HAVANA TIMES – At a time of heated and divisive debate over immigration, the new feature-length documentary, “Harvest of Empire,” examines the direct connection between the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the immigration crisis we face today.
Based on the groundbreaking book by award-winning journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, “Harvest of Empire” takes an unflinching look at the role that U.S. economic and military interests played in triggering an unprecedented wave of migration that is transforming our nation’s cultural and economic landscape.
González is a columnist at the New York Daily News and author of three other books, including “News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media.” We’re also joined by the film’s co-director, Eduardo López.
AMY GOODMAN: A new report by the National Hispanic Media Coalition has found media portrayals of Latinos and immigrants are fueling rampant negative stereotypes among the general population. The organization called on the Federal Communications Commission to study the impacts of hate speech in the media.
This comes at a time when immigration has become a key issue in the 2012 presidential race. Both President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney answered tough questions about immigration and deportation when they appeared on the Spanish-language network Univision last week. Obama made news again Friday when the White House said a new federal policy that grants some young immigrants temporary legal status to stay in the country will not make them eligible for health insurance under the new healthcare law.
Meanwhile, appearing Sunday on ABC’s This Week, conservative pundit Ann Coulter argued immigrant rights should not be considered civil rights. Host George Stephanopoulos asked Coulter about her claim.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Immigrant rights are not civil rights?
ANN COULTER: No, I think civil rights are for blacks.
ROBERT REICH: See, this is essentially the problem. And the Republicans don’t understand—
ANN COULTER: What did we—can I just say, what have we done to the immigrants? We owe black people something; we have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, at this time of this heated and divisive debate over immigration, we turn to a new documentary out this week: Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America. The film is based on a book by Juan González , Democracy Now! co-host, New York Times sic columnist. The film examines how— New York Daily News columnist. The film examines how U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean forced millions of people to leave their homes to migrate to the United States. We’ll be joined by Juan and the film’s co-director in a minute, but first a clip from the trailer for Harvest of Empire.
UNIDENTIFIED: We are all proud to be American today! Fly your flag with pride!
JACK CAFFERTY: Once again, the streets of our country were taken over today by people who don’t belong here.
DAVID BROOKS: But when the immigrants come, they come with a culture of criminality. It’s out of control.
GLENN BECK: They put a strain on our Social Security, our education, our healthcare.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: They never teach us in school that the huge Latino presence here is a direct result of our own government’s actions in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America over many decades. Thousands upon thousands of Puerto Ricans were actually recruited to come work here in the United States.
MELVIN GOODMAN: The feeling was we could very easily overthrow this progressive government and make it a lot easier for the United Fruit Company and other American businesses to operate in Central America.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: From the very beginning, the West depended for its labor on Mexicans.
REPORTER: Are you a communist, Fidel?
FIDEL CASTRO: Wait for the history. The history will say what we are.
FATHER ROY BOURGEOIS: I had never seen anything like El Salvador. I was more frightened there than Vietnam. What was going on there was the slaughter of the innocents.
ROBERT WHITE: When you finance and train a gang of uniformed butchers and they begin wholesale killing, the people don’t emigrate, they flee.
UNIDENTIFIED: The instability that we have contributed to creates the kind of chaos and disarray that leads to more immigration.
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots, even though they may have entered illegally.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The reality is that America is changing. By the end of this century, a majority of the people will trace their origins not to Europe but to Latin America.
DR. ALFREDO QUIÑONES-HINOJOSA: We’re all humans. We all have the same abilities. We all have the same potential.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: America has always been a nation in the process of becoming, in process of change. It is an immigrant nation.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Harvest of Empire, premiering this week in New York and Los Angeles, based on the book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by the award-winning journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González. Juan, again, a co-host, with the New York Daily News, author of three other books, including News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, which is also just out in paperback, and founder and past president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. We’re very pleased that Juan is with us here in the New York studio, not in his usual guest chair but as—not in his usual host chair but as a guest today, and along with the film’s co-director, Eduardo López.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thanks, Amy.
