In 2014, when another of the immigrant crises was in the headlines, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias asked “If these children… are willing to risk their lives atop the infamous train through Mexico known as La Bestia (“the beast”), face the rape and abuse that many children experience during the journey, sell their possessions and their bodies, and give their life savings to unscrupulous smugglers, what else could possibly deter them? What can the United States do to these children that would be worse than what they are already suffering? And why is such a great country even asking that question?”
Arias points to the 1980s, when Central America was a proxy battleground for the US and the Soviet Union, as the root of today’s immigrant crisis, when the rise of communist rebels, armed and supported by the Soviet Union, was countered by groups of armed thugs, the Contras, armed and supported by the US. While we speak of it today as “history”, as the days of the Cold War now past, the effects of moving into a country, arming a generation, teaching them to murder, torture and rape, continue to ripple across generations, finally landing at our own doorstep.
Arias refers to the region’s “lost generation,” those who were children and teenagers in the 1980s. “Back then,” he says, “two superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union — chose our region as a place to work out their disputes. They were eager to help Central America transform students into soldiers. They were eager to provide the weapons while we provided the dead.”
And the lost opportunity: “When Central America’s leaders found a way to end those conflicts, I thought that our achievement would be rewarded with aid and with support to help us make the transition from war to peace, to get our young people back in school, to retrain soldiers and to rebuild families. However, once the bullets stopped flying, the two superpowers lost interest.”
He offers a sane solution, expanding a program he began in his own country.