Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The US already has a Plan Central America

Ana Quintana at The Heritage Foundation has a new look at Does the U.S. Need a “Plan Central America”? For the most part, she argues that we already have one. We "simply" need to make important reforms in its implementation. Here are her three recommendations for what the US should do:
Formulate clear goals for CARSI. CARSI was originally designed as a supplement to the Mexico-focused Mérida Initiative. Regional security issues and threats have evolved since then. CARSI should reflect these changing dynamics.
Lift congressional withholdings that undermine U.S. security efforts. Current withholdings against Guatemala and Honduras continue to weaken U.S. regional counternarcotics efforts. Increasing levels of U.S.-bound drug trafficking and accompanying violence will continue to destabilize Central America, and Congress should recognize the need for continued engagement.
Recognize the importance of supporting civil society in Central America. In the U.S. and other Western democracies, civil society functions as the intermediary between the government and the public. Democratic and governance institutions in many of these countries are weak and in many cases corrupt. The U.S. should support groups and organizations that hold regional governments accountable.
I'm all for recommendations one and two. However, with regards to point number two, which mostly corresponds to the Leahy act tying military assistance to human rights improvements, I clearly do not support lifting the conditions. However, instead of removing them, the US needs to move forward with our Central American partners (Guatemala and Honduras) to double down on programs that will help them qualify for the removal of such conditions. Because their militaries do not meet human rights standards is not a reason to remove the conditions. However, at the current rate, neither military is going to meet the standards anytime soon.

[Does this sound like US policy towards Central America during the Reagan administration to anyone else?]

The same goes for economic assistance. Only El Salvador qualifies for a large Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact. Neither Guatemala nor Honduras meet the necessary democratic and economic conditions for a compact but they do for a threshold program. While the US has told them what they need to do to receive one hundred million dollar-plus compacts, they need more assistance to get there.

How much more and how to deliver that assistance, I don't know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Panamanian Supreme Court justice suspended

Like every other recent administration in Central America, there were a number of allegations of corruption and abuse of power during Ricardo Martinelli's presidency - infrastructure spending kickbacks and court packing to name two.

Well, there's some movement in Panama right now to hold one Supreme Court Justice accountable for some unexplained wealth accrued during the last few years.
Alejandro Moncada has for weeks been battling accusations he profited from his ties to the former conservative leader after documents emerged showing he paid mostly in cash for two luxury apartments valued at over $1.7 million. Such properties are seemingly incompatible with Moncada's $120,000 a year salary and don't show up in a sworn affidavit delivered shortly before joining the bench in 2010 in which he declared a 4x4 truck and an expensive watch as his only assets.
As part of the ruling by lawmakers leading an impeachment probe, Moncada's assets were temporarily frozen. He was also ordered to turn over his passport and remain confined to his residence.
Moncada denies any wrongdoing and said he's the victim of a campaign by Martinelli's political foe and successor, President Juan Carlos Varela, to reshape the nine-member high court.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Salvadorans demand food and water security

On October 15th, Salvadorans took to the street in support of Food Sovereignty Day and World Food Day. Voices on the Border has the entire write-up.
Food sovereignty is a fairly straightforward concept articulated first by La Via Campesina in 1996. It simply asserts the right of people to define their own food systems, placing the individuals who produce, distribute, and consume food at the center of the decisions on food systems and policies.
Marchers had some very specific policy points they want their government to address. (If this post and these demands sound familiar, they held a similar march last year making many of the same demands.)
Salvadorans want the government to recognize food security as a basic right, ban several toxic agrochemicals, pass water and mining laws, and do more to protect the region's fragile ecosystem.
Again, none of these issues or demands is new, but people are protesting because there has been little to no action. While many celebrate the Sanchez Cerén administration as the second consecutive leftist government elected into power in El Salvador, many in the FMLN’s base are grumbling because they have not seen the kinds of changes they expected. Some have been reluctant to protest against the government officials they voted into power, believing the alternative to be far worse. But others are tired of the perceived inaction on issues related to basic rights such as food sovereignty and access to water, and are speaking up.
It's not clear that the FMLN wants to pass all these laws but there are international agreements / considerations that inhibit their passage and practical reasons such as the fact that the FMLN does not have a majority in the Congress. Liking the ban on mining, Salvadorans might have to settle for de facto bans for the time being. Those commitments are not as secure, however, as de jure bans.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

