Remittances sent back home by migrants who have managed to enter the United States, Canada or European countries are often crucially important in supporting families in low-income countries. Nowhere is this as clear as it is in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Guatemala remittances generally account for 14 per cent of the country’s GDP; in Honduras and El Salvador, the equivalent figure is 20 per cent.
Whilst the business world (in the form of CentralAmericaData.com) reported record increases in remittances sent to Central American countries for January and February this year – see table below – and forecast a good year for remittances in 2020, at that time the effects of the pandemic had not been foreseen. This dramatic effect, however, is illustrated by the figures for April 2020 compared with April 2019 – see the table below.
At the level of the family and the household, remittances are often vitally significant for the household economy which in many cases is precarious at best. Unemployment and a lack of opportunities added to a high level of violence in these three countries have stimulated a decades long wave of emigration to richer countries where jobs are more numerous and salaries are higher. In the last two years the phenomenon of migrant caravans from these countries, and especially Honduras, has grown largely as a result of a slightly new balance of forces in which the threats of violence to the family have increased in significance. The economic motive, however, is still highly significant, as are the remittances which improved economic earnings in the rich countries can sustain.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, caused problems not just for the earners, but also for the recipients of the remittances. Despite these problems, in July CentralAmericaData.com was reporting an increase in remittances to El Salvador of around 10 per cent in the month of June (compared with June 2019), which it believed was due to the ending of the lockdown in the United States and the consequent reduction in unemployment there. This in turn was an enabling factor allowing “a major effort on the part of Salvadorans living abroad to support their families.”
Remarkably too in Guatemala the Bank of Guatemala reported that “in the first seven months of 2020 the country received remittances totalling $5,959 million (USD), a sum 2 per cent greater than the equivalent figure for 2019.”
For the first six months of 2020, on the other hand, remittances to Honduras were down by 4 per cent on the equivalent period for 2019. La Prensa (Honduras) explained: “the majority of these resources come from family members in the United States which has seen employment fall by 13.3 per cent by June following a 4.4 per cent decline in March.”
How remittances progress in the remainder of the year will depend on factors such as the advance or retreat of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Northern Triangle, its advance or retreat in the United States (and other rich countries) and the effects of these factors and policies pursued by governments on levels of unemployment in the rich countries.
‘Remesas en El Salvador: Tendencia se revierte’,07.20
‘Honduras recibe menos remesas’,07.20
‘Remesas: Envíos récord en Julio de 2020’, 08.20
Central Reserve Bank as given in El Economista ‘Recepción de remesas en El Salvador cayó 40% en abril’ by Javier Orellano, 15 May 2020.
El Economista (09.07.20) ‘Las remesas enviadas a Guatemala se recuperan un 15.1% en el último mes’.
El Economista (04.05.20) ‘Prevén drástico descenso en remesas para el Triángulo Norte de Centroamérica’.
El Economista (17 December 2018) reports
that remittances received in El Salvador between January and November 2018 increased
by 8.7% in comparison with the same period in 2017, and amounted to more than US$4,900
million [US dollars], according to the Central Reserve Bank (BCR).
these ten months the country received remittances from 160 countries, at the
head of which was the US with US$4,602.4 million, followed by the European
Union and Canada with US$46.8 million and US$43.8 million respectively.
The 2.8 million Salvadorans who live in the United States sent a major part of the US$5,021.3 million in remittances which El Salvador received in 2017, this being the highest figure in history for the Central American country.
Pastrán (21 December 2018) reports that remittances
received in Nicaragua during the third quarter of 2018 rose to US$372.8
million, an increase of 4.8 per cent compared with the same period in the
previous year. Remittances up to and including the month of September 2018
amounted to US$1,097.4 million, a 7.6 per cent increase on the same period
During the third quarter of 2018, the major origins
of these remittances were the United States (55.4%), Costa Rica (19.4%), Spain
(11.5%) and Panamá (5.3%).
The department of Managua continued to be the major
recipient of the remittances (35.0%), with the department of Chinandega
receiving 10.3%, León 8.2%, Estelí 8.0% and Matagalpa 7.0%.
The region’s extreme poverty and violent impunity are central factors driving this migration.
Yet every migrant’s story is unique. Some simply seek the chance to earn enough money to ensure a better future for themselves or their children. Others flee persecution at the hands of gangs, organized crime or corrupt state officials. For others, insecurity and poverty are so intertwined that drawing them apart becomes impossible.
Many Central American migrants are simply desperate to find work that pays enough to feed their families. U.S. asylum law provides no relief for these “economic refugees.”
I met Roberto Quijones in a migrant shelter in the Mexican state of Tabasco, about 25 mile north of the Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, in late 2017. We spoke as he soaked his blistered feet and tried to mend his busted shoes with duct tape.
Roberto is from a rural town in northwestern El Salvador near the border with Honduras and Guatemala, and had been out of work for two years. For more than a year, he and his wife and their 2-year-old daughter had been living with an aunt. Their welcome had worn thin.
“She’s family,” Roberto said, “but you know you get to a moment when not paying rent isn’t possible anymore. Even if they are family.”
And even for those who can find work, extremely low wages cannot cover families’ basic needs, destroying hope for a better future.