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: Thank you very much.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It’s a different perspective on this side of the table.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. So, you wrote this book years ago, Juan. Then it came out again updated, and now it’s in a film. Why have you chosen to go this route?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, it wasn’t my choice, really. It was the producers who came to me several years ago. They have actually been working on this film for about—I think it’s seven years now?
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: Seven years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and they came to me several years ago that they really were excited about the perspective that my book had—was putting out. My book actually came out in 1999 initially, and it’s now, I think, used in about 200 college courses around the country as sort of an introductory survey text on the Latino community in the United States. And they said they wanted to make it into a film. And I said, “Are you sure?” That’s—my book is kind of more of a history, and it delves—it’s kind of complicated, because it goes into every one of the different Latino groups in the country, how they came here, what drove them here. But they said they thought they had a way to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo, the way?
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: Well, the way was quite difficult, because it was a seven-year journey between the time we first met with Juan about the book and today. And I really would not be sitting here with you if it wasn’t for the hard work and sacrifice of the producer of the film, Wendy Thompson-Marquez. And with her, we felt in 2005 that the kind of language that was being used to describe immigrants, and specifically Latino immigrants, in the media was just unacceptable. Every night you would hear very derogatory terms being used to describe us. And we being—both of us being Latino immigrants—Wendy from Peru and me from El Salvador—we knew the real story. And we had read the real story in Juan’s book. And we just felt compelled to take action, because we really felt that the United States, that our fellow citizens needed to know why Latinos had come to the United States, the real reasons, the roots—the root causes of immigration. And in just about all the cases when you look at history, you see very clearly, as Juan explains in the book, that our different waves of migration are connected to actions that the United States took in our countries, in different times for different reasons, but it’s very consistent throughout history, this connection between our foreign policy and immigration.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, Juan, now—I mean, the first day of the Democratic convention in Charlotte, a bus pulled up in front of the gates, the UndocuBus, and scores of people got out chanting “No papers, no fear!” Ten got arrested in the pouring rain as the police poured in. Immigration is one of the key issues of this election year, and yet you don’t have presidential candidates who have a vastly different approach to it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, it is, and I think it’s increasingly become an issue, not just in the big cities where—New York, L.A., Miami—but in the heartland of America, and especially in the South, where in North Carolina, for instance, there’s been a huge increase in the Latino population of North Carolina, but most people don’t understand how those Latinos got there. It’s a largely Guatemalan migration, and it’s largely people who were recruited in the ’80s and ’90s to come and work in the textile mills of North Carolina, because—part of what I try to show in the book is the enormous connection between the needs of capital of American expanding industries in the United States and this recruitment of labor.
So, what happened basically is, in the ’80s, as more and more Salvadorans and Guatemalans were fleeing into the United States as a result of the civil wars in their countries and the repression in their countries, they came here to the United States, and there were industries that needed cheap labor. And so, you had the meat-packing industry in the Midwest, began recruiting many Mexicans to come to Dodge City and to come to Des Moines and to come to all of these—the meat center of the country. And you had the poultry industry in Arkansas, and you had the textile industry in North Carolina. And they usually went by nationality. So you had a large Guatemalan population that developed in North Carolina. So, I think that’s part of what I try to show in the book. And to a large measure, the film captures this process of migration: the push of the repression that occurs in the countries, in the sending countries, and the pull of American businesses seeking cheap labor.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Juan González is here, along with Eduardo López. Their film, Harvest of Empire: The History of Latinos in America, based on Juan’s book. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Juan González and Eduardo López. Juan’s book Harvest of Empire, required reading in so many schools in this country, and Eduardo López deciding to make this film, together with the producer, Harvest of Empire, that’s airing this week. I want to play a clip from Harvest of Empire that talks about the history of U.S. involvement in the Dominican Republic, where many of the immigrants here in New York City hail from. The clip prominently features the Dominican-born Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz.
