This Friday, presidents of the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will meet with President Barack Obama in Washington DC to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. from Central America.
Migration between these countries is not new, and has been high on the multilateral agenda for years. The U.S., Mexico and Central America share not only geographic proximity, but historical, social, political, economic, and cultural ties.
The non-authorized flow of adults and children between Central America, Mexico and the U.S. continues to alarm all sides, with over 347,000 nationals from Mexico and Central America removed from the U.S. in FY 2013 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This comprised about 94 percent of all U.S. deportations in 2013—but does not account for the high numbers of Central American migrants removed from Mexico.
Yet it is the recent spike of minors attempting to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border from Mexico and the Northern Triangle—from 19,418 children in FY 2009 to 56,547 in FY 2014—that opened a major inquiry into the recurring immigration crisis, prompting quick political responses and visits between U.S., Mexican and Central American officials.
U.S. Counselor of Department of State Thomas Shannon arrived in Honduras on Wednesday as part of a three-day trip to Central America to address the estimated 52,000 unaccompanied minors from the region entering the U.S. illegally. As part of his trip, Shannon visited repatriation centers and met with leaders of civic organizations and government officials. He also spoke with members of the Red Cross, the Border Police, and immigration officials on the Honduran-Guatemalan border in Corinto, Honduras—an area that has seen high levels of violence and narcotrafficking activity, as well as the transit of thousands of migrants per year.
The unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. are primarily coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and many have since been detained by U.S. officials. “Migration is a problem that corresponds to all of the countries involved—the countries of origin, transit and destination. We have the responsibility to work together to look for a solution to the problem,” said Shannon.
Shannon, who is the first Foreign Service Officer to serve as Counselor in 32 years, discussed the importance of addressing the push factors in Central America. “We want to work to assure that migrants, instead of looking for the American dream look for the Honduran dream. We need to build opportunities [in Central America], even though we understand that some of these [children] wish to be [reunited] with their parents, but migration has many causes,” he said.
Shannon’s trip concludes today, just before President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and Salvadorian President Salvador Sánchez Cerén on Friday in Washington DC to discuss the crisis of children migrants.
During the past few months, the United States, Mexico and Central American governments have brought attention to the number of unaccompanied minors fleeing towards the U.S. from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that the number of unaccompanied children ages 12 and younger caught at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year rose 117 percent, compared to last fiscal year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that by May 31 this year, unaccompanied minors apprehended at the southwest U.S. border included 13,282 children from Honduras, 11,577 from Mexico, 11,479 from Guatemala, and 9,850 from El Salvador. The Wall Street Journal stated that the total number of unaccompanied children taken into custody at the end of June had climbed to 57,525.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a map that identifies the origins of the unaccompanied children and the factors causing child migration to the United States. In the case of Guatemala, the map indicated that many Guatemalan children come from rural areas and are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S., while many children from Honduras and El Salvador are coming from regions with high crime rates and are likely seeking refuge from violence.
Different opinion leaders have begun to analyze the situation from a variety of perspectives. Some, like Joaquín Villalobos, a former Salvadoran guerrilla leader, argue that the private sector is not taking action to reduce migration. Mary Anastasia O'Grady, a conservative writer from The Wall Street Journal, has focused on violence and impunity in these countries, mainly resulting from the war on drugs in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
Muzaffar Chishti and Faye Hipsman argued in a recent article for The Migration Policy Institute that “In reality, there is no single cause. Instead, a confluence of different pull and push factors has contributed to the upsurge. Recent U.S. policies toward unaccompanied children, faltering economies and rising crime and gang activity in Central American countries, the desire for family reunification, and changing operations of smuggling networks have all converged.”
While there is an urgent need to resolve the situation and reduce the number of unaccompanied children migrating to the U.S., the problem requires a combination of short- and long-term solutions. It is important to impose harsher penalties for “coyotes” or smugglers, since this has become a very lucrative business for organized crime, according to recent reports by Prensa Libre and Emisoras Unidas. It is also important to communicate to Indigenous leaders in sending communities why crossing illegally into the U.S. is a crime (both in Spanish and in different Mayan languages).
In the case of Guatemala, the private sector is already working with different the Guatemalan government, international organizations and cooperation agencies to accelerate economic growth and generate long-term solutions that will reduce immigration towards the U.S. through the Mejoremos Guate (Let’s Make Guatemala Better) initiative, led by the Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF) and the Guatemalan Development Foundation (Fundación para el Desarrollo de Guatemala—FUNDESA).
