Marcela Sanchez says that for Latinos, Reagan’s legacy is…mixed.
WASHINGTON — Ronald Reagan is probably remembered most in Latin America as a ruthless anti-communist who went out of his way — and outside the law — to support the anti-Sandinista Contras in Nicaragua and to strengthen brutal regimes in countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala, as long as they remained loyal to his crusade against Soviet influence.For Central America, the 40th U.S. president was either a godsend who helped steer the region away from a Cuban destiny or a destructive meddler who had no respect for sovereignty. Whatever one’s view, it is a fact that Washington’s support during the Reagan years helped fuel conflicts that left thousands of innocent people dead and thousands more fleeing the violence. Many who fled came to this country illegally.
Yet in November 1986, months before the worst crisis of his presidency, the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan signed into law the most sweeping immigration reform in decades, allowing about 3 million illegal immigrants to stay, work and, more important, become U.S. citizens.
Reagan’s legacy to Latin America and Latin Americans is paradoxical. He was painfully shortsighted at times and visionary at others. His crusade against the “evil empire” cut a destructive path through Central America, yet his optimism about individuals helped open U.S. doors to millions.