US Seeks to Solve Migration Crisis with Billion Dollar Investment Plan

Guatemala Human Rights Commission

13 February 2023


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.


Title 42 still denying asylum seekers’ rights

November 2022

By Martin Mowforth

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,” said Eleanor 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.

Human Rights First:


Changes in migration flows into and immigration policies in the United States

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:  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.


Downstream From Del Rio

By Peter Costantini, CounterPunch

12 January 2022

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.


Migrant caravans continue: Recent migration flows through Central America

In 2018, 2019 and early 2020, before the pandemic hit us all, migration flows and rates from the Northern Triangle of Central America to the United States border with Mexico were the subject of relatively frequent attention in mainstream European newspapers as well as in the mainstream US media. The fact that such reports are now less frequent does not mean that the phenomenon has disappeared. For a short time the migrant caravans that were the principal attraction to the ephemeral interests of the western media waned as the lockdowns spread around the globe. But if anything the new conditions of life under the pandemic became worse for a majority of people and the factors driving the local populations of the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to strike out for ‘new ground’ were as strong as they ever had been. Those driving factors included particularly the violence of life in this region where gang and police violence and the threats thereof made daily life intolerable and where trying to ignore such violence by ‘keeping your head down’ had for many become a poor coping strategy. It should come as no surprise therefore that the previous few weeks and months have produced a crop of reports of new caravans making their way to the US-Mexico border. A major difference now (towards the end of 2021), however, is that large numbers of Haitians and African people are now joining the many Central Americans who form the caravans.

A few of the more recent reports are summarised below by Martin Mowforth for The Violence of Development website.

In October [2021] numerous reports of massive migrant crossings through the Darien jungle of Panama were made, most notably by UNICEF. On 8th October the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that “More than 91,000 migrants have crossed Darien Gap on way to North America this year”.

A UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) press release from 11th October reported on the “highest ever number of migrant children crossing the Darien jungle towards the US” in 2021.  “Almost 19,000 migrant children have journeyed through the Darien Gap so far this year, nearly three times more than the number registered over the five previous years combined. More than 1 in 5 migrants crossing the border between Colombia and Panama are children.” Horrifyingly, “Half of them are below the age of five.”

“Each child crossing the Darien Gap on foot is a survivor,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Deep in the jungle, robbery, rape and human trafficking are as dangerous as wild animals, insects and the absolute lack of safe drinking water. Week after week, more children are dying, losing their parents, or getting separated from their relatives while on this perilous journey. It’s appalling that criminal groups are taking advantage of these children when they are at their most vulnerable.”

“Never before have our teams on the ground seen so many young children crossing the Darien Gap – often unaccompanied. Such a fast-growing influx of children heading north from South America should urgently be treated as a serious humanitarian crisis by the entire region, beyond Panama,” Gough said.

In Panama, UNICEF and its partners are providing psychosocial support and health services to migrant children, especially those who have been separated from their parents. Together with the Panama government, the UN organisation is distributing water every day to 1,000 people and hygiene kits to migrant adolescent girls and women at the three migrant reception centres in Bajo Chiquito, Lajas Blancas and San Vicente.

The numbers of migrants headed for the US have been bolstered by Haitians and those from African countries, and caravans from the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras continue to form and move northwards to the Mexico / US border.


On 29th October, Telesur headlined ‘Hundreds of Haitian Migrants Reported Passing Through Honduras’.

The increase of migrants present in the country is evident, and the groups of Hondurans fleeing the country have been joined by Haitians and Africans. The migration situation in Honduras has become more complicated in recent days with the passage of hundreds of migrants from Haiti and numerous African countries, who seek to reach US territory, human rights defenders reported.

The teleSUR correspondent in Honduras, Gilda Silvestrucci, indicated that in the bus terminals the increase of migrants is evident, and the groups of Hondurans fleeing the country have been joined by Haitians and Africans.

In an interview, the migrant Claude Pierre acknowledged that the road to the United States (US) is “dangerous.” “One suffers a lot, goes hungry, but (one migrates) to see if one can find a better life,” he said.

Data show that in the last weeks Honduras has received more than 3,000 Haitians, a number that will increase and complicate the situation in the border areas. The Honduran defender of migrants’ rights, Itsmania Platero, said that these 3,000 Haitians “are part of a first contingent that left from Panama and there could be up to 80,000 migrants entering this country.”

Marcela Cruz, representative of the CLAMOR network, explained that the shelters provide attention to the migrants, as well as to the thousands of Honduran returnees to whom the Government does not provide any assistance.

Analysts have pointed out that violence and poverty are the main reasons why young people, women and men decide to make the exodus to the United States.

Gilda Silvestrucci noted that although the calls for caravans have ceased, many leave in small groups to meet in Guatemala or in Mexico, where an international caravan of migrants is heading to Mexico City, in search of a response to their requests for refuge.


Also on 29th October 2021, La Prensa Gráfica reported that on the 10th of that month several bodies of migrants were discovered.

Medardo Tejada Portillo (the father), Jenmy (mother) and son Joshua along with Jenmy’s sister-in-law Francisca Dominguez were the victims. The two assassins are believed to have been ‘coyotes’ who had been hired to take them to the United States. It is believed that the victims had paid almost $10,000 for the journey. They had all been shot.

