Hillary under the Latino Microscope

US politics got you bored yet? Hear me out for a sec.

We’re all tired of US election talk. Trump won. It’s over.

Questions are circulating in the US, one of which is what will happen with the 7 million illegal immigrants living in the country. It’s estimated that half are Latino.

We’re familiar with Trump’s on-the-record claims regarding Mexicans: the US has become Mexico’s dumping ground for drugs, crime, and rapists (don’t forget, “some good people” too). It was reported yesterday that he would “immediately” kick 2-3 million illegal immigrants out of the US; kick them out and keep them out with a wall.

If you’re Latino, Trump sucks. Clearly, Clinton has your best interest.

Perhaps it was Trump’s outlandish rhetoric toward, well, everyone, or perhaps it was his lack of policy direction, but for whatever reason, Hillary Clinton seemed to be the Latino champion. Indeed,  between the two candidates, I would have stood behind Clinton.

But for a population that was so front and centre at the beginning of Clinton vs. Trump, it struck me as bizarre that toward the final months of the campaign, Clinton’s relationship with Latin America was subject to such little scrutiny.

Latin America has an interesting love-hate relationship with the US. While Latinos look to the US for “freedom”, “safety” and “prosperity”, it’s hard to forget the effect of US involvement in the region throughout the Cold War. Judging by the number of Latinos currently in the US, it would seem as though Latinos might be able to forgive the 1980s for years of hardship, so long as those years are not forgotten. The last thing Central/Latin America needs is more negative US-involvement in the region.

Yet, here we are with Hillary Clinton.

In short, it was reported that in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported the June 2009 coup of Honduras’ democratically elected government. At the time of the coup, President Manuel Zelaya was in the process of conducting a referendum with the goal of amending the constitution to allow for an additional presidential term.

Manuel Zelaya detail, ABR August 07, 2007.jpg
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a 2009 coup

Rather than following President Obama’s lead in condemning the coup (one which he referred to as “illegal”), and in spite of cries from the UN and OAS, Clinton refused to acknowledge that a coup had taken place. Furthermore, in spite of a diplomatic cable which stated that the “forced removal by military was clearly illegal”, Clinton threw her support behind a federal election for a new president. Put anyone in power, just not Zelaya.

Clinton justified her decision by saying that she was attempting to“broker a solution without bloodshed,” and without the sanctions a “coup” inherits. However, critics pointed out that shortly after the overthrow, Honduras was hit by waves of violence traced back to the coup: the re-emergence of death squads, the tightening grasp of gang activity, and the murder of social activists (although, I would argue that gang activity had proliferated long before the coup had taken place), and that sanctions in other coups (such as Egypt in 2013) weren’t lifted at all.

I’d like to point out that Zelaya was far from perfect—he was a polarizing figure in Honduras who lacked unanimous support regarding his direction in policy development and his handling of social issues. He was also linked to corruption charges and shady business deals, such as his involvement with Hondutel, the country’s telecom provider.

However, a US Presidential candidate meddling with the democratic process of a foreign country is quite concerning. As a country which prides itself in democratic ideals and supporting democratically-elected leaders, it’s worrisome that a presidential candidate and former Secretary of State would stand idle and not only refuse to denounce the coup as a “coup”, but also attempt to justify it.

Maybe Hillary acted the way she did because she understood the Hondurans struggles. Maybe she was acting as a motherly/grandmotherly figure to give Hondurans not what they wanted, but what they needed. Maybe?

Latinos might remember Hillary likening herself to their “abuela”(Spanish for “grandmother”). Earlier this year, the Clinton campaign posted a list of “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela”. The strategy didn’t sit well with critics, many of whom were Latinos who went online with #NotMyAbuela to voice their disapproval of what they called “Hispandering”. Indeed, as the New York Times reported, critics pointed out that unlike many Latina grandmothers, “Mrs. Clinton did not grow up poor like their relatives, and was not separated from loved ones by country borders.”

(Editorial note: as a Latino, I viewed Clinton’s “abuela” strategy as pandering).

But certain tactics such as pandering should be expected in elections. As my fresh-out-law-school friend commented, “it’s better she pander to the Latino vote than to demonize them”. That’s probably true—if I was given the option between the candidate who outwardly insulted Latinos and the candidate who might look like s/he cares for them, I would go with the latter.

However, there’s a sense of “authenticity” which pandering leaves to be desired. Are one’s intentions real? Thus, the question that follows is: were Latinos’ interests ever legitimately addressed in the 2016 election? After Trump referred to Mexicans as criminals and rapists, the Latino vote was left dangling like an apple for the taking. Slam dunk for Clinton.

But what if Trump hadn’t so outwardly demonized them? Would we still be so shocked with his deportation plan? It’s worthy to note that by 2015, the Obama administration was on track to deport more illegal immigrants than any other administration in US history. By 2016, it had deported close to 2.5 million, but this fact was seldom mentioned throughout the presidential race.

In the end, democracy played out. Many argue the democrats shot themselves in the foot by picking a candidate so mired in controversy (not that Trump was any less so). Others argue that people just wanted America to be “great again”. Analyses will be pouring in for years.

Regardless, a new president will be in the white house in 2017, and Latinos, both legal and illegal, will be looking at the next four years very carefully.


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