Guatemala’s private sector is implementing different projects in rural areas to increase economic opportunities: for example, by financing irrigation programs to increase agricultural productivity and by creating more English programs to increase the number of people that can work in call centers. Other projects include public policy advocacy for flexible labor laws—flexible hours and work contracts, more temporary employment or working from home, greater flexibility in pay arrangements, and reducing red tape to generate business and increase real income. In the pipeline, other initiatives involve supporting increased funding for low interest rate credits to increase investment in the departments of origin of unaccompanied minors, and promoting exports to southern Mexico by building manufacturing industries close to the border. In addition, it is important to increase the capacity of crime prevention projects in violent areas of Guatemala City, to support crowdsourcing initiatives like Alertos, which can support integrated solutions to reduce violence, and to build technical capacity for public law enforcement officials, both from the National Civil Police and Municipal Police.
U.S. policymakers, think tanks and NGOs that promote development in Guatemala and other countries in Central America must begin focusing on projects to increase productivity and reduce social exclusion in rural areas. These initiatives will have a direct impact on development and will help reduce the lack of opportunities that leads migrants to seek a better life in another country.
United States Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced yesterday that he is in discussions with several Latin American ambassadors about the increasing number of unaccompanied Central American children who are illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into southern Texas, and considering ways to send them home. Through May, 47,000 such children have made their way to the U.S.—double the number from last year. Most come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Johnson’s announcement comes as a response to two public letters he received from attorney generals in the border states of Texas and Arizona about undocumented immigrants. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott requested $30 million from Homeland Security for an “overwhelmed” border patrol. He claims that the arrival of undocumented immigrants exposes the state to threat of “dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking.” In a separate letter, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said that federal immigration authorities must stop the practice of moving undocumented single parents with children to Arizona due to limited housing availability in Texas, and threatened to sue if it continues.
In his address, Johnson made clear that those entering the U.S. illegally would not qualify for the pathway to citizenship that is part of the comprehensive reform legislation pending in Congress.
El Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal, organización civil radicada en México, dio a conocer recientemente los resultados de su investigación “Las 50 Ciudades más Peligrosas del Mundo." El estudio calcula el promedio de homicidios entre la población total de cada ciudad, y persigue un fin mucho más que académico. De acuerdo con el Consejo Ciudadano, “lo que perseguimos es contribuir al reclamo que los diferentes pueblos del mundo hacen a sus gobernantes para que cumplan con su obligación de proteger los derechos de los individuos a la vida, la propiedad y la libertad.” Los resultados del estudio no deberían sorprendernos. Sin embargo, arrojan indicios de variables que hasta el momento, al menos en Centroamérica, no se daban a conocer.
Dentro de las 50 ciudades más violentas del mundo figuran 39 ciudades latinoamericanas—sin contar el Caribe. El resto se encuentra en Sudáfrica o Estados Unidos. San Pedro Sula, Honduras ocupa el primer lugar, llevándose el indecoroso reconocimiento como la ciudad más peligrosa del mundo. En cuarto lugar figura Tegucigalpa, Honduras, seguida de Ciudad de Guatemala, en doceavo lugar, y San Salvador en el puesto 44 detrás de ciudades como Baltimore, Nueva Orleans, Oakland y Detroit en los Estados Unidos.
Pero, ¿de qué sirven los rankings de este tipo? Los centroamericanos conocen de primera mano los retos a la seguridad ciudadana que afrontamos, pero información como ésta aporta lecciones valiosas que no podemos ignorar.
The aftershocks from Guatemala’s largest earthquake since 1976 continue to reverberate around the country, causing a halt to governmental efforts to introduce constitutional reform.
In August, President Otto Pérez Molina went to Congress with a list of 35 proposed constitutional reforms covering everything from the mining industry to educational reform. This prompted countrywide protests, leading to the deaths of six civilians in Totonicapán.
On a visit to San Marcos, the area most affected by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on November 7, Pérez Molina announced that the Q200 million ($25.2 million) that was to be spent on constitutional reform will be set aside to help with the earthquake recovery.
The sheer scale of the earthquake is only just being felt, with 3.4 million people affected by it and 225 aftershocks ranging from 3.5-6.1 on the Richter scale in the past three weeks. At its peak, over 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
The arrest of eight soldiers in connection with the Totonicapán incident on October 4—which resulted in the deaths of at least seven Indigenous protestors—heralds the first test of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s mano dura (iron fist) approach to restoring law and order.
Pérez Molina campaigned for office promising to use the army, from which he is a retired general, to help combat narcoterrorism and the associated random violence that pervades the country. Instead, the remilitarization of Guatemala, with mixed army and Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC) roadblocks a common sight, has brought back memories of the 36-year civil war where state brutality was a daily occurrence.
Events in Totonicapán, an Indigenous-majority department in the west of the country, are especially poignant on Día de la Hispanidad, which is a day to commemorate Indigenous resistance against Spanish conquerors. Hispanity Day, which is celebrated in the U.S. as Columbus Day, also saw a heavy police presence in Guatemala City as authorities feared a backlash by Indigenous groups.