The victims had planned their journey for three months and the money to pay the ‘coyotes’ had been paid by Jenmy’s mother who lives in the United States.


On 5th November, Telesur reported that a ‘Central American migrant caravan overwhelmed the Mexican National Guard’.

(Published 5 November 2021 by Telesur)

On Thursday, a Central American migrant caravan traveling on foot overwhelmed the Mexican National Guard trying to contain its advance and resumed its march toward Mexico City.

The migrants and guard members clashed on the highway linking the towns of Pijijiapán and Tonalá in Chiapas state, leaving at least two guard members injured and many people arrested.

Upon reaching the highway, federal agents got out of their vehicles with shields in their hands and created a barrier to prevent migrants from moving forward. The anti-riot groups initially managed to intimidate the asylum seekers, who ran away. A short time later, however, the situation changed.

At the scene, some 50 migrants counter-attacked the National Guard with sticks and stones. This strong reaction occurred amid the memory of the death of a Cuban migrant who was shot to death by the National Guard over the weekend. After about 10 minutes, the officers rushed into their vehicles to get away as quickly as possible from the site. The caravan then continued moving down the road.

After the altercation, the caravan, composed of some 4,000 migrants, mostly from Central America and Haiti, departed from Pijijiapán on its trek north toward Tuxtla Gutiérrez City in the Chiapas state.

The Central American region is seeing an unprecedented exodus this year. Between January and August, Mexico had reported the entry of more than 147,000 undocumented migrants, tripling the number in 2020, according to figures from the Mexican government.


On 19th November 2021, a new migrant caravan attempted to cross Mexico en route to the Unites States

(By Rubén Morales Iglesias) 

A new 2,000 strong migrant caravan, headed to the United States (US), moved out of Tapachula in southern Mexico on Thursday. Tapachula is a city in the state of Chiapas, which borders with Guatemala.

The migrants, Central Americans and Haitians, are attempting to join the first caravan which left Tapachula on October 23 with about 4,000 migrants. That caravan has since whittled down to 700 to 800 according to different reports.

The caravan set out of Tapachula as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was in Washington meeting with the US and Canadian leaders talking about migration.

While their objective is to reach the US border, the migrants said they intend to pass through Mexico City where they plan on meeting with López Obrador to ask for humanitarian visas and permanent resident cards in Mexico City to move freely in the country while trying to get to the US.


On 21st November 2021, Mexican authorities found more than 400 migrants in trailers.

(By Aaron Humes: Associated Press)

More than 400 migrants transiting Mexico were found in the back of two trailers, not far from where two separate migrant caravans were located heading north toward the United States.

The group, according to the Veracruz state’s Human Rights Commission’s representative Tonatiuh Hernández Sarmiento, were very dirty, covered in mud, in overcrowded, hot and wet conditions, and included children, pregnant women and ill people. The migrants were held by authorities in a fenced yard until federal immigration agents could retrieve them.

In recent meetings the leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada discussed immigration, agreeing to increase the paths for legal migration, for example with more visas for temporary workers. They also pledged to expand access to protective status for migrants and to address the causes that lead them to migrate, but did not offer hard numbers or timelines for implementation.

But the clandestine flow of migrants who pay smugglers for direct trips to the US border continues, and those active on the issue say the agreement provides few advances and depends on conditions on the ground, where authorities continue to violate the rights of migrants, deny them access to protection, and allow crimes and human rights abuses to occur with impunity.

The migrant caravan currently in Veracruz is the first to advance so far in the past two years, because since 2019, security forces have stopped and dissolved the caravans. This time, the Mexican government used the offer of humanitarian visas to diminish the caravan’s numbers as it slowly moved north, but some have remained suspicious and continued walking. Some migrants who received the documents have reported being swept up by authorities in the north and returned to Tapachula near the Guatemala border.

At least one migrant told the Associated Press he was prepared to find work in Mexico and enter the US legally when he could – but that he could not risk going back to his home country, in this case Haiti.


Such headlines and reports make it clear that the Central American crisis of violence, economic disadvantage, corruption and population displacement has not disappeared, despite the fact that it now rarely appears in our mainstream media.

On this theme, we recommend our readers to another item in this month’s additions to The Violence of Development website, namely the CounterPunch article by W.T Whitney. In the last few paragraphs Whitney gives some context behind these escalating migration rates.

‘US Intervention and Capitalism Have Created a Monster in Honduras’ by W.T. Whitney in CounterPunch.



Migration and forced displacement in Central America

By Martin Mowforth

Key words: migration; forced displacement; Central America; Norther Triangle countries; UNHCR data; refugees; asylum seekers.

In early December [2020], data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) relating to refugees in and asylum seekers from Central American countries showed the following:.

  • There are around 470,000 refugees and asylum seekers from the north of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) throughout the world.
  • There are more than 97,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Mexico from Central America.
  • There are over 318,000 internally displaced people in Honduras and El Salvador.
  • Over 102,000 Nicaraguans have left their country during 2020.