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: The American nations cannot, must not, and will not permit the establishment of another communist government in the Western Hemisphere.
JUNOT DÍAZ: I’m here because the United States invaded my country in 1965, an illegal invasion, completely trumped-up excuse to invade the Dominican Republic and crush our democratic hopes. We’ve lived the consequences of that illegal invasion politically, economically, and in the bodies of the people who were wounded, in the bodies of the people who were killed. We’ve been living it for over 40 years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There have been two major U.S. occupations of the Dominican Republic. The first was in 1916. The U.S. Army trained a new Dominican National Guard. It handpicked a former railway security officer, Rafael Trujillo, to lead that guard. And Trujillo then uses the power of the military to seize control of the government.
JUNOT DÍAZ: He was like the most horrific imagination of this terrifying dictator. He would disappear Dominican and American citizens and kill them with impunity.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: He basically ruled the Dominican Republic for 30 years with absolute, total control. He routinely kidnapped and assaulted the wives, even of his supporters, and throughout his career made it extremely easy for American companies to do business in the Dominican Republic but was a savage, savage dictator. Eventually, even the United States government could not stomach his methods of operation, so the CIA joined with disgruntled military officers to back his assassination.
NEWSREEL: For the first time in 30 years, the people of the Dominican Republic are breathing the sweet air of liberty, and the streets are jammed in celebration.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In 1963, you have the election of Juan Bosch. He was a liberal, a social democrat, who attempted to institute new social reforms. But the Bosch government didn’t last for very long. Only a few months into his term in office, there was a military coup. That military coup in turn spurred a popular insurrection that led to the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. When the rebels finally agreed to lay down their arms, the United States government scheduled new elections, but it also allowed the right-hand man of Trujillo, Joaquín Balaguer, to run in those elections for president. Balaguer won that election. The problem was that there was enormous repression against the Bosch forces, killings on an almost daily basis. So the United States then began allowing large numbers of Dominican former rebels to come to the United States as a way, again, of using migration as a safety valve. Thousands of Dominicans started coming to New York City.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Harvest of Empire. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz talks about coming to this country shortly after the United States then began allowing large numbers of Dominican former rebels to migrate here.
JUNOT DÍAZ: Well, they said, “We’re coming to the United States.” Whatever that meant. I thought we were just going up the road to some mystical place. When I finally saw a map in kindergarten of how far we had traveled, I remember being not only astonished but literally terrified. My father was the standard kind of crazy Latino military guy who would check his children’s hands and their shoes and their clothes and their hair before we left the house. I mean, we had to tie our shoes a certain way. I lived in what I call “the little dictatorship,” the little dictatorship of our house.
When I immigrated to New Jersey, it was a very crazy time. I immigrated in 1974, a few months before the fall of Saigon. This was not a place that was very welcoming. I found myself facing a tremendous amount of racism and bigotry, but not just from like white Americans, from black Americans and from Latinos. I think if every immigrant child in this country was allowed to tell the real emotional truth of their experience here, people in the United States would discover that we actually make immigration a more horrific experience than it needs to be. And I feel that, as a country, we’re in a dream where there are no mistakes, there is no evil, we are always good, we hurt no one. You know, you can’t grow if you admit no mistakes.
AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz in Harvest of Empire. Juan, the Dominican Republic?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and interestingly, Junot appears on the front page of the New York Times Book Review this week with—this past Sunday with his new book.