“I can make 200 lempiras, a day working” – the equivalent of US$10 – said Marvin Otoniel Castillo, a father of three from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We spoke in late 2016 beneath a bridge in Veracruz, Mexico, waiting to hop a train to continue northwards.
“So your whole life is falling deeper into debt,” Marvin continued. “That’s why I came. So I could send my oldest child to school so he wouldn’t have to live like his father.”
Running for their lives
Other migrants have been targeted by criminal organizations that operate with stunning impunity in Central America.
Criminal organizations derive much of their power from their deep links with government agents; it’s sometimes impossible to identify where the state ends and the underworld begins. Such connections also make understanding who is responsible for any given murder difficult.
The upshot is that many Central Americans trying to enter the United States are literally running for their lives.
That includes Pedro, whose uncle and two brothers were gunned down on a crowded Guatemala City street in 2015 because, he believed, his cousin had stolen from a drug-trafficking organization. Like others I’ve interviewed who are fleeing violent persecution, he requested anonymity to protect himself and family still living in Guatemala.
Pedro said he moved with his wife and two daughters to another part of the city to escape detection. But then police discovered his 13-year-old daughter’s body in an alleyway.
Her assailants had raped her, burned her with cigarettes and knifed her to death. Pedro said that no one would tell him who did it, but he fled with his family to ensure their safety.
Or Alejandra, from a mid-size city west of the Guatemalan capital, who told me she was in her final year of a nurse training program and spending Christmas holidays with family when she witnessed her uncle gunned down in his front yard while he strung up party lights.
The uncle, she said, had refused to pay extortion money to a criminal group run by active and former police officers. The next day, Alejandra received threatening messages on Facebook. She didn’t want to leave the country, but moved in with a friend in another town and tried to lie low.
A few weeks later, Alejandra claimed, the group sent a kid with a handgun to kill her. She escaped by throwing herself from her motorbike. That’s when she decided to give up her career and flee Guatemala.
The price of staying
For financial or personal reasons, many Central Americans are unable or unwilling to flee in the face of such threats. That can exact a steep price.
One evening in late 2018, a woman named Sofia said that members of MS-13 caught her when she was walking home from work in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She’d moved to the city months before with her 12-year-old daughter, because her husband, Pablo, had fled the country to escape the gang’s threats.
Pablo had worked driving a produce truck, but then MS-13 killed his boss for refusing to pay extortion. Gang extortion is believed to be a leading cause of murder in Honduras and though the majority of the country’s extortion victims are poor, they pay about $200 million a year to protect themselves.
MS-13 told Pablo he was next.
The family’s funds were just enough to get Pablo out of Honduras. Maybe, they hoped, if he was gone the gang would leave the family alone. Once in the States, he could send money home.
The plan didn’t work. Four gang members forced Sofia into a car, drove her to the countryside, beat her and raped her repeatedly. “This is what will happen to your daughter,” they shouted at her over and over again, “if you don’t pay us what your husband owes.”
Ethics and survival
The images and stories of Central Americans caged at the border awaiting processing expose how the U.S. immigration system was never designed to deal with this many people fleeing these kinds of problems.
In the hopes of getting better treatment at the border, some migrants have resorted to pretending to be part of family units, or lying about their age.
This kind of “gaming the system” may be ethically questionable, but viewed from the perspective of survival, it makes perfect sense.
Such strategies speak most of all of collective desperation, begging a question posed by many of the Central American migrants I have met over the years: “If you were me, what would you do?”
At the height of the
migrant caravan crisis (which has not gone away) in November 2018, the daily
Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica produced an article of ‘Stories of
forced displacement due to violence’ written by Ricardo Flores. There were six
personal stories in the article and ENCA member Jill Powis translated them for
the ENCA Newsletter (no.75) which for reasons of space could only include four
of them. All of them are included here on The Violence of Development website.
We are grateful to Jill for her translations.
Nelson was disappeared and then murdered for
refusing to leave his home. The first warning came in 2014 from a neighbour, a
woman who had links with members of the Barrio 18 (18th Street)
gang. She told him that he had to close
down his business, which supported his family of seven, on the grounds that
“he was selling the same product as her.” After that came more
warnings, including death threats, to make him leave, together with his whole
family. It was October 2015 when they decided to leave, to stay with relatives,
but Nelson, a fictitious name to protect his [family] identity, decided to stay
“to guard the house.” His
relatives believe that he was killed because, before he was threatened, he
worked for a community organisation running violence prevention schemes to
improve life within the community.
Prior to Nelson’s death, the family had sought
protection from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Procuraduría para la
Defensa de los Derechos Humanos – PDDH), but this opened a case file only
after his murder. The PDDH informed the
police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía), and all that
happened was that some family members who gave evidence were named as key
witnesses in the legal process.
note below] lodged an application for protective measures for Nelson’s
family with the Constitutional Court on 9 June 2017. The application was accepted four months
later, but by this time they were already out of the country. They had lost
their jobs, their homes, the right to freedom of movement and the young people
were forced to abandon their studies.
This is the story of a family 35 strong,
including children and adolescents, who were victims of threats, physical
attacks, sexual abuse and rape by gang members – all for being relatives of
members of the armed forces. The gang attacked the family on various dates and
different places. The threats became so
bad that they were forced to leave the town.
