Guatemala may fly under the radar of US media, but how Donald Trump handles this Central American nation will be crucial to restoring the rule of law on immigration. As William La Jeunesse noted on Tucker Carlson Tonight, “the real problem the border patrol is experiencing now isn’t Mexicans trying to sneak in, but Central Americans wanting asylum.”
With a 540-mile border and more than 130 entry points into Mexico, Guatemala is the jumping-off point for both domestic emigrants and those of neighboring countries, as well as from Asia and the Middle East on their way to the United States. Mexico has proved incapable of stemming the flow of illegals transiting north.
The Guatemalan government has almost no presence in the rural areas that border Mexico, as local armed gangs suppress the population and oppose development projects. They operate with protection from the national government, which acts under pressure from the Obama administration.
Naturally, rural Guatemalans yearn to escape, as they suffer from violence, lack of opportunity, and little to no confidence in their nation’s future. This law of the jungle also leaves no viable way to process and impede foreign migrants on their way to Mexico and the United States.
The Obama administration’s response has been the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), first announced in late 2014. The $3.75 billion funding for five years — with oversight from USAID, US ambassadors, and local governments — is supposed to go to projects with private-sector participation.
The true objective of these funds, however, has been to garner submission from the purported beneficiaries. The lever opens the door for a collectivist foreign-policy agenda, which directly undermines the economic development of these nations and the livelihoods of the would-be emigrants. An ironic symptom of this approach is that private investors are unwilling to partner with Alliance for Prosperity projects, which do have potential to promote development.
Vice President Joe Biden made three trips to Guatemala from mid-2014 to mid- 2015, one of which was to meet only with President Otto Pérez to discuss one topic: the extension of the UN-appointed Anti-Impunity Commission (CICIG). When asked by the press about the future of the commission, Biden said it would stay, period.
The commission is under the thumb of its major funder, the Obama administration. Its collectivist orientation has brought it into coalition with the nation’s Marxist faction, including violent groups that descend from the guerrilla of Guatemala’s decades-long internal armed conflict. The CICIG commissioner and the US ambassador even smile for cameras with leaders of violent groups such as the Committee of United Campesinos (CUC).
The Obama administration’s policies in Central America have been driving those countries toward the anti-American autocrats that run Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Reuters reported that Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have joined forces to petition Mexico and other countries to forge a joint strategy regarding the new U.S. administration. “Trump’s election upset has sent shockwaves through Mexico and Central America, which rely heavily on U.S. remittances and bilateral trade.”
Instead of viewing Trump as an adversary, Latin American nations can work with his administration to bring development and stability to their region of the world. That is the real solution — a win-win outcome in which Latin Americans need not flee their homelands and Trump can avert illegal immigration before it arrives at his proposed border wall.
For his part, Trump should see through the top-down approach of the collectivists who preach concern for and claim to represent the indigenous population. The truth is the indigenous population of Guatemala, the majority of emigrants, would welcome liberation from self-proclaimed human-rights advocates, bankrolled mostly by Europeans and protected by the Obama administration and the United Nations.
Trump need only make clear that he will support Guatemala to immediately enforce the laws on the books. In particular, that means going after the armed gangs that deprive indigenous campesinos of their liberty and economic opportunity. Guatemalan officials already have the capability, but they’ve been reluctant to stand up to the Obama administration and its UN surrogate.
The proper application of Guatemala’s laws and resulting development would not only reduce the incentive to emigrate, it would attract some expats to return and reduce the flow of other immigrants through their country. Guatemala could then pave the way for other Central American nations to foster a positive relationship with the United States and emulate the success.
Trump’s promise of decentralization and a confrontation with the crony classes is just the medicine Latin America needs as well. For centuries, collectivists and mercantilists have consolidated power, impeded competition, and kept Latin American people in poverty. Now the president-elect and the Congress have the opportunity to set the wheels in motion for that to change, to unleash prosperity south of the border — because prosperous neighbors are the best neighbors.
This article first appeared in the New English Review.
Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article.