Wilton Eniel Gutiérrez, a 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy, was wandering alone last April through the desert in Texas when a border patrol found him. The images – chilling – show the minor sobbing and explaining that the group of migrants with whom he was traveling had “dumped” him the night before. He didn’t even know he was already in the United States. In the White House, those broken sobs had an impact not only emotionally – Vice President Kamala Harris is the daughter of migrants – but also politically: the situation on the southern border of the United States threatens to spiral out of control. Everything seems to justify Trump’s thesis on the “necessity” of the famous border wall.
Guatemala and Honduras – the remaining countries are close behind – are experiencing a demographic explosion. At the same time, Covid-19 has triggered the indicators of poverty, unemployment and even food insecurity in Central America – Hunger, with capital letters -. The rise of the “Maras” – bloodthirsty criminal gangs – makes daily life unbearable. In the northern triangle – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the violent death rate is higher than
countries at war like Iraq or Afghanistan. There are even accusations against some governments in US courts of infiltration by Mexican cartels.
Migration from Central America to the United States – Mexico is converting itself from an issuing country to a transit zone – will increase in the coming years. Covid-19 is the new migration accelerator. Climate change is another: hurricanes “Eta” and “Iota” in Central America have ruined crops and spread – even more – misery. National governments, without distinction of ideologies, are harshly criticized but in the face of these misfortunes – hurricanes and epidemics – they have not received significant foreign aid. Among the few exceptions, Spain, whose queen Doña Letizia traveled to Honduras with a large consignment of Spanish Cooperation. Trump’s rhetoric that a wall can stop forces
of this magnitude is simply magical thinking.
President Joe Biden plays a good part of continuity in the White House in Central America. Migration is a central part of the polarized political debate in the United States. Proof of this is the mandate given to Vice President Kamala Harris and a team of experienced advisers – Latinos Juan González and Ricardo Zúñiga stand out – to build a new policy for the region.
Central America is a challenge that some in Washington – and also in Brussels – consider unsolvable. We do not all share that vision. The State Department has announced that it will expand and redirect aid – to avoid corruption – through civil society. Foreign aid – cut drastically by Trump – is a step in the right direction. But not even the 4,000 million promised by the White House will be enough without a comprehensive strategy.
In 2003, Cafta, a US free trade agreement with the area, was signed. The Cafta – neoliberal in nature – has only exacerbated the imbalances. On the other hand, if tomorrow the US signs a real preferential trade agreement with the countries of the northern triangle – extensive to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama – migration would fall. If this preferential agreement is
coordinate with the current regional trade agreement with the EU, promoted by then-President Zapatero and signed in Madrid under the successful Spanish presidency of the EU in 2010, migration would fall further. By being able to export Central America its products and crops – at decent prices and wages – peasants and urban workers would stay in their homes instead of risking the dangerous journey north. Migrant caravans would be left without
We must also advance in the control of crime. It is impossible? In Central America, dozens of
high-level narco-corruption plots. The formula? Commissions to support the local judiciary and police – mostly honest – sent by the UN and other international organizations. These commissions were withdrawn in their day despite – or rather because of it? – of his undeniable successes against drug cartels and the “Maras”.
In 2021, political sensitivity – after Vice President Kamala Harris met with a group of Central American lawyers – has changed and the door to her return is opening. If these international support commissions return, we will see unimaginable advances in security.
The “Central America Plan” that Vice President Harris is promoting is a wise initiative. However, solving the crises (in the plural) in Central America requires incorporating more international actors. The US, alone, cannot face all the challenges and demands of the region today. Central America has enormous potential in tourism, energy, agriculture, industry, fishing, etc. But it needs infrastructure and security to grow – with social inclusion – and compete under minimal conditions in this global world.
Spain was decisive in the Peace accords in the 1990s. It was also decisive again – with investment and cooperation – in the subsequent “Plan Puebla Panama” for reconstruction after internal armed conflicts. It was Madrid who led the EU’s efforts in both processes.
Pedro Sánchez – like Joe Biden – has earned the respect of Central America for his support in the face of Covid-19 and hurricanes “Eta” and “Iota”. The president of the Central American Parliament, the former Honduran prosecutor Fanny Salinas as well as several governments in the area have presented to President Sánchez at the recent and fruitful Summit in Costa Rica with regional leaders an ambitious proposal: to incorporate Spain and the EU into the “Central America Plan” , particularly in infrastructure and security.
Spain and the EU are the first donor in development cooperation to Central America and the second investor in the area. The expansion of the Panama Canal or the regional electricity grid are (excellent) the work of Spanish companies. The fight against the cartels – led by the local judiciary and police in cooperation with the DEA and the FBI – has achieved resounding achievements when it has relied on the experience of the Spanish judiciary and police on the ground. The “Central America Plan” will advance faster and further with the Spanish and European contribution towards its goals.
An alliance between Biden and Sánchez in favor of Central America would undoubtedly be excellent news for the region. A coalition between the US, Spain and the EU in this 2021 – bicentennial of the peaceful Central American independence – to give real hope and future to Central America.