US extends TPS to Nicaragua and Honduras

On Friday, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible nationals of Nicaragua and Honduras. TPS was originally granted to Honduras in 1999 and to Nicaragua in 2001. As a result, thousands of their citizens were provided with work permits and legal documents to remain in the United States even though their papers had expired or they had never received any.

As I wrote in 2011, the US probably won't be ending TPS to Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, or Hondurans anytime soon. All of the people eligible for TPS have been in the country for over a decade. It doesn't make sense to make them go "home." For many, this is their home. I also wrote that the administration should start thinking about how to transition these people to some form of permanent legal status. However, it's now time to move beyond thinking about it and to act on it.

Unfortunately, other than increasing the number of deportations, President Obama doesn't really seem to be concerned with the crisis affecting millions of precariously documented and undocumented migrants in our country. Or maybe he cares and just doesn't think that it is a politically winning strategy to care. We'll learn more after the November elections apparently.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Building a brighter future for Guatemala's kids

Guatemalan Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes has been named a 2014 Top 10 CNN Hero in recognition of his efforts to help over 1,000 young Guatemalans survive and maybe escape poverty and violence through turning his family's home into a community center in 2006.
Romero Fuentes' program takes place in the entire front portion of his family's home as well as another building down the block.
At the main center, painted with colorful murals and quotes, children are exposed to a number of creative outlets. They take classes in dance, music, photography, theater and juggling and often put on performances for each other.
"These classes are to show kids that they can pursue their own passions in order to improve their lives," Romero Fuentes said.
Leadership seminars teach the children about social, political and cultural issues. They learn the importance of moral courage, social justice and self-expression. They also explore ways to reduce violence.
"We are raising them to be the future leaders of Guatemala," Romero Fuentes said.
The group's feeding program provides a nutritious meal to more than 100 children each day. For many of them, it is the only meal they will have all day, says Romero Fuentes.
Los Patojos also runs a medical clinic that provides basic health services to more than 1,500 people each year. And the organization is in the process of building its own school, where more than 250 students will attend preschool through sixth grade.
Read more about Los Patojos and go to CNN to vote for Mr. Romero Fuentes. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

They said that San Pedro Sula wasn't that bad and laughed

The Grim Reaper awaits 
On Tuesday, we returned to the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) in Nogales, Mexico. While most of the other Scranton faculty and staff on the trip served food to the migrants, I sat down to help the first time arrivals complete a survey. The survey included questions like their name, age, hometown, where they had been deported from (the border area of living in the US), and whether they had suffered some form of abuse.

I'd say the migrant who moved me the most was Nicolas. He wrote that he was 19 and was traveling with his brother who was 32. However, he looked more like he was 12 years old. Later I learned that he was 14 and his older brother was actually his dad which honestly made more sense. I assume that he said that he was 19 so that he would not be separated from his dad. They had both been recently deported from the United States after getting detained while in transit. The young boy did speak to me but I was affected by the fact that he and his dad were most likely returning to their hometown in the state of Guerrero. Guerrero is the Mexican state where 43 college students were disappeared and presumably killed by police working in cahoots with a local drug gang.

Unlike Monday, all the migrants I spoke to had left their homes primarily because of the lack of work. It seemed that unemployment, violence, and family reunification all played a role but that the lack of economic opportunity was the primary cause for why they had left their homes.

