Breaking the Vicious Cycle in the Northern Triangle

Posted by Mike Phillips

Matthew Rooney and Laura Collins of the George W. Bush Institute have a compelling new argument out in Foreign Policy about the the US really needs to do in order to have any hope of slowing the migration flows from Central America – work together on real solutions to deliver both security and job opportunities. Failing to do so will guarantee the current trends continue.  Excerpt below:

Like it or not, this is the reality: Americans will bear part of the cost of the nexus of crime, corruption, violence, and poverty no matter what policymakers in Washington do. This migration strains U.S. border resources — agents cannot focus on counterterrorism, human trafficking, and drug smuggling if they are continually intercepting children seeking a glass of water and a safe place to sleep.

The Northern Triangle is trapped in a vicious cycle. Lack of legitimate economic opportunity drives desperation, which pushes young people without jobs to join gangs or flee the country to help provide for their families. The most enterprising come to the United States, depriving their home countries of valuable human capital needed to support their communities and grow their economies. The gangs grow more powerful, undermining public order. Shaky rule of law deters investment, which reduces economic opportunity. (…)

Two decades ago, the Northern Triangle countries deregulated energy, financial services, telecommunications, and broadcasting, and privatized the state-owned companies that had controlled these sectors. In the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, they committed to transparency and due process in an effort to attract foreign investment. And it’s working — there is the beginning of a middle class in all three countries, and iPhones and McDonald’s are ubiquitous — but not fast enough.

As the economy was opening, the street gangs, which were incubated in jails in the United States, began to take root in Central America and align themselves with the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. As a result, the Northern Triangle countries have yet to replicate Mexico’s success. Nonetheless, the agreement represents a commitment by the Central Americans to a trade-led development model based on U.S. ideas of transparency, rule of law, and a level playing field. In effect, the United States promised them that its model would enable them to prosper.

Full article here.

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