The Caravan of Central Americans making its way toward the U.S. border has led to the amassing of some 5000 U.S. troops along that border. This mass migration is driven by a confluence of factors that have a long-standing history in the region: most notably widespread poverty and violence. Central American countries, more than any other countries of the region, are, in the words of the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, “at war with the past.” They have a history of repressive dictatorships, extreme concentrations of wealth, and poverty. Part of that history, however, has involved the involvement of the United States in ways that have exacerbated the very problems that are causing the current massive out-migration.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) won the Mexican presidential election with a resounding majority of around 53 percent of votes cast—the highest since 1982 when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was still able to manipulate electoral outcomes. Mexican public expectations are high and the problems that the country’s new president must deal with are enormous. Making his task more difficult is that fact that AMLO has a heterogeneous support base with the various groups having different interests and priorities.
On July 17, the Trump administration released a document outlining its negotiating objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The first round of the renegotiations will begin on August 16. While the U.S. administration claims that it has no deadline for the completion of talks, the reality is that the 2018 Mexican presidential election could make the achievement of U.S. goals considerably more difficult. However, renegotiations are very likely to be fraught with difficulties even before the new Mexican administration takes office in late 2018.
The election of Donald Trump introduced border security and illegal Mexican immigration as crucial national issues. The Republican candidate garnered substantial political support for his promises to build a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border, deport Mexicans in the U.S. on a massive scale, and slap tariffs on cheap imported manufactured goods believed responsible for the loss of American jobs. Most critics focus on the xenophobic, illiberal, nature of these policy pronouncements. However, Trump’s critics have said little about the role of the U.S., including powerful U.S. economic interests, in contributing to the very immigration problem that the incoming Trump claims it will solve. Blowback, often used to refer to the impact of various U.S. misadventures in foreign policy, refers to the unwanted/negative result of an action or series of actions. The massive Mexican immigration to the U.S. with its attendant political consequences, is a troubling case of blowback—in large part the consequence of past U.S. actions.
More people in Latin America die as a result of criminal violence than in anywhere else in the world. While 8 percent of the world’s population lives in Latin America and the Caribbean, the region accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s homicide cases. Latin America's per capita homicide rate is 23.4 per 100,000 people, nearly double the rate in Africa, a region sometimes mistakenly believed to be the most violent continent.
As is widely known, organized crime, particularly crime involving drug trafficking, is one of the most important sources of the violence in the region, with serious implications for physical security and general human well-being, particularly for those living in poor communities. Some recent research has noted the worrying sign of close links between political elites and organized crime—a situation that does not bode well for either the quality of democracy or for substantial improvement over the long-term—despite some recent improvements in specific cases.
On April 18, the United Nations General Assembly held a special session on the drug trade. At this session, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos presented a plan for the complete and radical overhaul of global policy towards drug trafficking. Calling for an approach that is both more humane and comprehensive, he recommended an end to the victimization of drug users through abolishing the harsh penalties attached to drug related offenses. His views reflect growing support for a human rights approach to addressing the drug trade issue--one that recognizes that the punitive and repressive responses of states to drug production and trafficking have failed to reduce the trade while ratcheting up the level of drug related violence. The consequence has been that human rights violations related to drug offense are common throughout the region while Latin American prisons have become filled to overflowing with drug offenders, most of them consumers and low-level offenders. Altering the approach to the Latin American drug wars is essential to improving the human condition for millions who face both material deprivation and high levels of physical insecurity. In Mexico, for example, as many as 80,000 have perished in drug-related violence since 2006, while between 2012 and 2014, 2 million more fell into poverty. However, is taking a human rights approach to the drug issue, through decriminalizing lower level offenses, reducing sentences, and providing treatment for users, going to be enough to reduce the unfortunate social consequences that have arisen with drug production and trafficking?