Yes, it’s—the Dominican Republic really is one of the many examples, but there are others, of Salvador, Guatemala and Cuba, as well, in terms of the effect of American foreign policy on the migration. And I think that’s a key issue that I have in my book and that the film tries to provide with new examples, because my examples are older. They’ve actually been able to get quite a few prominent Latinos, as well as ordinary people, who went through enormous changes that people don’t know much about. But I think the Dominican Republic really, in terms of this idea not just of U.S. intervention in the ’60s, but going back earlier in the 20th century, that the United States has always really dictated a lot of what goes on in the Dominican Republic. And I think that the—once again, whether it was the sugar companies earlier on and, more recently, the maquilas and the sweatshops of the Caribbean Basin, they’ve always had enormous impact on the standard of living in these countries, as well as the push that forces people to look somehow or other to survive by coming to the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo López , you have remarkable footage that has never been seen before in this country throughout. And in a moment, we’re going to go to El Salvador to talk about what drove a lot of the migration here. Where did you get it?
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: Many, many sources, and there’s a lot of footage that’s never been seen, that hasn’t been seen in decades. And this, again, is a testament to the team that created this. Our editor, Catherine Shields, is amazing, and so is our co-director, Peter Getzels.
But I have to say about the Dominican Republic, I’d really like to make a point, that one of the main reasons we made this film is really personified by Junot Díaz, who is now contributing as one of our great American writers. But his whole life was changed dramatically by our invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 with 23,000 marines, something that most Americans know nothing about because all of this history is never taught in our schools and our colleges. And so, for Latinos whose life is turned upside down by our own government’s actions in Latin America that many times we’re unaware of, what happens is, there is this tremendous disconnect. And this is, I believe, one of the reasons why so much of the ignorant rhetoric about immigrants takes hold in our country, because we don’t know. And so, here’s Junot Díaz, whose life is completely changed because of our actions, yet all of us, as American citizens, know nothing of what we did in the Dominican Republic. And I think that’s one of the key parts of this film.
AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the invasion of 1965, Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think that the—that sent a message throughout Latin America in that period of time that the United States, coming out of the Kennedy era, the Alliance for Progress era, that the United States now was the enemy of change, because obviously—Juan Bosch was not a revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination; he was a liberal democrat who wanted to have land reform and wanted to have some basic changes in the lives of the Dominican people. So when the United States government basically backed the coup against Juan Bosch, it sent a message throughout Latin America that the government was going to be—our government was going to be the enemy of real social change in the region. And that lasted really until the ’90s, until this whole new era that has developed in Latin America of socially progressive governments being elected to power, getting rid of old dictatorships, old rule by the military, and giving the popular will a chance to be expressed and to bring more progressive leaders to power. But that really was from the ’60s into the ’90s, you had throughout Latin America the rule of these dictators and military leaders that were largely backed by the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a part of Harvest of Empire that deals with the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero on March 24th, 1980, in El Salvador. This clip features the voices of Sister Pat Murray, former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White, and Sister Terry Alexander, Maryknoll missionary.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: His assassination—in church—stunned the entire nation.
SISTER PAT MURRAY: As the crowd started to grow, they realized that this was going to be a very difficult time. And we could see all the Guardia that were on all the roofs. All of a sudden, there was a shot fired. And then the bomb went off. Everybody just scattered. Then, the Guardia opened fire. Oh, Lord. It’s important that the world know that we stood behind him.
ROBERT WHITE: For the first time, someone had faced down the Salvadoran military and said, “You people are killing the people you are sworn to protect.”
SISTER TERRY ALEXANDER: Father Paul Schindler had received a telephone call saying this farmer had seen the bodies of four women, very definitely American. He began reading a description of the four women. And as he read each one, I could say, “That was Jean. That’s Jean. That’s Dorothy. That’s Ita.” Three of us knelt down there to pray. And I guess my prayer was, like Moore had said once before, “How long, O God, how long must this continue to happen?”
