political prisoners, no clandestine jails or cemeteries.”

Meanwhile, young, low-income Latinos and other minorities are disproportionately targeted by military recruiting propaganda, according to data collected by Rick Jahnkow and University of California at San Diego Professor Jorge Mariscal, members of Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities), reports Raymond R. Beltrán in bilingual weekly La Prensa San Diego.

Slogans such as “Army of One” appeal to the ideals of youth, says poet and screenwriter Jimmy Santiago Baca. And as part of Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, high schools cannot receive financial aid from the government unless they make available students’ personal contact information to military recruiters.

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