The family moved to relatives living in an area
of the country without gangs. However, there they suffered violence again, but
this time from the state. Police officers carried out an operation in the
community, shooting “to intimidate”. A bullet hit a woman from the
family, killing her instantly. This forced them to move again.
The family reported all the attacks by the gang
to the authorities. The police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office solely
designated them as key witnesses in the legal process so that they could
testify – there was no progress on the cases. One of the victims of the forced
displacement also filed a complaint with the General Inspectorate of the
National Civil Police about his mother’s death at the hands of the officers who
carried out the operation. The local police’s official version was that the
woman died “in the context of a confrontation with gang members.”
This was the only one of the six cases where the
Constitutional Court issued a final judgment in favour of a family displaced by
the violence in El Salvador, following a
an application for protection measures filed by Cristosal. However, the measures ordered by the Court
benefited only a few members of the family, with the rest leaving the country
under the international protection system.
Margarita and Luisa (not their real names) were
threatened with rape if they did not leave the community. The two women, mother
and daughter, had a food business which involved visiting various apartments.
The threats began when some gang members came to live in the area.
In response to the threats, which were also
directed at Margarita’s husband and another daughter, the family decided to
move, but when they settled down in another place, they again suffered
extortion from another gang.
When the family reported the gang to the
Anti-Extortion Unit of the National Civil Police, it stated that its response
would be limited to arresting the suspects and starting legal proceedings
against them “because it does not have enough officers to provide the
family with protection.”
Sofia was held captive and raped by a gang for
being the daughter of a policeman. When the teenager disappeared, her father
went to the police, but they failed to respond immediately. When they finally
found her, the police accused Sofía (not her real name) of being a member of
The Public Prosecutor’s Office offered
protection measures, but only for Sofia, a minor; and so the family, five
people in total, preferred to move, where they remained in hiding. Despite not
leaving the house, the gang members managed to find them and continued to issue
them with death threats. This meant that
they were forced to move house again until they got help to leave El Salvador.
In view of the poor response by state institutions, the
Constitutional Court accepted the application for protection measures for all
five members of the family, but by this time they had already left the country.
A large family requested international
protection measures in the wake of the murder of a young woman and her sister,
as well as the kidnapping of a baby girl who was only months old. The
investigation of the case produced evidence that the crimes were committed by
gang members with the aim of “getting the baby.” The other members of
the family were threatened so that they would leave, and so after the funeral
for the two women, the family abandoned their belongings, homes and jobs.
Cristosal concluded that the State does not have
the capacity to protect a large family.
Victoria, her adult daughter and two children
lived in a house where they had a family business. One afternoon, an armed gang
came to the store. Victoria (not her real name) was shot dead at the scene, while
her daughter suffered bullet wounds to various organs. Her relatives had to
take her from the hospital because the gang continued to look for her and they
feared that she would be found. When she recovered, three months later, she
decided to move with the two children to a house belonging to another relative.
However, an informer from the gang found her and warned them to leave the area
“if she did not want to have any problems”.
As a result of this fresh threat, the woman was
forced to move again with her children to another relative in another region of
the country. Unlike the other cases, this family did not want to take advantage
of the government shelter system, but instead wanted measures that would allow
them to be protected by the authorities in the place where they had relocated.
Cristosal presented their request to the
Constitutional Court and it was accepted on 11 July 2018, when it ordered
The trial for Victoria’s murder resulted in the
conviction of those responsible, who are currently awaiting sentencing.
Note: Cristosal works
to advance human rights in Central America through rights-based research,
learning, and programming. They accompany victims of violence to provide
protection when they need it most, repair the lingering effects of human rights
violations, and build human rights frameworks to create conditions where peace
is possible. https://www.cristosal.org/
Por Ricardo Flores, La
Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador
28 Noviembre 2018
los relatos que seis familias desplazadas por la violencia le contaron a
Cristosal, la organización que documenta y atiende los casos y que ayer
presentó un sistema de monitoreo del problema. Estas historias llegaron hasta
la Sala de lo Constitucional de la Corte Suprema.
desaparecido y luego asesinado por negarse a abandonar su casa. La primera
advertencia le llegó en 2014 de una vecina que tenía vínculos con pandilleros
del Barrio 18, quien le dijo que debía cerrar el negocio del que sobrevivía la
familia, conformada por siete personas. La queja de la mujer era que
“vendían el mismo producto que ella”. Tras esa intimidación, llegaron
más avisos que contenían amenazas de muerte para que se fuera del lugar junto
con toda la familia. Corría octubre de 2015 cuando decidieron huir hacia donde
otros parientes, pero Nelson, nombre ficticio para proteger su identidad, decidió
quedarse “para resguardar la vivienda”. Los parientes creen que fue
asesinado porque antes de ser amenazado trabajaba en una organización
comunitaria que tenía proyectos para prevención de violencia para mejorar las
condiciones de vida en la comunidad.
