• Central America's Forgotten History

  • Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration
  • By: Aviva Chomsky
  • Narrated by: Aida Reluzco
  • Length: 10 hrs and 41 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (56 ratings)

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Central America's Forgotten History

By: Aviva Chomsky
Narrated by: Aida Reluzco
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Publisher's Summary

Restores the region’s fraught history of repression and resistance to popular consciousness and connects the United States’ interventions and influence to the influx of refugees seeking asylum today.

At the center of the current immigration debate are migrants from Central America fleeing poverty, corruption, and violence in search of refuge in the United States. In Central America’s Forgotten History, Aviva Chomsky answers the urgent question “How did we get here?” Centering the centuries-long intertwined histories of US expansion and indigenous and Central American struggles against inequality and oppression, Chomsky highlights the pernicious cycle of colonial and neocolonial development policies that promote cultures of violence and forgetting without any accountability or restorative reparations.

Focusing on the valiant struggles for social and economic justice in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras, Chomsky restores these vivid and gripping events to popular consciousness. Tracing the roots of displacement and migration in Central America to the Spanish conquest and bringing us to the present day, she concludes that the more immediate roots of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras lie in the wars and in the US interventions of the 1980s and the peace accords of the 1990s that set the stage for neoliberalism in Central America.

Chomsky also examines how and why histories and memories are suppressed and the impact of losing historical memory. Only by erasing history can we claim that Central American countries created their own poverty and violence, while the United States’ enjoyment and profit from their bananas, coffee, mining, clothing, and export of arms are simply unrelated curiosities.

©2021 Aviva Chomsky (P)2021 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"A fiery, revelatory survey of Central America under U.S. domination...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.' A compelling historical synthesis, told with style and moral clarity.”—Library Journal, starred review

“A convincing case that much of Central America’s violent unrest can be laid at the feet of US leaders.” (Kirkus Reviews)  

“A searing examination of how colonial oppression, Indigenous resistance, and political and economic turmoil have fueled migration from Central America to the U.S.”—Publishers Weekly 

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What listeners say about Central America's Forgotten History

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Confusing, disorganized, and esoteric.

Mrs Chomsky did an excellent job of outlining the many failures of socialist governments. Not one country that was discussed had any successes, but grew more corrupt and oppressive over time. Mrs Chomsky argues the USA owes a moral and material debt to central America but she herself outlines that everytime the USA does get involved, we make it worse. We need to withdraw all aid and inovlement in Central America. Overall, a grossly liberal slanted propaganda piece.

4 people found this helpful

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Outline of a rigged game

The book gives a thorough account of the history of the region, with particular focus on the wars of the 80s and 90s. As a college student of the 80s, I vividly remember the protests, and the government obfuscation and lies. A particular bell was rung as the name Hasenfus was spoken, like a Madeleine moment, bringing back floods of memories of protesting against American involvement in Nicaragua, and the moment the whole Iran-Contra debacle came tumbling down.

By all rights, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well Mexico, should take center stage in this story, and in fact, for this review. But it is abundantly clear that the primary player, almost entirely for the worse, is the United States of America. In it's fervent, uncritical self-importance and jingoism, it has created poverty and desperation. A misery which then creates migration to escape for a better life in the USA. Only for that country to dismiss them as criminals and undesirables. Fleeing from a situation American exploitative capitalism helped to create. It should be shameful for a population that gives lip service to the ideas of welcoming immigrants and valuing freedom and democracy. But we always knew, and the documents show, that really was only for white European christians, wasn't it?

The core understanding needs to be for America and Americans, the government of the USA has never supported the idea of freedom and democracy around the world that is independent of Uncle Sam, or more aptly Daddy America, at the helm. It helps to maintain an undereducated population, scared by terminology like socialism, lacking the critical skills to realize nearly all revolutionary movements started with a fundamental admiration of the American ideal, and almost never sought (nor were often offered) Soviet assistance, until needed to combat American capitalist aggression. The policy is simply that you're okay only if your democracy is American-approved democracy, which is the definition of fascism.

My only real concern is that the term neoliberal, while well established and defined, is not well understood by the less inquisitive amongst us. Whether my counterparts are merely ignorant, or being willfully deceptive, it's frustrating to explain that neoliberalism is not the same as liberal, less so progressive, leftist or socialist, and thoroughly not communist! Similarly, that Clinton, Obama and Biden are merely pale versions of Reagan, nothing remotely leftist. And it never ceases to amaze that people frightened to the core by the international specter of "socialism", would so blithely accept "global capitalism". I think "exploitative capitalism" (a bit redundant, I know, but no point going halfway now) is a term better suited than neoliberalism.

