Friday, July 25, 2014

Guatemala, Too, Would Like a ‘Plan Central America’

Today, the same day President Obama is set to meet with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to discuss the child migrant crisis, the front page of the New York Times announces that the U.S. is weighing a plan to allow youth in Honduras to apply for refugee status without leaving their country. The NYT reports:  
The proposal, prepared by several federal agencies, says the pilot program under consideration would cost up to $47 million over two years, assuming 5,000 applied and about 1,750 people were accepted. If successful, it would be adopted in Guatemala and El Salvador as well. 
It is unclear how the administration determined those estimates, given that since Oct. 1 more than 16,500 unaccompanied children traveled to the United States from Honduras alone.
So while the logic behind the proposal is to dissuade Honduran (and eventually Salvadoran and Guatemalan) child migrants from taking the dangerous journey through Mexico, just a fraction would be eligible for resettlement. Exactly why they would take these odds-- especially when relatively few  unaccompanied minors are returned to their home countries under the current scheme -- is left unexplained.

In any case, the plan is not likely to placate the presidents visiting the White House today. As noted in last Thursday’s news brief, Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernandez has been clear in lobbying Washington for an increase in security and development aid to Central America as a solution to the spike in immigration. Since then, he has been joined by Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina. In a CNN interview yesterday, Perez Molina said he would also like to see a Plan Colombia or Merida Initiative-sized aid package in the region, specifically calling for a “Plan Central America.”

In separate remarks to the Washington Post, Perez Molina also criticized proposals to increase spending on security along the U.S.-Mexico border. “With just 10 percent of the money that you’re investing on the U.S. border, it could be spent at minimum in the three countries and I’m confident that it would be much more profitable than investing it on border security or border control with Mexico,” he told the Post.

The Guatemalan leader also announced he will press Obama to make Temporary Protected Status (TPS) available to Guatemalans in the country, which is generally given to those who cannot return to their home countries violence or natural disasters. Considering that TPS granted to immigrants from both Honduras and El Salvador is set to expire next year, this is likely on the minds of Hernandez and Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren as well.  


News Briefs
  • On top of U.S. immigration policy and security cooperation, there is a chance that drug policy could come up in today’s White House meeting. In a recent Time Magazine interview, President Hernandez was explicit in linking U.S. demand for drugs with the flow of migrants from Honduras. He also criticized changing attitudes towards drug policy in the U.S., saying: "In the United States, many officials see the drug problem as basically one of health, as how much it costs to treat an addict and stop them getting involved. But for us it is life and death. That is the difference.” Recent weeks have seen a number of drug policy reform advocates making the same link between migration and drugs, albeit to argue an entirely different point (see the Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter in the Washington Post, or the  Drug Policy Alliance’s Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett  in CNN Opinion). But in a post for the WOLA Border Fact Check Blog, Adam Isaacson explains why making this connection is problematic. As he points out, the main large-scale transporters of drugs in the northern triangle countries -- networks like the Texis Cartel or Perrones -- generate less violence than street gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18, which are far less involved in the transnational drug trade.
  •  Also on drug policy, Colombia’s RCN Noticias has a general overview of the marijuana policy debate in the country following Senator Juan Manuel Galan’s announcement that he will present a bill seeking to legalize medical marihuana. According to the news agency, the Catholic Church, members of the Conservative Party and Alvaro Uribe’s Centro Democratico have opposed the idea, although some analysts have argued that it could deal a blow to criminal groups profiting from growing domestic demand for drugs in Colombia.
  • General Hugo Carvajal, a former chief of Venezuelan military intelligence, was arrested yesterday on the Dutch island of Aruba, where he had been appointed consul general. He is wanted in the United States on charges that he colluded with FARC rebels to protect drug shipments and provide them with arms and logistical aid. El Nacional reports that Venezuelan authorities, including the deputy minister of foreign relations, have arrived to the island to argue that the arrest is a violation of diplomatic norms. But the NYT notes that officials in Aruba say Carvajal was never duly accredited and was not eligible for diplomatic immunity. Security analyst Doug Farah tells the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. is likely hoping to question the general about alleged ties between the government and illicit trafficking networks.
  • After the governor of Mexico’s Puebla state presented a proposal to strike down the so-called “Bullet Law” which was criticized for authorizing police to open fire on protesters deemed violent, Reforma reports that lawmakers have not yet take up debate over the issue. According to La Jornada, that the governor’s bill specifies that the law cannot be struck from the books until it has been replaced with a new regulation.
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero has a profile of a newly-built giant replica of Solomon's Temple in São Paulo, complete with 10,000 seats, an oasis of olive trees and a helipad. The temple, Romero notes, is evidence of the rise of evangelical Christianity in Brazil’s competitive religious landscape, and President Dilma Rousseff’s plans to attend its inauguration underscore the political importance of evangelicals in the country.
  • With Haitian President Michel Martelly and opposition lawmakers still divided over a proposal to hold long-overdue parliamentary and local elections on October 26, the date is looking increasingly unlikely. Despite the gridlock, the Miami Herald notes that Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe appears to be adopting a “Hillary Clinton-like” campaign strategy, giving stump speeches around the country to drum up support for a likely presidential run even though he has not officially declared his candidacy. According to the Herald, his campaigning has generated suspicion raised concerns about its destabilizing potential.
  • Following Brazil’s decision to recall its ambassador to Israel for consultation in the wake of the military operation in Gaza, the response by an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman has raised eyebrows in Brazil. “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, according to the Jerusalem Post. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.” O Globo reports that Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo replied with: “If there is a diplomatic dwarf here, Brazil is not one of them,” adding that the decision was made in the wake of reports of civilian casualties in Gaza.
  • As Argentina’s July 30 deadline to pay holdout creditors draws nearer, The Economist explains that the main stumbling block preventing a deal is the Rights Upon Future Offers (RUFO) clause written into the government’s restructured bond agreements. This clause prevents Argentina from giving the holdouts a better deal than those that have accepted restructuring. But because it expires December 31, Argentina has been lobbying -- unsuccessfully -- for a stay in the enforcement of its debt obligations to the holdouts until then.
  • The Guardian reports on the reopening of the biggest nickel mine in Central America, Guatemala’s Fenix mine, which had been closed for 30 years. The inauguration of the mine has been marked by violent confrontations between security forces and local residents, who say authorities are carrying out an intimidation campaign on behalf of the mine’s owners.
  • On Wednesday, lawmakers  in Chile’s lower house voted 53 to 20 to pressure President Michelle Bachelet to close the Punta Peuco prison facility, which houses military officials convicted of committing human rights abuses during the Pinochet regime. The facility, which holds some 50 inmates, is the last remaining such prison in the country, after the smaller Penal Cordillera was closed last year.