Saturday, July 13, 2024

New efforts to solve Central American refugee problem will not succeed

Over five years ago I editorialized against a proposal called the Alliance for Prosperity, made by what are now known as the northern tier Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The plan was to use around US $5 billion (now $4 billion) to create conditions which would be so attractive at home that the budding refugee problem would go away. My then demurral was based principally on the corruption of the northern tier countries.

The refugee problem was warm enough at the time that then president Obama gofered  it to his VP Joe Biden. Biden has now lateraled the hot potato to his VP Harris, who is traveling to Mexico and Guatemala next week to seek resolution.

A quote from Shakespeare sums up the optimism of the coming meetings: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

She will fail.

There are now three reasons for the impending failure:

  • Corruption continues in the three northern tier countries;
  • Mexico, a key although unnamed element in the alliance, is not ready;
  • The U.S. is involved in four tendentious bilateral disputes, one each for the northern tier countries and a fourth for Mexico.

The climate for agreement is not good.

These are recent rankings for perceived corruption among 180 countries: Guatemala 149, Honduras 157, El Salvador 104 and Mexico 124.

All are failing scores.

There is gallows humor in the details. Here are two examples: a would-be accountant and former president of El Salvador confessed to misappropriating $299 million and there was a recent seizure in Guatemala of over $15 million in cash in the vacant house of a now-on-the-lam former minister. Took two whole days to count the cash.

Eight former presidents from the three northern tier countries are charged or have been convicted of peculation, and one former chief executive from Guatemala has been in confinement for five years. Corruption continues.

Mexico, technically not northern tier, is still corrupt and a party to the refugee muddle. Just last week I used two smugglers’ crossings in one border excursion.

The U.S. is now involved in public disputes with Mexico over funding of anti-government NGOs, El Salvador over the president’s dismissal of elections supervisory judges, Guatemala over the year-long failure to name constitutional judges, and Honduras for sentencing the president’s brother for drug trafficking.

VP Harris is going to need four umbrellas to salvage an alliance for prosperity in this weather environment.

Carlisle Johnson writes from his home in Guatemala.

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