Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 406 | Mayo 2015



Notes on the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle

Although the Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle must still be passed by the US Congress, President Otto Pérez Molina said it will happen with or without the resources of the United States. Perhaps he said so because the Obama Plan’s proposals are the same as in a plan already underway in Guatemala, one imposed from the business sector and endorsed by the governments in turn.

Úrsula Roldán Andrade

In October 2013, an increase in the numbers of children and adolescents
migrating was an early sign of the “humanitarian crisis” that exploded in mid-2014. According to a statement from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the United States border patrol captured 47,017 children—11,479 of them Guatemalan—at its “peak,” on May 31. The same document cites the US Department of Homeland Security as projecting that there could be as many as 90,000 migrant children by the end of that year.

Child migration isn’t new

Child migration isn’t a new phenomenon, as confirmed in several studies by entities dealing with migration issues. In the case of Guatemala, a 2006 report by its Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office, “Tearing down walls: The reality of migrant children and adolescents on the Guatemala-Mexico border,” mentioned a warning about it four years earlier, arguing the need to create a database on migration flow and have appropriate prevention policies.

The same report also noted that 187 children and adolescents were deported from the United States by air in 2004 and a further 1,718, already counted as having been deported from Mexico, were in a hostel in Quetzaltenango, on the border with Mexico. Most of them were from Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, San Marcos and the capital. These trends have not diminished.

In 2011, UNICEF presented “Going North: Violence, Insecurity and Impunity in the Phenomenon of Migration in Guatemala,” a report that once again confirmed the migration of children aged 0-17. The document indicates some of the reasons for their migration: economic betterment (43%), employment (33%), reuniting with families (11.7%) and escaping violence (1.4%).
These figures were modified when other research showed that the increase in children’s migration was being created by violence in the three countries of the Central American Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras).

In its 2014 report “Children on the run: unaccompanied children leaving Central America and Mexico and the need for international protection,” Office for the United States and the Caribbean of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) referred to interviews with 404 children in the Northern Triangle countries plus Mexico. In 58% of the cases, they migrated due to harm incurred as a result of violence meriting international protection: 38% of the children interviewed in this group were from Guatemala.

This study identified two major generators of violence: organized armed criminals, including drug cartels and gangs, and state agents. In the group interviewed, 48% were affected by state violence; 21% said they had suffered violence at the hands of their “guardians,” presumably referring to parents or close family members although the study didn’t specify; 23% spoke of abuse in their homes and 20% of abuse in society; 84% mentioned the need to reunite with their relatives and seeking the opportunity to work or study so as to support their families.

Both this study and the more recent “Childhood and Migration in Central and North America: Causes, Policies, Practices and Challenges,” published in February of this year by various regional human rights’ organizations, infer that the children and certainly the adults are fleeing their countries for mixed reasons, many of them structural.

As we will see, the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for Central America’s Northern Triangle, which supposedly originated in this “humanitarian crisis of migrant children,” is in fact a pretext to force a national security model on Guatemala with a geostrategic, regional and hemispheric focus, and an economic model based

on natural resource extraction, electricity interconnection to supply megaprojects and infrastructures and the opening and integrating of borders for the free movement of merchandise, not people.

In such a complex context as these studies describe, it must be asked if the Northern Triangle Plan will address the structural causes and many mixed factors causing this exodus, not only of migrant children from that area but also of large adult populations. Is it realistic to think this proposal will really halt the northward migration flow, currently the largest in the world? Can we believe it will become a tool for growth and development?

Previous plans

In my doctoral thesis “Estrategias y dinámicas campesinas frente a la política agraria de postguerra en Guatemala” (Peasant strategies and dynamics versusthe post-war agrarian policy in Guatemala), concluded in 2012, I raised the question of whether the role assigned to Guatemala by globalization was not perhaps intended to turn our country into a services platform…

The desired projection for Central America and Southern Mexico was already present in what’s known as the Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP), proposed in 2006 and re-launched in September 2014. Later known as the Mesoamerican Project, the PPP was inserted into the second version of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the idea launched in Miami by President Clinton in 1994, whose implementation was thought to be thwarted by new processes and changes taking place in South America. Another, less ambitious, version of those plans appearing last year was to be developed in countries nearer the United States, not only because of geography but because of the dependency of their markets. Like its predecessors, this new plan has financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and private investors.

Among the projects already integrated into the earlier regional plans are the Energy Interconnection System for the Countries of Central America (SIEPAC), telecommunications by means of a fiber optic corridor crossing the whole region, the Mesoamerican Information Highway (AMI), the interoceanic corridor and the Pacific corridor, with a plan to build nearly 2,000 miles of highway incorporating six countries and crossing seven borders.

