Central America: refugee ‘crisis’ plan gets a debut

The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) hosted a special event on Nov. 14 in Washington, DC to present a plan that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—Central America's "Northern Triangle"—are proposing as a response to the spike earlier this year in immigration to the US by minors from their countries. The "Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle: A Road Map" was originally released in September and is similar to programs announced at a July summit in Washington. However, the IADB event, with US vice president Joseph Biden and the three Central American presidents in attendance, "was the real 'coming out' party for the proposals," the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) wrote in its "Americas Blog."

According to CEPR's analysis, the plan is basically a continuation of the security and economic policies the US has been promoting in the region for decades. It includes a "war on drugs" effort similar to "Plan Colombia," a US-funded project in Colombia which Biden and other speakers cited as a success. Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández also referred to Mexico's militarized anti-drug policy as a model, despite the ongoing crisis in Mexico since a Sept. 26-27 attack on students by police in collusion with a drug gang. To address continuing poverty in the three countries, the plan proposes "deepen[ing] our existing trade agreements," such as the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The plan raises the possibility of creating "special economic zones," apparently a revival of earlier efforts to create "model cities," "charter cities" and "Special Development Regimes (RED)" in Honduras. "[T]he plan brings to mind various past cases of crises exploited for economic gain, as Naomi Klein detailed in her landmark book, The Shock Doctrine," CEPR wrote, highlighting a remark by Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina, who said: "The crisis has become a huge opportunity." (Americas Blog, Nov. 26)

Meanwhile, The Nation and Foreign Policy in Focus have collaborated on an article about the results of DR-CAFTA's implementation. The authors found that "the pact has had a devastating effect on poverty, dislocation and environmental contamination in the region. And perhaps even worse, it's diminished the ability of Central American countries to protect their citizens from corporate abuse." "Overall economic indicators in the region have been poor," they wrote. "Amid significant levels of unemployment, labor abuses continue" and "[w]orkers in export-assembly plants often suffer poor working conditions and low wages."

The article laid special emphasis on the way DR-CAFTA restricts Central American governments' ability to stop environmental abuses by foreign corporations. For example, internal documents obtained by activists indicated that fear of losing in arbitration proceedings required under DR-CAFTA was one reason the Guatemalan government failed to act on a 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) to close down the Canadian firm Goldcorp Inc.'s controversial Marlin gold mine. "These perverse incentives have led to environmental deregulation'" the authors wrote, "and increased protections for companies, which have contributed to a boom in the toxic mining industry—with gold at the forefront. A stunning 14% of Central American territory is now authorized for mining." (The Nation, Nov. 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 30.