Thursday, September 10

Less than a year after Mexico got serious about deporting illegal Central American migrant workers, Central Americans rose up against their corrupt governments. Coincidence?

Enough is enough.  Guatemalans protesting outside congress 

Photo: Reuters/Jorge Lopez

I don't know enough about conditions in Central America to determine whether there's a direct link between the deportations that started last summer in Mexico and the stunning political foment in Honduras and Guatemala. And there's no question that Latin America's petering commodity export boom, coupled with a spectacular graft scandal, has frayed patience to the snapping point among Guatemalans, with or without the spur of deportations from Mexico.      

But I find it interesting that when Guatemala's corrupt President Otto Perez Molina asked the "peasants and indigenous" people to stage counter-protests on his behalf against the middle-class city folk who began demanding his resignation this Spring, the rural poor stayed home. (Perez Molina has since been forced to resign.)  

It's an old story for corrupt, incompetent governments to in effect export their problems to other countries by encouraging immigration, both legal and illegal. This invariably means the workers are able to send just enough money to starving relatives to take the edge off the kind of civic outrage that forces political reform in the home country -- a situation that worsened since the transmitting of remittances was industrialized around the turn of this century, 

In this way governments that should collapse from the sheer weight of incompetence and graft are able to cling to power.   

If the vicious cycle is short-circuited by clampdowns on illegal immigration in the destination country or countries, then the problems can't be exported. True, this can lead to death squads in the home country to keep the problems in line. The other side is that victims of bad government can't muster enough opposition if the poorest have been drained off through immigration -- and if the best educated and skilled workers have fled the country in search of better employment and living conditions. 

This double whammy -- rural drain and brain drain -- is often accompanied by the famous bread and circus routine, where what's left of the rurals is bought by political machines in the pay of the government. It happened in recent memory in Thailand and Iran. Thaksin Shinawatra and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were masters at buying the Rural Poor vote.  And that Perez Molina had the gall to ask Guatemala's rurals to stand by him suggests he'd also been playing the game, and maybe, as is usually the case, with more promises than delivery.

As to where all the political foment is leading in Central America -- the tough-minded are throwing cold water on observers who're calling it a Central American "Spring" or at least daring to hope. But in Guatemala, at least, the protesters have racked up spectacular successes against a deeply entrenched system:
Along with Perez Molina, Vice-President Roxana Baldetti has resigned and been imprisoned. The ruling Patriotic Party (PP) presidential candidate, Alejandro Sinaboldi, has stepped down as well. A total of eight ministers have been forced out and, overall, the [La Linea] scandal has seen more than 30 people imprisoned. ... With the political elite thoroughly discredited, a strong anti-establishment force emerged ...
Meanwhile, in Mexico

Mexico's deportations of Central American migrants are rising
By Deborah Bonello, Special Correspondent reporting from Mexico City
September 4, 2015
The Los Angeles Times

Mexico is on track to catch and deport thousands more Central American migrants than the United States this year, according to a new report.

By the end of this year, Mexico is expected to have deported 70% more Central American migrants than it did in 2014, according to the report by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington.

In comparison, U.S. apprehensions of immigrants in the country illegally are expected to be down by half this year, compared with 2014.

Mexico has apprehended 173,000 Central American migrants in 2015, according to Mexico's National Migration Institute, the report says, compared with 110,000 in the United States, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

The report also says Mexico deported about six times as many unaccompanied children as the United States last year, and that number is expected to double to 12 times more in 2015.

Mexican authorities had for years largely turned a blind eye to the tens of thousands of migrants passing through on their way north, despite widespread reports that criminal gangs and corrupt law officials were kidnapping and "disappearing" thousands of them each year and extorting money from many.

But the government came under intense pressure from the U.S last year to crack down on migrants after waves of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, where about 52,000 were apprehended in 2014.

Mexico last summer launched its Plan Frontera Sur, or Southern Border Program. Priorities of the strategy include keeping migrants from riding the trains (known as La Bestia or the beast) across Mexico, stemming the flow of migrants across its southern border and creating a new type of visa to allow people from Central America to enter the country legally, reducing their vulnerability to extortion.

But some human rights activists who work with migrants in the many shelters around Mexico say that the plan has resulted in an increase in violence and persecution of migrants.

The think tank report emphasized the need to tackle the causes of migration in violence-ridden countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

"Balanced approaches to regional migration dynamics must include ways not just to shift the flows, but to deflate the pressures that cause them," the report says.



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