Previo a la
muerte de Nelson, la familia había acudido a la Procuraduría para la Defensa de
los Derechos Humanos en busca de protección, pero la institución abrió un
expediente del caso hasta después del homicidio. El acompañamiento de la PDDH
los llevó a la Policía y la Fiscalía, donde la respuesta fue que algunos
miembros de la familia que sirvieron como testigos recibieron nombres claves en
decidió presentar el 9 de junio de 2017 un amparo ante la Sala de lo
Constitucional. Cuatro meses después, la sala admitió la demanda y ordenó
medidas de protección para la familia de Nelson. Sin embargo, el grupo ya
estaba fuera del país. Los sobrevivientes perdieron el empleo, el desarraigo a
su patrimonio familiar, el derecho al libre tránsito y los jóvenes abandonaron
internacional sostuvo que es “urgente” ese reconocimiento por lo
crítico que se ha vuelto esta problemática en El Salvador.
Esta es la
historia de una familia conformada por 35 personas, entre niños y adolescentes,
que fueron víctimas de amenazas, agresiones físicas, abuso sexual y violación
de parte de pandilleros. Todo por ser parientes de miembros de la Fuerza
Armada. La pandilla cometió ataques contra la familia en distintos lugares y
fechas. Las amenazas se agravaron hasta exigirles que abandonaran el municipio.
buscó apoyo en otros parientes que residían en zonas del país sin presencia de
pandilleros. Cuando lo lograron sufrieron nuevamente violencia, pero esa vez de
parte del Estado: ocurrió cuando policías realizaron un operativo en esa
comunidad con disparos “para intimidar”. Una bala impactó a una mujer
de la familia, lo que le ocasionó la muerte inmediatamente. Eso los obligó a un
La familia puso
la denuncia de todas las agresiones y ataques que sufrió de parte de los
pandilleros. La Policía y la Fiscalía se limitaron a asignarles nombres claves
en los procesos para que atestiguaran; sin embargo, los casos no prosperaron.
Una de las víctimas del desplazamiento forzoso también interpuso ante la
Inspectoría General de la Policía Nacional Civil una denuncia por la muerte de
su madre a manos de los agentes que realizaron el operativo. La versión oficial
de la policía de la zona fue que la mujer murió “en el marco de
enfrentamiento contra pandilleros”.
Este ha sido el
único de los seis casos en que la Sala de lo Constitucional emitió sentencia
definitiva a favor de una familia desplazada por la violencia en El Salvador,
después del amparo interpuesto por Cristosal, aunque el beneficio de las
mediadas de protección dictadas por el tribunal superior solo fue para unos
pocos miembros de la familia, pues la mayoría salió del país bajo el sistema de
A Margarita y
Luisa (nombres cambiados) las amenazaron con violarlas si no se iban de la comunidad.
Las dos mujeres, madre e hija, pasaban en su negocio de comida en unos
apartamentos. La amenaza inició cuando unos pandilleros llegaron a vivir al
advertencia, que incluía al esposo de Margarita y a otra hija, la familia
decidió cambiar de domicilio, pero al establecerse en otro sitio, volvieron a
sufrir extorsión de otra estructura de pandilleros.
familia le contó a los miembros de la Unidad Antiextorsiones de la Policía
Nacional Civil lo que los pandilleros les exigían, la respuesta fue que las
acciones estaban limitadas a las capturas de los denunciados y abrir un juicio
“porque no cuentan con personal suficiente para brindar protección a la
privada de libertad y violada por un grupo de pandilleros por ser hija de un
agente. El policía buscó ayuda de la PNC cuando la adolescente desapareció,
pero no obtuvo respuesta positiva de inmediato. Cuando finalmente la
encontraron, los agentes acusaron a Sofía (nombre cambiado) de ser parte de la
ofreció medidas de protección solo para la menor, pero la familia, cinco
personas en total, prefirió desplazarse a otro sitio, donde permanecía en
confinamiento. A pesar de no salir de la casa, los pandilleros los ubicaron y
volvieron a amenazarlos con la muerte, por lo que volvieron a movilizarse hasta
obtener ayuda para salir de El Salvador.
La Sala de lo
Constitucional admitió el amparo del caso debido a la pobre respuesta de parte
de las instituciones del Estado, y otorgó medidas de protección para los cinco
miembros del grupo familiar; pero ya estaban fuera del país.
numerosa solicitó medidas de protección internacional a raíz del asesinato de
una joven y su hermana. Además del secuestro de una niña que tenía solo meses
de edad. La investigación del caso arrojó evidencia que los hechos fueron
cometidos por pandilleros con el objetivo de “quedarse con la niña”.
Los demás miembros de la familia fueron amenazados para que abandonaran el
lugar, por lo que después de enterrar a las dos mujeres, dejaron sus
pertenencias, vivienda y sus fuentes de empleo.
comprobó que el Estado no tiene la capacidad para proteger a una familia
Victoria, su hija
adulta y dos niños vivían en una casa donde tenían un negocio familiar. Un día
por la tarde, pandilleros llegaron a la tienda a disparar. Victoria (nombre
cambiado) falleció en el lugar, mientras que su hija resultó con lesiones de
bala en algunos órganos. Familiares tuvieron que sacar del hospital a la herida
porque pandilleros continuaban buscándola y temían que fuera ubicada. Pasaron
así durante tres meses, hasta que logró recuperarse. Luego decidió desplazarse
con los dos niños por sus propios medios hacia una casa de otro pariente. Sin
embargo, un palabrero de la pandilla la ubicó y les advirtió que salieran de la
zona “si no quería tener problemas”.
advertencia provocó que la mujer se desplazara otra vez junto a sus hijos a
otro sector del país con otro pariente. A diferencia de los otros casos, esta
familia no quería ingresar al sistema de albergue gubernamental, sino que una
medida que les permitiera la protección de las autoridades en el sitio en que
se había reubicado.
