The White House Proposal on Central America: “Systemic Change”?

Witness for Peace Honduras


Last year, Central Americans came to the U.S. in unprecedented numbers, especially Central American children. Communities all over the U.S. found themselves asking: why? What are these children leaving behind?


Migration from Central America is nothing new, and the phenomenon has deep roots. Many writers have pointed out that many of these children are leaving behind violence and poverty that are directly linked with U.S. foreign policy.


Witness for Peace’s experience with a variety of communities in Honduras and Nicaragua very much supports this conclusion. Our community partners tell us that U.S.-promoted free trade agreements like the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) contribute to the displacement of small producers and small farmers, who can no longer make a living when having to compete with large producers. Jobs are often created in the textile or manufacturing sectors, but workers often suffer low wages, unsafe working conditions, and high job instability. These policies leave many Central Americans with no options for survival other than migrating to look for work. Elsewhere, the experience has been similar: in Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, contributed to a sharp increase in Mexican migration to the U.S. in the 1990s.


In Honduras (and in Guatemala and El Salvador), in addition to promoting neoliberal economic reforms like these, the U.S. has also sent tens of millions of dollars to the Honduran military and police under the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). These funds are supposed to contribute to better public security – indeed, rampant levels of violence are another central cause of migration out of Honduras. Yet this approach has failed to address the root causes of insecurity and inequality.


Moreover, it means supporting a police and military force who have been “overwhelmingly corrupt” and who have been linked to numerous human rights abuses. For example, members of the indigenous Lenca community of Rio Blanco have reported that hydroelectric dam projects have been undertaken in their community without their consent, and the community has peacefully protested the project. In 2013, a community member was killed by a member of the Honduran military, and his teenaged son was shot and wounded.


Now the White House has a new proposal to reduce levels of migration from Central America to the U.S. Its stated goal is to get at the root causes and create “systemic change.” We applaud the White House’s initiative in addressing this crisis. Yet, rather than systemic change, the proposal includes the promotion of more policies like these, calling for free trade agreements and other incentives to promote foreign investment in Central America. It includes, too, continued levels of military and police funding. These are policies that are directly linked with the kind of poverty and violence that so many child migrants have fled from. We urge the White House to re-think this approach.


Similar U.S. policies in Colombia have also had alarming consequences. Read more from the Witness for Peace Colombia team in an upcoming blog.

WFP Solidarity Collective

P.O. Box 6078

Minneapolis, MN  55406