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sister Terry Alexander, Maryknoll missionary. Juan González?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, the footage that they’ve been able to capture there is really amazing, the actual footage not only of the military shooting down the people at Bishop Romero’s funeral, but then actually of the nuns of the church, women being dragged up, their dead bodies. This is what I’ve really been amazed at, in each of these countries, whether it’s Guatemala, the footage of the actual coup against Árbenz in 1954, and this incredible footage that’s never been seen in the United States. Rigoberta Menchú was interviewed in the film, and she talks about the killing of her father in the Spanish embassy, when the Guatemalan government burned down the embassy that was full of dissidents who had taken refuge there, including her father. And they’ve actually been able to find images in the archives of Guatemala of that day and the people being burned and the crowds outside of the Spanish embassy that day.
AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo López, Rigoberta Menchú, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: Yes. We were very happy that she participated, because I think that she really communicates something that, again, as Americans, we were never told. In the story of Guatemala, it’s amazing that we had a time when in the United States we had one brother who was the head of the CIA and another brother who was a secretary of state, and because they had received complaint from one company, the United Fruit Company, they decided that in order to help this company, they were going to take out a democratically elected government.
AMY GOODMAN: Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles.
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: Exactly. And our actions in 1954 in Guatemala taking down the Árbenz government unleashed decades of civil war in that country that ended up killing more than 200,000 people. And Rigoberta Menchú is the person who most personifies that struggle of the Mayan people throughout that time. And so, these, again, are all kinds of situations that our own country is not aware of. And this is another reason why we just felt really compelled to make this film and to work through the seven years in order to bring this to fruition.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, Ann Coulter’s comments on This Week when she said, “I think civil rights are for blacks. … What have we done to the immigrants? We owe black people something; we have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ann Coulter neglects to deal with the reality of U.S.-Mexican history. The entire Southwest of the United States was taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1846. California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado—this was all part of Mexico. And there were actually Mexicans living on the land when the United States took it over in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. You know, so Mexicans often say, the original—the descendants of those original settlers, “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.”
And, of course, she neglects to deal with the reality of the Puerto Rican existence in the United States. There are nearly five million, 4.6 million, Puerto Ricans—U.S. citizens of Puerto Rican descent in the United States and another 4 million, roughly, on the island of Puerto Rico. And the Puerto Ricans never went anywhere. They were just captured as a prize of war in the Spanish-American War, 1898, by the United States and declared citizens by Congress against the objections—the unanimous objection of the House of Delegates of Puerto Rico, which in 1917 rejected citizenship, voted unanimously against U.S. citizenship. And yet it was imposed on the Puerto Ricans by the United States Congress. So that when Ann Coulter says, you know, “What have we done to the immigrants?” Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are the two largest groups of Latinos in the United States. And that’s no accident. It’s a direct result of the history of the United States with these two countries.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, explain your title, Harvest of Empire.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the harvest of the empire, as I explain in both the book and in the movie, is that the—starting at the end of World War II, really, the people of the third world started coming to the West, and they came precisely to those countries that had once been their colonial masters, so that, in France, they don’t know what to do about all the Algerians and the Tunisians and the Moroccans; in England, they don’t know what to do about all the Indians and the Pakistanis and the Jamaicans; in the United States, they don’t know what to do about all the Latin Americans. Those were precisely the former colonies of those empires. And once the—with the ending of World War II and with the independence movements that developed throughout Asia and Africa and Latin America, the peoples of those former colonial countries are coming to the metropolis, and they’re changing, transforming the very composition of those nations, and so that, for us, the United States, it’s not even an—we’re not dealing with this immigration, quote, “problem” alone. England has an immigration problem. France has an immigration problem. Germany has an immigration problem. And it is the harvest of the empires that made those countries so wealthy. Well, the capital came, but now the people are coming, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and what it means in 2012 with the elections here, immigration policy. The film is premiering in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theater in Pasadena and at the Quad theater here in New York beginning on the 28th, on Friday, right through the 4th, here at the Quad theater. It’s on 13th Street. Eduardo López is our guest, co-director and producer along with Wendy Thompson-Marquez, and Juan González, well, co-host on Democracy Now!, a columnist with the New York Daily News, and author of Harvest of Empire, on which this film is based. And he appears in the film throughout. We’ll continue this discussion in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour talking about a new film, given the significance of the issue of immigration in this country today. The film is called Harvest of Empire. It is opening at the Laemmle Theater in Pasadena in California and at the Quad theater here in New York on 13th Street on Friday through October 4th. Eduardo López is with us. He is co-director and producer, along with Wendy Thompson-Marquez, of this remarkable film that’s based on co-host Juan González’s book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America.