The UNHCR website explains that:

“Growing numbers of people in Central America are being forced to leave their homes. … Compounded by socio-economic instability and poverty, they are escaping gang violence, threats, extortion, recruitment into gangs or prostitution, as well as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – collectively known as LGBTI – are also feeling persecution. Many more are displaced more than once within their own countries or have been deported back home, often into dangerous situations.”

“The escalating situation of chronic violence and insecurity, coupled with COVID-19-related restrictions, is exacerbating hardship and persecution for tens of thousands of people in Central America, who now have limited means of finding protection and making ends meet.”

The UNHCR website cites Raúl who fled with his family from El Salvador to neighbouring Guatemala: “We had our own bakery in El Salvador, until gangs arrived, and we could no longer sell bread. We were threatened out of our country.”

Whilst there are similar factors at play in the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – as described in the UNHCR quote above – the situation in Nicaragua has rather different recent causes. In the case of Nicaragua, the UNHCR puts the number of refugee and asylum seekers down to political persecution. Whilst this may explain the motives of some of those included in the data, the UNHCR data should be questioned as many of the applications from Nicaraguans for asylum or refugee status or citizenship within Costa Rica come from Nicaraguans who are already resident in Costa Rica or are regular economic migrants who travel seasonally to work on the Costa Rican plantations or who do domestic work there.

Indeed, the UNHCR is accused of manufacturing a ‘refugee crisis’ by John Perry who explains in more detail the misuse of data in his article ‘Nicaraguans in Costa Rica: A Manufactured ‘Refugee’ Crisis’ which is also included as the next item in this month’s additions to The Violence of Development website (December 2020).

Nicaraguans in Costa Rica: A Manufactured ‘Refugee’ Crisis

There is undoubtedly a refugee and migrant crisis in Central America, one that has fuelled the migrant caravans from the Northern Triangle countries to the United States over the last two years. But the data is not always 100 per cent reliable, as John Perry explains here. We are grateful to John for permission to reproduce his article which first appeared in the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) at:

March 23, 2020  

By John Perry
Masaya, Nicaragua

Key words: CoronavirusCosta RicaCOVID-19Nicaragua; refugees; economic migrants.

  • The situation has mostly normalized in Nicaragua and yet the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is promoting an imminent refugee crisis narrative.
  • 80% of the recent asylum requests came from people who had been living and working in Costa Rica without documents, before Nicaragua’s crisis of April 2018.
  • In 2018 Costa Rica approved only six asylum claims; by May 2019 it had approved a total of 24, and by then it had also rejected 1,300 as being “economic migrants,” not genuine asylum seekers.
  • In 2018, over 800,000 Nicaraguans were coming and going from Costa Rica: 48% of those were travelling back to Nicaragua. Numbers rose to 830,000 in 2019.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Organisation for World Peace, and some of the mainstream media, are raising the spectre that a crisis is unfolding because of increased refugee emigration from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. Yet neither the empirical data on migration between these two Central American nations nor the return to normalcy in Nicaragua support this argument. The coronavirus pandemic, which has led to tighter border closures between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, is putting a spotlight on this issue. Here we examine the history of the Nicaraguan immigrant presence in Costa Rica and argue that projections of a refugee crisis are not consistent with the evidence.

The coronavirus epidemic is still in its early stages in Central America but it has already put a focus on Costa Rica’s dependency on workers from Nicaragua. At any one time there are around 400,000 Nicaraguans working in the neighbouring country, especially doing building work, domestic work, as security guards or in agriculture. Given that a large proportion are undocumented, the real figure could be much higher, a very significant addition to Costa Rica’s population of under five million people. Yet the Vice-President of Costa Rica, Epsy Campbell, made a call this month to employers to persuade their Nicaraguan workers to stay put over the coming Easter holidays when otherwise they might leave to see their families.[1] She was clearly worried about the impact on Costa Rica’s economy if workers left the country and were unable to return because of the restrictions at the border resulting from the coronavirus epidemic.


President Alvarado promotes the refugee narrative while peace returns to Nicaragua.

So the current epidemic has brought grudging recognition by Costa Rica of the importance of ‘Nicas’ to its economy. Yet until just a few weeks ago, Costa Rica’s president Carlos Alvarado was making regular calls for help to deal with the numbers pleading asylum in the country since the attempted coup in Nicaragua in April 2018.

Alvarado has cultivated a close relationship with the UN High Commission for Refugees, whose officials have praised Costa Rican institutions during their regular visits. Last year they awarded his government $650 million to meet the “challenge” created by the ongoing ‘crisis’ in Nicaragua, even though by then Costa Rica’s neighbour had long been at peace.[2]


UNHCR claims of “refugee outflows” from Nicaragua not substantiated by the data

Then on March 10 this year 2020, even as the coronavirus crisis was escalating, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), suddenly decided to dramatize a problem that most people had thought was being steadily resolved. Its spokesperson Shabia Mantoo asserted that 4,000 Nicaraguans “continue to flee their country” every month, principally to Costa Rica.[3] “With no political resolution in sight”, she tweeted, “refugee outflows [are] expected to continue,” making no reference to the amnesties in Nicaragua for those who left for Costa Rica and the promises of safe return.[4] Despite the UNHCR giving no source for its claim that 4,000 Nicaraguans continue to flee abroad, its message was accepted as authoritative and quickly picked up by international media. The Guardian, for example, warned that the “exodus [is] expected to continue… amid fears of [a] repeat of state and police repression.”[5] The Organisation for World Peace went much further, making the absurd claim that Nicaragua threatens to cause the world’s next big refugee crisis.[6]


