Thursday, September 25, 2014

Northern Triangle Countries Present Their ‘Plan Central America’

The governments of the Northern Triangle region -- Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- have presented the United States government with a reportedly comprehensive plan to address the root causes behind the recent wave of northward migration.

The document itself, known as the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle,” has not yet been released to the public. In a Tuesday background briefing, a State Department official told journalists that the report “focuses on economic opportunity and development and employment opportunities, public safety and access to judiciaries, and strengthening institutions,” all of which are generally in line with U.S. development goals in the region.

This remark was essentially all that the media had to go on until yesterday evening, when Reuters reported that it had obtained a copy of the report. According to the news agency, the plan involves major spending on electricity and natural gas projects, as well as improving roadways and other infrastructure elements.

Curiously, several of the proposed projects are not actually in the Northern Triangle, but appear to be relevant to these countries’ trade interests. According to a Reuters Factbox based on the report, the plan includes proposals to improve the international airport in Managua, Nicaragua, as well as to renovate Belize City’s main port.

While the plan does not specify a total cost, the news agency notes that its price tag is likely well over $1 billion, if development projects which had already been announced are included.

Despite the lack of a detailed cost breakdown, the plan sounds like a step beyond the $300 million requested by the White House in July to address the root causes of migration. If Reuters is to be believed, the measure could provide a significant economic boost to the three countries involved, though it may fall short of the massive Plan Colombia or Marshall Plan-style “Plan Central America” that regional leaders have been lobbying for.

Central American leaders have maintained that at least 80 percent of the aid mentioned in the plan should be provided by the United States on the grounds that the North American country’s drug market is fueling much of the violence in the region. It’s a fair point, but hopefully this money will hinge on certain conditions.

In Guatemala, for instance, the U.S. would do well to use the aid money to pressure President Otto Perez Molina to extend the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) beyond its current expiration in September 2015. As Prensa Libre reported last week, the Perez administration has recently shown some flexibility on the issue, having announced that it will study the possibility of renewing the judicial independence watchdog’s mandate.  At the very least, the U.S. could use the money as leverage to encourage the government to crack down on the backroom deals and corruption associated with its top judge-appointing process, as Steve Dudley has detailed.

In Honduras, the Obama administration could pressure President Juan Orlando Hernandez to take a firmer stance against corruption and police abuses, as well as to support the prosecution and investigation of journalist and human rights activists’ murders (as over 100 U.S. lawmakers suggested earlier this year).

In El Salvador, we have already seen what kinds of concessions the U.S. is interested in gaining in exchange from aid money. As Politico noted last week, the U.S. approved a second round of aid to the country via the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) after El Salvador passed a series of reforms meant to tighten its anti-money laundering regime. Indeed, the MCC’s breakdown of the spending  seems to dovetail with the Northern Triangle Plan’s aims, as much of it will be used to improve highways and border crossings.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday, the Colombian government and FARC rebels released the full text of the previously secret draft agreements reached so far. As Semana magazine reports, both negating teams agreed to publish the agreements in response to increasingly bold rumors and fear-mongering generated by critics of the peace process. The AP claims that the agreements seem to “contain few surprises and a large number of unresolved details,” but perhaps the most headline-grabbing element of the agreements is the fact that they confirm plans to set aside an undetermined number of legislative seats for war-torn areas. Still, as El Tiempo notes, this was already widely-known.
  • In his speech before the UN General Assembly yesterday, the Listin Diario reports that Dominican President Danilo Medina called on the international community to assist Haiti in providing documentation to its citizens. “Help Haiti. Help them document their people in their territory and ours,” he said. It’s worth noting here that while the D.R. has passed a measure meant to regulate a legal limbo caused by a ruling that revoked the citizenship of thousands of individuals of Haitian descent, its impact has been limited and many remain essentially stateless.
  • In his latest column, syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer criticizes Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s General Assembly address as a campaign stump speech, noting how it lacked any mention of Russia’s annexation of Crimea or the expansion of ISIS. These omissions, according to Oppenheimer, are proof of Brazil -- and the region in general -- showing a “lack of engagement on major world conflicts, or an outright refusal to defend core U.N. principles.”
  • In his first speech before the United Nations yesterday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made headlines by calling for a "democratic re-founding" of the UN, El Universal reports. Maduro said the organization should be changed to reflect the current multipolar world order, and also praised Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for his clash against Islamic militants, and promised $5 million to fight Ebola, BBC Mundo and the AP report.
  • The Wall Street Journal has an update on the ongoing strike by workers at the Venezuelan government-owned Orinoco Steelworks (SIDOR) company. Workers have been calling for a new contract since their old one expired four years ago, and their struggle has been repeatedly highlighted internationally as an example of discontent with the government among some labor groups. Human rights group PROVEA has on several denounced the repression of SIDOR workers, noting that this clash with President Nicolas Maduro’s claims to be “a Workers’ President.”
  • Over at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Rebecca Hanson offers some analysis of Venezuela’s attempts to adopt a progressive, prevention-based approach to law enforcement. Hanson notes that recent remarks on the subject by Attorney General Luisa Ortega clash with the position of Minister of Interior and Justice Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who has been criticized by some analysts for failing to recognize the often heavy-handed role of the police in contributing to violence.
  • NPR offers a look at El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion law, which has led police to arrest women who suffer miscarriages on suspicion of illegally terminating their pregnancy, for which they can face up to 50 years in prison.
  • A survey released today by leading Uruguayan pollster Cifra has brought good news for the ruling Frente Amplio coalition. The poll found that support for the FA, which has been slightly dwindling since February, increased by three points to 43 percent. Support for the opposition National Party increased to 33 percent support from 32 percent last month. While the presidential vote will still likely go to a second-round matchup between former FA President Tabare Vazquez and National Party candidate Luis Lacalle Pou, it seems as if the latter challenger has definitively lost his momentum.
  • In what appears to have been a failed attempt to replicate the recent bombing in Santiago, yesterday Chilean authorities announced that a man was killed after handling a bomb that went off unexpectedly. La Tercera reports that the victim has not been identified, nor has any definitive link to the previous attack been established.