Two projects already
advanced in Guatemala

Guatemala has already advanced with two of that plan’s important projects. The first is construction of the Northern Transversal Strip, designed in the 1970s but interrupted by the armed conflict. Construction finally began in 2010 and is nearing completion. This route unites the northeast of the country with the Mexican border adjoining the department of Huehuetenango in the west. In 2007, the Guatemalan magazine El Observador described this important piece of infrastructure as “more than just a road that’ll interconnect thousands of communities,” noting this highway’s coordination with new economic projects escalating in our country: oil, hydroelectrics, mining, bio-fuels…

The second project is what is called the Guatemalan Technological Corridor, over 190 miles long by some 153 yards wide, covering four of the country’s eastern departments, connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific and providing other interconnections with the Central American market. Planned for 2015, this corridor includes other sub-projects: a railroad for loading and unloading merchandise and an oil pipeline.

Our region’s rich natural resources and geostrategic position have been of great interest to US governments for many years. Some of the reasons for this interest were already set out in the Alliance for Progress Plan launched in 1961. There’s also nothing new in the proposals that aim to use such plans and investment to create conditions for “governance” in Latin America, a concept the North often identifies with acceptance of its impositions and submission to a single model, with the still used central argument that the “trickle down economy” will bring us development…

The old concepts of “control”
for “national security”

Other elements in the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle are based on old concepts of “control” that can be grouped together under the concept of “national security.” Today, as new circumstances—international terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking—change our situation, they are addressed with a mixture of “defense” against them and the same old criminalization of the communities’ social struggles, now more and more to defend their national resources. In the face of this, mass migration becomes both a survival strategy and a search for opportunities.

The year after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Smart Borders Agreement was put into action. It was followed in 2005 by the Alliance for Prosperity and Security of the Northern Border project. Later came the Mérida Initiative—a.k.a. Plan Mexico by its critics, in reference to Plan Colombia. The US Congress authorized US$1.6 billion for what originally was to be a three-year initiative (FY 2008-2010). [That security cooperation agreement, originally between the United States, Mexico and the Central American countries to fight drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering, has now been touted by the US State Department more as an unprecedented partnership between the US and Mexico, and the appropriations are now up to US$2.3 billion.]

There’s also Mexico’s Southern Border Program, launched on August 25 2014, whose main aim is “to prevent migrants putting their lives at risk” from boarding the train known as “The beast.” This program involved increasing the control and speed of the train to discourage migrants from using it. Other goals were to improve protection of these people’s human rights and to fight and eradicate criminal groups. Mexico’s human rights organizations have reported that the program has been a failure and has led to increased dangers for migrants, who have had to use new routes, mostly controlled by criminal organizations.

Subsequently task forces were installed in Guatemala at two points considered crucial on the migrants’ route: The first was called Tecún Umán, on the Mexican border, in August 2014; and the second Chortí, on the Honduran border, on March 23 2015. Implementing these actions comes under the regional concept of combined forces between the National Civil Police and the Armed Forces with US advice on border control tasks. According to Guatemala’s Ministry of the Interior, there are already eleven task forces throughout the country, with the mission of combining civilian and military intelligence to control crime, incorporating the involvement of the Public Ministry and the Superintendence of Tax Administration.

New “enemies” to fight

In keeping with this “national security” concept, the US government is spreading into the region in its own interests using new and more sophisticated strategies. It’s also reactivating the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), whose origins date back
to 1978 when President Carter announced that he would create a special force to respond to third world contingencies without going through NATO. The revolution in Nicaragua the following year expedited the decision. The Southern Command’s mission includes financial and technical aid, transferring resources, training and services to the host countries and promoting contacts among the military. During the Cold War its scope was hemispheric and it operated out of Panama under the pretext of protecting the Canal. Just as the counterinsurgency concept was applied at that time to all conflicts suspected of affecting US security, today’s war against terrorism is the new link in this long history of “control.”

Drug trafficking and organized crime are the new enemies we need to “fight” and it is being done with a more powerful and sophisticated force. And just as before, it is happening today because, as the late Panamanian sociologist Raúl Leis so ably wrote in 1986, “under the imperial globalist perspective, the United States perceives Latin America as a region subordinated to its power, where any ‘suspicious’ change constitutes a threat to its interests and must be controlled.”

