By Linda Allegro
One thing I learned from the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial is that apologies matter. Reparations matter for harm inflicted on communities of color and impoverished communities. It’s in this context that Kamala Harris’s words, “don’t come here”, were especially hurtful during her recent diplomatic mission to Guatemala.
She should’ve begun with an apology–an apology for the U.S backed coup that ousted the beloved president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. That coup led to the deepening of extractive economies often led by U.S. multinationals driving Indigenous people off their lands and into crushing poverty. There should have also been an apology for the U.S. backing of right-wing governments in the region in the purported war on communism that left millions dead and created refugees.
The war on communism was a direct attack on Indigenous people and their communal way of life. This instability paved the way for drug trafficking to flourish as the region became a trafficking route for the insatiable American appetite for cocaine and other drugs.
Apology and resources to impacted communities
After an apology, a goodwill effort should have been made (and I believe she did make this gesture) to bring much needed resources to impacted communities in terms of relief for housing development, sustainable agriculture, educational advancement etc. to help restore the dignity of nations.
Instead, her message of “don’t come here” was cold and condescending, the epitome of the ugly American or arrogant yanqui the region knows so well. Her directive appeared to be meant to appease opposition at home over the “border crisis.” Perhaps she should have spent more time listening to the concerns and suggestions of the people in the country hosting her.
The Guatemalan people have suffered a lot. Many have no desire to leave their homelands. They want nothing more than to prosper and to live in peace in their country. The K’iche, Kaqchikel, Mam and other Indigenous people are rooted in working their lands as they have for millennia. When people migrate, it is often because they have no other choice – because they have been forced to move, become displaced, and targeted.
They are in fear for their lives and seeking safety and refuge. All human beings have the right to seek asylum under international law. Let’s work towards messages of apology, reparation and reconciliation worldwide. If healing is to take place, it has to be this way.
The office of the Vice Presidency missed an opportunity to showcase for the world how apologies and reparations are the cornerstones of healing.
Linda Allegro is the director of El Centro: New Sanctuary Empowerment Center in Tulsa, Okla.