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.