Though other Central American governments have mounted violent counterinsurgency campaigns, the description of the Indians’ persecution in “Someone to Talk To” bears a strong resemblance to the history of Guatemala in the 1980s. Though the Guatemalan army had used death squads to quash insurgents since the 1960s, the slaughter of political dissidents and their alleged supporters reached a bloody peak in the early 1980s, due in part to the strong support of the Reagan administration. In 1983, Reagan lifted an earlier ban on military aid to Guatemala. The United States provided the Guatemalan army with millions of dollars’ worth of military assistance, including trucks, jeeps, and aircraft parts, all in an effort to keep communism out of Central America. (Interestingly, it was also Reagan who helped bring about the end of the cold war later in the 1980s, rendering such precautions obsolete.) The Guatemalan army was quick to label citizens as insurgents; in many cases poor native Indians were simply assumed to be supporters of the Guerilla Army of the Poor (known as the EGP) without proof or investigation, and hundreds of Mayan villages were systematically destroyed. Thousands of Indians were killed, but some managed to escape to the hills, homeless.
The true extent of the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan army, and the complicity of the U.S. government, did not become known to the general American public until the late 1990s, when the Clinton administration declassified a large number of secret documents pertaining to this sad chapter in Guatemalan and U.S. history.
Homelessness in America
An economic recession in the early 1980s, plus large cuts in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), precipitated a huge increase in the number of homeless people during the 1980s. The rise of crack cocaine, a much cheaper form of the drug than had been available before, further aggravated the problem. Some estimates put the number of homeless during this time as high as two million. While the overall economy improved throughout the 1980s, homelessness remained a problem.
The problem of homelessness was set in sharper relief by the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans. After the Reagan administration took office in 1981, it relaxed government regulations and taxes for big business, which led to a boom for large corporations. Coupled with the aforementioned cuts made in social programs, the result was that the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Deborah Eisenberg, Published by Gale Group, 2006