According to Leis, the US war strategy has two elements. One is the counterinsurgency doctrine, applied in Guatemala during
the “internal war” we lived through from 1960 to 1996. The other is the flexible response strategy—which is where Southern Command comes in. This involves the rapid deployment of mobile forces with massive retaliatory power whenever circumstances require it. In its official publicity, the Southern Command’s mission is to position the United States as leader and ally, sharing information, supporting regional initiatives and inter-agency cooperation, not only with governments but also with the private sector and NGOs.

Safeguarding US interests

For Guatemala, the most recent “security” cooperation comes from Operation Martillo (Hammer), an agreement signed in July 2012. It grows out of agreements between the United States and Guatemala dating back to 1949, 1954 and 1955 for technical cooperation, military assistance and the free movement of aircraft over Guatemalan territory.

This cooperation is now focused on the war on drug trafficking on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and other joint operational activities. It’s also present in the northern municipality of Cobán, department of Alta Verapaz, where the UN peacekeeping forces called the Blue Helmets have a Regional Peace Operations Training Center under Southern Command auspices.
SOUTHCOM commander General John Kelly came to Guatemala for the first time in February 2013, three months after assuming the post. In January 2014 he made a second visit to assess joint task forces on the border with Mexico. He also attended the funerals of soldiers killed in a plane crash in Huehuetenango in August of that same year. Kelly was a member of the US delegation in the meeting with the three Northern Triangle Presidents who went to Washington in early 2015 to negotiate the Alliance for Prosperity Plan, leaving no doubt about the importance for the United States of “security and control” plans in Guatemala and the region. In his article published in Plaza Pública titled “Un plan de las élites” (A plan of the elites), researcher Luis Solano reported that one of the Northern Triangle Plan meetings was called by the Southern Command, held in Miami, and attended by government officials and businessmen.

The importance of the “control” component in a plan ensuring better safeguarding of US interests on the borders—which are increasingly moving further south—is that it will almost certainly justify Congress’ passage of the plan. Incidentally, this safeguard may be combined with surveillance of suspicious looking “conflicts”—which describes all the social protests in defense of territory and natural resources taking place in Mesoamerica today.
Four central themes in the original proposal by the Presidents of the three Northern Triangle countries with advice from the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank are maintained in the latest document being negotiated in the United States:
– Stimulate the productive sector.
– Develop opportunities for human capital.
– Strengthen the institutions to increase confidence.
– Improve public safety and access to justice.

Priority corridors

Nor has there been a change in the proposals that came from the Mesoamerica Project and the version approved in Guatemala to stimulate the productive sector: promote sectors and attract employment; strengthen links, supply and demand of employment; energy integration; infrastructure and logistical corridors; and regional integration. These focal points were linked to the National Development Plan called Katún 2032, coordinated by the Presidency’s Ministry of Planning and Programming and mainly concerned the selecting of business centers in urban areas and their centers of influence and locating of the prioritized corridors’ logistical centers.
The prioritized corridors, where a variety of activities will take place, are:
– Pacific Corridor, connecting Mexico with Central America through the region’s western coastline.

– Bi-oceanic Corridor, between Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios/Santo Tomás de Castilla.
– Acajutla Corridor—San Salvador—San Pedro Sula—Puerto Cortés—Ramal San Salvador to the Bi-oceanic Corridor.
– Puerto Quetzal Corridor—Guatemala City—San Pedro Sula.
– Puerto Acajutla Corridor—San Salvador—Tegucigalpa.
– Atlantic Corridor between Managua, Tegucigalpa and Puerto Cortés.
– Atlantic Corridor between Belize and the Bi-oceanic Corridor.

A more voracious expansion
of the current model

The Northern Triangle Plan promises more economic growth and employment opportunities but, in Guatemala, it’s nothing but a more voracious expansion of the model juxtaposed on the primary agro-export model that has kept the agrarian structure intact for more than five decades. In recent years this model has resulted in a reduction in agriculture’s contribution to the GDP and, consequently, an inability
to generate rural jobs, driving many rural people to the informal sector or into subsistence farming and migration.

It’s in these prioritized corridors, with their business centers and expansion of the electricity grid, where we see local people resisting more, because this is where large-scale hydroelectric projects are already being implemented in an almost parallel and forced way. Many of these projects are owned by former coffee plantation proprietors from the area and generally have transnational investors, as in the case of the Spain-based Santa Cruz Hydro Company, operating in the municipality of Barillas, department of Huehuetenango. Something similar is happening with metal-mining exploration and exploitation projects. Several conflicts are also derived from the high rates the rural population pays for electricity.

The Plan is a project
of the business elite

In his article “Alliance for Prosperity: A project of the business elite,” Solano noted that the Northern Triangle Plan’s projects not only fit in with the business elite’s interests, but clearly originate from its two organizations, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF) and the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (FUNDESA).