Esa petición fue
planteada por Cristosal ante la Sala de lo Constitucional en un amparo que
terminó admitiendo el 11 de julio de 2018, cuando ordenó medidas de protección.
judicial por el homicidio de Victoria culminó con la sentencia de los
responsables. El proceso en la sala sigue pendiente de una sentencia
El Economistarecently published an article based on the
findings of a report entitled ‘The Future of Central America: Challenges for a
Sustainable Development’. The report was produced by a collaboration between
the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Latin American Centre for
Competition and Sustainable Development (CLACDS, by its Spanish initials) of
the INCAE Business School. Short extracts from the article are translated below.
The recent hardening of the United States’ immigration policies is
putting at risk a significant ‘escape valve’ for the economies of the Northern
Triangle of Central America: namely remittances.
“An important factor for these societies [El Salvador, Honduras and
Guatemala] is the fact that there is an escape valve for social and
demographic problems, and a source of income,” said the Dean of the INCAE
Business School, Alberto Trejos, to El Economista, regarding migration
The report points out that there are at least 3 million migrants from
the Northern Triangle in the United States and that their remittances represent
20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of El Salvador and Honduras and
12 per cent of the GDP of Guatemala. Our societies in the region
According to the report, in 2017 Salvadoran migrants in the United
States accounted for 23 per cent of total population of El Salvador, and the
respective proportions of Honduras and Guatemala were 8 per cent and 6 per
The report warns that the hardening of immigration policies in the
United States could have a substantial impact on remittances and, through them,
on the economies of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
The report’s estimates indicate that remittances could decline by 7.6
per cent per annum due to recent and proposed immigration policies changes and
that the elimination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran and
Salvadoran citizens [illegally residing in the USA] could imply a
further reduction in remittances of 6 per cent per annum in the medium term. It
also estimates that a further 7 per cent of migrants who currently reside in
the USA could decide to return to their country of origin.
Those migrants would return with savings of around 3 per cent of their
country’s GDP which would generate a temporary positive effect which would be
converted into an additional demand for jobs. For these jobs to be filled would
require that the economies of the Northern Triangle countries would have to
grow by one percentage point more than is expected or predicted.
For the INCAE Dean, remittances are an important escape valve, but the
current remarkable migration has negative consequences due to the flight of
humans who are at their most productive ages. “We have to stop thinking of the
phenomenal migration from the perspective of remittances, even though it
appears to represent the inflow of money. But we have to admit that this money
flows in because we cannot provide alternative prospects to young people so
that they might stay.”
“At the same time that this money flows in, the productive capacity of
these people disappears. Society loses the income that these people would have
generated, we lose the contributions of the skills of these migrants and that
leaves us with a society that is demographically and economically different.”
For the INCAE Dean, the conditions which prompt people to migrate “are
not a good thing,” and although migration may generate some positive effects on
the economy, it cannot be called a good thing. Trejos warned that a mass return
of migrants at this time would necessitate “a very disruptive adjustment.”
A 13th September report in the Salvadoran daily
newspaper La Prensa Gráfica described
yet another motive behind the exodus of people from Honduras: namely drought.
This illustrates well the thesis in the article ‘How Climate Change Forces
Central American Farmers to Migrate’ – also
uploaded to this website this month, September 2019 – that drought and the
unreliability of climate are forcing many rural farmers to consider the
possibility of migration as a way out of their predicament.
Several Honduran departments have been declared as emergency
zones due to the scarcity of water. Some of these zones have not had any
rainfall for ten months and over 50 per cent of basic grains like corn and
beans have been lost, according to official sources.
In the eastern department of Olancho 1,000 head of cattle
have died due to the drought. Farmers with some capital behind them can
purchase alternative feeds for their cattle such as the waste products of
African palm oil which are rich in protein. But for the majority the grass is
simply not growing due to the drought. Some sources are suggesting that this
climate trend means that in the medium and long terms farmers must adapt to
raising a much smaller number of cattle on their land.
The drought has also affected urban areas such as the
capital city Tegucigalpa, and residents are having to purchase tanks of water
for activities such as washing as well as drinking. Clearly in such
circumstances the poor are more likely to be adversely affected by the drought.
As if Hondurans don’t have enough to contend with: a
narco-state run by organised crime; security forces whose main modus operandi
is violence against the people they are supposed to be protecting; a gang
culture and protection racket which pervade so many of the activities of
Honduran society and economy; a system of production which displaces Hondurans
from their land for the benefit of transnational corporations and local elites;
and a complete lack of opportunities for Hondurans. Add climate change to the
mix, and who could be surprised that so many Hondurans try to escape their
country of birth to find opportunities elsewhere in the world?
