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Guatemala a “Safe Third Country?” Puh-leeze!

August 2019

I hate to admit it, but I’m beginning to wear out the letters W-T-F on my keyboard, and the latest Trump strong-arm extortion of Guatemala is testing its limits. Seriously, WTF?

In the tawdry spectacle that used to resemble democracy in the US, Trump threatened Guatemala with a travel ban and both tariffs and a tax on remittances unless the country agreed to act as a remote enforcer of US xenophobia.With more than $9.5 Billion at stake and a promise of increased ease for migrant farm workers from Guatemala, Trump Inc. successfully will force those seeking asylum in the US to first apply for it in Guatemala on their way north. This happened despite disapproval from the Guatemalan Constitutional Court and legislature.

In case you missed the background, here’s my nutshell of the inane [intentional] asylum policy fiasco:

  • Guatemala has been forced to sign a “safe third country” agreement to allow the US government to outsource processing asylum seekers before they are able to reach either the Mexican or the US border. 
  • Guatemala is not a “safe” country by just about any measure. In fact, according to “The Hill” most asylum seekers coming to the US are from Guatemala.
  • For decades, the US-funded military training has resulted in human rights violations of some of the most vulnerable communities in Central America, including Indigenous Peoples, women, rural families and labor organizers
  • Big-business schemes (again, with massive push from US policies and practices) have driven people off their land and out of decently paying work. Many of those people migrate either internally to work in maquila (duty- and tax-free) factories or outside the country.
  • While the authorities turn a blind eye (or make deals with) organized crime, young men are forcefully recruited to join gangs, and their families are threatened with violence if they don’t.
  • Trump is so scared of the rush of “undesirable” people from our neighbors to the South that he: a) locks up children in cages; b) wants to build a wall, as if people are throwing rocks at windows rather than seeking asylum; c) threatens and bullies other sovereign nations, like Mexico and Guatemala, to enforce discriminatory policies just in case the wall isn’t actually built; and d) raises a sh**load of money and political capital with his core Trumpites by stoking fears and perpetuating lies.

Multiple “push” factors that are driving people by the thousands to flee for their lives and the well-being of their families. This happens despite knowing the dangers from so-called coyote dealers, highway robbers, sexual predators, power-drunk police and physically grueling circumstances.

The latest chapter in wearing out my keyboard comes from Guatemala. With nearly half the population living in poverty, and with a profound history of human rights abuses and a current practice of corruption, Guatemala caved in to Trump’s demand to stop the flow of human migration from Honduras and El Salvador, up toward Mexico and the US. 

Given the ridiculousness of the situation, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate this: Guatemala is not currently safe for many Guatemalans, many of whom are themselves seeking asylum to escape violence, hardship and human rights abuse. Guatemala experienced its own slow-moving coup when members of its Congress and powerful business elites installed Jimmy Morales as president. The country lacks the infrastructure and, frankly, the interest in providing meaningful sanctuary to those fleeing other countries. If anything, the third-country agreement threatens to destabilize both Guatemala and the region and potentially drive more migration. While it’s not clear whether this agreement is legal or how it will be implemented, it is clear that it contradicts the spirit and process of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and basic human morality. 

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