Trauma, fear, and horrific violence dominate life for millions of people throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In the region that we know today as the Northern Triangle, life has become unlivable for many.
Afflicted heavily by insecurity, power vacuums, and poverty, this region has become a textbook example of mass migration flows for asylum-seeking individuals and their families. Exacerbating this issue, prominent drug trafficking activity continues to rage across this region. Predictably, these factors have influenced many migrants to seek refuge by fleeing and knocking on the doorsteps of the United States.
In the current U.S. political administration, these migrants have little success finding a way to cross our geographical boundaries. Tightening border security for American soil means that these refugees will strain the already reeling economies of other developing countries in Latin America. With the stability of Latin America at stake, domestic security for the United States also hangs in balance.
To address these interests, Representative Norma Torres (D-CA-35) authored H.R. 5501 — End Corruption in the Northern Triangle Act. Introduced earlier this year, the act was referred to the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. It waits for further action and needs public support to help its provisions enter reality, although the migrant crisis it addresses isn’t stalling. This is an effort that cannot wait in the legislative stage’s wings anymore and a cause for which every American citizen should advocate. Delay on this issue means that we will not have the ability to keep this problem at bay, as it is literally knocking at our doorstep.
Included in this legislation are some hefty terms that call upon statutes like the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The presence of these mandates reinforces this legislation as a decisive display of policy that increases the chances of success in this region. In examining these as well as the overall “Anti-Corruption Strategy” outlined in Section 5 of this bill, it is easy to see how this action exhibits a high probability for changing the status quo.
Beginning at the bottom of the text, Section 7 outlines the Central America Regional Security Initiative Program. This is the first prong of a strategy that tackles the corruption head-on by unifying U.S. efforts rather than initiating an uncalculated execution of impulsive foreign policy. The Wilson Center’s Latin American Program released a report in December 2014 that emphasized how the predecessor programs to the one outlined in Section 7 were inadequate because the initiatives led by the United States were operating independently of one another.
This provision of the legislation remedies this inefficiency by requiring an outline of all assistance provided thus far to the region and where the assistance has been directed. This is coupled with the text in Section 5b that coordinates all future assistance with local municipalities and relevant authorities at the lower levels of government to increase the success of missions. This allows U.S. activity to circumvent the central government bureaucracy that has impeded this success.
Peter Meyer, an analyst in Latin American Affairs for the Congressional Research Service, writes that the Alliance for Prosperity, the regional collective security agreement between governments of the Northern Triangle, and the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America have prioritized different activities, preventing the consolidation of governmental efforts. Where U.S. efforts have focused on combating drug cartels or ensuring long-term stability, the Alliance has focused on relatively minor projects like civil society capacities, infrastructure, and conditional cash transfer programs.
Political experts speculate that these inefficiencies are due in large part to the presence of corruption in these highly bureaucratic, centralized governments. Figures like Jimmy Morales, President of Guatemala, or Juan Orlando Hernandez, President of Honduras, have long been in the midst of public scandal. Section 6b of this Act allows the United States to stop being hamstrung to figures like these and focus on working with municipal authorities instead. This way, these Latin American celebrities can keep enjoying their fame without hindering the United States’ interests in solving the other issues in the region.
While the provisions above are necessary for cohesive strategy, the true heavy-hitters in this legislation are actually the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets, this program gives the United States the power to apply economic sanctions to significant, high-level foreign narcotics traffickers and organizations worldwide. This is especially important since this allows the United States to actually punish the celebrity figures like Morales and Hernandez for their track records rooted in corruption. Furthermore, the Kingpin Act specifically applied to the Northern Triangle region allows the United States to directly combat the drug cartels causing instability in the area by blocking all economic assets that fuel their base of operations. Where before the United States had no jurisdiction in this area, the capacity for local partnership with municipal authorities as well as the ability to sanction beneficiaries of narcotics trade creates definitive action in this region. The Magnitsky Act furthers this impact by giving the United States full authority to freeze assets for any funding that the named individuals might have in the United States.
As for the implications that all of these terms have on U.S. constituents, the overall analysis of this legislation’s terms concludes that it has the necessary provisions in place to make a decisive dent in the issue of Northern Triangle corruption. While the conditions currently mirror those that slowly grew out of proportion when dealing with the Syrian Refugee Crisis, this bill gives us the chance to nip these problems in the bud before they get to that point.
Every second that the Northern Triangle continues brewing, instability, conflict, and insecurity threaten U.S. interests, both domestically and abroad. Luckily, this cloud still has a silver lining. By supporting this legislation, we can isolate our focus to one migration issue in the Middle East and avoid adding another one in Latin America. While the North American migrant caravan has already caused divisions in national sentiment, we are seas closer to solving the problems causing it than we are to solving the ones in Central Asia — quite literally.
Let’s take advantage of that proximity and stop the problem before it boils out of our grasp and starts haunting our borders because of that closeness. Everyday life can be bright if governed by order, stability, and a sense of security. The Northern Triangle can be transformed into a regular place to live again, we just have to lend a helping hand.