The following article is taken from ‘Towards Freedom’,
an organisation that takes “a progressive perspective on world events” –
https://towardfreedom.org/ We are
grateful to Toward Freedom and Edgardo Ayala for permission to reproduce the
CANDELARIA DE LA FRONTERA, El Salvador (IPS) – As
he milks his cow, Salvadoran Gilberto Gómez laments that poor harvests, due to
excessive rain or drought, practically forced his three children to leave the
country and undertake the risky journey, as undocumented migrants, to the
Gómez, 67, lives in La Colmena, in the municipality of
Candelaria de la Frontera, in the western Salvadoran department of Santa Ana.
The small hamlet is located in the so-called Dry
Corridor of Central America, a vast area that crosses much of the isthmus, but
whose extreme weather especially affects crops in Guatemala, Honduras and El
“They became disillusioned, seeing that almost every
year we lost a good part of our crops, and they decided they had to leave,
because they didn’t see how they could build a future here,” Gómez told IPS, as
he untied the cow’s hind legs after milking.
He said that his eldest son, Santos Giovanni, for
example, also grew corn and beans on a plot of land the same size as his own,
“but sometimes he didn’t get anything, either because it rained a lot, or
because of drought.”
The year his children left, in 2015, Santos Giovanni
lost two-thirds of the crop to an unusually extreme drought.
“It’s impossible to go on like this,” lamented Gómez,
who says that of the 15 families in La Colmena, many have shrunk due to
migration because of problems similar to those of his son.
The Dry Corridor, particularly in these three nations,
has experienced the most severe droughts of the last 10 years, leaving more than
3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
warned as early as 2016.
Now Gómez’s daughter, Ana Elsa, 28, and his two sons,
Santos Giovanni, 31, and Luis Armando, 17, all live in Los Angeles, California.
“Sometimes they call us, and tell us they’re okay,
that they have jobs,” he said.
The case of the Gómez family illustrates the
phenomenon of migration and its link with climate change and its impact on
harvests, and thus on food insecurity among Central American peasant families.
La Colmena, which lacks piped water and electricity,
benefited a few years ago from a project to harvest rainwater, which villagers
filter to drink, as well as reservoirs to water livestock.
However, their crops are still vulnerable to the
onslaught of heavy rains and increasingly unpredictable and intense droughts.
In addition to the violence and poverty, climate
change is the third cause of the exodus of Central Americans, especially from
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the new Atlas of Migration
in Northern Central America.
Between 2000 and 2012, the report says, there was an
increase of nearly 59 percent in the number of people migrating from these
three countries, which make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central
America. In Guatemala, 77 percent of the people living in rural areas are poor,
and in Honduras the proportion is 82 percent.
In recent months, waves of citizens from Honduras and
El Salvador have embarked on the long journey on foot to the United States,
with the idea that it would be safer if they traveled in large groups.
Travelling as an undocumented migrant to the United
States carries a series of risks: they can fall prey to criminal gangs,
especially when crossing Mexico, or die on the long treks through the desert.
Another report published by FAO in December, ‘Mesoamerica in Transit’,
states that of the nearly 30 million international migrants from Latin America,
some four million come from the Northern Triangle and another 11 million from
The study adds that among the main factors driving
migration in El Salvador are poverty in the departments of Ahuachapán, Cabañas,
San Vicente and Sonsonate; environmental vulnerability in Chalatenango,
Cuscatlán, La Libertad and San Salvador; and soaring violence in La Paz,
Morazán and San Salvador.
And according to the report, Honduran migration is
strongly linked to the lack of opportunities, and to high levels of poverty and
violence in the northwest of the country and to environmental vulnerability in
With respect to Guatemala, the report indicates that
although in this country migration patterns are not so strongly linked to
specific characteristics of different territories, migration is higher in
municipalities where the percentage of the population without secondary
education is larger.
In Mexico, migration is linked to poverty in the south
and violence in the west, northwest and northeast, while environmental
vulnerability problems seem to be cross-cutting.
“The report shows a compelling and comprehensive view
of the phenomenon: the decision to migrate is the individual’s, but it is
conditioned by their surroundings,” Luiz Carlos Beduschi, FAO Rural Development
Officer, told IPS from Santiago, Chile, the U.N. organisation’s regional
He added that understanding what is happening in the
field is fundamental to understanding migratory dynamics as a whole.
The study, published Dec. 18, makes a “multi-causal
analysis; the decision to stay or migrate is conditioned by a set of factors,
including climate, especially in the Dry Corridor of Central America,” Beduschi
For the FAO expert, it is necessary to promote
policies that offer rural producers “better opportunities for them and their
families in their places of origin.”
It is a question, he said, “of guaranteeing that they
have the necessary conditions to freely decide whether to stay at home or to
migrate elsewhere,” and keeping rural areas from expelling the local population
as a result of poverty, violence, climate change and lack of opportunities.
In the case of El Salvador, while there is government
awareness of the impacts of climate change on crops and the risk it poses to
food security, little has been done to promote public policies to confront the
phenomenon, activist Luis González told IPS.
“There are national plans and strategies to confront
climate change, to address the water issue, among other questions, but the
problem is implementation: it looks nice on paper, but little is done, and much
of this is due to lack of resources,” added González, a member of the
Roundtable for Food Sovereignty, a conglomerate of social organisations
fighting for this objective.
