Caravan is a Nice Word: Pre-election Rhetoric versus Compassion

Caravan is a Nice Word: Pre-election Rhetoric versus Compassion November 2, 2018
Migrants on foot fill a road that stretches off into the distance.
Honduran migrants take part in a caravan heading to the US.

A caravan is a company of travelers on a journey through desert or hostile regions. – Merriam-Webster

Looking at Merriam-Webster’s definition, a caravan doesn’t sound like much of a threat. But that’s what political rhetoric would have us believe about the caravan of poor, frightened people making their way on foot through Mexico toward hoped-for safety in the United States.

I think about another caravan. The Gospel writer Matthew tells of a journey by the Holy Family from Judea to Egypt. It would have been too dangerous for a small family traveling alone. Joseph would have secured a place in a caravan, perhaps a company of traders hoping to cash in on Egyptian markets.

In the same way it makes perfect sense for thousands from failing Central American countries, wishing to escape hunger, violence, and joblessness, to travel together. Singly they would be prey to brigands. There’s safety in numbers.

Pre-election caravan politics and the real danger

How odd, then, that politicians should take a word that represents safety and use it to set a tone of fear as elections draw near! But that is what is happening. We are meant to be afraid of a caravan and vote accordingly. We’re supposed to believe, without evidence, that there are gang members and “very bad people” hiding in this “invasion” of refugees.

Facts don’t seem to matter. For example, the fact that for 10 years the number of people seeking entrance to the United States has been declining. Or that the process which this and similar caravans use to gain asylum in this country is perfectly legal. Instead our President warns,

This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!

Actually, according to an article in America Magazine, officials say the military will be providing services for the border patrol. It is not expected to engage directly with migrants. I don’t know if that remains the case with Trump’s threat to send up to 15,000 troops. But it makes a good pre-election ploy to paint a picture of soldiers itching for a battle against the invaders.

The real danger to our country doesn’t come from south of the border. That image of invaders featured prominently in the thinking of Robert Bowers, and the one who gave us that image bears some responsibility for what that deranged individual did. Shortly before opening fire on worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, he expressed his hatred for The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Violence, deteriorating economies, and a better response

Writing for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic service agencies, Bishop Joe S.Vásquez says,

… we are deeply saddened by the violence, injustice, and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America. (quoted from America Magazine, October 29)

Speaking about Catholic social teaching, U.S. bishops say people have the right

to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. This is based on biblical and ancient Christian teaching that the goods of the earth belong to all people. (“Welcoming the Stranger among Us”)

President Trump’s response is to threaten cuts in aid to Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, where most of the refugees originate. Mexico is showing us a more Christian response.

First, Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador proposes doing something positive. United States, Canada, and Mexico should work together toward developing the economies of Central America and southern Mexico.

Then the people of the southern Mexican town of Niltepec show us what real compassion looks like. They are still recovering from an earthquake in 2017 that damaged or destroyed almost all of the city’s 1720 homes. Even so they have welcomed tired and hungry migrants, offering what they could – tamales, homemade soup, diapers, and water. It’s almost as if they are instructing their rich northern neighbor in Christian and human decency.

Taking note of the piles of rubble that once were the town’s homes, Ziltepec’s mayor said,

We wish we had a space dignified enough to offer our visitors. (from The Guardian, Oct. 30)

Not just charity, justice

Add to this call for compassion and charity another call for justice. America Magazine references past U.S. involvement in Central America:

Over the decades U.S. policy in Central America has contributed to the region’s current economic, civic and political instability. Many argue its current support of a revived authoritarianism in Honduras has contributed to the urgency of migration out of that Central American state.

Climate change also is behind much of the Central American troubles. Formerly farmers could rely in rains for their crops in due season. Because of a warming planet weather, as we’ve seen even in my state of Minnesota, has become erratic. In Central America new waves of cycling droughts and flooding cause food insecurity and make it impossible for farmers to stay on their lands. All of us bear some responsibility for that.

President Trump theory seems to be that vitriolic and violent rhetoric will drive his base to the polls. I hope to find next Tuesday that it drives people who believe in compassion and justice as well.

Image credit: PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images, via Google Images

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  • guadalupelavaca

    We need to do a “Marshall plan” in central america to end this humanitarian tragedy.

  • Pecs

    Compassion and charity is all important and so is reason. Being an officer in the United States Military and knowing behind the scenes of intelligence information, we must protect our borders by all means if possible. As far as the US causing some problems in other parts of South America is not due under this present administration. It is true we have not being the best neighbors because of human error in judgment and plain greed and evil politicians behind the scenes the past 60 years if not more. On the most part we have been done well to be Nation of refuge for many. There is not one Nation that has been as generous and helpful as ours. Yet, we are not perfect. Politicians have received millions of dollars from other countries to do favors for them under the table. More greed. It is time to clear out the corrupted politicians. The more money they receive the more their lifestyle increases with big properties, i.e., larger homes, yachts, private club memberships, resort homes, etc. Once the squeeze is put on their income from under the table monies, the squirm in fear they will lose their properties because they cannot pay for the upkeep and will lose their status as elitist. They will fight and lie to keep what they have at the price of using the general public to use their emotions to get what they want. Reasoning and logic are not the tools used anymore to justify important issues. Only emotions are used to manipulate and brainwash people to think they are losing freedom. Instead, the general public is succumbing to slavery. Please do the math and not believe everything you might hear especially from peer groups. We must do our own homework and learn as much as we can about the reality of what is going on. This is not a defense for the Trump Administration. It is understandable that our current President has a personality many people do not like. I get it. What he is doing has better our economy, protecting our allies like Japan and South Korea which no other president has ever done. This means protecting America from a real nuclear attack. And for further knowledge, Islam is a totalitarian governmental system with a religious aspect. It is no different than communism. Please study and learn. Little by little, Islam is entering our democracy and wants to govern our country by Sharia Law. Do you really want this? Europe is already a lost continent and Canada if following. Islam’s main end is to dominant the world. This is not make believe! There are many followers of Islam in the caravan whether they be Latinos who have converted to Islam and middle easterners who are muslim. Islam is a real threat. It is not a religion.

  • I seem to remember a story from WWII where US Bombers would drop chocolate bars and care packages instead of bombs. One would hope that this caravan would get a similar response.

    The military isn’t always about shooting people. The First Gulf War was won with MREs in return for surrender.