“Imagine you were taking a drive the length of Florida, from the Georgia state line down to Key West.
Now imagine Florida had borders spaced apart at roughly the same intervals as Central America does.
As you headed south past Jacksonville, you’d face a border checkpoint. There, you would go through exit customs. That can take an hour.
You would then go through entry customs for the next country. That can take another hour, more if you’re not willing to hire a local guide to get you through the process.
Now imagine doing that again in Daytona Beach. Then again at Cocoa Beach. Then again at Miami. And once more as you entered the Keys.
What sort of an economy do you think Florida would have?
That in a nutshell is the main cause of the economic problems in Central America.
I’ve driven through those borders numerous times. I would recommend the trip for anyone who harbors the illusion that the U.S government is somehow going to address the root cause of the economic problems in the countries of Central America.
Vice President Kamala Harris is just the latest in a long string of officials tasked with that challenge. I don’t envy her.
The U.S. has been going after the root causes of poverty in that part of the world since the Kennedy Administration, when the Alliance for Progress was set up with the goal of turning Central America into a sort of Iowa with warm weather and nice beaches.
Former Green Beret and blogger Pat Lang served in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala from 1964 to 1967. He recalls the program originated because of “Too many college professors in conference rooms at the White House at the same time.”
The U.S. blew through $20 billion without making any substantial progress toward eliminating poverty and corruption, he recalls.
“Should the U.S. seize power in these countries and try to impose our concept of reform?” Lang wrote. “Ah! We tried that in Iraq!”
We did indeed. And we just made things worse.
The same is true in Central America. Typical was a piece I read last week in The Hill by a former Obama administration official offering a list of five actions Harris should take to address those pesky root causes.
The first four tips from Dan Restrepo of the Center for American Progress, were boilerplate advice. But then we learn that “the level of depravity in northern Central America provides an opportunity” for former prosecutor Harris.
“Honduras’ President Juan Orlando Hernandez has been repeatedly identified by U.S. federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in the successful drug prosecutions of his brother,” Restrepo writes. “It seems past time to publicly indict Hernandez or at a bare minimum publicly sanction him under existing authorities.”
Maybe I spent so much time in Central America that I started to think like a Central American. But it seems to me that we have no more business imposing our drug laws on them then they have in imposing theirs on us.
Perhaps some president down there opposes the way so many states have legalized marijuana. Could he have his country indict governor?
Much of the delay and the corruption on the borders stems from pressure by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to choke off drug trafficking to the U.S. But why should we expect the Central Americans to cure our drug problem?
The same applies to our immigration problem. As long as the United States offers Central Americans economic opportunity far greater than they can expect in their own countries, they will keep heading north.
As with our drug problem, it’s a lot easier to pretend to address our immigration problem in Central America than to actually address it in Washington.
That’s up to the Biden administration. If the administration wants immigration reform, a fair number of Republicans might be induced to cooperate by the addition of guest-worker visas. Those are very popular with the chamber-of-commerce types.
But as for economic development in Central America, there have been many attempts over the years to unite the seven Central American countries – or at least to set up a common market that would eliminate borders, as in Europe.
But all these attempts failed due to squabbling between the countries. The worst such tiff was the 1969 “Soccer War” between Salvador and Honduras, a land dispute that turned into a shooting war after rioting broke out at a soccer game between the two countries.
I wish the vice president luck in sorting out Central America’s problems. I hope she succeeds. Maybe some day I’ll be able to drive from Mexico to Colombia without stopping for any borders.
But in the meantime, America’s immigration problems have to be sorted out in America. “