From El Salvador to Guatemala to Honduras, the issue of poverty seems to go from bad to worse. Even when these countries see economic turnarounds, too few of the benefits go to the majority of citizens. Things these Central American have in common is a lack of economic development, political corruption, ineffective governance, extreme economic disparity, improper regulation/labor standards, and a lack of policing that has left these nations riddled with violence. Meeting with the Presidents of these three countries over the US Border Crisis, President Obama surely touched on these topics. While El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras may be compelled to step in to protect their citizens from traffickers and other hazards of illegal immigration, addressing the rising number of individuals violating US law to enter the United States will involve more than just relying on these leaders to do “the right thing,” as President Obama would put it.
Because these countries are ruled by self-interested elites, there needs to be a clear incentive for them to serve the needs of those forced to flee their homelands. Quite frankly, affluent members of these societies likely see the mass migration of poor people as a net benefit to their societies. Given that the United States is the number one trade partner of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, President Obama has a great deal of leverage to ensure illegal immigration remains an important issue, especially if the wealth of the affluent is put at risk for failing to do so. That said, pressure from Mexico and its efforts to control its borders is also a necessary part of the equation, which means the US can help alleviate its immigration issues by assisting the Mexican government as it attempts to close its southern border.
That said, efforts to prevent illegal immigration do not address the issues that continue to drive the mass exodus from Central America. The affluent of Central American countries need to do more to address extreme economic disparity, destitution, drugs, and crime. As it is, the wealthy of many Central American countries simply barricade themselves in their lavish homes and hire private security to protect their selves from the desperate and opportunistic. Clearly, there is an issue with essential civil services, such as the police, when those who can afford it hire their own private police force instead of paying higher taxes and improving public policies to guarantee public security and safety. This type of self-imposed isolation by the wealthy only further divides the haves and have-nots, which, in turn, drives the failure of the power elites to properly address national interests over personal interests.
Consequently, there needs to be an effort to create forums where the elites of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are encouraged to take an interest in their countries broader interests, i.e. come up with solutions for “the common good.” There also needs to be a push from outsiders to show the affluent that they have “skin in the game” when it comes to developing economies and civil societies that also serve the interests of the poor. This an area where outside business interests with leverage need to recognize the failures of these three nations is a threat to their interests, which means they need to give the affluent of these nations reasons to work for the common good. In fact, the Obama Administration, as well as nongovernmental entities, need to take a carrot-and-stick approach that incentivizes the powerful to address the interests of the poor.
One common issue facing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras is the fact that these countries import more than what they export. This means these economies are being built on goods that cannot be locally produced while they are not producing enough to be able to afford what they are importing. Because they cannot afford or produce the items that their economies are dependent upon, they are unstable. This lack of production, in turn, means the benefits of any economic growth are not going, and will not go, to the Peoples of these countries, i.e. the driving force behind their extreme economic disparity. The economies of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras cannot be built on cheap labor, untenably low taxes, and loose regulation. Although social programs, subsidizes, and higher taxes are temporary, unsustainable solutions that might come into reality given enough pressure, they truly need regulatory, tax, and trade policies that better reflect the needs of these populations.
National economies must be built on industries that serve the local needs of a people with locally plentiful resources that are as local as possible with excess production being used to participate in the global economy. Reexamining provisions of CAFTA is, therefore, part of the solution. Another part is an effort to build industries that can serve the needs of these countries. Just as in the US, medicine is a very profitable field that can be developed to create lucrative jobs, necessary civil infrastructure, and an education system driven by practical, job-oriented skills. Just as roads and police need the support of governments, and nongovernmental organizations, medical care would be a worthwhile investment that needs funded. At the same time, there needs to be more assets directed toward dealing with crime in Central America, which is something that would also be a good investment for the US and its national security interests.
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