Eduardo, the last clip we played was of Archbishop Romero. March 24th, 1980, he is assassinated in El Salvador by a U.S.-backed death squad. You, yourself, are from El Salvador, an immigrant here in the United States.
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: This is, again, one of the reasons why we produced this film and why we feel so strongly about it, because, as Juan points out in his book and in the film, El Salvador is really maybe the latest and one of the clearest examples of this direct connection between our foreign policy and immigration. In the census of 1980, there were less than 100,000 Salvadorans listed, and just 32 years later, we are poised to become the third-largest Latino population in the United States. You have to remember El Salvador is the smallest country in all of the Americas. And yet, how is it that in only 32 years we are about to become the third-largest Latino population in the United States?
If all of the rhetoric about immigration was true, and it’s this poverty or our dysfunctional governments, if that were really the cause of immigration, you would have had people coming from El Salvador forever. But that’s not the case. People started coming in 1980 because of the war, and specifically because of our own country’s actions in the war. In the film, we talk about the School of the Americas and how most of the human rights abuses and the massacres, including the killing of the nuns and the murder of Archbishop Romero, was really done by people trained at the School of the Americas by our own country. And so, this is a clear example of how disconnection continues to exist. It’s not something that just happened 150 years ago. It continues to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you have the latest presidential link, this remarkable story surrounding Bain, how Mitt Romney helped found Bain Capital with investments from Central American links—Central American elites linked to the death squads in El Salvador. Now, this is something we reported on and discussed on Democracy Now! After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40 percent of Bain’s start-up money. Some investors had extensive ties to death squads responsible for a vast majority of the deaths in Salvador in the 1980s. The investors include the Salaverria family, whom the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, previously accused of directly funding the Salvadoran paramilitaries. In his memoir, former Bain executive Harry Strachan writes Romney pushed aside his own misgivings about the investors to accept their backing. Strachan writes, “These Latin American friends have loyally rolled over investments in succeeding funds, actively participated in Bain Capital’s May investor meetings, and are still today one of the largest investor groups in Bain Capital.” I want to get your comment, then Juan’s.
EDUARDO LÓPEZ: I think that if Governor Romney had ever bothered to meet one of the torture victims of the death squads or one of the family members of the people who were brutally killed during that time, maybe he would have thought twice about accepting that blood money. To me, it’s really unacceptable, when you look at the—I believe it was around $9 million that he accepted as the investment money. But where this money came from and the people who gave it to him is something that he really should have looked at much more closely, because it is related to the most terrible atrocities. As Ambassador Robert White says in our film, when you arm a group of uniformed butchers, the people don’t emigrate, they flee. And, to me, it’s unbelievable that now Governor Romney talks about immigrants with derogatory terms like “illegals,” and yet he profited from the funding that actually caused so much of the immigration to the United States from El Salvador.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Mitt Romney talks about people should self-deport. Juan González?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, well, I think that throughout Central America—in Salvador, in Nicaragua, in Honduras—there’s always been a very small elite that has benefited from being a comprador group, basically facilitating the exploitation of their own countries by American businesses, largely. And I think that the—that Romney was so closely tied to some of the Salvadoran compradors is really astounding in terms of, as Eduardo says, his stance on immigration.