A porous border that ensures work for thousands of Nicaraguans

In this situation, especially as both countries face a real crisis produced by the coronavirus pandemic, cool heads are needed. These alarmist stories are not only bereft of real facts, but appear to be written by people ignorant of the historic economic and social ties between these two countries, which are much stronger than, for example, either country’s relationship with its neighbours to the north (Honduras) or the south (Panama). At the end of 2018, almost 350,000 Nicaraguans were officially recognised as residents in Costa Rica, a figure which had grown by only 10,000 during the year of Nicaragua’s crisis.[7] Many more, possibly even the same number again, are believed to live and work undocumented in Costa Rica. This is made possible by the long and porous land border: there are said to be 20 or more unofficial crossing places, many of them known to authorities on both sides. Nicaraguans can easily cross into Costa Rica, work for perhaps six months harvesting coffee or picking bananas, and return home with their wages, no questions asked. Most Nica families, especially in rural areas, have someone who has done this.

The reality is that huge numbers of Nicaraguans travel in both directions across the border on a daily basis. For example, official figures show that in March 2018, a month before the crisis, 33,000 Nicaraguans headed south while 44,000 returned home. The whole of 2018 saw over 800,000 Nicaraguans coming and going: 48% of those were travelling back to Nicaragua, a country which according to the UNHCR was (and still is) in “political and social crisis”. Numbers rose to 830,000 in 2019, now almost evenly split between those travelling in either direction.[8] Indeed, extra demand led the long-distance bus companies operating between the two countries to increase their services. And, of course, the large volume of undocumented border crossings must be added to these official figures.


Just a handful of Nicaraguan asylum claims have been granted by Costa Rica

How does this help us understand the “refugee outflow” from Nicaragua? First, we have to ask whether the figures being quoted are plausible. Costa Rican migration figures show a total of just under 55,000 applications for asylum by Nicaraguans in the past two years (23,063 in 2018[9] and approximately 31,500[10] in 2019). Assuming these accurately reflect the bureaucratic process, they are significantly below the figure of 77,000 given by the UNHCR.[11] Even if all of the 55,000 were new arrivals, the numbers are very small as a proportion of Nicaraguans officially crossing into Costa Rica. For example, in 2018 asylum requests came from less than 6% of those officially counted as crossing the border that year, and of course this would be an even smaller proportion if illegal border crossings were taken into account.[12] Even counting its non-Nicaraguan asylum seekers, Costa Rica has just 0.05% of the global total of nearly 75 million people classified as “of concern” to the UNHCR.[13] It seems Costa Rica is far from facing “the world’s next big refugee crisis.”


Most “refugees” are actually economic migrants

What is more, the 55,000 claims appear to include many that aren’t genuine. President Alvarado acknowledged in August 2018 that more than 80% of the recent asylum requests came from people who had been living in Costa Rica without documentsbefore Nicaragua’s crisis of April 2018.[14] In other words, four out of five asylum seekers were (according to the Costa Rican government itself) judged to be economic migrants, living in the country already and now trying to take advantage of the crisis to regularise their status. This might explain why Costa Rica is approving very few of these applications: in 2018 it approved only six; by May 2019 it had approved a total of 24, and by then it had also rejected 1,300 as being “economic migrants,” not genuine asylum seekers. During 2018, Nicaraguan applicants had one chance in 3,800 of being officially accepted, whereas asylum seekers from El Salvador (for example) had a one in ten chance. Nicaraguans also accounted for 84% of the 1,181 people deported in 2018. In addition, Costa Rica gave over 4,800 Nicaraguan asylum seekers permission to work, instead of recognising them as refugees, officially accepting that they were there to obtain jobs.[15]

The UNHCR not only exaggerates – probably by a very big margin – the number of genuine asylum seekers in Costa Rica, it goes on to claim that there are 4,000 new asylum seekers per month, expecting “these numbers to grow”.[16] This amounts to forecasting in excess of 50,000 new cases over the course of 2020, or a near doubling of the total reached at the end of 2019. It seems little more than a figure plucked from the air. Why would more people leave now than at the peak of the crisis in 2018? Is the UNHCR unaware that, by the Costa Rican government’s own admission, more than three-quarters of cases arise from Nicaraguans already living there? If, as the enduring presence of Nicaraguan labour in Costa Rica indicates (and is implied by the Costa Rican government’s decisions on cases) the pressure to emigrate from Nicaragua to Costa Rica is mainly an economic one, why would one expect more people to leave as the Nicaraguan economy recovers from the damage done by the roadblocks and other disruptions in 2018? Of course, both economies are now susceptible to damage as a result of the pandemic, but if anything this will lead to less movement across the border as security measures tighten.