Meanwhile, in La Colmena, Gómez has given his wife,
Teodora, the fresh milk they will use to make cheese.
They are happy that they have the cow, bought with the
money their daughter sent from Los Angeles, and they are hopeful that the
weather won’t spoil the coming harvest.
“With this cheese we earn enough for a small meal,” he
Key words: ‘Root Causes Strategy’; migration; Central America; private sector; corruption; human rights violations.
On February 6th, even as Guatemalan authorities engage in a systematic evisceration of its justice system and private industry continues to dispossess Indigenous communities, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the next phase of her migration plan for Central America. Known as the “Root Causes Strategy,” this Vice Presidential initiative aims to tackle “the drivers of irregular migration by improving the conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras so people do not feel compelled to leave their homes.” In May of last year, Harris announced the creation of the Partnership for Central America (PCA) with a Call to Action to potential investors. This week, in a presentation for a group of US government officials and private sector leaders, Harris announced the next phase of the initiative: Central America Forward.
In this phase, the US government will enact a series of new commitments to encourage more private sector engagement. Harris announced a new wave of private sector commitments of $950 million, raising the total investment under the Call to Action to over $4.2 billion. New commitments include Columbia Sportswear, Target, and other companies looking to purchase more textiles from Central American clothing factories, also known as “maquilas.” These clothing factories are infamous for decades’ long abuse of workers and criminal disregard for local environments. It will also include more access to funding for private companies from the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
Even as the White House insists that “Central America Forward is a framework that goes beyond addressing the economic drivers of migration,” civil society organisations are deeply concerned at the plan’s failure to address the region’s persistent and alarming abuse of human rights, failure of the rule of law, and deeply entrenched corruption. “Addressing the root causes of forced migration from Central America must focus on urging governments of the region to serve their people – without corruption and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said Director of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) Lisa Haguard. She continued, “Investment pledges mean little or can be counterproductive if US policy fails to fully address the corruption and human rights violations faced by the rural and urban poor, Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, women and lgbtq people, and human rights defenders in Central America.”
Last March, GHRC, LAWG, and 17 other organisations sent a letter to the DFC urging it to reassess its investment plans in Guatemala in light of rampant corruption and the breakdown of protections for human rights defenders and Indigenous communities. It stated, “A sound investment climate requires stability and strong institutions, as well as consistent adherence to rule of law.” Since then, conditions in Guatemala have only worsened. For 2022, Guatemala earned a historically low rating from Transparency International on its Corruption Perception Index – a rate unseen since 1996. Meanwhile, violent evictions in rural and Indigenous communities continue to rise.
Key words: remittances; migration; employment provision; social stability.
Sources within the BCIE (the Central American Bank of Economic Integration) have leaked their concerns about the possibility that US President Trump may tax the remittances not only of Mexican nationals residing in the USA to their families in Mexico, but may also extend this tax to nationals of all the Central American states. There are serious concerns that the currently untrumpeted intention to tax remittances to pay for the construction of the Border Wall with Mexico could seriously affect the economies of Central American states which include the remittance statistics in their currency reserve projections. The knock-on effect of such an action would be extra hardship suffered by all those families whose major money-earner works in the USA.
A related economic issue arises from the BCIE’s estimate that Honduras needs to create 140,000 jobs this year in order to match demographic projections to the employment requirements of the economy. The best case scenario, however, suggests that a maximum of only 100,000 jobs could be created. Clearly, this has implications for social stability which in turn also has implications for attempted migrations northwards to the USA.
Title 42 is a Trump era policy that seeks to debar migrants seeking asylum at the US borders on grounds of public health policy. It was a policy that Trump brought in to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and it effectively gave immigration officials the power to block and expel anybody seeking asylum if they came from or through a country where a communicable disease was present. At the time of the pandemic, that was pretty much most of the nations of the world. It is a policy of particular relevance to The Violence of Development website as a high proportion of migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border were, and still are, from Central America.
On his first day after inauguration, Biden introduced six bills relating to immigration policy and in his first year he introduced a total of 86 immigration-related bills, dismantling much of the Trump anti-immigration legislation. Despite that, Title 42 expulsions have been continued under the Biden administration. In November 2021, the Biden administration opened its borders to tourists but kept Title 42 in place. Julia Neusner, an attorney with Human Rights First, said: “The fact that now vaccinated tourists and shoppers are allowed to enter but vaccinated people who are fleeing violence and are in urgent danger are not, is further evidence that this policy has never been about public health.”
In November 2022, however, a federal district court judge ruled that Title 42 violates US law. District Judge Sullivan also found the Title 42 order to be “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.”
“The Title 42 policy is a human rights disaster and a public health travesty. It expels asylum seekers to danger and subjects people seeking protection in the United States to horrific harms,” saidEleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First. “The Biden administration should let this flawed policy die and restore regular asylum processing immediately at US ports of entry and along the southwest border.”
A Human Rights First report (‘The Nightmare Continues’, 2022), records that in Mexico alone, recorded incidents of “kidnapping, rapes and other violence against non-citizens subject to Title 42 have spiked from 3,250 cases in June 2021 to over 10,318 in June 2022.” The same report also documents the grave harms inflicted by the Title 42 policy and the way in which it forces asylum seekers to attempt dangerous border crossings, spurs repeat crossings and causes chaos at the border.