2 people found this helpful

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Enlightening

Excellent accounting of the history and systemic issues that have plagued this region. Must read for anyone working or interested in helping these migrant children coming from Central America.

2 people found this helpful

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A truth of Central American migration and US fault

This is great book to start seeking for the origins of Central American migration and the cause of poverty.

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No solutions without understanding

When you have a headache, it’s okay to take some pain medicine. If it doesn’t go away, maybe you can take another dose. But when it keeps coming back, it’s time to try to find out what’s causing the headache. That’s the basic premise for this book in a manner of speaking. 

We can argue over building walls, fences, better surveillance systems or any number of other solutions to the southern border and I don’t know of any mainstream person who would truly say that we should have an open border (depsite all the accusations of such) just like, when you go to a doctor, they won’t take you off pain medications until they have not only found the problem but solved it. However, a doctor’s primary goal is to find out why. Aviva Chomsky is just dealing with the “why” in this book because when they find that, the pain killers may at least be able to be reduced. Why are there so many people who are willing to risk their lives and their children’s lives to get to the US? And, it’s no longer mostly from Mexico. 

This book shows how much of the foundation for the inequalities and instability in Central America goes far back into its history, but makes a convincing argument that much of the blame comes from more recent history including interference by the US. 

The first part of the book shows how the Spanish destroyed the native cultures and placed them under permanent subjugation that was race-based. Europe worked with the ruling class to build economies centered on agricultural exports from sugar to coffee to fruit, 

The second part focuses on the late 1800s to the 1990s and looks at the results in each of the 4 countries that were the most unstable and where most of today’s refugees are coming from–Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.  In the 1800s the influence of American companies increased with the help of economic pressure and military intervention by the US government. The US repeatedly interevened in Central America when anything happened that might affect US business interests, toppling governments and installing more friendly leaders (the origin of the term “banana republic”). The most decorated Marine in history at the time of his death in 1940, Major General Smedley Butler, had become increasingly disenchanted with his own service over the years leading to his retirement. He spoke out repeatedly against America’s military adventurism until his death. Of his service, he said, “In short, I was a racketeer; a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903.” 

This history led to corrupt governments and an increasingly dissatisfied populace more and more disillusioned with capitalism as they knew it which resulted in escalating uprisings and finally to the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador with the US continuing to prop up increasingly corrupt regimes, though now less for economic reasons but out of fear that any change might result in a communist government. 

The last part summarizes the last 40 years from Reagan to Trump and we see that the blame fell equally on Republican and Democratic administrations. Chomsky notes that the 1970 census counted 114,000 Central American immigrants. Immigrants from there reached a peak during the Trump administration and as of 2017, there were nearly 3.5 million. And, those are just the official numbers since illegal immigrants are always undercounted and the Trump administration particularly tried to undercount illegal immigrants. 

With all the talk about immigration, we tend to forget that much of this concern is very recent. Congress did not set quotas on Mexican and Latin American entry until 1965. It didn’t regulate immigrant status until 1986. The current focus and political hysteria concerning Hispanic and Latino migrants didn’t arise until the 1990s.

This book is an attempt to remind America about its own history and how it has impacted emigration from Central America. At times it comes of a bit strident and may seem to focused on proving its point. Nonetheless, the point is still well-made. The problem is not completely external. Some of the blame is on our own policies and blind spots and a wall will not really solve the problem. Only a concerted effort to face the issues head on, and an effort to build strong democratic governments that respect their people, treat them equitably regardless of race, and that have strong economies with ready markets for their products. And, it means that we need to truly come together to develop a real immigration policy, that doesn’t just lock the door but sets a policy for who can enter as well as how and when. That doesn’t mean that there is no need for better border controls. It just means that that is not nearly enough.

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Amazingly Insightful

Love this book and its investigative approach to the history of Central America. I thoroughly enjoy the breakdown of every country's unique history with the Spanish conquistadors and much later United States government involvement. Must read for any Central American that grew up in America and have limited knowledge of their own history (being of Central American deset myself I can attest).

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  • Dennis Sommers
  • 07-10-21

Avoid the rants and you have a good survey.

It is true that very little attention has been paid in Europe to Central America. My atlas shows two countries that don’t get a plug in this book: Costa Rica and Panama, so why? The answer seems to be that they donZ🐩’t match the author’s agenda. This said, once you get past the almost 40-minute rant in the first two chapters you do actually get to some really detailed history but not enough about the Spanish colonial past or about the ngigenous pre-colonial cultures.
We all kmnow about US meddling on its ‘back door’ and all right-minded people deplore it, but this author over-complicates matters with too much preaching and shouting, and once Ihad the information I bought the book to find , I fast-forwarded to the end. The book is worth buying for that info, so best stick to the central chapters about the individual countries and skip the rants.