The 2019 report Dismissing the Truth noted that some informal interviews carried out with Nicaraguan asylum seekers in Costa Rica confirmed what President Alvarado had said about many being economic migrants.[17] Of those who were recent arrivals, some said they were not fleeing persecution but rather had been affected by the intense economic crisis produced in Nicaragua by the blockading of cities by opposition gangs in the period April-July 2018, which meant that businesses closed down and many workers lost their jobs. Some had fled because they had committed crimes when controlling the roadblocks and were well aware they would be held accountable if they stayed. Those in this category included (for example) the criminals responsible for the kidnap, torture and murder of the unarmed police officer Gabriel de Jesús Vado Ruíz in Masaya, Nicaragua, on July 14-15, 2018.


Most of the prominent opposition figures have returned to Nicaragua

Perhaps the biggest paradox is that, as the figures in this article indicate, Nicaraguans have been free to travel in and out their country and many have done so, encouraged by the amnesty granted in 2019. One of the internationally accepted tests of a genuine refugee is that they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. As the Costa Rican government makes clear from its actions, most Nicaraguans in the country do not meet this test. Those returning to Nicaragua have included most of the prominent political critics of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, who have not only moved back but have since been busy travelling to the United States and elsewhere, lobbying against their own government, apparently without facing any problems on their return. It is of course very much part of their message that Nicaragua is still in a “crisis” which can only be resolved if they, rather than elected President Daniel Ortega, were to be in power.


Both UNHCR and the OAS misrepresent the situation

The UNHCR is not the only international body to be complicit in sustaining the argument that Nicaragua’s crisis is unresolved. The same applies, for example, to the Organisation of American States (OAS). Costa Rica’s leaders have been consistent critics of the Sandinista governments, and they have both a political and economic interest in maintaining the fiction that it is they who are suffering from Nicaragua’s continuing “crisis”. It has taken a pandemic to flush out the truth, that Costa Rica is as dependent on Nicaragua economically as Nicaragua is on Costa Rica. And as to the true scale and nature of the refugee problem in Costa Rica, the UNHCR has a duty to explain the actual context, report the facts, and avoid alarmist forecasts that have little basis in reality.


John Perry is a writer based in Nicaragua and writes on Central America for The Nation, London Review of Books, Open Democracy and The Grayzone.


[1] “Gobierno pide a residentes nicaragüenses no abandonar el país en los próximos días,”

[2] “Costa Rica y OEA firman proyecto por $650 mil para atender a migrantes nicaragüenses en suelo tico,”

[3] “Two years of political and social crisis in Nicaragua force more than 100,000 to flee,”


[5] “Over 100,000 have fled Nicaragua since brutal 2018 crackdown, says UN,”

[6] “Nicaraguan Dissent Threatens To Cause The Next Big Refugee Crisis,”

[7] All statistics quoted in the article, unless otherwise referenced, are taken from the monthly and annual reports on the statistics page of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, Costa Rica ( (hereafter cited as Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería).

[8] Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

[9] Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

[10] “Migración recibe a Kelly Clements, Alta Comisionada Adjunta para los Refugiados de las Naciones Unidas,”

[11] “Two years of political and social crisis in Nicaragua force more than 100,000 to flee,”

[12] Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

[13] Statistics available at

[14] “Presidente de Costa Rica defiende atención a migración nicaragüense por crisis,”

[15] Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

[16] “Two years of political and social crisis in Nicaragua force more than 100,000 to flee,”

[17] Available at

Remittances and migration – a possible Trump effect

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.


Trump Ends TPS for Honduras

The following news about the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for many thousands of Central Americans living in the United States is adapted from a notification from the CISPES national office. (CISPES is the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – )

Key words: temporary protected status (TPS); migration

Friday 4th May (2018) the Trump Administration announced its devastating but unsurprising decision to cancel Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 57,000 Hondurans following an 18 month grace period.

Demonstration against ending of TPS for Honduras

In the past year, the Department of Homeland Security has ended TPS for nearly every country to which it had previously been granted, bringing the total number of people who will lose their status to close to 400,000, including over 260,000 Salvadorans. Most Central Americans with TPS have lived here for over 20 years and are parents to U.S. citizens.

It should be evident that the ending of TPS could lead to a drastic increase in the number of deportees arriving back in Central American countries, especially El Salvador. The ramifications of such an influx of migrants would be felt in all walks of life including housing, employment and security.

 CISPES National Office
1525 Newton St. NW
Washington DC, 20010
(202) 521-2510

IDB Considers Multimillion Dollar Loan to Impose Migratory Controls across Mexico-Guatemala Border

A blog post by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

 Reproduced by kind permission of CIEL

Originally posted August 7, 2017

 Recently, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was poised to provide US $200 million to Guatemala to strengthen “competitiveness” and “security” by implementing fiscal and migratory controls at border crossings with Mexico.

Family crossing Río Suchiate at Tecun Uman on the Guatemala, Mexico border. The IDB planned to give millions to the Guatemalan military to bulk up security at this and other border crossings. Credit: Kelsey Alford-Jones

This project did not immediately stand out among the dozens of projects collected each week by the Early Warning System (EWS) in the region. Indeed, while the EWS seeks to alert communities of all projects under consideration for Bank finance, we focus on projects that have a high risk of causing adverse impacts or rights violations in nearby communities – typically large-scale infrastructure projects, mining, hydroelectric dams, among others.