The Biden administration recently expanded the Title 42 policy to expel Venezuelans seeking safety in the United States, subjecting more asylum seekers and migrants to danger – triggering swift condemnation by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF and the International Organisation for Migration. The court’s ruling should make clear that the Biden administration must end its embrace of this illegal Trump administration policy.
Since Central Americans began to form caravans as a means of migrating to the US border and thence into the United States of America, behaviour at the border has been a major media issue of concern. The article below by Peter Costantini refers more to the most recent group of migrants – Haitians and Africans – rather than Central Americans; but it documents the changing policies practised by the US border agents which affect all those seeking asylum at the US border, a large proportion of whom come from the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras).
We are grateful to CounterPunch – an online journal which in its own words, “covers politics in a manner its editors describe as ‘muckraking with a radical attitude’” – for permission to reproduce the article. The CounterPunch website is at: https://www.counterpunch.org We are also grateful to Peter Costantini for writing the article which is a summary of a much longer report, a link to which is given at the end of this summary.
A large encampment of mainly Haitian migrants appeared abruptly in September at a border crossing in the town of Del Rio, Texas. The reactions to it of United States immigration authorities created a media storm that shone a harsh light on racist brutality by the Border Patrol and contradictory responses to asylum seekers by the Joseph Biden administration.
Del Rio, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, hosts a smaller border crossing than those 350 miles downriver in the lower Rio Grande valley and those 400 miles upriver around El Paso. In early September, thousands of Haitian and other Latin American migrants began arriving and crossing the shallows of the river to set up an improvised camp under a bridge. By mid-month, the camp had grown to a maximum of some 15,000 people, without adequate water and sanitation. The migrants were blocked from entering the town to buy food and supplies, which forced them to cross the river to buy them in Ciudad Acuña. Conditions in the encampment were called “deplorable” by the United Nations.
On September 19, Border Patrol officers on horseback tried to physically block families with children crossing the river to bring supplies back to the camp, which had previously been allowed. Videos of the aggressive use of force against peaceful migrants went viral and provoked widespread condemnation as an echo of historical racist aggression against Black people. The Biden administration disavowed the enforcement operation and initiated an investigation, which is ongoing as of early January.
As the political controversy grew, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas quickly mobilized large-scale federal and state resources to dismantle the camp and resolve the migrants’ immigration status. On September 24, Mayorkas announced at a White House press conference that the camp had been completely dismantled and all of the migrants there had been moved to other locations. A large majority had been processed by immigration authorities and either flown to Haiti or accepted into the asylum process.
Ultimately, Mayorkas’s statements and subsequent media coverage revealed that some 8,700 Haitian migrants were eventually expelled back to Haiti; 13,000 were accepted into the asylum process, of whom 10,000 were released to family members or sponsors around the country and 3,000 were still in immigration detention as their asylum cases proceeded; 8,000 had “voluntarily” returned to Mexico and avoided the U.S. immigration system; and another 4,000 were still being processed as of Mayorkas’s speech.
Most of the 8,700 Haitians expelled back to Haiti had left their home country after a devastating 2010 earthquake to migrate to South America. In the past year, the already impoverished country had been wracked by another earthquake that killed over 2,000, a hurricane, the assassination of the president and dissolution of the legislature and much of the police force, and the takeover of large areas of the capital by warring gangs who kidnapped at will and brought the battered economy to its knees. The United Nations and human-rights organisations forcefully criticized the expulsions. Two veteran U.S. diplomats resigned in outrage that the government would send asylum seekers back to a place so mortally dangerous, given that the purpose of asylum is to protect people against having to return to places they left because of persecution. Debates over the handling of the Del Rio migrants revealed acute disputes over immigration policy within the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats.
Nevertheless, the acceptance of 13,000 migrants into the asylum process, nearly 50 percent more than those sent back to Haiti, suggested that advocates of respect for asylum laws still exerted some influence within the administration.
Under Biden, border enforcement has continued to operate under a controversial statute known as Title 42. The Donald Trump administration had launched this public-health emergency provision early in 2020, using it to summarily expel nearly all border-crossers back to Mexico without the possibility of a hearing, effectively shutting down most immigration and denying any chance to request asylum. Public health and human rights authorities inside and outside of the government protested that protecting against the pandemic did not necessitate shutting down immigration and asylum.
The Biden government had already exempted children from Title 42 expulsions, and some families as well – in part because Mexico did not accept the return of families in some border areas. Biden had reduced the use of Title 42 to about 50 percent of cases by mid-2021, while Trump had expelled nearly 90 percent under it in late 2020. For the Del Rio migrants, 40 percent of those processed were expelled, while 60 percent were allowed to enter the normal, pre-pandemic asylum process.
The full report, Downstream from Del Rio, fleshes out the details and context of what happened at Del Rio and analyses the controversies unleashed and their outcomes so far. It finishes by exploring potential policies and strategies to end the violations of immigrants’ human rights at the border, and reform the asylum system to meet the realities of the 21st Century.
Peter Costantini is a Seattle-based analyst who has covered Latin America for the past three decades.