While it wasn't too many, I was surprised at the number of migrants who had lived in the United States without papers but had decided to return home voluntarily. They often returned to Mexico to visit a sick or dying relative. They were then caught returning to the US. While it is somewhat hard to believe, they hadn't realized how much more difficult and dangerous the illegal trip to the US is today than when they had last made the trip a few years ago. They were honestly surprised.

Another migrant stood out. We spoke about Illinois, Colorado, and North Dakota - three states where he had worked before returning to Mexico voluntarily. He was apprehended crossing the border. I asked if he was considering recrossing. He said no. He was returning to his home state (which at this moment I don't remember). He did not want to risk getting apprehended again because a second apprehension would be a felony and result in jail time. Neither he nor his family could risk that. He thanked all the volunteers at KBI in Spanish and then in English which he spoke rather well.

Mexicans are allowed in KBI only after they've been deported and only for a few days. However, Central Americans are welcome to come in and eat even if they haven't attempted the trek to the United States. They are still only allowed to come in for a few days. I spoke to two young men from San Pedro Sula. They hoped to cross the border on Saturday. It was to be the first attempt for the two of them.

I asked if they were leaving San Pedro because of the violence. They looked at each other and sort of laughed. They said that San Pedro wasn't that bad. It sure seemed like a bit of black humor to deal with what is a pretty rough city.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Nogales, Sonora side of the border

Today, we took the "walk of shame." Well, at least what will become the walk of shame when the new corridor is finished on the Nogales border. It is an enclosed corridor that has been designed to make migrants so feel bad that after they are deported, they will not want to return to the US. Migrants call it the walk of shame because of how they feel after having failed to get to the US or for having been deported after having spent years there. From what I understand, however, migrants returned to Mexico are still being repatriated through the old path.

We then walked to the Kino Border Initiative which serves food and provides services to migrants who have been deported recently. It is a joint initiative supported by several organizations on both sides of the border, including the Jesuits. We helped serve food to about 40 people this morning and maybe another 40 this afternoon. I spent most of my time speaking with the migrants which wasn't really that much time because they are in and out in 45 minutes or so.
I spoke with a few guys from El Salvador and Honduras this morning. Central Americans can use the comedor's services on the way north. However, most of the migrants were from Mexico. They can only use the comedor's services after having been deported and for about a week. Therefore, all the migrants from Mexico had been deported from the US within the last week or so. Some were planning to return home (Oaxaca, Michoacan, Mexico City) while others were going to try to cross the border again, perhaps tonight.

While the Salvadoran and Hondurans spoke about the violence in their country, every person I spoke to placed greater emphasis on family reunification. Some had spent years in the US while others perhaps little or no time at all. However, it seemed as if all of them were trying to get back to the US to reunite with a wife or a child. Several of the men and women broke down and cried.

The most powerful story of the day came from Mary. She has three children with US citizenship and three with Honduran. Her daughter visited Honduras over three years ago. While there, her US passport and that of her nine month old son were stolen. She was able to have a new one issued for herself but there were problems with getting a renewal for her son. Eventually, she returned to the US to continue working on the passport issue. In the meantime, the grandmother who was watching the child witnessed some drug trafficking activity. After going to the police and the human rights office to denounce threats against her, her house was burnt down. She then fled with the boy with nothing but the clothes on her back.

That was in April. She passed through Guatemala and then Mexico on the beast before arriving in Nogales a few weeks ago. She told of some harrowing stories along the way. It looks like the grandson that she has been caring for these last few years will be reunited with his mom in Dallas within the next few weeks. Mary, on the other hand, is going to apply for asylum in the US. She was threatened by the narcotraffickers and then attacked after reporting the threats. Her situation is obviously a difficult asylum case but there's not much she can do.

The cemetery on the right here is where many of the migrants sleep at night if they are unable to afford a hotel or get into a shelter. The groundskeepers lock the gates in the evening so that the migrants are safer than if they were to sleep outside of the gates. There's also some protection from the rain if necessary.

A really powerful day that I am not doing justice too right now but that I thought that I would share.