It’s the very approach both business associations have been foisting on rural development. According to Guatemala’s economic power elites, rural development will be achieved only by attracting foreign investment and imposing megaprojects, even if this involves nullifying the rural population’s rights to access and own land and denying acknowledgement of indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral lands.

With the focus favored by the business elite, a rural development bill proposed to the Guatemalan Congress by the social organizations has once more been shelved. In the last decade, the business elite together with the State has denied the claims of hundreds of communities demanding that their views be taken into account through community consultations in informed decision-making on whether or not to accept open-pit mining or large-scale hydroelectric projects. The firm “No” from the communities has resulted
in both male and female leaders of these movements facing criminal prosecution, imprisonment and even death.

The Prosperity Plan imposes not only a model, but also that the private sector be the only agent recognized in its negotiation. It’s no coincidence that the government’s representative responsible for promoting it is prominent businessman Juan Carlos Paiz, Commissioner for Competitiveness and Investment, former president of CACIF and founder and director of business consortiums of national and foreign capital. Nor is it a coincidence that those who have accompanied the Guatemalan delegation to meet with their US counterparts have been businessmen affiliated with CACIF and FUNDESA.

CICIG: “The fly in the ointment”

The only “fly in the ointment” for the government and the powerful business sector has been the condition stated by US Vice President Joe Biden at the meeting of the three Northern Triangle Presidents, when he talked about the need for continuity by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), not only in our country but in the whole Central American region.

CICIG was created in December 2006 with a broad and meaningful mandate through an agreement between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government. It functioned as an independent international body until 2014 supporting the Public Ministry, National Civil Police and other State institutions in investigating crimes committed by illegal and clandestine groups, collaborating in dismantling them and strengthening justice agencies to eradicate impunity.

It’s pathetic that the same people who forced the Constitutional Court a year ago to rule that retired General Efraín Ríos Montt’s trial for genocide be stopped—contradicting human rights organizations that have been defending transitional justice with several trials of soldiers for their participation in the internal war and have fought for the urgent need to dismantle criminal organizations embedded in different state bodies—are the very ones who have negotiated this project in the United States.

An absent State

As ruler and guarantor of the common good, the State of Guatemala is absent from this project. It is a State that responds to greater poverty in this country with less public investment, according to recent research by the Institute of Economic Studies at the Rafael Landívar University. It is a State that, as the Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies evidenced on stating its position on the Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle, has permitted the purchasing power of the minimum wage this year to fall to 75.8% of what it was in 2012. It is the State of a country where the homes with the highest incomes receive 24 times more than the poorest 20%.

The plan won’t replace remittances

The Northern Triangle plan mentions some projects for rural credit, irrigation, rural markets, education, preventing crime among young people and seed funding
for companies with returned or deported migrants. These are projects in the style of the old “trickle-down economy” theory, as most of the Plan’s financing is earmarked for megaprojects and not those of small farming and marginal urban economies, those that come from the migrant population.
These projects would have difficulty replacing the income Guatemalan families receive as remittances from those who leave Guatemala in search of opportunities. In 2014, remittances totaled over $5 billion. Without changes in the agrarian structure, rural credit and other social programs, the Prosperity Plan’s programs would have a hard time reducing the underemployment gap in the countryside, which is currently at 32% according to Peter Marchetti, academic adviser of the Vice Rector’s Office for Research and Social Projection at Guatemala’s Rafael Landívar University. A plan that’s just more of the same model that drives people away and doesn’t enable deportees to reinsert themselves, would find it hard to ensure a decent life for the children who will continue emigrating.

Although Democrats and Republicans still have to pass the Prosperity Plan in the US Congress, President Otto Pérez Molina has already said that it will be implemented with or without US resources, expected to be $1 billion a year for six years for the three countries. Perhaps Pérez Molina said that because it’s already underway, imposed from the business sector and endorsed by the governments of the day.

What’s left for us?

Where does this scenario leave civil society? It leaves it with no alternative but to build alliances, weaving a braid in the opposite direction to that of “organized crime, people trafficking and repression,” one that intertwines the claims of memory and justice, human rights, migration as a right, territories free of metal mining and free and informed decisions.

The only hope is in the struggles of the migrant population for documentation and citizenship in that northern country. And in Guatemala, there’s hope in the struggles of the people in their territories and the emergence of women and young leaders with critical and progressive thinking who are challenging the current model and working to build a different country.

Ursula Roldán Andrade is a researcher on migration with the Institute of Research and Political Management (INGEP) at the Rafael Landivár University, Guatemala.

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