Yet harmful impacts are not only caused by the physical footprint of a project or by displacement or contamination associated with the operation of a project. Sometimes the way a project is structured, or the choice of its implementing partner, raises equal concern.

In this case, the scale and impact of the project were hard to determine, but I immediately noted the government agency that would receive the $200 million loan and be responsible for overseeing the proposed fiscal and migratory controls: it was the Guatemalan Defence Ministry.

Supporting an Expanded Role for the Military?

Having worked on Guatemalan human rights issues for eight years, this raised serious red flags. The IDB project involved activities that fall outside the mandate of the Defence Ministry, an issue that would raise concern in any country. Yet in Guatemala, these concerns are exacerbated by the recent legacy of intense state-sponsored violence and the nation’s ongoing struggle to define a clear – and appropriately limited – role for the military. For example, fiscal controls fall explicitly within the mandate of a different agency, and empowering the military by giving it control of the programme budget would expand its duties unnecessarily.

Moreover, the military has been linked to numerous corruption scandals and has been shown to have connections to transnational organised criminal groups even reaching its highest levels. For example, there are documented cases of weapons thefts from Guatemalan military bases, indicating a direct flow of arms from the military to criminal organisations. This is echoed by a report by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) on arms trafficking, which found evidence of “intentional diversion of military or police arsenals to the black market.”

“Better Control of Migrants On their Way to the US”

A mural in Tecun Uman, San Marcos – a busy border crossing with Mexico that would receive funding through the IDB project – depicts the story of many Central American migrants forced to uproot themselves from their communities and journey north to flee violence and to support their families. (Credit: Kelsey-Alford Jones)

The fact that the Defence Ministry is the executing agency isn’t the only red flag. IDB objectives listed in project documents also raised concerns. For example, the project explicitly aimed to impede migration of those seeking to travel to the United States.  This objective has been part of a regional effort – pushed by the US and funded by the IDB and others – to address the unprecedented number of migrants and refugees reaching the US border in recent years, including unaccompanied minors, from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  In a recent open letter to the IDB, dozens of organisations called on the bank to recognise the complex root causes of migration, which include high rates of generalised violence, as well as targeted violence against women, LGBT people, children, and other vulnerable communities. It is tragic that the response to this regional humanitarian crisis is to block passage of migrants and refugees by bulking up the military’s presence at the border. Importantly, this initiative could also violate international law.

With the project flagged in the EWS, I reached out to partners in Guatemala to share its details and my analysis. I also ensured the information reached border communities who would be impacted by implementation at border crossings. Then, to ensure these concerns were not passing under the radar, I reached out directly to the US government, both in meetings and in a memo that was circulated to US Treasury officials, the US office of the Executive Director of the IDB, and the IDB project team.

Not long after, we were informed that the implementing agency was being reconsidered, and it would no longer be the Defence Ministry. The IDB website also suggests the Bank has halved funding from $200 million to $100 million. Nevertheless, we have yet to see this change reflected on the IDB’s website or receive formal confirmation.

This is a partial win. Guatemalans are more aware of the funding their government is requesting, and the new implementing agency will, hopefully, be the proper one to put new fiscal controls into effect. Yet the overall funding proposal continues to raise concerns, both in the lack of clarity on the specific impacts of the project and in the suggestion that ‘border security’ includes limiting the ability of refugees and asylum seekers to flee their own country.

The EWS team will continue to track the project as it evolves, and having done analysis and outreach while the project is still in the pipeline, we are now well placed to support communities who may be impacted in the future.

By Kelsey Alford-Jones, Senior Campaigner for the People, Land and Resources Program at the Centre for International Environmental Law. This project was initially monitored and analysed as part of the Early Warning System, a joint initiative by the Centre for International Environmental Law and the International Accountability Project.


Since 1989, the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

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Fleeing Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle

The following February 2017 article from Adriana Beltrán entitled ‘Children and Families Fleeing Violence in Central America’ was produced by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The article formed part of WOLA’s ‘Beyond the Wall: Migration, Rights and Border Security’ initiative which addresses the impact of the Trump administration’s policies with fact-based analysis and alternatives.

I am grateful to Adriana for permission to reproduce the article for this website. I encourage readers to visit the WOLA website at:

The Department of Homeland Security has started to put the wheels in motion on President Trump’s executive orders on immigration—and they will put the lives of thousands of Central American children and families in danger.

On February 21 [2017], the White House announced new guidelines for immigration policies. The memos lay out instructions for how US law enforcement agencies should implement the forceful executive orders that President Trump signed on January 25 on immigration enforcement within the United States and at the border.

The guidelines specifically call for parents of unaccompanied minors to be prosecuted for human smuggling or trafficking. This will deal a blow to thousands of families across the country, threatening parents who were attempting to unify their families and save their children’s lives. Between 2015 and 2016, over 180,000 children and families fleeing violence in Central America were apprehended at the US-Mexico border.

