Today in Miami, government representatives of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and the United States will wrap up the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, where yesterday Vice President Pence gave a keynote address. The three-day conference, jointly hosted by the US and Mexico, signals further militarization of US policy in Central America.
The meeting comes as Trump’s proposed 2018 budget threatens to slash US development aid to the Northern Triangle while doubling down on security and pro-investment policies that have already wrought significant damages in the region.
According to Grassroots International ally CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, one of the generals in Trump’s cabinet and the man chosen to turn xenophobic and racist attacks on migrants and refugees into public policy, is the main protagonist of the conference, although the State Department is the official sponsor. So it comes as no surprise that migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, an area referred to as the “Northern Triangle,” are being painted as security threats in order to justify ramping up US military operations in the region.
The UN High Commission on Refugees has expressed concern that Mexico could be deporting Central Americans in need of international protections, including children, back to situations of life-threatening violence. But Kelly wants to double down on this lethal strategy.
Jason Cone, the Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, also warns of the deep humanitarian crisis in the region, writing this week that both the US and Mexico are turning a blind eye to the situation in Central America:
“Given the extraordinarily high violence at the root of the problem, there should be attention to the emergency needs of people forced from their homes. Addressing the crisis in Central America cannot only be about future prosperity and security; it must also be about saving and protecting lives today.
“In interviews and medical data from our patients, we found that nearly 40 percent of patients surveyed reported direct attacks, threats to themselves or their families, extortion, or forced recruitments as the main reasons for fleeing their countries. Sixty-eight percent reported being victims of violence during their transit in Mexico. The mental health picture for migrants and refugees is also worrying: our teams are reporting post-traumatic stress disorder rates close to rates seen in populations affected by direct conflict.
“Both the US and Mexico have a critical role to play to end this humanitarian crisis. More foreign aid is needed to establish safe and humane alternatives to detention for refugees and migrants who have fled to Mexico.”
He cites the 2017 report, “Forced to Flee Central America’s Northern Triangle: A Neglected Humanitarian Crisis.”
The US government is pushing Mexico to get involved in security programs in Central American territory, according to press reports. Mexican military and security forces, many of whom have been trained by the US, are widely known for their abhorrent human rights records, with officials frequently involved in extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and collusion with criminal groups. Empowering Mexican authorities to pass their lessons and practices along to Central American counterparts could pose a real threat to people and communities throughout the region.
In November of 2014, the Alliance for Prosperity was announced by the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras at an event at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) headquarters. Dawn Paley explains in The Nation:
“Officially, the Alliance for Prosperity is not a US creation. Officially, it was created by these three countries; they came together and asked the IDB for help in putting the plan together,” said Alexander Main, the senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “It just very much looks like the US played a big role in facilitating this plan and moving it forward, and was quite possibly completely behind this plan since the beginning. We don’t quite have evidence of that, but it came at the exact moment when the administration was talking about tackling the root causes of migration.”
Guatemalan Lorena Cabnal, a Maya-Xinca woman active in healing work and supporting political prisoners, says that it is the long-term economic concerns of the elite that drive the Alliance for Prosperity. “Really, what they want to justify is a neoliberal reconfiguration of these governments,” she says.
In Cabnal’s view, the Alliance is not the systemic change Central America needs if migration is to be meaningfully reduced.
The Nation reports that the Alliance is in large part a plan to build new infrastructure that will benefit transnational corporations. A key part of the plan is building a new gas pipeline from Salina Cruz, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, approximately 650 kilometers south along the west coast to Escuintla, Guatemala. This key pipeline route will connect Mexico to Central America, opening a new market for natural gas producers in the United States to export piped gas to Central America.
We will continue to share information from our partners and ally organizations and we continue to monitor the US military and corporate presence in Mexico and Central America.