HBO Documentary: Ice Box

If you have HBO, try to track down the doc-film currently on offer: Ice Box. This heart-wrenching story follows 12 year old Honduran boy named Oscar, forced into a gang, branded with gang tats against his will, and made to stand by while the gang killed another boy. Oscar tries to leave the gang and return to school, where gang members track him down and pepper his classroom with live gunshots. His desperate parents pay a coyote to take him to the U.S. border to seek asylum, eventually to land with an uncle working outside Phoenix.

The heartbreaking scenes begin with Oscar’s father trying to tell his son how to remain safe on the perilous trip, his mother telling Oscar he isn’t being sent away because he is bad but because his life is in danger and they cannot protect him, and his little sister coming to say good-bye.

Whatever perils Oscar faces during the journey are far outweighed by the cruelty of Immigration and Border Patrol agents who catch Oscar and imprison him in a chilly warehouse filled with cages, each one home to a group of unaccompanied minors. The only kindness here is between the detainees, between Oscar and his new friend Rafael. Even the journalist who eventually helps Oscar connect with his terrified uncle — a  poor farm worker living in a bunk house whose job it is to spray dangerous chemicals on crops — has a motive: she wants details of Oscar’s confinement for a story. The U.S. court system, where Oscar unsuccessfully presents his case, comes in a close second on the cruelty scale.

There is no miracle ending, no happy prospect for Oscar to stay in the United States legally — except that he isn’t dead.

Trump’s tough guy act toward vulnerable children like Oscar is supported by people in his administration like Stephen Miller and John Kelly, all of whom conveniently ignore the role the U.S. has played in destabilizing Latin American countries for decades. During the 20th Century, the U.S. government supported regime change in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Very active, we were, under the guise of repelling communism.

Here is a more particular account of U.S. involvement in Honduras:

“U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in “Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America,” American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.”

By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.” Over a few decades, U.S. capital also came to dominate the country’s banking and mining sectors, a process facilitated by the weak state of Honduras’ domestic business sector. This was coupled with direct U.S. political and military interventions to protect U.S. interests in 1907 and 1911.

The people who should see Ice Box, Trump’s core supporters, will no doubt pass the HBO film by. But you should track it down and watch, if for no other reason to bear witness to the cruelty being done in our name.

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