Less tangibly, these new guidelines also signal to immigration and border agents to be even more hesitant in determining who has established enough “credible fear” to gain asylum. There were already a number of hurdles for migrants to get asylum status, and with these latest memos, it will likely be much more difficult.

Being denied refugee status or being deported can be a death sentence, as one of the key factors driving large numbers of Central Americans to leave their communities is violence. The countries of the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—continue to be plagued by endemic levels of crime and violence that have made many communities extremely dangerous, especially for children and young adults.

In 2015, El Salvador’s murder rate increased dramatically, reaching a level of violence not seen since the end of the country’s civil war. The 70 percent increase in the homicide rate over 2014 followed the unraveling of a truce between rival gangs and an aggressive crackdown by security forces that has spurred concerns about extrajudicial executions and other human rights abuses. The National Civilian Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC) registered 5,728 murders in the country in 2016, making it the second consecutive year with over 5,000 recorded murders in El Salvador’s recent history.

In neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, homicide levels have decreased overall, but both remain among the world’s most violent countries not at war. This is not to say that every neighborhood throughout the region is comparable to a war zone. Yet there are many communities, both urban and rural, where the fear and threat of violence is extremely grave.

These homicide statistics are just one measure of the pervasive violence impacting many marginalized communities in the three countries. Extortion is widespread, with small businesses, the public transportation sector, and poor neighborhoods being the most heavily hit. It has been estimated that Salvadorans pay more than US$390 million a year in extortion fees, while Hondurans pay around $200 million and Guatemalans an estimated $61 million. Failure to pay can result in harassment, violence, or death.

Family and domestic violence is also a factor in the decision to migrate for many women and children. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are some of the most dangerous countries to be a woman, with female homicide rates among the highest in the world. Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público) reported receiving over 50,000 cases of violence against women in 2013, of which only 983—about 2 percent—culminated with a prison sentence for the aggressor. In more than 76 percent of cases received by the police in the same year, the perpetrator was reported to be either living with (29.5 percent), the husband of (29 percent), or the ex-partner of (18 percent) the female victim. The situation of domestic violence is similar throughout the region. In Honduras, 471 women were killed in 2015—one every 16 hours. And in El Salvador, there have been nearly 1,100 cases of domestic violence and over 2,600 cases of sexual violence in 2016. With the constant threat of violence and abuse in the Northern Triangle, many women and children choose to venture north in search of safety.


Understanding the Roots of Violence and Insecurity

Violence and insecurity in the Northern Triangle comes from many sources. In recent years, Central America has become one of the main transshipment routes for illicit drugs making their way to the United States. Local ‘transportistas,’—drug-smuggling operations doing the bidding of transnational drug trafficking cartels—contribute to violence in rural areas, particularly in border areas, and are in large part responsible for the rampant levels of corruption and the erosion of the justice and security systems.

Violence and insecurity are also largely due to the proliferation of local street gangs or maras that impact every aspect of life in the neighbourhoods and communities they control. While many well-to-do neighbourhoods remain safe, in many poorer communities, gangs enforce curfews, control entry into their neighbourhoods, and impose their own rules. Children and young men are often threatened or pressured to join the gangs, while young women often experience sexual assault or abuse at the hands of gang members, forcing many to drop out of school or relocate.

Children and families are not just seeking refuge across borders, as evidenced by the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an estimated 714,000 people from the Northern Triangle were internally displaced as a result of conflict and violence, as of the end of 2015. In El Salvador, the organisation reports that 289,000 people—nearly five percent of the population—are internally displaced due to violence.\


A Lack of Economic Opportunity

Compounding the problem of violence in these countries is the lack of economic security. It is estimated that 60 percent of those living in rural areas in the Northern Triangle live in poverty. For the past few years, the region has been experiencing the most severe drought in decades, which has threatened the livelihoods of over 2.8 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This drought has been especially devastating in rural communities, and for subsistence farmers and day labourers. The lack of adequate rainfall in the so-called ‘dry corridor’ has resulted in significant crop failures and loss of income. It has exacerbated economic and food insecurity in already vulnerable populations.

In addition, more than one million people in the Northern Triangle countries are neither in school nor employed. Commonly referred to as ninis, there are 350,000 in Guatemala and 240,000 in El Salvador. Honduras has the highest rate of ninis in Latin America, with 27.5 percent of young people out of school and without employment. The inability to find a job, advance through education or support themselves through self-employment or farming, compels many young Central Americans to leave their homes and communities.


Weak Democratic Institutions

These problems fester because the governments of the Northern Triangle countries have been unable to effectively address the problems of rampant crime and violence, or to pursue economic strategies that would generate stable jobs and opportunities. A major part of this problem has been weak, corrupt and underfunded state institutions. Many victims of violence often find no protection from the authorities. The majority of police forces are underfunded, plagued by poor leadership, and sometimes complicit in criminal activity. Efforts to purge and reform the civilian police forces have made limited progress, enabling the infiltration and co-optation by criminal groups.

