The news regarding the relationship between Guatemala and the US has been impossible to ignore in recent weeks.
To summarise, Guatemala’s President was blocked by the Constitutional Court to sign a “Safe 3rd Country” agreement with the US on July 15th. Shortly after, Trump threatened Guatemala with sanctions on remittances, imports and travel bans as punishment for not cooperating. The threats worked and a few days later, an agreement was signed in the Oval office between Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart.
According to Susan Fratzke, who worked in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, these Safe Country agreements “require migrants and refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach”. However, in agreement with Anita Isaacs, ex- consultant at the State Department on corruption and organized crime in Central America “Guatemala is not a safe country for Guatemalans, let alone for anyone else”.
It is painfully ironic to call Guatemala a “Safe Country” when the largest proportion of immigrants (over 1/3) at the US southern border come from Guatemala in the first place.
Let’s look at some facts:
Over 1 million people lack electricity
To compound the above ,the police force are distrusted and feared by the public and are “inefficient, corrupt and abusive – as much as the criminals. They are underfunded, poorly trained and..frequently incapable or unwilling to confront criminals and gain the public trust needed to build a state based on rule of law.”
To add more insult to injury, even if the US were to considerably support Guatemala’s efforts to set itself up as a “Safe 3rd Country” with funding the necessary infrastructure needed, no-one should be under any illusions that such funding will go wholly where it is needed. One only needs to look at Guatemala’s recent track record of politicians who effectively steal from the public and private purse. To name just one example, the current president, elected under the “Not corrupt, not a thief” slogan, conveniently and without warning expelled the independent, UN backed anti-corruption commission after they found evidence rather too close to home of illicit campaign funding.
Despite the signing of peace accords in 1996, reforms failed to purge corrupt officials who reigned in wartime. Furthermore, 25% of donations to Guatemala’s political parties come from organized crime networks and the other 25% from the elite meaning that the country continues to operate at the mercy of a small number of interests rather than in favour of the general population.
We shall be keeping a close eye on the developments in the coming weeks and months however many of Pionero’s partner nonprofits are understandably concerned. Guatemala’s resources are already stretched and services are subpar, even for its own population. For example, Guatemala’s hospitals cover 17% of the population and poverty rates increased from 55% in 2000 to 60%in 2014, in sharp contrast to the significant reduction in poverty, both in Latin America in general and in Central America in particular.
We are keeping our fingers crossed from Guatemala and hope that similar agreements shall not be echoed in the neighbouring Northern Triangle countries.