By Yulia Krylova and Kathie Bolognese, Members of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee.
The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) convened a special panel discussion on Migration, Governance, and Sustainable Development in Central America on January 30th. It opened with introductory remarks by Sam Worthington, CEO, of the Washington, D.C.-based host organization InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations partnering to eliminate extreme poverty and vulnerability, and to strengthen human rights.
The recent influx of Central American migrants through the United States Southern border has generated a heated political debate leading to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. estimates that 60,782 unauthorized migrants were apprehended at the Southwest border in December 2018, with 95 percent of them coming from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
To examine the specific challenges facing the Northern Triangle region and explore innovative solutions to migration from these countries, UNA-NCA invited a multi-stakeholder group of experts: the moderator Michael Camilleri (the Inter-American Dialogue) and the panelists – Juan Gonzalez (the Cohen Group), Jason Marczak (the Atlantic Council), and Claudia Escobar (the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University). UNA-NCA works closely with the policymaking community in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness and advocate for evidence-based approaches to tackle the current crisis.
Juan Gonzalez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, noted that the root causes of migrants fleeing the Northern Triangle are related to political instability, violence, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and corruption. The solution to these complicated problems requires multilateral initiatives where all regional governments share responsibilities for promoting a safer and more prosperous Central America. As an example, Mr. Gonzalez shared his personal experience in coordinating the launch of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (A4P) developed by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. To complement the A4P, the United States developed the U.S. Strategy for Central Americaobjective of which is to protect American citizens by addressing the security, governance, and economic drivers of illegal immigration and illicit trafficking. As a part of this strategy, the United States has committed more than $2.6 billion in foreign assistance to Central American countries.
Jason Marczak noted that the United States has a broken immigration system, not an immigration crisis. The problem is that the current system cannot attract the kinds of migrants the country needs. He further underscored the importance of multi-stakeholder initiatives to address migration from Central America and shared his unique experience directing the Northern Triangle Task Force organized by the Atlantic Council and co-chaired by General John Kelly in 2017. This Task Force convened political, business and civil society leaders from the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala with the objective of promoting cooperation around the major challenges to achieve long-term prosperity in the region – sustainable economic development, the rule of law, and security. The resulting recommendations developed by the Northern Triangle Task Force should continue to serve as a blueprint for decreasing forced migration from this region by stabilizing and strengthening the economies and the rule of law in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals of Guatemala, Dr. Claudia Escobar emphasized that the rule of law and independence of the judiciary must remain a top priority for the public agenda in Guatemala and the entire region. She highlighted extraordinary levels of corruption in the Northern Triangle countries and the positive role that the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) played in strengthening the rule of law in the country. Established in 2006 by a bilateral agreement between the United Nations and the State of Guatemala, CICIG dedicated significant efforts to fighting corruption and organized crime that captured many governmental organizations and institutions. CICIG also served as a role model for the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) created by the Organization of American States in 2015.
The recent decision of Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales not to renew the CICIG’s mandate in 2019, however, demonstrates the serious challenges that anti‐corruption initiatives face bringing the corrupt political elites to justice. Establishing an independent judicial system is essential to solving social problems and creating better living conditions. Meeting all of these challenges requires the United States to show its continued support and commitment to CICIG and to implementing further institutional reforms in the Northern Triangle countries.
Tackling the migrant crisis will remain one of the top priorities for the national and international agenda in the coming years and, as such, UNA-NCA dedicated its first high-level panel discussion in 2019 to the urgent migration, governance, and sustainable development issues affecting Central America. Given its impact in the region and role as a world leader, the United States must share responsibility for addressing the underlying economic, political, and social factors that force Central American migrants to leave their home countries.
As noted by Sergio Martinez, Co-chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee in his closing remarks, “It is more about the specific actions and tools available to U.S. policymakers to develop new solutions and implement the existing commitments in the U.S. Strategy for Central America.” UNA-NCA welcomed this opportunity to raise awareness among the public about the major challenges in the Northern Triangle region and to remind U.S. policymakers that it is high time for new evidence-based approaches to migration and to strengthening U.S. engagement in Central America.