Among the Northern Triangle countries as a whole, the statistics on prosecutions are appalling. Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica reported in 2014 that throughout the Northern Triangle, impunity rates for homicides reached approximately 95 percent on average (95 percent in El Salvador, 93 percent in Guatemala, and 97 percent in Honduras). This means that 19 out of every 20 murders remain unsolved, and that the chances of being caught, prosecuted, and convicted for committing a murder are practically nil. The 2015 Global Impunity Index ranked El Salvador as the country with the eighth highest rate of impunity in the world, while Honduras was ranked seventh.


Addressing the Problem

There is no magic solution to the endemic violence, poor governance, and poverty in the Northern Triangle. These are difficult problems that will require a comprehensive, long-term strategy. Unless these factors are addressed, families and children will continue to flee their communities. The United States and other donors need to work with Central American governments, where they are willing, to address the root causes that are driving migration. This means:

  • Expanding evidenced-based, community-level programmes to reduce youth crime and violence, reintegrate youth seeking to leave the influence of street gangs and criminal groups, and protect children who have suffered violence. Evidence suggests that investing in prevention initiatives that bring together local community groups, churches, police, social services, and government agencies can make a difference in reducing youth violence and victimization.
  • Support robust programmes to enhance transparency and accountability and address the deep-seated corruption that hinders citizens’ access to basic services, weakens state institutions and erodes the foundations of democracy. International and independent anti-impunity and anti-corruption commissions, such as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) and the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras, MACCIH), can play a crucial role in tackling corruption and organised crime and building domestic investigative capacities.[1]
  • Focus security-related funding on strengthening civilian law enforcement and justice institutions and making these institutions more accountable and transparent. Programming should be directed toward bolstering policing capacity overall (such as internal and external control mechanisms, police investigation techniques, recruitment and training, etc.), rather than targeting resources to specialized vetted units and other programmes that may achieve short term objectives but have little impact on improving broader law enforcement institutions. Attention should also be given to strengthening the independence and capabilities of prosecutors and judges. Indicators of success should include measures of progress on these institutional issues.
  • Targeting development assistance to support evidenced-based job training, job creation and education programmes that focus on at-risk youth in targeted communities. Support should also be provided over a sustained period to small-scale agriculture, including marketing and technical assistance, to improve rural communities’ ability to provide livelihoods for their citizens.
  • Ensuring that local communities and civil society organisations are systematically consulted and involved in the design and evaluation of programmes. The meaningful participation of local groups can help make sure that donor efforts are having a sustainable impact in the communities at risk of violence and out-migration.


The Need for Commitment on the Ground

At the same time, addressing the root causes of migration requires the Central American governments to do their part. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras must demonstrate a sound commitment to supporting reforms to strengthen public institutions, tackle corruption, and protect human rights. They must also increasingly assume the financial burden that is needed to transform their countries through fiscal reforms, improving tax collection, and insisting that their elites pay their fair share.

The problems are daunting and will not be resolved overnight. But commitment and political will matter tremendously. In Guatemala, for example, the appointment of a courageous and effective advocate as attorney general led not only to prosecutions in high profile human rights and organised crime related cases, but to internal reforms that improved management, made prosecutors’ caseloads more manageable, and led to a doubling in homicide conviction rates in the Department of Guatemala. The continuation of reform efforts by the successor has resulted in unprecedented results in the fight against corruption and impunity in the country.

The US$750 million in assistance appropriated by the US Congress for Central America for fiscal year 2016 was a positive step forward. The aid package more than doubles the previous level of assistance to the region, while expanding the US agenda from a narrow, security-oriented approach to one that seeks to strengthen institutions and invest in economic development.

Notably, the package also includes a series of strong conditions on combating corruption, increasing transparency and accountability, strengthening public institutions, and protecting human rights. Ensuring that assistance is strategically targeted, wisely invested and properly implemented will determine whether the new strategy is effective in addressing the dire conditions in the countries of the Northern Triangle. Better information on the specific objectives, aid levels, and programmes in each country, as well as progress indicators being used and how outcomes are being defined, will allow for greater ability to assess whether or not US assistance is achieving the desired results. In addition, ensuring that the conditions placed on the funds are being met will help gauge the commitment of the Central American governments.[2]

[1]   [Commentary added by Martin Mowforth] Readers should note that the MACCIH’s formation with the guidance of the Organisation of American States (OAS) was under the control of the Honduran government (of President Juan Orlando Hernández) rather than being independent of the government in the way that the CICIG in Guatemala was, and remains. This is a significant difference. In Guatemala, the CICIG, formed under the auspices of the United Nations, was designed to investigate and prosecute corruption within government agencies and institutions. In Honduras, the government of Hernández has itself passed through numerous corruption scandals with few consequences. As Bertha Oliva de Nativi (Director of COFADEH) says of the MACCIH: “What we do have is a MACCIH which … we have seen is largely silenced.” For further evidence of the inadequacy of the MACCIH, the reader is referred to an article entitled ‘Honduran Congressional Corruption’ that will be entered into this website next month (March 2018).

[2]   [Commentary added by Martin Mowforth] Despite WOLA’s rather upbeat note about aid levels from the US government, it must be remembered that the US government has a history of directing its aid through anti-democratic (and occasionally clandestine) agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy which tends to funnel funds to economically neoliberal and politically right-wing causes.