Colonel Juan Chiroy Sal has been charged with extrajudicial murder as the commander of a detachment of the honor guard sent to Cuatro Caminos, an intersection that links Totonicapán with Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and Guatemala City. It is a frequent spot for demonstrations and the October 4 protest against rising electricity prices in the area saw other community members join in to complain about proposed changes to the Constitution and other education reforms.
In the mid-1990s, the Inter-American Development Bank published various reports indicating that El Salvador and Guatemala had the highest homicide rates in Latin America. Fast-forward sixteen years later and these two countries form, along with neighboring Honduras, the most violent region in the world by all accounts.
With a combined population of 28 million, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador constitute the northern triangle of Central America; a sub-region that has experienced almost twice-as-much violence as Mexico has since 2006, when Calderon’s war on drugs started. According to official data, approximately 50 thousand people have been killed in Mexico since 2006. In contrast, the northern triangle, with a population four times smaller than Mexico, has endured nearly 90,000 murders during that same period. But while Mexico, with an annual homicide rate of 18 deaths per one hundred thousand inhabitants, is a tragedy, the northern triangle, with average homicide rates surpassing 60 per one hundred thousand, is a catastrophe.
Many believe that the appalling rates of violence in the sub-region are the result of the penetration of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. According to this argument, in their effort to control the drug routes from South America to the United States, criminal organizations are not only bringing unparalleled violence to Central America, but also taking over highly fragile public institutions. The logical extension of this argument then is that this relentless assault of transnational gangs can only be addressed with greater police and military force.
Although the presence of criminal cartels has undeniably contributed to the skyrocketing violence in the northern triangle, the fundamental problem of security in Central America does not have to do merely with drug traffickers—or social conditions, for that matter. It has to do with government institutions. It has to do with local political and criminal-justice organizations that are extremely corrupt. It has to do with institutions that have been historically pervaded by local criminal lords, death squads, crooked politicians, and vicious paramilitaries who were present long before the Mexican Zetas or the Colombian syndicates began crowding the illegal enterprises of the region.
As the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, the pressures of manufacturing costs have risen to the forefront. These challenges drive the locations of manufacturing, where products are transported and where investors look to spend their capital. It seems that the days of faulty, substandard major projects in Central America are over as individual governments take seriously the attractions for businesses to manufacture in other world regions.
From Guatemala to the end of the isthmus at Panama, Central American nations have all realized that the only way their countries can be competitive in the modern global economy is by building a first-class infrastructure. These outputs must offer sufficient capacity to handle the demands of the movement and delivery of goods, people and services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Every country is pouring significant funds into infrastructure, with Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica leading the pack.
Panama, which is often considered to be the “hub of the Americas” in terms of maritime and aviation, has spent over $3 billion in projects related to the widening of the Panama Canal, and another $3 billion in the construction of a metro-rail transportation system, among other initiatives. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has posted an impressive growth rate in recent years due primarily to tourism and producing high-value products. However, Costa Rica has been criticized for its lack of infrastructure and for the bureaucratic delays that surround the approval of any major project. With hopes of sustaining its current growth, Costa Rica has responded to this criticism by reforming its concessions law to further attract investment as well as signing a historic free-trade agreement with China, aimed at attracting heavy infrastructure-related foreign direct investment as it recently did.
Por primera vez en 26 años de incipiente democracia, llega un militar a la presidencia de Guatemala. La oferta política del General Otto Pérez Molina se enfocó en una mano dura hacia la delincuencia y narcotráfico. Curiosamente los estratos sociales y étnicos que sufrieron la mayor cantidad de abusos de derechos humanos durante el conflicto armado por parte del Ejército se decantaron por el General.
El mismo día el General Omar Halleslevens fue electo vice-presidente de la Republica de Nicaragua como compañero de fórmula del Presidente Daniel Ortega. Halleslevens habría sido instrumental en modernizar y profesionalizar las Fuerzas Armadas de Nicaragua después del conflicto armado.
Apenas unas semanas antes de que ambos militares en retiro fueran electos el General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, ex jefe castrense de Honduras durante la crisis política del vecino país en el 2009, se menciona como candidato a la presidencia hondureña. De lograr llegar a la silla presidencial sería el primer militar en hacerlo desde 1982.
¿Qué valoración se debe hacer a lo que pareciera una tendencia en la región? Está claro que hay algunas diferencias obvias entre los tres casos. Por ejemplo, en Guatemala Pérez Molina fue electo bajo un proceso de elecciones libres, justas y democráticas mientras que en Nicaragua el proceso electoral estuvo plagado de irregularidades, ilegalidades e incoherencias. Y en el tercero de los casos Vásquez Velásquez aun ni siquiera entra en la contienda electoral formalmente.
¿Debemos interpretar estos hechos como un síntoma o es una consecuencia de la situación de inseguridad en la región?
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.