And in the film, they actually have an incredible—one of the most powerful portions of the film is the testimony of one of the Salvadoran torture victims, who became an immigrant or a refugee here in the United States. And she talks in vivid terms about the kinds of torture that she went through and how somehow managed to survive. And I think that it’s—that Romney got his start in Bain through this investment by some of these Salvadoran elites is really telling in itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Now I want to get your comment on the current presidential candidates talking about immigration. In an appearance on the Spanish-language network Univision last Thursday, President Obama faced tough questions over his immigration policies, including his failure to fulfill a campaign promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office. Obama called the lack of immigration reform the biggest failure of his presidency but attempted to shift blame for the failure to Republicans.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When we talked about immigration reform in the first year, that’s before the economy was on the verge of collapse. Lehman Brothers had collapsed. The stock market was collapsing. And so, my first priority was making sure that we prevented us from going into a great depression. And I think everybody here remembers where we were four years ago. What I confess I did not expect, and so I’m happy to take responsibility for being naïve here, is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform—my opponent in 2008 who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings—suddenly would walk away.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s comments come as his administration faces scrutiny for deporting and detaining a record number of undocumented people. Nearly 400,000 immigrants were deported during the last fiscal year. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also fielded questions about immigration during a Wednesday appearance on Univision. Romney attacked Obama’s deferred action policy that allows some young undocumented people to remain in the country temporarily, saying a more permanent solution was needed. Romney was accused during the appearance of avoiding specific details about a possible permanent solution and asked to respond with a yes or no on whether he would deport undocumented youth.
MITT ROMNEY: We’re not going to—we’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them. That’s not—I said during my primary campaign, time and again, we’re not going to round up 12 million people, that includes the kids and the parents, and have everyone deported. Our system isn’t to deport people. We need to provide a long-term solution, and I’ve described the fact that I would be in support of a program that said that people who served in our military could be permanent residents of the United States. Unlike the president, when I’m president, I will actually do what I promised. I will put in place an immigration reform plan that solves this issue.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaking during an interview on Univision last week. In fact, he got much louder applause than President Obama did. Juan González?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, yes, he did, because, as some of the reports came out afterwards, he actually trucked in supporters. The original agreement was that Romney would be given tickets to disperse to young Republicans on the University of Miami campus, but they apparently could not find enough students on the University of Miami campus to fill the theater, so they insisted on busing in supporters from outside the university, who were a lot more rowdy, I think, than the students would have been.
But, you know, I think that one of the things that I think it’s important to understand about the current immigration debate in the country, as I mentioned in the film, the last, quote, “amnesty” or attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in this country came under the most conservative president in our lifetime, which was Ronald Reagan. It was Reagan who approved the—who signed into law the Simpson-Rodino bill that provided the opportunity for about three million people who were then in the country, undocumented, to legalize their status. We’re now talking about 11 to 12 million people that are undocumented in the United States. And I think that the extreme—the most extreme right of the Republican Party understands that if 11 to 12 million people are able to legalize their status and become voters, it will change the political landscape of America for decades to come. They understand that it could spell the doom of the Republican Party for a generation to come. And that’s why I think they are struggling so much against it, just as they did back in ’86 with the first comprehensive immigration reform.
So I think that there is a political reason for this vehement opposition to basically adjusting the status for folks that really, for the most part, are not criminals. They’re hard-working people. They were forced to, by a variety of reasons, leave their countries. And they’re contributing to the prosperity of the United States, so that—and especially the DREAMers, the young folks. So I think that that’s what’s at stake here, is that not only a humanitarian gesture to the people that are here, but also the political repercussions that will come about as a result.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan and Eduardo, thank you so much for being with us. Eduardo López is the co-director and producer with Wendy Thompson-[Marquez] of the feature-length documentary, Harvest of Empire, which is based on Juan González’s book by the same title. We thank you so much. At the Laemmle Theater on Friday night in Pasadena, here in New York at the Quad theater on 13th Street in New York through October 4th. This is a film certainly worth seeing. What a remarkable education.
(*) See this program on Democracy Now.